[Sidenote: Industry prepares matter for the liberal arts.]
Out of this appears, with sufficient clearness, the rational function which the arts possess. They give, as nature does, a form to matter, but they give it a more propitious form. Such success in art is possible only when the materials and organs at hand are in a large measure already well disposed; for it can as little exist with a dull organ as with no organ at all, while there are winds in which every sail must be furled. Art depends upon profiting by a bonanza and learning to sail in a good breeze, strong enough for speed and conscious power but placable enough for dominion and liberty of soul. Then perfection in action can be attained and a self-justifying energy can emerge out of apathy on the one hand and out of servile and wasteful work on the other. Art has accordingly two stages: one mechanical or industrial, in which untoward matter is better prepared, or impeding media are overcome; the other liberal, in which perfectly fit matter is appropriated to ideal uses and endowed with a direct spiritual function. A premonition or rehearsal of these two stages may be seen in nature, where nutrition and reproduction fit the body for its ideal functions, whereupon sensation and cerebration make it a direct organ of mind. Industry merely gives nature that form which, if more thoroughly humane, she might have originally possessed for our benefit; liberal arts bring to spiritual fruition the matter which either nature or industry has prepared and rendered propitious. This spiritual fruition consists in the activity of turning an apt material into an expressive and delightful form, thus filling the world with objects which by symbolising ideal energies tend to revive them under a favouring influence and therefore to strengthen and refine them.
[Sidenote: Each partakes of the other]
It remains merely to note that all industry contains an element of fine art and all fine art an element of industry; since every proximate end, in being attained, satisfies the mind and manifests the intent that pursued it; while every operation upon a material, even one so volatile as sound, finds that material somewhat refractory. Before the product can attain its ideal function many obstacles to its transparency and fitness have to be removed. A certain amount of technical and instrumental labour is thus involved in every work of genius, and a certain genius in every technical success.
EMERGENCE OF FINE ART
[Sidenote: Art is spontaneous action made stable by success.]
Action which is purely spontaneous is merely tentative. Any experience of success or utility which might have preceded, if it availed to make action sure, would avail to make it also intentional and conscious of its ulterior results. Now the actual issue which an action is destined to have, since it is something future and problematical, can exert no influence on its own antecedents; but if any picture of what the issue is likely to be accompanies the heat and momentum of action, that picture being, of all antecedents in the operation, the one most easily remembered and described, may be picked out as essential, and dignified with the name of motive or cause. This will not happen to every prophetic idea; we may live in fear and trembling as easily as with an arrogant consciousness of power. The difference flows from the greater or lesser affinity that happens to exist between expectation and instinct. Action remains always, in its initial phase, spontaneous and automatic; it retains an inwardly grounded and perfectly blind tendency of its own; but this tendency may agree or clash with the motor impulses subtending whatever ideas may at the same time people the fancy. If the blind and the ideal impulses agree, spontaneous action is voluntary and its result intentional; if they clash, the ideas remain speculative and idle, random, ineffectual wishes; while the result, not being referable to any idea, is put down to fate. The sense of power, accordingly, shows either that events have largely satisfied desire, so that natural tendency goes hand in hand with the suggestions of experience, or else that experience has not been allowed to count at all and that the future is being painted a priori. In the latter case the sense of power is illusory. Action will then never really issue in the way intended, and even thought will only seem to make progress by constantly forgetting its original direction.
Though life, however, is initially experimental and always remains experimental at bottom, yet experiment fortifies certain tendencies and cancels others, so that a gradual sediment of habit and wisdom is formed in the stream of time. Action then ceases to be merely tentative and spontaneous, and becomes art. Foresight begins to accompany practice and, as we say, to guide it. Purpose thus supervenes on useful impulse, and conscious expression on self-sustaining automatism. Art lies between two extremes. On the one side is purely spontaneous fancy, which would never foresee its own works and scarcely recognise or value them after they had been created, since at the next moment the imaginative current would as likely as not have faced about and might be making in the opposite direction; and on the other side is pure utility, which would deprive the work of all inherent ideality, and render it inexpressive of anything in man save his necessities. War, for instance, is an art when, having set itself an ideal end, it devises means of attaining it; but this ideal end has for its chief basis some failure in politics and morals. War marks a weakness and disease in human society, and its best triumphs are glorious evils—cruel and treacherous remedies, big with new germs of disease. War is accordingly a servile art and not essentially liberal; whatever inherent values its exercise may have would better be realised in another medium. Yet out of the pomp and circumstance of war fine arts may arise—music, armoury, heraldry, and eloquence. So utility leads to art when its vehicle acquires intrinsic value and becomes expressive. On the other hand, spontaneous action leads to art when it acquires a rational function. Thus utterance, which is primarily automatic, becomes the art of speech when it serves to mark crises in experience, making them more memorable and influential through their artificial expression; but expression is never art while it remains expressive to no purpose.
[Sidenote: It combines utility and automatism.]
