The habit of recognising the label and overlooking the thing, of seeing intellectually instead of seeing emotionally, accounts for the amazing blindness, or rather visual shallowness, of most civilised adults. We do not forget what has moved us, but what we have merely recognised leaves no deep impression on the mind. A friend of mine, a man of taste, desired to make some clearance in his gardens, encumbered as they were with a multitude of trees; unfortunately most of his friends and all his family objected on sentimental or aesthetic grounds, declaring that the place would never be the same to them if the axe were laid to a single trunk. My friend was in despair, until, one day, I suggested to him that whenever his people were all away on visits or travels, as was pretty often the case, he should have as many trees cut down as could be completely and cleanly removed during their absence. Since then, several hundreds have been carted from his small park and pleasure grounds, and should the secret be betrayed to the family I am cheerfully confident that not one of them would believe it. I could cite innumerable instances of this insensibility to form. How often have I been one of a party in a room with which all were familiar, the decoration of which had lately been changed, and I the only one to notice it. For practical purposes the room remained unaltered; only its emotional significance was new. Question your friend as to the disposition of the furniture in his wife's drawing-room; ask him to sketch the street down which he passes daily; ten to one he goes hopelessly astray. Only artists and educated people of extraordinary sensibility and some savages and children feel the significance of form so acutely that they know how things look. These see, because they see emotionally; and no one forgets the things that have moved him. Those forget who have never felt the emotional significance of pure form; they are not stupid nor are they generally insensitive, but they use their eyes only to collect information, not to capture emotion. This habit of using the eyes exclusively to pick up facts is the barrier that stands between most people and an understanding of visual art. It is not a barrier that has stood unbreached always, nor need it stand so for all future time.
In ages of great spiritual exaltation the barrier crumbles and becomes, in places, less insuperable. Such ages are commonly called great religious ages: nor is the name ill-chosen. For, more often than not, religion is the whetstone on which men sharpen the spiritual sense. Religion, like art, is concerned with the world of emotional reality, and with material things only in so far as they are emotionally significant. For the mystic, as for the artist, the physical universe is a means to ecstasy. The mystic feels things as "ends" instead of seeing them as "means." He seeks within all things that ultimate reality which provokes emotional exaltation; and, if he does not come at it through pure form, there are, as I have said, more roads than one to that country. Religion, as I understand it, is an expression of the individual's sense of the emotional significance of the universe; I should not be surprised to find that art was an expression of the same thing. Anyway, both seem to express emotions different from and transcending the emotions of life. Certainly both have the power of transporting men to superhuman ecstasies; both are means to unearthly states of mind. Art and religion belong to the same world. Both are bodies in which men try to capture and keep alive their shyest and most ethereal conceptions. The kingdom of neither is of this world. Rightly, therefore, do we regard art and religion as twin manifestations of the spirit; wrongly do some speak of art as a manifestation of religion.
If it were said that art and religion were twin manifestations of something that, for convenience sake, may be called "the religious spirit," I should make no serious complaint. But I should insist on the distinction between "religion," in the ordinary acceptation of the word, and "the religious spirit" being stated beyond all possibility of cavil. I should insist that if we are to say that art is a manifestation of the religious spirit, we must say the same of every respectable religion that ever has existed or ever can exist. Above all, I should insist that whoever said it should bear in mind, whenever he said it, that "manifestation" is at least as different from "expression" as Monmouth is from Macedon.
The religious spirit is born of a conviction that some things matter more than others. To those possessed by it there is a sharp distinction between that which is unconditioned and universal and that which is limited and local. It is a consciousness of the unconditioned and universal that makes people religious; and it is this consciousness or, at least, a conviction that some things are unconditioned and universal, that makes their attitude towards the conditioned and local sometimes a little unsympathetic. It is this consciousness that makes them set justice above law, passion above principle, sensibility above culture, intelligence above knowledge, intuition above experience, the ideal above the tolerable. It is this consciousness that makes them the enemies of convention, compromise, and common-sense. In fact, the essence of religion is a conviction that because some things are of infinite value most are profoundly unimportant, that since the gingerbread is there one need not feel too strongly about the gilt.
It is useless for liberal divines to pretend that there is no antagonism between the religious nature and the scientific. There is no antagonism between religion and science, but that is a very different matter. In fact, the hypotheses of science begin only where religion ends: but both religion and science are born trespassers. The religious and the scientific both have their prejudices; but their prejudices are not the same. The scientific mind cannot free itself from a prejudice against the notion that effects may exist the causes of which it ignores. Not only do religious minds manage to believe that there may be effects of which they do not know, and may never know, the causes—they cannot even see the absolute necessity for supposing that everything is caused. Scientific people tend to trust their senses and disbelieve their emotions when they contradict them; religious people tend to trust emotion even though sensual experience be against it. On the whole, the religious are the more open-minded. Their assumption that the senses may mislead is less arrogant than the assumption that through them alone can we come at reality, for, as Dr. McTaggart has wittily said, "If a man is shut up in a house, the transparency of the windows is an essential condition of his seeing the sky. But it would not be prudent to infer that, if he walked out of the house, he could not see the sky, because there was no longer any glass through which he might see it."
Examples of scientific bigotry are as common as blackberries. The attitude of the profession towards unorthodox medicine is the classical instance. In the autumn of 1912 I was walking through the Grafton Galleries with a man who is certainly one of the ablest, and is reputed one of the most enlightened, of contemporary men of science. Looking at the picture of a young girl with a cat by Henri-Matisse, he exclaimed—"I see how it is, the fellow's astigmatic." I should have let this bit of persiflage go unanswered, assuming it to be one of those witty sallies for which the princes of science are so justly famed and to which they often treat us even when they are not in the presence of works of art, had not the professor followed up his clue with the utmost gravity, assuring me at last that no picture in the gallery was beyond the reach of optical diagnostic. Still suspicious of his good faith, I suggested, tentatively, that perhaps the discrepancies between the normal man's vision and the pictures on the wall were the result of intentional distortion on the part of the artists. At this the professor became passionately serious—"Do you mean to tell me," he bawled, "that there has ever been a painter who did not try to make his objects as lifelike as possible? Dismiss such silly nonsense from your head." It is the old story: "Clear your mind of cant," that is to say, of anything which appears improbable or unpalatable to Dr. Johnson.
The religious, on the other hand, are apt to be a little prejudiced against common-sense; and, for my own part, I confess that I am often tempted to think that a common-sense view is necessarily a wrong one. It was common-sense to see that the world must be flat and that the sun must go round it; only when those fantastical people made themselves heard who thought that the solar system could not be quite so simple an affair as common-sense knew it must be were these opinions knocked on the head. Dr. Johnson, the great exemplar of British common-sense, observing in autumn the gathered swallows skimming over pools and rivers, pronounced it certain that these birds sleep all the winter—"A number of them conglobulate together, by flying round and round, and then all in a heap throw themselves under water, and lie in the bed of a river": how sensibly, too, did he dispose of Berkeley's Idealism—"striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone"—"I refute it thus." Seriously, is the common-sense view ever the right one?
Lately, the men of sense and science have secured allies who have brought to their cause what most it lacked, a little fundamental thought. Those able and honest people, the Cambridge rationalists, headed by Mr. G.E. Moore, to whose Principia Ethica I owe so much, are, of course, profoundly religious and live by a passionate faith in the absolute value of certain states of mind; also they have fallen in love with the conclusions and methods of science. Being extremely intelligent, they perceive, however, that empirical arguments can avail nothing for or against a metaphysical theory, and that ultimately all the conclusions of science are based on a logic that precedes experience. Also they perceive that emotions are just as real as sensations. They find themselves confronted, therefore, by this difficulty; if someone steps forward to say that he has a direct, disinterested, a priori, conviction of the goodness of his emotions towards the Mass, he puts himself in the same position as Mr. Moore, who feels a similar conviction about the goodness of his towards the Truth. If Mr. Moore is to infer the goodness of one state of mind from his feelings, why should not someone else infer the goodness of another from his? The Cambridge rationalists have a short way with such dissenters. They simply assure them that they do not feel what they say they feel. Some of them have begun to apply their cogent methods to aesthetics; and when we tell them what we feel for pure form they assure us that, in fact, we feel nothing of the sort. This argument, however, has always struck me as lacking in subtlety.
