Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

then, can a man forget his own individual inclination (or passion,) to give himself up to the charms of sympathy? It is a fair question for Raphael or Poussin or Dominichino ; but they are only able to give us an answer with their brushes. Common discourse falls into vagueness, the cruel sin of those who write of art.”

He is much more apt, however, to seize upon some special work of art, and make of it a convenient peg upon which to hang his ideas. He does this often in the happiest way. Here is an instance from his Life of Haydn, which is at once an embodiment of some of his most important teaching, a good illustration of his best critical manner, and in itself a very keen piece of criticism. He is criticising Haydn's music, and trying to account for the comparative lack of touching melodies in it.

“ Haydn did not rise to the beauty of melody of these celebrated men (Pergolese, Scarlatti, Cimarosa, Mozart). We must acknowledge that in this kind of music (melody,) he has been surpassed by his contemporaries, and even by his successors. You who love to scek in the souls of artists the causes, the qualities, of their works, will perhaps understand my notion of Haydn. We cannot refuse him a vast imagination, forcibly and supremely creative, but he was probably not so well furnished with sensibility; but for this, we should probably find more of song, more of love, more of dramatic music. This natural jollity, this characteristic joyousness of which I have spoken, will not allow of the approach of a certain tender sadness to this happy, calm soul. Now, in order to be able to appreciate dramatic music, one must be able to say, with the beautiful Jessica,

“• I'm never merry when I hear sweet music.'

“ One must be tender and a little sad to find some pleasure even in · Cantatrice Villane' or in • Nemici Generosi.' It is all very simple, if you are merry : your imagination has no need of being distracted from the images which occupy it.

" Another reason. To master the soul of the listener, Haydn's imagination had need to play the sovereign; once chain it down to ise words (of a song), and you would not recognize it. It seems tiiat written scenes bring him back too often to things of feeling. Haydn will have, then, always the first place among painters of landscape; he will be the Claude Lorraine of music, but he will

never have in the theatre, that is to say, in the music altogether, of the feelings, the place of Raphael.

“ You may say to me that he who holds this place was the merriest of men. Cimarosa was, certainly, merry enough in the world; is not that one's business there? But I shall be very sorry for my theory, if love or vengeance have never made him do something foolish, have never put him in the same ridiculous position. Did not one of his most lovable successors pass a whole night, in the month of January, in the saddest plight in the world, hoping that the merriest of singers would keep the promise she had made him ?...

“You see, my friend, my devotion to my saint does not drag me too far. I put the makers of symphonies among the landscape painters, and the makers of operas among the historical painters. Two or three times only has Haydn risen to this great style, and then he was Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci.”

Expression in painting and sculpture, and the song in music, were, in Beyle's opinion, the very soul of their respective arts. He proposed in his ingenious and peculiar fashion to measure the rank of composers by their songs alone :

“I have often thought that, if there was an academy of musicians in France, there would be a simple way of proving them ; it would be to beg them to send to the academy ten lines of music without more. Mozart would write • Voi che sapete ; Cimarosa · Da che il caso i disperato ; ' Paisiello · Quelli .' But what would Mr. — and Mr. —--- write ?”

There is something very vivid about such criticism as this ; something real. We are no longer groping about vaguely in search of a theory buried under a rubbish of dry facts. Contrast Crowe and Cavalcasselle, or Kugler's Hand-Book, or Lübke's History of Art, with their long genealogies of painters, and their dry and barren lists of their works, embellished with technical details. Beyle, at one leap, jumped to the conclusion, as just and true as it was brilliant, that the object of music and painting was not to follow this master or that, but to rouse human feeling, to follow nature, and that whoever felt the one or comprehended the other, might speak intelligently upon them. The relief one feels in stepping from these dry books into his, shows the value of his work. He took art out of the hands of pedants, and made it part of the great world of which he himself was a member.

The following exemplifies his doctrine of milieu as well as any extract can afford a glimpse of what pervades all his critical workalmost the only principle to which he consistently clings throughout. He is explaining the difference between ancient and modern beauty, and he takes the statue of Meleager, and lectures on it, under the title, The Agreeableness of the Ancients.. “ Let us follow Meleager to the home of Aspasine. He was there very agreeable ; by his strength he shone in the games of the circus, and he was fond of talking of them. This made an interesting conversation among men whom love of life drew to these games. Each one recalled how he had seen one of his companions, in their last battle, fall, because he had thrown his javelin too far. ... The citizen of Paris has heard the noise of cannon, he has seen his park ravaged, he has been obliged to put on a uniform. But it will require five or six centuries to bring this back again. At Athens, they feared it every five or six years. With the necessary difference in the cultivation of esprit and the difference in love, behold all antiquity explained. The beautiful statue of Meleager then had by its strength a thousand interesting things to say. If it appeared beautiful, it was because it was agreeable ; if it appeared agreeable, it was because it was useful.