A good way of understanding the fine arts would be to study how they grow, now out of utility, now out of automatism. We should thus see more clearly how they approach their goal, which can be nothing but the complete superposition of these two characters. If all practice were art and all art perfect, no action would remain compulsory and not justified inherently, while no creative impulse would any longer be wasteful or, like the impulse to thrum, symptomatic merely and irrelevant to progress. It is by contributing to the Life of Reason and merging into its substance that art, like religion or science, first becomes worthy of praise. Each element comes from a different quarter, bringing its specific excellence and needing its peculiar purification and enlightenment, by co-ordination with all the others; and this process of enlightenment and purification is what we call development in each department. The meanest arts are those which lie near the limit either of utility or of automatic self-expression. They become nobler and more rational as their utility is rendered spontaneous or their spontaneity beneficent.
[Sidenote: Automatism fundamental and irresponsible.]
The spontaneous arts are older than the useful, since man must live and act before he can devise instruments for living and acting better. Both the power to construct machines and the end which, to be useful, they would have to serve, need to be given in initial impulse. There is accordingly a vast amount of irresponsible play and loose experiment in art, as in consciousness, before these gropings acquire a settled habit and function, and rationality begins. The farther back we go into barbarism the more we find life and mind busied with luxuries; and though these indulgences may repel a cultivated taste and seem in the end cruel and monotonous, their status is really nearer to that of religion and spontaneous art than to that of useful art or of science. Ceremony, for instance, is compulsory in society and sometimes truly oppressive, yet its root lies in self-expression and in a certain ascendency of play which drags all life along into conventional channels originally dug out in irresponsible bursts of action. This occurs inevitably and according to physical analogies. Bodily organs grow automatically and become necessary moulds of life. We must either find a use for them or bear as best we may the idle burden they impose. Of such burdens the barbarian carries the greatest possible sum; and while he paints the heavens with his grotesque mythologies, he encumbers earth with inventions and prescriptions almost as gratuitous. The fiendish dances and shouts, the cruel initiations, mutilations, and sacrifices in which savages indulge, are not planned by them deliberately nor justified in reflection. Men find themselves falling into these practices, driven by a tradition hardly distinguishable from instinct. In its periodic fury the spirit hurries them into wars and orgies, quite as it kindles sudden flaming visions in their brains, habitually so torpid. The spontaneous is the worst of tyrants, for it exercises a needless and fruitless tyranny in the guise of duty and inspiration. Without mitigating in the least the subjection to external forces under which man necessarily labours, it adds a new artificial subjection to his own false steps and childish errors.
[Sidenote: It is tamed by contact with the world.]
This mental vegetation, this fitful nervous groping, is nevertheless a sign of life, out of which art emerges by discipline and by a gradual application to real issues. An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world; he is a highly suggestible mind hypnotised by reality. Even barbaric genius may find points of application in the world. These points will be more numerous the more open the eyes have been, the more docile and intelligent the mind is that gathers and renders back its impressions in a synthetic and ideal form. Intuition will then represent, at least symbolically, an actual situation. Grimace and gesture and ceremony will be modified by a sense of their effect; they will become artful and will transform their automatic expressiveness into ideal expression. They will become significant of what it is intended to communicate and important to know; they will have ceased to be irresponsible exercises and vents for passing feeling, by which feeling is dissipated, as in tears, without being embodied and intellectualised, as in a work of art.
[Sidenote: The dance.]
[Sidenote: Functions of gesture.]
The dance is an early practice that passes after this fashion into an art. A prancing stallion may transfigure his movements more beautifully than man is capable of doing; for the springs and limits of effect are throughout mechanical, and man, in more than one respect, would have to become a centaur before he could rival the horse's prowess. Human instinct is very imperfect in this direction, and grows less happy the more artificial society becomes; most dances, even the savage ones, are somewhat ridiculous. A rudimentary instinct none the less remains, which not only involves a faculty of heightened and rhythmic motion, but also assures a direct appreciation of such motion when seen in others. The conscious agility, fougue, and precision which fill the performer become contagious and delight the spectator as well. There are indeed dances so ugly that, like those of contemporary society, they cannot be enjoyed unless they are shared; they yield pleasures of exercise only, or at best of movement in unison. But when man was nearer to the animal and his body and soul were in happier conjunction, when society, too, was more compulsive over the individual, he could lend himself more willingly and gracefully to being a figure in the general pageant of the world. The dance could then detach itself from its early association with war and courtship and ally itself rather to religion and art. From being a spontaneous vent for excitement, or a blind means of producing it, the dance became a form of discipline and conscious social control—a cathartic for the soul; and this by a quite intelligible transition. Gesture, of which the dance is merely a pervasive use, is an incipient action. It is conduct in the groping stage, before it has lit on its purpose, as can be seen unmistakably in all the gesticulation of love and defiance. In this way the dance is attached to life initially by its physiological origin. Being an incipient act, it naturally leads to its own completion and may arouse in others the beginnings of an appropriate response. Gesture is only less catching and less eloquent than action itself. But gesture, while it has this power of suggesting action and stimulating the response which would be appropriate if the action took place, may be arrested in the process of execution, since it is incipient only; it will then have revealed an intention and betrayed a state of mind. Thus it will have found a function which action itself can seldom fulfil. When an act is done, indications of what it was to be are superfluous; but indications of possible acts are in the highest degree useful and interesting. In this way gesture assumes the role of language and becomes a means of rational expression. It remains suggestive and imitable enough to convey an idea, but not enough to precipitate a full reaction; it feeds that sphere of merely potential action which we call thought; it becomes a vehicle for intuition.