Much as he dislikes mentioning the fact or hearing it mentioned, the common man of science recognises no other end in life than protracted and agreeable existence. That is where he joins issue with the religious; it is also his excuse for being a eugenist. He declines to believe in any reality other than that of the physical universe. On that reality he insists dogmatically. Man, he says, is an animal who, like other animals, desires to live; he is provided with senses, and these, like other animals, he seeks to gratify: in these facts he bids us find an explanation of all human aspiration. Man wants to live and he wants to have a good time; to compass these ends he has devised an elaborate machinery. All emotion, says the common man of science, must ultimately be traced to the senses. All moral, religious and aesthetic emotions are derived from physical needs, just as political ideas are based on that gregarious instinct which is simply the result of a desire to live long and to live in comfort. We obey the by-law that forbids us to ride a bicycle on the footpath, because we see that, in the long run, such a law is conducive to continued and agreeable existence, and for very similar reasons, says the man of science, we approve of magnanimous characters and sublime works of art.
"Not so," reply saints, artists, Cambridge rationalists, and all the better sort; for they feel that their religious, aesthetic, or moral emotions are not conditioned, directly or indirectly, by physical needs, nor, indeed, by anything in the physical universe. Some things, they feel, are good, not because they are means to physical well-being, but because they are good in themselves. In nowise does the value of aesthetic or religious rapture depend upon the physical satisfaction it affords. There are things in life the worth of which cannot be related to the physical universe,—things of which the worth is not relative but absolute. Of these matters I speak cautiously and without authority: for my immediate purpose—to present my conception of the religious character—I need say only that to some the materialistic conception of the universe does not seem to explain those emotions which they feel with supreme certainty and absolute disinterestedness. The fact is, men of science, having got us into the habit of attempting to justify all our feelings and states of mind by reference to the physical universe, have almost bullied some of us into believing that what cannot be so justified does not exist.
I call him a religious man who, feeling with conviction that some things are good in themselves, and that physical existence is not amongst them, pursues, at the expense of physical existence, that which appears to him good. All those who hold with uncompromising sincerity that spiritual is more important than material life, are, in my sense, religious. For instance, in Paris I have seen young painters, penniless, half-fed, unwarmed, ill-clothed, their women and children in no better case, working all day in feverish ecstasy at unsaleable pictures, and quite possibly they would have killed or wounded anyone who suggested a compromise with the market. When materials and credit failed altogether, they stole newspapers and boot-blacking that they might continue to serve their masterful passion. They were superbly religious. All artists are religious. All uncompromising belief is religious. A man who so cares for truth that he will go to prison, or death, rather than acknowledge a God in whose existence he does not believe, is as religious, and as much a martyr in the cause of religion, as Socrates or Jesus. He has set his criterion of values outside the physical universe.
In material things, half a loaf is said to be better than no bread. Not so in spiritual. If he thinks that it may do some good, a politician will support a bill which he considers inadequate. He states his objections and votes with the majority. He does well, perhaps. In spiritual matters such compromises are impossible. To please the public the artist cannot give of his second best. To do so would be to sacrifice that which makes life valuable. Were he to become a liar and express something different from what he feels, truth would no longer be in him. What would it profit him to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? He knows that there is that within him which is more important than physical existence—that to which physical existence is but a means. That he may feel and express it, it is good that he should be alive. But unless he may feel and express the best, he were better dead.
Art and Religion are, then, two roads by which men escape from circumstance to ecstasy. Between aesthetic and religious rapture there is a family alliance. Art and Religion are means to similar states of mind. And if we are licensed to lay aside the science of aesthetics and, going behind our emotion and its object, consider what is in the mind of the artist, we may say, loosely enough, that art is a manifestation of the religious sense. If it be an expression of emotion—as I am persuaded that it is—it is an expression of that emotion which is the vital force in every religion, or, at any rate, it expresses an emotion felt for that which is the essence of all. We may say that both art and religion are manifestations of man's religious sense, if by "man's religious sense" we mean his sense of ultimate reality. What we may not say is, that art is the expression of any particular religion; for to do so is to confuse the religious spirit with the channels in which it has been made to flow. It is to confuse the wine with the bottle. Art may have much to do with that universal emotion that has found a corrupt and stuttering expression in a thousand different creeds: it has nothing to do with historical facts or metaphysical fancies. To be sure, many descriptive paintings are manifestos and expositions of religious dogmas: a very proper use for descriptive painting too. Certainly the blot on many good pictures is the descriptive element introduced for the sake of edification and instruction. But in so far as a picture is a work of art, it has no more to do with dogmas or doctrines, facts or theories, than with the interests and emotions of daily life.
ART AND HISTORY
And yet there is a connection between art and religion, even in the common and limited sense of that word. There is an historical XXXXXXXXXX: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX between the history of art and the history of religion. Religions are vital and sincere only so long as they are animated by that which animates all great art—spiritual ferment. It is a mistake, by the way, to suppose that dogmatic religion cannot be vital and sincere. Religious emotions tend always to anchor themselves to earth by a chain of dogma. That tendency is the enemy within the gate of every movement. Dogmatic religion can be vital and sincere, and what is more, theology and ritual have before now been the trumpet and drum of spiritual revolutions. But dogmatic or intellectually free, religious ages, ages of spiritual turmoil, ages in which men set the spirit above the flesh and the emotions above the intellect, are the ages in which is felt the emotional significance of the universe. Then it is men live on the frontiers of reality and listen eagerly to travellers' tales. Thus it comes about that the great ages of religion are commonly the great ages of art. As the sense of reality grows dim, as men become more handy at manipulating labels and symbols, more mechanical, more disciplined, more specialised, less capable of feeling things directly, the power of escaping to the world of ecstasy decays, and art and religion begin to sink. When the majority lack, not only the emotion out of which art and religion are made, but even the sensibility to respond to what the few can still offer, art and religion founder. After that, nothing is left of art and religion but their names; illusion and prettiness are called art, politics and sentimentality religion.
Now, if I am right in thinking that art is a manifestation—a manifestation, mark, and not an expression—of man's spiritual state, then in the history of art we shall read the spiritual history of the race. I am not surprised that those who have devoted their lives to the study of history should take it ill when one who professes only to understand the nature of art hints that by understanding his own business he may become a judge of theirs. Let me be as conciliatory as possible. No one can have less right than I, or, indeed, less inclination to assume the proud title of "scientific historian": no one can care less about historical small-talk or be more at a loss to understand what precisely is meant by "historical science." Yet if history be anything more than a chronological catalogue of facts, if it be concerned with the movements of mind and spirit, then I submit that to read history aright we must know, not only the works of art that each age produced, but also their value as works of art. If the aesthetic significance or insignificance of works of art does, indeed, bear witness to a spiritual state, then he who can appreciate that significance should be in a position to form some opinion concerning the spiritual state of the men who produced those works and of those who appreciated them. If art be at all the sort of thing it is commonly supposed to be, the history of art must be an index to the spiritual history of the race. Only, the historian who wishes to use art as an index must possess not merely the nice observation of the scholar and the archaeologist, but also a fine sensibility. For it is the aesthetic significance of a work that gives a clue to the state of mind that produced it; so the ability to assign a particular work to a particular period avails nothing unaccompanied by the power of appreciating its aesthetic significance.
To understand completely the history of an age must we know and understand the history of its art? It seems so. And yet the idea is intolerable to scientific historians. What becomes of the great scientific principle of water-tight compartments? Again, it is unjust: for assuredly, to understand art we need know nothing whatever about history. It may be that from works of art we can draw inferences as to the sort of people who made them: but the longest and most intimate conversations with an artist will not tell us whether his pictures are good or bad. We must see them: then we shall know. I may be partial or dishonest about the work of my friend, but its aesthetic significance is not more obvious to me than that of a work that was finished five thousand years ago. To appreciate fully a work of art we require nothing but sensibility. To those that can hear Art speaks for itself: facts and dates do not; to make bricks of such stuff one must glean the uplands and hollows for tags of auxiliary information and suggestion; and the history of art is no exception to the rule. To appreciate a man's art I need know nothing whatever about the artist; I can say whether this picture is better than that without the help of history; but if I am trying to account for the deterioration of his art, I shall be helped by knowing that he has been seriously ill or that he has married a wife who insists on his boiling her pot. To mark the deterioration was to make a pure, aesthetic judgment: to account for it was to become an historian. To understand the history of art we must know something of other kinds of history. Perhaps, to understand thoroughly any kind of history we must understand every kind of history. Perhaps the history of an age or of a life is an indivisible whole. Another intolerable idea! What becomes of the specialist? What of those formidable compendiums in which the multitudinous activities of man are kept so jealously apart? The mind boggles at the monstrous vision of its own conclusions.