“For me, usefulness is amusing me, not defending me; and I see very well in the heavy cheeks of the Meleager that he has never said to his mistress : “My dear friend, do not look so earnestly at that star. I cannot give it to you.''

Could anything be more delicate ? He has made clear to us, in a brief, vivid picture, the difference between ancient and modern times.

This way of looking upon works of art gave to his views and ideas an appearance of bizarrcrie which they by no means deserved, and which they would not have received, had not the current ideas of art criticism been themselves unnatural. Art works were set apart from the rest of things subject to human ken. Did any unlearned man presume to express an opinion or a feeling, he was instantly stopped with, “ It is a work of art," as though works of art were not intended for men, but only for critics. Beyle put all this aside. He walked up to a picture or to a statue, and the question he asked himself was not, “What ought I to think of this ?” or, “ What place does this hold in the history of art ?" but, simply, “What do I, Henri Beyle, think of it? How do I feel in looking at this painting? Does this opera make my heart beat? Does it make my eyes fill with tears ?”

Beyle is constantly attacking the French subservience to rule in art, and their lack of any true and genuine enjoyment of works of art, through their anxiety to cultivate their taste, and to only enjoy what the best teachers approve. “A Frenchman does not applaud (at the opera,) but with a secret disquiet he fears he may be approving a poor thing. It is not until the third or fourth performance, when he has been well assured that this air is delicious, that he will dare to cry · bravo,' putting the accent on the first syllable, to show that he knows Italian. See him say to his friend, on the night of a first performance, as he approaches him in the lobby, . It is divine ! His mouth makes the assertion, but his eye asks the question. If his friend does not answer with another superlative, he is ready to dethrone his divinity. Thus, musical taste admits at Paris of no discussion; it is always good or bad. On the other side of the Alps, as each one is sure of his own feelings, the discussions upon music are infinite.” .

The principle of criticism which Beyle struck upon here, was a deeply true one,-a principle which had been almost entirely buried under a mass of technical rubbish that was only of secondary importance, Beyle was natural. He spoke of and treated works of art as he enjoyed and felt them. He had no theory. He did not bother himself with the quarrels of various schools,-idealistic and realistic, melodists and harmonists. He was cosmopolitan enough to appreciate what was good wherever he found it, and independent enough to enjoy whatever pleased himself. He paid strict attention to his own actual enjoyment, and gave an intelligent account of it. This was a far more valuable and far more important principle than that of milieu ; and it is this naturalness that is Beyle's greatest gift to critical method.

It is this that gives his best criticism its keenness, and it is this that accounts, in part at least, for the disjointed, disconnected style which he pursues in his best works. His History of Painting in Italy, with nearly two hundred chapters, some of which are only four lines long, begins with some attempt at a meagre account of the early Italian painters; but soon he takes to leaping here and there, from subject to subject, without any discoverable method. Now he tells an anecdote,—now he discusses a work of art; but there is no link between them, except his own passing fancy of the moment. A juster title for his History would be Note-Book of an Art Student in Italy, for most of his chapters seem to have been written upon their subjects just after a visit to some great work of art.

That his books lack system, that they are not at all comprehensive, and that they are often contradictory, it is scarcely necessary to add. But yet they have their own peculiar charm. The pictures he paints with an anecdote, an odd fact, or a bizarre comparison, seize upon the reader's attention as no bare exposition of theory or facts could. Speaking of the consolation a man may find for sorrow in art, he illustrates it aptly thus: “ The nervous fluid has no more than a certain amount of energy to spend every day. If you use it in enjoying thirty beautiful pictures, you will not use it in bewailing the death of an adored mistress.”'

His books thus have always the prime merit of being entertaining. They are more,—they are often enigmatical and elliptical to a degree.

This peculiarity, which ran through his sentences as well as bis books, was due to his method of living. He was a conversationalist and a diner-out, and doubtless he was as impatient of the long and careful elaboration which is necessary to smooth, counected writing, as most men of action. This had its effect on his style. Style is conversation ; to write easily, one must talk. It is only in talking that one gets, or rather invents, those quick, graphic turns of thought that make style and idioms. Women write usually far better than men, and they are great talkers. Bookish men do not write good styles. De Quincy, perhaps, was an exception, but Lamb was a talker and a diner-out; so was Leigh Hunt; Addison was a snob, always aiming after high society, and seeking to keep himself there by his brilliant conversation. Steele and Burke, the great masters of English style, were all talkers and speakers. The French, the great nation of style, are also the great nation of talkers. So, Beyle was a wit and a man of the highest fashion. His style bears traces throughout of the habits and tricks of the talker. And this will account for the unhappy and disjointed

« VorigeDoorgaan »