Under these circumstances, to tread the measures of a sacred dance, to march with an army, to bear one's share in any universal act, fills the heart with a voluminous silent emotion. The massive suggestion, the pressure of the ambient will, is out of all proportion to the present call for action. Infinite resources and definite premonitions are thus stored up in the soul; and merely to have moved solemnly together is the best possible preparation for living afterwards, even if apart, in the consciousness of a general monition and authority.
[Sidenote: Automatic music.]
Parallel to this is the genesis and destiny of music, an art originally closely intertwined with the dance. The same explosive forces that agitate the limbs loosen the voice; hand, foot, and throat mark their wild rhythm together. Birds probably enjoy the pulsation of their singing rather than its sound. Even human music is performed long before it is listened to, and is at first no more an art than sighing. The original emotions connected with it are felt by participation in the performance—a participation which can become ideal only because, at bottom, it is always actual. The need of exercise and self-expression, the force of contagion and unison, bears the soul along before an artistic appreciation of music arises; and we may still observe among civilised races how music asserts itself without any aesthetic intent, as when the pious sing hymns in common, or the sentimental, at sea, cannot refrain from whining their whole homely repertory in the moonlight. Here as elsewhere, instinct and habit are phases of the same inner disposition. What has once occurred automatically on a given occasion will be repeated in much the same form when a similar occasion recurs. Thus impulse, reinforced by its own remembered expression, passes into convention. Savages have a music singularly monotonous, automatic, and impersonal; they cannot resist the indulgence, though they probably have little pleasure in it. The same thing happens with customary sounds as with other prescribed ceremonies; to omit them would be shocking and well-nigh impossible, yet to repeat them serves no end further than to avoid a sense of strangeness or inhibition. These automatisms, however, in working themselves out, are not without certain retroactive effects: they leave the system exhausted or relieved, and they have meantime played more or less agreeably on the senses. The music we make automatically we cannot help hearing incidentally; the sensation may even modify the expression, since sensation too has its physical side. The expression is reined in and kept from becoming vagrant, in proportion as its form and occasion are remembered. The automatic performer, being henceforth controlled more or less by reflection and criticism, becomes something of an artist: he trains himself to be consecutive, impressive, agreeable; he begins to compare his improvisation with its subject and function, and thus he develops what is called style and taste.
[Sidenote: Music is a world apart.]
Sound readily acquires ideal values. It has power in itself to engross attention and at the same time may be easily diversified, so as to become a symbol for other things. Its direct empire is to be compared with that of stimulants and opiates, yet it presents to the mind, as these do not, a perception that corresponds, part by part, with the external stimulus. To hear is almost to understand. The process we undergo in mathematical or dialectical thinking is called understanding, because a natural sequence is there adequately translated into ideal terms. Logical connections seem to be internally justified, while only the fact that we perceive them here and now, with more or less facility, is attributed to brute causes. Sound approaches this sort of ideality; it presents to sense something like the efficacious structure of the object. It is almost mathematical; but like mathematics it is adequate only by being abstract; and while it discloses point by point one strain in existence, it leaves many other strains, which in fact are interwoven with it, wholly out of account. Music is accordingly, like mathematics, very nearly a world by itself; it contains a whole gamut of experience, from sensuous elements to ultimate intellectual harmonies. Yet this second existence, this life in music, is no mere ghost of the other; it has its own excitements, its quivering alternatives, its surprising turns; the abstract energy of it takes on so much body, that in progression or declension it seems quite as impassioned as any animal triumph or any moral drama.
[Sidenote: It justifies itself.]
That a pattering of sounds on the ear should have such moment is a fact calculated to give pause to those philosophers who attempt to explain consciousness by its utility, or who wish to make physical and moral processes march side by side from all eternity. Music is essentially useless, as life is: but both have an ideal extension which lends utility to its conditions. That the way in which idle sounds run together should matter so much is a mystery of the same order as the spirit's concern to keep a particular body alive, or to propagate its life. Such an interest is, from an absolute point of view, wholly gratuitous; and so long as the natural basis and expressive function of spirit are not perceived, this mystery is baffling. In truth the order of values inverts that of causes; and experience, in which all values lie, is an ideal resultant, itself ineffectual, of the potencies it can conceive. Delight in music is liberal; it makes useful the organs and processes that subserve it. These agencies, when they support a conscious interest in their operation, give that operation its first glimmering justification, and admit it to the rational sphere. Just so when organic bodies generate a will bent on their preservation, they add a value and a moral function to their equilibrium. In vain should we ask for what purpose existences arise, or become important; that purpose, to be such, must already have been important to some existence; and the only question that can be asked or answered is what recognised importance, what ideal values, actual existences involve.
[Sidenote: It is vital and transient.]