But, after all, does it matter to me? I am not an historian of art or of anything else. I care very little when things were made, or why they were made; I care about their emotional significance to us. To the historian everything is a means to some other means; to me everything that matters is a direct means to emotion. I am writing about art, not about history. With history I am concerned only in so far as history serves to illustrate my hypothesis: and whether history be true or false matters very little, since my hypothesis is not based on history but on personal experience, not on facts but on feelings. Historical fact and falsehood are of no consequence to people who try to deal with realities. They need not ask, "Did this happen?"; they need ask only, "Do I feel this?" Lucky for us that it is so: for if our judgments about real things had to wait upon historical certitude they might have to wait for ever. Nevertheless it is amusing to see how far that of which we are sure agrees with that which we should expect. My aesthetic hypothesis—that the essential quality in a work of art is significant form—was based on my aesthetic experience. Of my aesthetic experiences I am sure. About my second hypothesis, that significant form is the expression of a peculiar emotion felt for reality—I am far from confident. However, I assume it to be true, and go on to suggest that this sense of reality leads men to attach greater importance to the spiritual than to the material significance of the universe, that it disposes men to feel things as ends instead of merely recognising them as means, that a sense of reality is, in fact, the essence of spiritual health. If this be so, we shall expect to find that ages in which the creation of significant form is checked are ages in which the sense of reality is dim, and that these ages are ages of spiritual poverty. We shall expect to find the curves of art and spiritual fervour ascending and descending together. In my next chapter I shall glance at the history of a cycle of art with the intention of following the movement of art and discovering how far that movement keeps pace with changes in the spiritual state of society. My view of the rise, decline and fall of art in Christendom is based entirely on a series of independent aesthetic judgments in the rightness of which I have the arrogance to feel considerable confidence. I pretend to a power of distinguishing between significant and insignificant form, and it will interest me to see whether a decline in the significance of forms—a deterioration of art, that is to say—synchronises generally with a lowering of the religious sense. I shall expect to find that whenever artists have allowed themselves to be seduced from their proper business, the creation of form, by other and irrelevant interests, society has been spiritually decadent. Ages in which the sense of formal significance has been swamped utterly by preoccupation with the obvious, will turn out, I suspect, to have been ages of spiritual famine. Therefore, while following the fortunes of art across a period of fourteen hundred years, I shall try to keep an eye on that of which art may be a manifestation—man's sense of ultimate reality.
To criticise a work of art historically is to play the science-besotted fool. No more disastrous theory ever issued from the brain of a charlatan than that of evolution in art. Giotto did not creep, a grub, that Titian might flaunt, a butterfly. To think of a man's art as leading on to the art of someone else is to misunderstand it. To praise or abuse or be interested in a work of art because it leads or does not lead to another work of art is to treat it as though it were not a work of art. The connection of one work of art with another may have everything to do with history: it has nothing to do with appreciation. So soon as we begin to consider a work as anything else than an end in itself we leave the world of art. Though the development of painting from Giotto to Titian may be interesting historically, it cannot affect the value of any particular picture: aesthetically, it is of no consequence whatever. Every work of art must be judged on its own merits.
Therefore, be sure that, in my next chapter, I am not going to make aesthetic judgments in the light of history; I am going to read history in the light of aesthetic judgments. Having made my judgments, independently of any theory, aesthetic or non-aesthetic, I shall be amused to see how far the view of history that may be based on them agrees with accepted historical hypotheses. If my judgments and the dates furnished by historians be correct, it will follow that some ages have produced more good art than others: but, indeed, it is not disputed that the variety in the artistic significance of different ages is immense. I shall be curious to see what relation can be established between the art and the age that produced it. If my second hypothesis—that art is the expression of an emotion for ultimate reality—be correct, the relation between art and its age will be inevitable and intimate. In that case, an aesthetic judgment will imply some sort of judgment about the general state of mind of the artist and his admirers. In fact, anyone who accepts absolutely my second hypothesis with all its possible implications—which is more than I am willing to do—will not only see in the history of art the spiritual history of the race, but will be quite unable to think of one without thinking of the other.
If I do not go quite so far as that, I stop short only by a little. Certainly it is less absurd to see in art the key to history than to imagine that history can help us to an appreciation of art. In ages of spiritual fervour I look for great art. By ages of spiritual fervour I do not mean pleasant or romantic or humane or enlightened ages; I mean ages in which, for one reason or another, men have been unusually excited about their souls and unusually indifferent about their bodies. Such ages, as often as not, have been superstitious and cruel. Preoccupation with the soul may lead to superstition, indifference about the body to cruelty. I never said that ages of great art were sympathetic to the middle-classes. Art and a quiet life are incompatible I think; some stress and turmoil there must be. Need I add that in the snuggest age of materialism great artists may arise and flourish? Of course: but when the production of good art is at all widespread and continuous, near at hand I shall expect to find a restless generation. Also, having marked a period of spiritual stir, I shall look, not far off, for its manifestation in significant form. But the stir must be spiritual and genuine; a swirl of emotionalism or political frenzy will provoke nothing fine. How far in any particular age the production of art is stimulated by general exaltation, or general exaltation by works of art, is a question hardly to be decided. Wisest, perhaps, is he who says that the two seem to have been interdependent. Just how dependent I believe them to have been, will appear when, in my next chapter, I attempt to sketch the rise, decline, and fall of the Christian slope.
ART AND ETHICS
Between me and the pleasant places of history remains, however, one ugly barrier. I cannot dabble and paddle in the pools and shallows of the past until I have answered a question so absurd that the nicest people never tire of asking it: "What is the moral justification of art?" Of course they are right who insist that the creation of art must be justified on ethical grounds: all human activities must be so justified. It is the philosopher's privilege to call upon the artist to show that what he is about is either good in itself or a means to good. It is the artist's duty to reply: "Art is good because it exalts to a state of ecstasy better far than anything a benumbed moralist can even guess at; so shut up." Philosophically he is quite right; only, philosophy is not so simple as that. Let us try to answer philosophically.
The moralist inquires whether art is either good in itself or a means to good. Before answering, we will ask what he means by the word "good," not because it is in the least doubtful, but to make him think. In fact, Mr. G.E. Moore has shown pretty conclusively in his Principia Ethica that by "good" everyone means just good. We all know quite well what we mean though we cannot define it. "Good" can no more be defined than "Red": no quality can be defined. Nevertheless we know perfectly well what we mean when we say that a thing is "good" or "red." This is so obviously true that its statement has greatly disconcerted, not to say enraged, the orthodox philosophers.
Orthodox philosophers are by no means agreed as to what we do mean by "good," only they are sure that we cannot mean what we say. They used to be fond of assuming that "good" meant pleasure; or, at any rate, that pleasure was the sole good as an end: two very different propositions. That "good" means "pleasure" and that pleasure is the sole good was the opinion of the Hedonists, and is still the opinion of any Utilitarians who may have lingered on into the twentieth century. They enjoy the honour of being the only ethical fallacies worth the powder and shot of a writer on art. I can imagine no more delicate or convincing piece of logic than that by which Mr. G.E. Moore disposes of both. But it is none of my business to do clumsily what Mr. Moore has done exquisitely. I have no mind by attempting to reproduce his dialectic to incur the merited ridicule of those familiar with the Principia Ethica or to spoil the pleasure of those who will be wise enough to run out this very minute and order a masterpiece with which they happen to be unacquainted. For my immediate purpose it is necessary only to borrow one shaft from that well-stocked armoury.
To him who believes that pleasure is the sole good, I will put this question: Does he, like John Stuart Mill, and everyone else I ever heard of, speak of "higher and lower" or "better and worse" or "superior and inferior" pleasures? And, if so, does he not perceive that he has given away his case? For, when he says that one pleasure is "higher" or "better" than another, he does not mean that it is greater in quantity but superior in quality.