We happen to breathe, and on that account are interested in breathing; and it is no greater marvel that, happening to be subject to intricate musical sensations, we should be in earnest about these too. The human ear discriminates sounds with ease; what it hears is so diversified that its elements can be massed without being confused, or can form a sequence having a character of its own, to be appreciated and remembered. The eye too has a field in which clear distinctions and relations appear, and for that reason is an organ favourable to intelligence; but what gives music its superior emotional power is its rhythmic advance. Time is a medium which appeals more than space to emotion. Since life is itself a flux, and thought an operation, there is naturally something immediate and breathless about whatever flows and expands. The visible world offers itself to our regard with a certain lazy indifference. "Peruse me," it seems to say, "if you will. I am here; and even if you pass me by now and later find it to your advantage to resurvey me, I may still be here." The world of sound speaks a more urgent language. It insinuates itself into our very substance, and it is not so much the music that moves us as we that move with it. Its rhythms seize upon our bodily life, to accelerate or to deepen it; and we must either become inattentive altogether or remain enslaved.
[Sidenote: Its physical affinities.]
This imperious function in music has lent it functions which are far from aesthetic. Song can be used to keep in unison many men's efforts, as when sailors sing as they heave; it can make persuasive and obvious sentiments which, if not set to music, might seem absurd, as often in love songs and in psalmody. It may indeed serve to prepare the mind for any impression whatever, and render the same more intense when it comes. Music was long used before it was loved or people took pains to refine it. It would have seemed as strange in primitive times to turn utterance into a fine art as now to make aesthetic paces out of mourning or child-birth. Primitive music is indeed a wail and a parturition; magical and suggestive as it may be, for long ages it never bethinks itself to be beautiful. It is content to furnish a contagious melancholy employment to souls without a language and with little interest in the real world. Barbaric musicians, singing and playing together more or less at random, are too much carried away by their performance to conceive its effect; they cry far too loud and too unceasingly to listen. A contagious tradition carries them along and controls them, in a way, as they improvise; the assembly is hardly an audience; all are performers, and the crowd is only a stimulus that keeps every one dancing and howling in emulation. This unconsidered flow of early art remains present, more or less, to the end. Instead of vague custom we have schools, and instead of swaying multitudes academic example; but many a discord and mannerism survive simply because the musician is so suggestible, or so lost in the tumult of production, as never to reconsider what he does, or to perceive its wastefulness.
Nevertheless an inherent value exists in all emitted sounds, although barbaric practice and theory are slow to recognise it. Each tone has its quality, like jewels of different water; every cadence has its vital expression, no less inherent in it than that which comes in a posture or in a thought. Everything audible thrills merely by sounding, and though this perceptual thrill be at first overpowered by the effort and excitement of action, yet it eventually fights its way to the top. Participation in music may become perfunctory or dull for the great majority, as when hymns are sung in church; a mere suggestion of action will doubtless continue to colour the impression received, for a tendency to act is involved in perception; but this suggestion will be only an over-tone or echo behind an auditory feeling. Some performers will be singled out from the crowd; those whom the public likes to hear will be asked to continue alone; and soon a certain suasion will be exerted over them by the approval or censure of others, so that consciously or unconsciously they will train themselves to please.
[Sidenote: Physiology of music.]
The musical quality of sounds has a simple physical measure for its basis; and the rate of vibration is complicated by its sweep or loudness, and by concomitant sounds. What a rich note is to a pure and thin one, that a chord is to a note; nor is melody wholly different in principle, for it is a chord rendered piece-meal. Time intervenes, and the harmony is deployed; so that in melody rhythm is added, with its immense appeal, to the cumulative effect already secured by rendering many notes together. The heightened effect which a note gets by figuring in a phrase, or a phrase in a longer passage, comes of course from the tensions established and surviving in the sensorium—a case, differently shaded, of chords and overtones. The difference is only that the more emphatic parts of the melody survive clearly to the end, while the detail, which if perceived might now clash, is largely lost, and out of the preceding parts perhaps nothing but a certain swing and potency is present at the close. The mind has been raked and set vibrating in an unusual fashion, so that the finale comes like a fulfilment after much premonition and desire, whereas the same event, unprepared for, might hardly have been observed. The whole technique of music is but an immense elaboration of this principle. It deploys a sensuous harmony by a sort of dialectic, suspending and resolving it, so that the parts become distinct and their relation vital.
[Sidenote: Limits of musical sensibility.]
Such elaboration often exceeds the synthetic power of all but the best trained minds. Both in scope and in articulation musical faculty varies prodigiously. There is no fixed limit to the power of sustaining a given conscious process while new features appear in the same field; nor is there any fixed limit to the power of recovering, under changed circumstances, a process that was formerly suspended. A whole symphony might be felt at once, if the musician's power of sustained or cumulative hearing could stretch so far. As we all survey two notes and their interval in one sensation (actual experience being always transitive and pregnant, and its terms ideal), so a trained mind might survey a whole composition. This is not to say that time would be transcended in such an experience; the apperception would still have duration and the object would still have successive features, for evidently music not arranged in time would not be music, while all sensations with a recognisable character occupy more than an instant in passing. But the passing sensation, throughout its lapse, presents some experience; and this experience, taken at any point, may present a temporal sequence with any number of members, according to the synthetic and analytic power exerted by the given mind. What is tedious and formless to the inattentive may seem a perfect whole to one who, as they say, takes it all in; and similarly what is a frightful deafening discord to a sense incapable of discrimination, for one who can hear the parts may break into a celestial chorus. A musical education is necessary for musical judgment. What most people relish is hardly music; it is rather a drowsy revery relieved by nervous thrills.