On page 7 of Utilitarianism, J.S. Mill says:—
"If one of the two (pleasures) is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account."
But if pleasure be the sole good, the only possible criterion of pleasures is quantity of pleasure. "Higher" or "better" can only mean containing more pleasure. To speak of "better pleasures" in any other sense is to make the goodness of the sole good as an end depend upon something which, ex hypothesi, is not good as an end. Mill is as one who, having set up sweetness as the sole good quality in jam, prefers Tiptree to Crosse and Blackwell, not because it is sweeter, but because it possesses a better kind of sweetness. To do so is to discard sweetness as an ultimate criterion and to set up something else in its place. So, when Mill, like everyone else, speaks of "better" or "higher" or "superior" pleasures, he discards pleasure as an ultimate criterion, and thereby admits that pleasure is not the sole good. He feels that some pleasures are better than others, and determines their respective values by the degree in which they possess that quality which all recognise but none can define—goodness. By higher and lower, superior and inferior pleasures we mean simply more good and less good pleasures. There are, therefore, two different qualities, Pleasantness and Goodness. Pleasure, amongst other things, may be good; but pleasure cannot mean good. By "good" we cannot mean "pleasureable;" for, as we see, there is a quality, "goodness," so distinct from pleasure that we speak of pleasures that are more or less good without meaning pleasures that are more or less pleasant. By "good," then, we do not mean "pleasure," neither is pleasure the sole good.
Mr. Moore goes on to inquire what things are good in themselves, as ends that is to say. He comes to a conclusion with which we all agree, but for which few could have found convincing and logical arguments: "states of mind," he shows, alone are good as ends. People who have very little taste for logic will find a simple and satisfactory proof of this conclusion afforded by what is called "the method of isolation."
That which is good as an end will retain some, at any rate, of its value in complete isolation: it will retain all its value as an end. That which is good as a means only will lose all its value in isolation. That which is good as an end will remain valuable even when deprived of all its consequences and left with nothing but bare existence. Therefore, we can discover whether honestly we feel some thing to be good as an end, if only we can conceive it in complete isolation, and be sure that so isolated it remains valuable. Bread is good. Is bread good as an end or as a means? Conceive a loaf existing in an uninhabited and uninhabitable planet. Does it seem to lose its value? That is a little too easy. The physical universe appears to most people immensely good, for towards nature they feel violently that emotional reaction which brings to the lips the epithet "good"; but if the physical universe were not related to mind, if it were never to provoke an emotional reaction, if no mind were ever to be affected by it, and if it had no mind of its own, would it still appear good? There are two stars: one is, and ever will be, void of life, on the other exists a fragment of just living protoplasm which will never develop, will never become conscious. Can we say honestly that we feel one to be better than the other? Is life itself good as an end? A clear judgment is made difficult by the fact that one cannot conceive anything without feeling something for it; one's very conceptions provoke states of mind and thus acquire value as means. Let us ask ourselves, bluntly, can that which has no mind and affects no mind have value? Surely not. But anything which has a mind can have intrinsic value, and anything that affects a mind may become valuable as a means, since the state of mind produced may be valuable in itself. Isolate that mind. Isolate the state of mind of a man in love or rapt in contemplation; it does not seem to lose all its value. I do not say that its value is not decreased; obviously, it loses its value as a means to producing good states of mind in others. But a certain value does subsist—an intrinsic value. Populate the lone star with one human mind and every part of that star becomes potentially valuable as a means, because it may be a means to that which is good as an end—a good state of mind. The state of mind of a person in love or rapt in contemplation suffices in itself. We do not stay to inquire "What useful purpose does this serve, whom does it benefit, and how?" We say directly and with conviction—"This is good."
When we are challenged to justify our opinion that anything, other than a state of mind, is good, we, feeling it to be a means only, do very properly seek its good effects, and our last justification is always that it produces good states of mind. Thus, when asked why we call a patent fertiliser good, we may, if we can find a listener, show that the fertiliser is a means to good crops, good crops a means to food, food a means to life, and life a necessary condition of good states of mind. Further we cannot go. When asked why we hold a particular state of mind to be good, the state of aesthetic contemplation for instance, we can but reply that to us its goodness is self-evident. Some states of mind appear to be good independently of their consequences. No other things appear to be good in this way. We conclude, therefore, that good states of mind are alone good as ends.
To justify ethically any human activity, we must inquire—"Is this a means to good states of mind?" In the case of art our answer will be prompt and emphatic. Art is not only a means to good states of mind, but, perhaps, the most direct and potent that we possess. Nothing is more direct, because nothing affects the mind more immediately; nothing is more potent, because there is no state of mind more excellent or more intense than the state of aesthetic contemplation. This being so, to seek any other moral justification for art, to seek in art a means to anything less than good states of mind, is an act of wrong-headedness to be committed only by a fool or a man of genius.
Many fools have committed it and one man of genius has made it notorious. Never was cart put more obstructively before horse than when Tolstoi announced that the justification of art was its power of promoting good actions. As if actions were ends in themselves! There is neither virtue nor vice in running: but to run with good tidings is commendable, to run away with an old lady's purse is not. There is no merit in shouting: but to speak up for truth and justice is well, to deafen the world with charlatanry is damnable. Always it is the end in view that gives value to action; and, ultimately, the end of all good actions must be to create or encourage or make possible good states of mind. Therefore, inciting people to good actions by means of edifying images is a respectable trade and a roundabout means to good. Creating works of art is as direct a means to good as a human being can practise. Just in this fact lies the tremendous importance of art: there is no more direct means to good.
To pronounce anything a work of art is, therefore, to make a momentous moral judgment. It is to credit an object with being so direct and powerful a means to good that we need not trouble ourselves about any other of its possible consequences. But even were this not the case, the habit of introducing moral considerations into judgments between particular works of art would be inexcusable. Let the moralist make a judgment about art as a whole, let him assign it what he considers its proper place amongst means to good, but in aesthetic judgments, in judgments between members of the same class, in judgments between works of art considered as art, let him hold his tongue. If he esteem art anything less than equal to the greatest means to good he mistakes. But granting, for the sake of peace, its inferiority to some, I will yet remind him that his moral judgments about the value of particular works of art have nothing to do with their artistic value. The judge at Epsom is not permitted to disqualify the winner of the Derby in favour of the horse that finished last but one on the ground that the latter is just the animal for the Archbishop of Canterbury's brougham.
Define art as you please, preferably in accordance with my ideas; assign it what place you will in the moral system; and then discriminate between works of art according to their excellence in that quality, or those qualities, that you have laid down in your definition as essential and peculiar to works of art. You may, of course, make ethical judgments about particular works, not as works of art, but as members of some other class, or as independent and unclassified parts of the universe. You may hold that a particular picture by the President of the Royal Academy is a greater means to good than one by the glory of the New English Art Club, and that a penny bun is better than either. In such a case you will be making a moral and not an aesthetic judgment. Therefore it will be right to take into account the area of the canvases, the thickness of the frames, and the potential value of each as fuel or shelter against the rigours of our climate. In casting up accounts you should not neglect their possible effects on the middle-aged people who visit Burlington House and the Suffolk Street Gallery; nor must you forget the consciences of those who handle the Chantry funds, or of those whom high prices provoke to emulation. You will be making a moral and not an aesthetic judgment; and if you have concluded that neither picture is a work of art, though you may be wasting your time, you will not be making yourself ridiculous. But when you treat a picture as a work of art, you have, unconsciously perhaps, made a far more important moral judgment. You have assigned it to a class of objects so powerful and direct as means to spiritual exaltation that all minor merits are inconsiderable. Paradoxical as it may seem, the only relevant qualities in a work of art, judged as art, are artistic qualities: judged as a means to good, no other qualities are worth considering; for there are no qualities of greater moral value than artistic qualities, since there is no greater means to good than art.
[Footnote 5: "An Essay in Aesthetics," by Roger Fry: The New Quarterly, No. 6, vol. ii.]
[Footnote 6: McTaggart: Some Dogmas of Religion.]
[Footnote 7: I am aware that there are men of science who preserve an open mind as to the reality of the physical universe, and recognise that what is known as "the scientific hypothesis" leaves out of account just those things that seem to us most real. Doubtless these are the true men of science; they are not the common ones.]