[Sidenote: The value of music is relative to them.]
The degree to which music should be elaborated depends on the capacity possessed by those it addresses. There are limits to every man's synthetic powers, and to stretch those powers to their limit is exhausting. Excitement then becomes a debauch; it leaves the soul less capable of habitual harmony. Especially is such extreme tension disastrous when, as in music, nothing remains to be the fruit of that mighty victory; the most pregnant revelation sinks to an illusion and is discredited when it cannot maintain its inspiration in the world's presence. Everything has its own value and sets up its price; but others must judge if that price is fair, and sociability is the condition of all rational excellence. There is therefore a limit to right complexity in music, a limit set not by the nature of music itself, but by its place in human economy. This limit, though clear in principle, is altogether variable in practice; duly cultivated people will naturally place it higher than the unmusical would. In other words, popular music needs to be simple, although elaborate music may be beautiful to the few. When elaborate music is the fashion among people to whom all music is a voluptuous mystery, we may be sure that what they love is voluptuousness or fashion, and not music itself.
[Sidenote: Wonders of musical structure.]
Beneath its hypnotic power music, for the musician, has an intellectual essence. Out of simple chords and melodies, which at first catch only the ear, he weaves elaborate compositions that by their form appeal also to the mind. This side of music resembles a richer versification; it may be compared also to mathematics or to arabesques. A moving arabesque that has a vital dimension, an audible mathematics, adding sense to form, and a versification that, since it has no subject-matter, cannot do violence to it by its complex artifices—these are types of pure living, altogether joyful and delightful things. They combine life with order, precision with spontaneity; the flux in them has become rhythmical and its freedom has passed into a rational choice, since it has come in sight of the eternal form it would embody. The musician, like an architect or goldsmith working in sound, but freer than they from material trammels, can expand for ever his yielding labyrinth; every step opens up new vistas, every decision—how unlike those made in real life!—multiplies opportunities, and widens the horizon before him, without preventing him from going back at will to begin afresh at any point, to trace the other possible paths leading thence through various magic landscapes. Pure music is pure art. Its extreme abstraction is balanced by its entire spontaneity, and, while it has no external significance, it bears no internal curse. It is something to which a few spirits may well surrender themselves, sure that in a liberal commonwealth they will be thanked for their ideal labour, the fruits of which many may enjoy. Such excursions into ultra-mundane regions, where order is free, refine the mind and make it familiar with perfection. By analogy an ideal form comes to be conceived and desiderated in other regions, where it is not produced so readily, and the music heard, as the Pythagoreans hoped, makes the soul also musical.
[Sidenote: Its inherent emotions.]
It must be confessed, however, that a world of sounds and rhythms, all about nothing, is a by-world and a mere distraction for a political animal. Its substance is air, though the spell of it may have moral affinities. Nevertheless this ethereal art may be enticed to earth and married with what is mortal. Music interests humanity most when it is wedded to human events. The alliance comes about through the emotions which music and life arouse in common. For sound, in sweeping through the body and making felt there its kinetic and potential stress, provokes no less interest than does any other physical event or premonition. Music can produce emotion as directly as can fighting or love. If in the latter instances the body's whole life may be in jeopardy, this fact is no explanation of our concern; for many a danger is not felt and there is no magic in the body's future condition, that it should now affect the soul. What touches the soul is the body's condition at the moment; and this is altered no less truly by a musical impression than by some protective or reproductive act. If emotions accompany the latter, they might as well accompany the former; and in fact they do. Nor is music the only idle cerebral commotion that enlists attention and presents issues no less momentous for being quite imaginary; dreams do the same, and seldom can the real crises of life so absorb the soul, or prompt it to such extreme efforts, as can delirium in sickness, or delusion in what passes for health.
[Sidenote: In growing specific they remain unearthly.]
There is perhaps no emotion incident to human life that music cannot render in its abstract medium by suggesting the pang of it; though of course music cannot describe the complex situation which lends earthly passions their specific colour. It is by fusion with many suggested emotions that sentiment grows definite; this fusion can hardly come about without ideas intervening, and certainly it could never be sustained or expressed without them. Occasions define feelings; we can convey a delicate emotion only by delicately describing the situation which brings it on. Music, with its irrelevant medium, can never do this for common life, and the passions, as music renders them, are always general. But music has its own substitute for conceptual distinctness. It makes feeling specific, nay, more delicate and precise than association with things could make it, by uniting it with musical form. We may say that besides suggesting abstractly all ordinary passions, music creates a new realm of form far more subtly impassioned than is vulgar experience. Human life is confined to a dramatic repertory which has already become somewhat classical and worn, but music has no end of new situations, shaded in infinite ways; it moves in all sorts of bodies to all sorts of adventures. In life the ordinary routine of destiny beats so emphatic a measure that it does not allow free play to feeling; we cannot linger on anything long enough to exhaust its meaning, nor can we wander far from the beaten path to catch new impressions. But in music there are no mortal obligations, no imperious needs calling us back to reality. Here nothing beautiful is extravagant, nothing delightful unworthy. Musical refinement finds no limit but its own instinct, so that a thousand shades of what, in our blundering words, we must call sadness or mirth, find in music their distinct expression. Each phrase, each composition, articulates perfectly what no human situation could embody. These fine emotions are really new; they are altogether musical and unexampled in practical life; they are native to the passing cadence, absolute postures into which it throws the soul.
[Sidenote: They merge with common emotions, and express such as find no object in nature.]
There is enough likeness, however, between musical and mundane feeling for the first to be used in entertaining the second. Hence the singular privilege of this art: to give form to what is naturally inarticulate and express those depths of human nature which can speak no language current in the world. Emotion is primarily about nothing, and much of it remains about nothing to the end. What rescues a part of our passions from this pathological plight, and gives them some other function than merely to be, is the ideal relevance, the practical and mutually representative character, which they sometimes acquire. All experience is pathological if we consider its ground; but a part of it is also rational if we consider its import. The words I am now writing have a meaning not because at this moment they are fused together in my animal soul as a dream might fuse them, however incongruous the situation they depict might be in waking life; they are significant only if this moment's product can meet and conspire with some other thought speaking of what elsewhere exists, and uttering an intuition that from time to time may be actually recovered. The art of distributing interest among the occasions and vistas of life so as to lend them a constant worth, and at the same time to give feeling an ideal object, is at bottom the sole business of education; but the undertaking is long, and much feeling remains unemployed and unaccounted for. This objectless emotion chokes the heart with its dull importunity; now it impedes right action, now it feeds and fattens illusion. Much of it radiates from primary functions which, though their operation is half known, have only base or pitiful associations in human life; so that they trouble us with deep and subtle cravings, the unclaimed Hinterland of life. When music, either by verbal indications or by sensuous affinities, or by both at once, succeeds in tapping this fund of suppressed feeling, it accordingly supplies a great need. It makes the dumb speak, and plucks from the animal heart potentialities of expression which might render it, perhaps, even more than human.
[Sidenote: Music lends elementary feelings an intellectual communicable form.]
By its emotional range music is appropriate to all intense occasions: we dance, pray, and mourn to music, and the more inadequate words or external acts are to the situation, the more grateful music is. As the only bond between music and life is emotion, music is out of place only where emotion itself is absent. If it breaks in upon us in the midst of study or business it becomes an interruption or alternative to our activity, rather than an expression of it; we must either remain inattentive or pass altogether into the realm of sound (which may be unemotional enough) and become musicians for the nonce. Music brings its sympathetic ministry only to emotional moments; there it merges with common existence, and is a welcome substitute for descriptive ideas, since it co-operates with us and helps to deliver us from dumb subjection to influences which we should not know how to meet otherwise. There is often in what moves us a certain ruthless persistence, together with a certain poverty of form; the power felt is out of proportion to the interest awakened, and attention is kept, as in pain, at once strained and idle. At such a moment music is a blessed resource. Without attempting to remove a mood that is perhaps inevitable, it gives it a congruous filling. Thus the mood is justified by an illustration or expression which seems to offer some objective and ideal ground for its existence; and the mood is at the same time relieved by absorption in that impersonal object. So entertained, the feeling settles. The passion to which at first we succumbed is now tamed and appropriated. We have digested the foreign substance in giving it a rational form: its energies are merged in that strength by which we freely operate.
In this way the most abstract of arts serves the dumbest emotions. Matter which cannot enter the moulds of ordinary perception, capacities which a ruling instinct usually keeps under, flow suddenly into this new channel. Music is like those branches which some trees put forth close to the ground, far below the point where the other boughs separate; almost a tree by itself, it has nothing but the root in common with its parent. Somewhat in this fashion music diverts into an abstract sphere a part of those forces which abound beneath the point at which human understanding grows articulate. It nourishes on saps which other branches of ideation are too narrow or rigid to take up. Those elementary substances the musician can spiritualise by his special methods, taking away their reproach and redeeming them from blind intensity.
[Sidenote: All essences are in themselves good, even the passions.]
There is consequently in music a sort of Christian piety, in that it comes not to call the just but sinners to repentance, and understands the spiritual possibilities in outcasts from the respectable world. If we look at things absolutely enough, and from their own point of view, there can be no doubt that each has its own ideal and does not question its own justification. Lust and frenzy, revery or despair, fatal as they may be to a creature that has general ulterior interests, are not perverse in themselves: each searches for its own affinities, and has a kind of inertia which tends to maintain it in being, and to attach or draw in whatever is propitious to it. Feelings are as blameless as so many forms of vegetation; they can be poisonous only to a different life. They are all primordial motions, eddies which the universal flux makes for no reason, since its habit of falling into such attitudes is the ground-work and exemplar for nature and logic alike. That such strains should exist is an ultimate datum; justification cannot be required of them, but must be offered to each of them in turn by all that enters its particular orbit. There is no will but might find a world to disport itself in and to call good, and thereupon boast to have created that in which it found itself expressed. But such satisfaction has been denied to the majority; the equilibrium of things has at least postponed their day. Yet they are not altogether extinguished, since the equilibrium of things is mechanical and results from no preconcerted harmony such as would have abolished everything contrary to its own perfection. Many ill-suppressed possibilities endure in matter, and peep into being through the crevices, as it were, of the dominant world. Weeds they are called by the tyrant, but in themselves they are aware of being potential gods. Why should not every impulse expand in a congenial paradise? Why should each, made evil now only by an adventitious appellation or a contrary fate, not vindicate its own ideal? If there is a piety towards things deformed, because it is not they that are perverse, but the world that by its laws and arbitrary standards decides to treat them as if they were, how much more should there be a piety towards things altogether lovely, when it is only space and matter that are wanting for their perfect realisation?