[Footnote 8: I should not have expected the wars of so-called religion or the Puritan revolution to have awakened in men a sense of the emotional significance of the universe, and I should be a good deal surprised if Sir Edward Carson's agitation were to produce in the North-East of Ireland a crop of first-rate formal expression.]
[Footnote 9: Formerly he held that inanimate beauty also was good in itself. But this tenet, I am glad to learn, he has discarded.]
THE CHRISTIAN SLOPE
I. THE RISE OF CHRISTIAN ART
II. GREATNESS AND DECLINE
III. THE CLASSICAL RENAISSANCE AND ITS DISEASES
IV. ALID EX ALIO
THE RISE OF CHRISTIAN ART
What do I mean by a slope? That I hope to make clear in the course of this chapter and the next. But, as readers may expect something to go on with, I will explain immediately that, though I recognise the continuity of the stream of art, I believe that it is possible and proper to divide that stream into slopes and movements. About the exact line of division there can be no certainty. It is easy to say that in the passage of a great river from the hills to the sea, the depth, the width, the colour, the temperature, and the velocity of the waters are bound to change; to fix precisely the point of change is another matter. If I try to picture for myself the whole history of art from earliest times in all parts of the world I am unable, of course, to see it as a single thread. The stuff of which it is made is unchangeable, it is always water that flows down the river, but there is more than one channel: for instance, there is European art and Oriental. To me the universal history of art has the look of a map in which several streams descend from the same range of mountains to the same sea. They start from different altitudes but all descend at last to one level. Thus, I should say that the slope at the head of which stand the Buddhist masterpieces of the Wei, Liang, and T'ang dynasties begins a great deal higher than the slope at the head of which are the Greek primitives of the seventh century, and higher than that of which early Sumerian sculpture is the head; but when we have to consider contemporary Japanese art, Graeco-Roman and Roman sculpture, and late Assyrian, we see that all have found the same sea-level of nasty naturalism.
By a slope, then, I mean that which lies between a great primitive morning, when men create art because they must, and that darkest hour when men confound imitation with art. These slopes can be subdivided into movements. The downward course of a slope is not smooth and even, but broken and full of accidents. Indeed the procession of art does not so much resemble a river as a road from the mountains to the plain. That road is a sequence of ups and downs. An up and a down together form a movement. Sometimes the apex of one movement seems to reach as high as the apex of the movement that preceded it, but always its base carries us farther down the slope. Also, in the history of art the summit of one movement seems always to spring erect from the trough of its predecessor. The upward stroke is vertical, the downward an inclined plane. For instance, from Duccio to Giotto is a step up, sharp and shallow. From Giotto to Lionardo is a long and, at times, almost imperceptible fall. Duccio is a fine decadent of that Basilian movement which half survived the Latin conquest and came to an exquisite end under the earlier Palaeologi. The peak of that movement rises high above Giotto, though Duccio near its base is below him. Giotto's art is definitely inferior to the very finest Byzantine of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and Giotto is the crest of a new movement destined and doomed inevitably to sink to depths undreamed of by Duccio.
All that was spiritual in Greek civilisation was sick before the sack of Corinth, and all that was alive in Greek art had died many years earlier. That it had died before the death of Alexander let his tomb at Constantinople be my witness. Before they set the last stone of the Parthenon it was ailing: the big marbles in the British Museum are the last significant examples of Greek art; the frieze, of course, proves nothing, being mere artisan work. But the man who made what one may as well call "The Theseus" and "The Ilissus," the man whom one may as well call Phidias, crowns the last vital movement in the Hellenic slope. He is a genius, but he is no oddity: he falls quite naturally into his place as the master of the early decadence; he is the man in whom runs rich and fast but a little coarsened the stream of inspiration that gave life to archaic Greek sculpture. He is the Giotto—but an inferior Giotto—of the slope that starts from the eighth century B.C.—so inferior to the sixth century A.D.—to peter out in the bogs of Hellenistic and Roman rubbish. Whence sprang that Hellenic impulse? As yet we cannot tell. Probably, from the ruins of some venerable Mediterranean civility, against the complex materialism of which it was, in its beginnings, I dare say, a reaction. The story of its prime can be read in fragments of archaic sculpture scattered throughout Europe, and studied in the National Museum at Athens, where certain statues of athletes, dating from about 600, reveal the excellences and defects of Greek art at its best. Of its early decline in the fifth century Phidias is the second-rate Giotto; the copies of his famous contemporaries and immediate predecessors are too loathsome to be at all just; Praxiteles, in the fourth century, the age of accomplished prettiness, is the Correggio, or whatever delightful trifler your feeling for art and chronology may suggest. Fifth and fourth century architecture forbid us to forget the greatness of the Greeks in the golden age of their intellectual and political history. The descent from sensitive, though always rather finikin, drawing through the tasteful and accomplished to the feebly forcible may be followed in the pots and vases of the sixth, fifth, fourth, and third centuries. In the long sands and flats of Roman realism the stream of Greek inspiration is lost for ever.
Before the death of Marcus Aurelius, Europe was as weary of materialism as England before the death of Victoria. But what power was to destroy a machine that had enslaved men so completely that they dared not conceive an alternative? The machine was grown so huge that man could no longer peer over its side; man could see nothing but its cranks and levers, could hear nothing but its humming, could mark the spinning fly-wheel and fancy himself in contemplation of the revolving spheres. Annihilation was the only escape for the Roman citizen from the Roman Empire. Yet, while in the West Hadrian was raising the Imperial talent for brutalisation to a system and a science, somewhere in the East, in Egypt, or in Asia Minor, or, more probably in Syria, in Mesopotamia, or even Persia, the new leaven was at work. That power which was to free the world was in ferment. The religious spirit was again coming to birth. Here and there, in face of the flat contradiction of circumstances, one would arise and assert that man does not live by bread alone. Orphism, Mythraism, Christianity, many forms of one spirit, were beginning to mean something more than curious ritual and discreet debauch. Very slowly a change was coming over the face of Europe.
There was change before the signs of it became apparent. The earliest Christian paintings in the catacombs are purely classical. If the early Christians felt anything new they could not express it. But before the second century was out Coptic craftsmen had begun to weave into dead Roman designs something vital. The academic patterns are queerly distorted and flattened out into forms of a certain significance, as we can feel for ourselves if we go to the textile room at South Kensington. Certainly, these second century Coptic textiles are more like works of art than anything that had been produced in the Roman Empire for more than four hundred years. Egyptian paintings of the third century bear less positive witness to the fumblings of a new spirit. But at the beginning of the fourth century Diocletian built his palace at Spalato, where we have all learned to see classicism and the new spirit from the East fighting it out side by side; and, if we may trust Strzygowski, from the end of that century dates the beautiful church of Kodja-Kalessi in Isauria. The century in which the East finally dominated the West (350-450) is a period of incubation. It is a time of disconcerting activity that precedes the unmistakable launch of art upon the Christian slope. I would confidently assert that every artistic birth is preceded by a period of uneasy gestation in which the unborn child acquires the organs and energy that are to carry it forward on its long journey, if only I possessed the data that would give a tottering support to so comforting a generalisation. Alas! the births of the great slopes of antiquity are shrouded in a night scarcely ruffled by the minute researches of patient archaeologists and impervious to the startling discoveries by experts of more or less palpable forgeries. Of these critical periods we dare not speak confidently; nevertheless we can compare the fifth century with the nineteenth and draw our own conclusions.