[Sidenote: Each impulse calls for a possible congenial world.]
Philosophers talk of self-contradiction, but there is evidently no such thing, if we take for the self what is really vital, each propulsive, definite strain of being, each nucleus for estimation and for pleasure and pain. Bach impulse may be contradicted, but not by itself; it may find itself opposed, in a theatre which it has entered it knows not how, by violent personages that it has never wished to encounter. The environment it calls for is congenial with it: and by that environment it could never be thwarted or condemned. The lumbering course of events may indeed involve it in rum, and a mind with permanent interests to defend may at once rule out everything inconsistent with possible harmonies; but such rational judgments come from outside and represent a compromise struck with material forces. Moral judgments and conflicts are possible only in the mind that represents many interests synthetically: in nature, where primary impulses collide, all conflict is physical and all will innocent. Imagine some ingredient of humanity loosed from its oppressive environment in human economy: it would at once vegetate and flower into some ideal form, such as we see exuberantly displayed in nature. If we can only suspend for a moment the congested traffic in the brain, these initial movements will begin to traverse it playfully and show their paces, and we shall live in one of those plausible worlds which the actual world has made impossible.
[Sidenote: Literature incapable of expressing pure feelings.]
Man possesses, for example, a native capacity for joy. There are moments, in friendship or in solitude, when joy is realised; but the occasions are often trivial and could never justify in reflection the feelings that then happen to bubble up. Nor can pure joy be long sustained: cross-currents of lassitude or anxiety, distracting incidents, irrelevant associations, trouble its course and make it languish, turning it before long into dulness or melancholy. Language cannot express a joy that shall be full and pure; for to keep the purity nothing would have to be named which carried the least suggestion of sadness with it, and, in the world that human language refers to, such a condition would exclude every situation possible. "O joy, O joy," would be the whole ditty: hence some dialecticians, whose experience is largely verbal, think whatever is pure necessarily thin.
[Sidenote: Music may do so.]
That feeling should be so quickly polluted is, however, a superficial and earthly accident. Spirit is clogged by what it flows through, but at its springs it is both limpid and abundant. There is matter enough in joy for many a universe, though the actual world has not a single form quite fit to embody it, and its too rapid syllables are excluded from the current hexameter. Music, on the contrary, has a more flexible measure; its prosody admits every word. Its rhythms can explicate every emotion, through all degrees of complexity and volume, without once disavowing it. Thus unused matter, which is not less fertile than that which nature has absorbed, comes to fill out an infinity of ideal forms. The joy condemned by practical exigencies to scintillate for a moment uncommunicated, and then, as it were, to be buried alive, may now find an abstract art to embody it and bring it before the public, formed into a rich and constant object called a musical composition. So art succeeds in vindicating the forgotten regions of spirit: a new spontaneous creation shows how little authority or finality the given creation has.
[Sidenote: Instability the soul of matter.]
What is true of joy is no less true of sorrow, which, though it arises from failure in some natural ideal, carries with it a sentimental ideal of its own. Even confusion can find in music an expression and a catharsis. That death or change should grieve does not follow from the material nature of these phenomena. To change or to disappear might be as normal a tendency as to move; and it actually happens, when nothing ideal has been attained, that not to be thus is the whole law of being. There is then a nameless satisfaction in passing on; which is the virtual ideal of pain and mere willing. Death and change acquire a tragic character when they invade a mind which is not ready for them in all its parts, so that those elements in it which are still vigorous, and would maintain somewhat longer their ideal identity, suffer violence at the hands of the others, already mastered by decay and willing to be self-destructive. Thus a man whose physiological complexion involves more poignant emotion than his ideas can absorb—one who is sentimental—will yearn for new objects that may explain, embody, and focus his dumb feelings; and these objects, if art can produce them, will relieve and glorify those feelings in the act of expressing them. Catharsis is nothing more.
[Sidenote: Peace the triumph of spirit.]
There would be no pleasure in expressing pain, if pain were not dominated through its expression. To know how just a cause we have for grieving is already a consolation, for it is already a shift from feeling to understanding. By such consideration of a passion, the intellectual powers turn it into subject-matter to operate upon. All utterance is a feat, all apprehension a discovery; and this intellectual victory, sounding in the midst of emotional struggles, hushes some part of their brute importunity. It is at once sublime and beneficent, like a god stilling a tempest. Melancholy can in this way be the food of art; and it is no paradox that such a material may be beautiful when a fit form is imposed upon it, since a fit form turns anything into an agreeable object; its beauty runs as deep as its fitness, and stops where its adaptation to human nature begins to fail. Whatever can interest may prompt to expression, as it may have satisfied curiosity; and the mind celebrates a little triumph whenever it can formulate a truth, however unwelcome to the flesh, or discover an actual force, however unfavourable to given interests. As meditation on death and on life make equally for wisdom, so the expression of sorrow and joy make equally for beauty. Meditation and expression are themselves congenial activities with an intrinsic value which is not lessened if what they deal with could have been abolished to advantage. If once it exists, we may understand and interpret it; and this reaction will serve a double purpose. At first, in its very act, it will suffuse and mollify the unwelcome experience by another, digesting it, which is welcome; and later, by the broader adjustment which it will bring into the mind, it will help us to elude or confront the evils thus laid clearly before us.