In 450 they built the lovely Galla Placidia at Ravenna. It is a building essentially un-Roman; that is to say, the Romanism that clings to it is accidental and adds nothing to its significance. The mosaics within, however, are still coarsely classical. There is a nasty, woolly realism about the sheep, and about the good shepherd more than a suspicion of the stodgy, Graeco-Roman, Apollo. Imitation still fights, though it fights a losing battle, with significant form. When S. Vitale was begun in 526 the battle was won. Sta. Sophia at Constantinople was building between 532 and 537; the finest mosaics in S. Vitale, S. Apollinare-Nuovo and S. Apollinare-in-Classe belong to the sixth century; so do SS. Sergius and Bacchus at Constantinople and the Duomo at Parenzo. In fact, to the sixth century belong the most majestic monuments of Byzantine art. It is the primitive and supreme summit of the Christian slope. The upward spring from the levels of Graeco-Romanism is immeasurable. The terms in which it could be stated have yet to be discovered. It is the whole length of the slope from Sta. Sophia to the Victoria Memorial pushed upright to stand on a base of a hundred years. We are on heights from which the mud-flats are invisible; resting here, one can hardly believe that the flats ever were, or, at any rate, that they will ever be again. Go to Ravenna, and you will see the masterpieces of Christian art, the primitives of the slope: go to the Tate Gallery or the Luxembourg, and you will see the end of that slope—Christian art at its last gasp. These memento mori are salutary in an age of assurance when, looking at the pictures of Cezanne, we feel, not inexcusably, that we are high above the mud and malaria. Between Cezanne and another Tate Gallery, what lies in store for the human spirit? Are we in the period of a new incubation? Or is the new age born? Is it a new slope that we are on, or are we merely part of a surprisingly vigorous premonitory flutter? These are queries to ponder. Is Cezanne the beginning of a slope, a portent, or merely the crest of a movement? The oracles are dumb. This alone seems to me sure: since the Byzantine primitives set their mosaics at Ravenna no artist in Europe has created forms of greater significance unless it be Cezanne.
With Sta. Sophia at Constantinople, and the sixth century churches and mosaics at Ravenna, the Christian slope establishes itself in Europe. In the same century it took a downward twist at Constantinople; but in one part of Europe or another the new inspiration continued to manifest itself supremely for more than six hundred years. There were ups and downs, of course, movements and reactions; in some places art was almost always good, in others it was never first-rate; but there was no universal, irreparable depreciation till Norman and Romanesque architecture gave way to Gothic, till twelfth-century sculpture became thirteenth-century figuration.
Christian art preserved its primitive significance for more than half a millennium. Therein I see no marvel. Even ideas and emotions travelled slowly in those days. In one respect, at any rate, trains and steam-boats have fulfilled the predictions of their exploiters—they have made everything move faster: the mistake lies in being quite so positive that this is a blessing. In those dark ages things moved slowly; that is one reason why the new force had not spent itself in six hundred years. Another is that the revelation came to an age that was constantly breaking fresh ground. Always there was a virgin tract at hand to take the seed and raise a lusty crop. Between 500 and 1000 A.D. the population of Europe was fluid. Some new race was always catching the inspiration and feeling and expressing it with primitive sensibility and passion. The last to be infected was one of the finest; and in the eleventh century Norman power and French intelligence produced in the west of Europe a manifestation of the Christian ferment only a little inferior to that which five hundred years earlier had made glorious the East.
Let me insist once again that, when I speak of the Christian ferment or the Christian slope, I am not thinking of dogmatic religion. I am thinking of that religious spirit of which Christianity, with its dogmas and rituals, is one manifestation, Buddhism another. And when I speak of art as a manifestation of the religious spirit I do not mean that art expresses particular religious emotions, much less that it expresses anything theological. I have said that if art expresses anything, it expresses an emotion felt for pure form and that which gives pure form its extraordinary significance. So, when I speak of Christian art, I mean that this art was one product of that state of enthusiasm of which the Christian Church is another. So far was the new spirit from being a mere ebullition of Christian faith that we find manifestations of it in Mohammedan art; everyone who has seen a photograph of the Mosque of Omar at Jerusalem knows that. The emotional renaissance in Europe was not the wide-spreading of Christian doctrines, but it was through Christian doctrine that Europe came to know of the rediscovery of the emotional significance of the Universe. Christian art is not an expression of specific Christian emotions; but it was only when men had been roused by Christianity that they began to feel the emotions that express themselves in form. It was Christianity that put Europe into that state of emotional turmoil from which sprang Christian art.
For a moment, in the sixth century, the flood of enthusiasm seems to have carried the Eastern world, even the official world, off its feet. But Byzantine officials were no fonder of swimming than others. The men who worked the imperial machine, studied the Alexandrine poets, and dabbled in classical archaeology were not the men to look forward. Only the people, led by the monks, were vaguely, and doubtless stupidly, on the side of emotion and the future. Soon after Justinian's death the Empire began to divide itself into two camps. Appropriately, religious art was the standard of the popular party, and around that standard the battle raged. "No man," said Lord Melbourne, "has more respect for the Christian religion than I; but when it comes to dragging it into private life...." At Constantinople they began dragging religion, and art too, into the sanctity of private capital. Now, no official worth his salt can watch the shadow being recklessly sacrificed to the substance without itching to set the police on somebody; and the vigilance and sagacity of Byzantine civilians has become proverbial. We learn from a letter written by Pope Gregory II to the Emperor Leo, the iconoclast, that men were willing to give their estates for a picture. This, to Pope, Emperor, and Mr. Finlay the historian, was proof enough of appalling demoralisation. For a parallel, I suppose, they recalled the shameful imprudence of the Magdalene. There were people at Constantinople who took art seriously, though in a rather too literary spirit—"dicunt enim artem pictoriam piam esse." This sort of thing had to be stopped. Early in the eighth century began the iconoclast onslaught. The history of that hundred years' war, in which the popular party carried on a spirited and finally successful resistance, does not concern us. One detail, however, is worth noticing. During the iconoclast persecution a new popular art makes its appearance in and about those remote monasteries that were the strongholds of the mystics. Of this art the Chloudof Psalter is the most famous example. Certainly the art of the Chloudof Psalter is not great. A desire to be illustrative generally mars both the drawing and the design. It mars, but does not utterly ruin; in many of the drawings something significant persists. There is, however, always too much realism and too much literature. But neither the realism nor the literature is derived from classical models. The work is essentially original. It is also essentially popular. Indeed, it is something of a party pamphlet; and in one place we see the Emperor and his cabinet doing duty as a conclave of the damned. It would be easy to overrate the artistic value of the Chloudof Psalter, but as a document it is of the highest importance, because it brings out clearly the opposition between the official art of the iconoclasts that leaned on the Hellenistic tradition and borrowed bluntly from Bagdad, and the vital art that drew its inspiration from the Christian movement and transmuted all its borrowing into something new. Side by side with this live art of the Christian movement we shall see a continuous output of work based on the imitation of classical models. Those coarse and dreary objects that crop up more or less frequently in early Byzantine, Merovingian, Carolingian, Ottonian, Romanesque, and early Italian art, are not, however, an inheritance from the iconoclastic period; they are the long shadow thrown across history by the gigantic finger of imperial Rome. The mischief done by the iconoclasts was not irreparable, but it was grave. True to their class, Byzantine officials indulged a taste for furniture, giving thereby an unintentional sting to their attack. Like the grandees of the Classical Renaissance, they degraded art, which is a religion, to upholstery, a menial trade. They patronised craftsmen who looked not into their hearts, but into the past—who from the court of the Kalif brought pretty patterns, and from classical antiquity elegant illusions, to do duty for significant design. They looked to Greece and Rome as did the men of the Renaissance, and, like them, lost in the science of representation the art of creation. In the age of the iconoclasts, modelling—the coarse Roman modelling—begins to bulge and curl luxuriously at Constantinople. The eighth century in the East is a portent of the sixteenth in the West. It is the restoration of materialism with its paramour, obsequious art. The art of the iconoclasts tells us the story of their days; it is descriptive, official, eclectic, historical, plutocratic, palatial, and vulgar. Fortunately, its triumph was partial and ephemeral.
For art was still too vigorous to be strangled by a pack of cultivated mandarins. In the end the mystics triumphed. Under the Regent Theodora (842) the images were finally restored; under the Basilian dynasty (867-1057) and under the Comneni Byzantine art enjoyed a second golden age. And though I cannot rate the best Byzantine art of the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries quite so high as I rate that of the sixth, I am inclined to hold it superior, not only to anything that was to come, but also to the very finest achievement of the greatest ages of Egypt, Crete, and Greece.
GREATNESS AND DECLINE
Having glanced at the beginnings of Christian art, we must not linger over the history of Byzantine. Eastern traders and artisans, pushing into Western Europe from the Adriatic and along the valley of the Rhone, carried with them the ferment. Monks driven out of the East by the iconoclast persecutions found Western Europe Christian and left it religious. The strength of the movement in Europe between 500 and 900 is commonly under-rated. That is partly because its extant monuments are not obvious. Buildings are the things to catch the eye, and, outside Ravenna, there is comparatively little Christian architecture of this period. Also the cultivated, spoon-fed art of the renaissance court of Charlemagne is too often allowed to misrepresent one age and disgust another. Of course the bulk of those opulent knick-knacks manufactured for the Carolingian and Ottonian Emperors, and now to be seen at Aachen, are as beastly as anything else that is made simply to be precious. They reflect German taste at its worst; and, in tracing the line, or estimating the value, of the Christian slope it is prudent to overlook even the best of Teutonic effort. For the bulk of it is not primitive or mediaeval or renaissance art, but German art. At any rate it is a manifestation of national character rather than of aesthetic inspiration. Most aesthetic creation bears the mark of nationality; very few manifestations of German nationality bear a trace of aesthetic creation. The differences between the treasures of Aachen, early German architecture, fifteenth-century German sculpture, and the work produced to-day at Munich are superficial. Almost all is profoundly German, and nothing else. That is to say, it is conscientious, rightly intentioned, excessively able, and lacking in just that which distinguishes a work of art from everything else in the world. The inspiration and sensibility of the dark ages can be felt most surely and most easily in the works of minor art produced in France and Italy. In Italy, however, there is enough architecture to prove up to the hilt, were further proof required, that the spirit was vigorous. It is the age of what Sig. Rivoira calls Pre-Lombardic Architecture—Italian Byzantine: it is the age of the Byzantine school of painting at Rome.
What the "Barbarians" did, indirectly, for art cannot be over-estimated. They almost extinguished the tradition of culture, they began to destroy the bogey of imperialism, they cleaned the slate. They were able to provide new bottles for the new wine. Artists can scarcely repress their envy when they hear that academic painters and masters were sold into slavery by the score. The Barbarians handed on the torch and wrought marvels in its light. But in those days men were too busy fighting and ploughing and praying to have much time for anything else. Material needs absorbed their energies without fattening them; their spiritual appetite was ferocious, but they had a live religion as well as a live art to satisfy it. It is supposed that in the dark ages insecurity and want reduced humanity to something little better than bestiality. To this their art alone gives the lie, and there is other evidence. If turbulence and insecurity could reduce people to bestiality, surely the Italians of the ninth century were the men to roar and bleat. Constantly harassed by Saracens, Hungarians, Greeks, French, and every sort of German, they had none of those encouragements to labour and create which in the vast security of the pax Romana and the pax Britannica have borne such glorious fruits of private virtue and public magnificence. Yet in 898 Hungarian scouts report that northern Italy is thickly populated and full of fortified towns. At the sack of Parma (924) forty-four churches were burnt, and these churches were certainly more like Santa Maria di Pomposa or San Pietro at Toscanella than the Colosseum or the Royal Courts of Justice. That the artistic output of the dark ages was to some extent limited by its poverty is not to be doubted; nevertheless, more first-rate art was produced in Europe between the years 500 and 900 than was produced in the same countries between 1450 and 1850.
For in estimating the artistic value of a period one tends first to consider the splendour of its capital achievements. After that one reckons the quantity of first-rate work produced. Lastly, one computes the proportion of undeniable works of art to the total output. In the dark ages the proportion seems to have been high. This is a characteristic of primitive periods. The market is too small to tempt a crowd of capable manufacturers, and the conditions of life are too severe to support the ordinary academy or salon exhibitor who lives on his private means and takes to art because he is unfit for anything else. This sort of producer, whose existence tells us less about the state of art than about the state of society, who would be the worst navvy in his gang or the worst trooper in his squadron, and is the staple product of official art schools, is unheard of in primitive ages. In drawing inferences, therefore, we must not overlook the advantage enjoyed by barbarous periods in the fact that of those who come forward as artists the vast majority have some real gift. I would hazard a guess that of the works that survive from the dark age as high a proportion as one in twelve has real artistic value. Were a proportion of the work produced between 1450 and 1850 identical with that of the work produced between 500 and 900 to survive, it might very well happen that it would not contain a single work of art. In fact, we tend to see only the more important things of this period and to leave unvisited the notorious trash. Yet judging from the picked works brought to our notice in galleries, exhibitions, and private collections, I cannot believe that more than one in a hundred of the works produced between 1450 and 1850 can be properly described as a work of art.
Between 900 and 1200 the capital achievements of Christian art are not superior in quality to those of the preceding age—indeed, they fall short of the Byzantine masterpieces of the sixth century; but the first-rate art of this second period was more abundant, or, at any rate, has survived more successfully, than that of the first. The age that has bequeathed us Romanesque, Lombardic, and Norman architecture gives no sign of dissolution. We are still on the level heights of the Christian Renaissance. Artists are still primitive. Men still feel the significance of form sufficiently to create it copiously. Increased wealth purchases increased leisure, and some of that leisure is devoted to the creation of art. I do not marvel, therefore, at the common, though I think inexact, opinion that this was the period in which Christian Europe touched the summit of its spiritual history: its monuments are everywhere majestic before our eyes. Not only in France, Italy, and Spain, but in England, and as far afield as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, we can see the triumphs of Romanesque art. This was the last level stage on the long journey from Santa Sophia to St. John's Wood.
With Gothic architecture the descent began. Gothic architecture is juggling in stone and glass. It is the convoluted road that ends in a bridecake or a cucumber frame. A Gothic cathedral is a tour de force; it is also a melodrama. Enter, and you will be impressed by the incredible skill of the constructor; perhaps you will be impressed by a sense of dim mystery and might; you will not be moved by pure form. You may groan "A-a-h" and collapse: you will not be strung to austere ecstasy. Walk round it, and take your pleasure in subtleties of the builder's craft, quaint corners, gargoyles, and flying buttresses, but do not expect the thrill that answers the perception of sheer rightness of form. In architecture the new spirit first came to birth; in architecture first it dies.
We find the spirit alive at the very end of the twelfth century in Romanesque sculpture and in stained glass: we can see it at Chartres and at Bourges. At Bourges there is an indication of the way things are going in the fact that in an unworthy building we find glass and some fragments of sculpture worthy of Chartres, and not unworthy of any age or place. Cimabue and Duccio are the last great exponents in the West of the greater tradition—the tradition that held the essential everything and the accidental nothing. For with Duccio, at any rate, the sense of form was as much traditional as vital: and the great Cimabue is fin de siecle. They say that Cimabue died in 1302; Duccio about fifteen years later. With Giotto (born 1276), a greater artist than either, we turn a corner as sharp as that which had been turned a hundred years earlier with the invention of Gothic architecture in France. For Giotto could be intentionally second-rate. He was capable of sacrificing form to drama and anecdote. He never left the essential out, but he sometimes knocked its corners off. He was always more interested in art than in St. Francis, but he did not always remember that St. Francis has nothing whatever to do with art. In theory that is right enough; the Byzantines had believed that they were more interested in dogmatic theology than in form, and almost every great artist has had some notion of the sort. Indeed, it seems that there is nothing so dangerous for an artist as consciously to care about nothing but art. For an artist to believe that his art is concerned with religion or politics or morals or psychology or scientific truth is well; it keeps him alive and passionate and vigorous: it keeps him up out of sentimental aestheticism: it keeps to hand a suitable artistic problem. But for an artist not to be able to forget all about these things as easily as a man who is playing a salmon forgets his lunch is the devil. Giotto lacked facility in forgetting. There are frescoes in which, failing to grasp the significance of a form, he allows it to state a fact or suggest a situation. Giotto went higher than Cimabue but he often aimed lower. Compare his "Virgin and Child" in the Accademia with that of Cimabue in the same gallery, and you will see how low his humanism could bring him. The coarse heaviness of the forms of that woman and her baby is unthinkable in Cimabue; for Cimabue had learnt from the Byzantines that forms should be significant and not lifelike. Doubtless in the minds of both there was something besides a preoccupation with formal combinations; but Giotto has allowed that "something" to dominate his design, Cimabue has forced his design to dominate it. There is something protestant about Giotto's picture. He is so dreadfully obsessed by the idea that the humanity of the mother and child is the important thing about them that he has insisted on it to the detriment of his art. Cimabue was incapable of such commonness. Therefore make the comparison—it is salutary and instructive; and then go to Santa Croce or the Arena Chapel and admit that if the greatest name in European painting is not Cezanne it is Giotto.
From the peak that is Giotto the road falls slowly but steadily. Giotto heads a movement towards imitation and scientific picture-making. A genius such as his was bound to be the cause of a movement; it need not have been the cause of such a movement. But the spirit of an age is stronger than the echoes of tradition, sound they never so sweetly. And the spirit of that age, as every extension lecturer knows, moved towards Truth and Nature, away from supernatural ecstasies. There is a moment at which the spirit begins to crave for Truth and Nature, for naturalism and verisimilitude; in the history of art it is known as the early decadence. Nevertheless, on naturalism and materialism a constant war is waged by one or two great souls athirst for pure aesthetic rapture; and this war, strangely enough, is invariably described by the extension lecturer as a fight for Truth and Nature. Never doubt it, in a hundred years or less they will be telling their pupils that in an age of extreme artificiality arose two men, Cezanne and Gaugin, who, by simplicity and sincerity, led back the world to the haunts of Truth and Nature. Strangest of all, some part of what they say will be right.
The new movement broke up the great Byzantine tradition, and left the body of art a victim to the onslaught of that strange, new disease, the Classical Renaissance. The tract that lies between Giotto and Lionardo is the beginning of the end; but it is not the end. Painting came to maturity late, and died hard; and the art of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries—especially the Tuscan schools—is not a mere historical link: it is an important movement, or rather two. The great Sienese names, Ugolino, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini, belong to the old world as much as to the new; but the movement that produced Masaccio, Masolino, Castagno, Donatello, Piero della Francesca, and Fra Angelico is a reaction from the Giottesque tradition of the fourteenth century, and an extremely vital movement. Often, it seems, the stir and excitement provoked by the ultimately disastrous scientific discoveries were a cause of good art. It was the disinterested adoration of perspective, I believe, that enabled Uccello and the Paduan Mantegna to apprehend form passionately. The artist must have something to get into a passion about.
Outside Italy, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the approaches of spiritual bankruptcy are more obvious, though here, too, painting makes a better fight than architecture. Seven hundred years of glorious and incessant creation seem to have exhausted the constructive genius of Europe. Gothic architecture becomes something so nauseous that one can only rejoice when, in the sixteenth century, the sponge is thrown up for good, and, abandoning all attempt to create, Europe settles down quietly to imitate classical models. All true creation was dead long before that; its epitaph had been composed by the master of the "Haute Oeuvre" at Beauvais. Only intellectual invention dragged on a sterile and unlucky existence. A Gothic church of the late Middle Ages is a thing made to order. A building formula has been devised within which the artificer, who has ousted the artist, finds endless opportunity for displaying his address. The skill of the juggler and the taste of the pastrycook are in great demand now that the power to feel and the genius to create have been lost. There is brisk trade in pretty things; buildings are stuck all over with them. Go and peer at each one separately if you have a tooth for cheap sweet-meats.
Painting, outside Italy, was following more deliberately the road indicated by architecture. In illuminated manuscripts it is easy to watch the steady coarsening of line and colour. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, Limoges enamels have fallen into that state of damnation from which they have never attempted to rise. Of trans-Alpine figuration after 1250 the less said the better. If in Italian painting the slope is more gentle, that is partly because the spirit of the Byzantine renaissance died harder there, partly because the descent was broken by individual artists who rose superior to their circumstances. But here, too, intellect is filling the void left by emotion; science and culture are doing their work. By the year 1500 the stream of inspiration had grown so alarmingly thin that there was only just enough to turn the wheels of the men of genius. The minor artists seem already prepared to resign themselves to the inevitable. Since we are no longer artists who move, let us be craftsmen who astonish. 'Tis a fine thing to tempt urchins with painted apples: that makes the people stare. To be sure, such feats are rather beneath the descendants of Giotto; we leave them to the Dutchmen, whom we envy a little all the same. We have lost art; let us study the science of imitation. Here is a field for learning and dexterity. And, as our patrons who have lost their aesthetic perceptions have not lost all their senses, let us flatter them with grateful objects: let our grapes and girls be as luscious as lifelike. But the patrons are not all sensualists; some of them are scholars. The trade in imitations of the antique is almost as good as the trade in imitations of nature. Archaeology and connoisseurship, those twin ticks on palsied art, are upon us. To react to form a man needs sensibility; to know whether rules have been respected knowledge of these rules alone is necessary. By the end of the fifteenth century art is becoming a question of rules; appreciation a matter of connoisseurship.
Literature is never pure art. Very little literature is a pure expression of emotion; none, I think is an expression of pure inhuman emotion. Most of it is concerned, to some extent, with facts and ideas: it is intellectual. Therefore literature is a misleading guide to the history of art. Its history is the history of literature; and it is a good guide to the history of thought. Yet sometimes literature will provide the historian of art with a pretty piece of collateral evidence. For instance, the fact that Charles the Great ordained that the Frankish songs should be collected and written down makes a neat pendant to the renaissance art of Aachen. People who begin to collect have lost the first fury of creation. The change that came over plastic art in France towards the end of the twelfth century is reflected in the accomplished triviality of Chretien de Troyes. The eleventh century had produced the Chanson de Roland, a poem as grand and simple as a Romanesque church. Chretien de Troyes melted down the massive conceptions of his betters and twisted them into fine-spun conceits. He produced a poem as pinnacled, deft, and insignificant as Rouen Cathedral. In literature, as in the visual arts, Italy held out longest, and, when she fell, fell like Lucifer, never to rise again. In Italy there was no literary renaissance; there was just a stirring of the rubbish heap. If ever man was a full-stop, that man was Boccaccio. Dante died at Ravenna in 1321. His death is a landmark in the spiritual history of Europe. Behind him lies that which, taken with the Divina Commedia, has won for Italy an exaggerated literary reputation. In the thirteenth century there was plenty of poetry hardly inferior to the Lamento of Rinaldo; in the fourteenth comes Petrarch with the curse of mellifluous phrase-making.
May God forget me if I forget the great Italian art of the fifteenth century. But, a host of individual geniuses and a cloud of admirable painters notwithstanding, the art of the fifteenth century was further from grace than that of the Giottesque painters of the fourteenth. And the whole output of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is immeasurably inferior to the great Byzantine and Romanesque production of the eleventh and twelfth. Indeed, it is inferior in quality, if not in quantity, to the decadent Byzantine and Italian Byzantine of the thirteenth. Therefore I will say that, already at the end of the fourteenth century, though Castagno and Masolino and Gentile da Fabriano and Fra Angelico were alive, and Masaccio and Piero and Bellini had yet to be born, it looked as if the road that started from Constantinople in the sixth century were about to end in a glissade. From Buda-Pest to Sligo, "late Gothic" stands for something as foul almost as "revival." Having come through the high passes, Europe, it seemed, was going to end her journey by plunging down a precipice. Perhaps it would have been as well; but it was not to be. The headlong rush was to be checked. The descent was to be eased by a strange detour, by a fantastic adventure, a revival that was no re-birth, a Medea's cauldron rather, an extravagant disease full of lust and laughter; the life of the old world was to be prolonged by four hundred years or so, by the galvanising power of the Classical Renaissance.
THE CLASSICAL RENAISSANCE AND ITS DISEASES
The Classical Renaissance is nothing more than a big kink in the long slope; but it is a very big one. It is an intellectual event. Emotionally the consumption that was wasting Europe continued to run its course; the Renaissance was a mere fever-flash. To literature, however, its importance is immense: for literature can make itself independent of spiritual health, and is as much concerned with ideas as with emotions. Literature can subsist in dignity on ideas. Finlay's history of the Byzantine Empire provokes no emotion worth talking about, yet I would give Mr. Finlay a place amongst men of letters, and I would do as much for Hobbes, Mommsen, Sainte-Beuve, Samuel Johnson, and Aristotle. Great thinking without great feeling will make great literature. It is not for their emotional qualities that we value many of our most valued books. And when it is for an emotional quality, to what extent is that emotion aesthetic? I know how little the intellectual and factual content of great poetry has to do with its significance. The actual meaning of the words in Shakespeare's songs, the purest poetry in English, is generally either trivial or trite. They are nursery-rhymes or drawing-room ditties;—