Catharsis has no such effect as a sophistical optimism wishes to attribute to it; it does not show us that evil is good, or that calamity and crime are things to be grateful for: so forced an apology for evil has nothing to do with tragedy or wisdom; it belongs to apologetics and an artificial theodicy. Catharsis is rather the consciousness of how evil evils are, and how besetting; and how possible goods lie between and involve serious renunciations. To understand, to accept, and to use the situation in which a mortal may find himself is the function of art and reason. Such mastery is desirable in itself and for its fruits; it does not make itself responsible for the chaos of goods and evils that it supervenes upon. Whatever writhes in matter, art strives to give form to; and however unfavourable the field may be for its activity, it does what it can there, since no other field exists in which it may labour.
[Sidenote: Refinement is true strength.]
Sad music pleases the melancholy because it is sad and other men because it is music. When a composer attempts to reproduce complex conflicts in his score he will please complex or disordered spirits for expressing their troubles, but other men only for the order and harmony he may have brought out of that chaos. The chaos in itself will offend, and it is no part of rational art to produce it. As well might a physician poison in order to give an antidote, or maim in order to amputate. The subject matter of art is life, life as it actually is; but the function of art is to make life better. The depth to which an artist may find current experience to be sunk in discord and confusion is not his special concern; his concern is, in some measure, to lift experience out. The more barbarous his age, the more drastic and violent must be his operation. He will have to shout in a storm. His strength must needs, in such a case, be very largely physical and his methods sensational. In a gentler age he may grow nobler, and blood and thunder will no longer seem impressive. Only the weak are obliged to be violent; the strong, having all means at command, need not resort to the worst. Refined art is not wanting in power if the public is refined also. And as refinement comes only by experience, by comparison, by subordinating means to ends and rejecting what hinders, it follows that a refined mind will really possess the greater volume, as well as the subtler discrimination. Its ecstasy without grimace, and its submission without tears, will hold heaven and earth better together—and hold them better apart—than could a mad imagination.
SPEECH AND SIGNIFICATION
[Sidenote: Sounds well fitted to be symbols.]
Music rationalises sound, but a more momentous rationalising of sound is seen in language. Language is one of the most useful of things, yet the greater part of it still remains (what it must all have been in the beginning) useless and without ulterior significance. The musical side of language is its primary and elementary side. Man is endowed with vocal organs so plastic as to emit a great variety of delicately varied sounds; and by good fortune his ear has a parallel sensibility, so that much vocal expression can be registered and confronted by auditory feeling. It has been said that man's pre-eminence in nature is due to his possessing hands; his modest participation in the ideal world may similarly be due to his possessing tongue and ear. For when he finds shouting and vague moaning after a while fatiguing, he can draw a new pleasure from uttering all sorts of labial, dental, and gutteral sounds. Their rhythms and oppositions can entertain him, and he can begin to use his lingual gamut to designate the whole range of his perceptions and passions.
Here we touch upon one of the great crises in creation. As nutrition at first established itself in the face of waste, and reproduction in the face of death, so representation was able, by help of vocal symbols, to confront that dispersion inherent in experience, which is something in itself ephemeral. Merely to associate one thing with another brings little gain; and merely to have added a vocal designation to fleeting things—a designation which of course would have been taken for a part of their essence—would in itself have encumbered phenomena without rendering them in any way more docile to the will. But the encumbrance in this instance proved to be a wonderful preservative and means of comparison. It actually gave each moving thing its niche and cenotaph in the eternal. For the universe of vocal sounds was a field, like that of colour or number, in which the elements showed relations and transitions easy to dominate. It was a key-board over which attention could run back and forth, eliciting many implicit harmonies. Henceforth when various sounds had been idly associated with various things, and identified with them, the things could, by virtue of their names, be carried over mentally into the linguistic system; they could be manipulated there ideally, and vicariously preserved in representation. Needless to say that the things themselves remained unchanged all the while in their efficacy and mechanical succession, just as they remain unchanged in those respects when they pass for the mathematical observer into their measure or symbol; but as this reduction to mathematical form makes them calculable, so their earlier reduction to words rendered them comparable and memorable, first enabling them to figure in discourse at all.
[Sidenote: Language has a structure independent of things.]
Language had originally no obligation to subserve an end which we may sometimes measure it by now, and depute to be its proper function, namely, to stand for things and adapt itself perfectly to their structure. In language as in every other existence idealism precedes realism, since it must be a part of nature living its own life before it can become a symbol for the rest and bend to external control. The vocal and musical medium is, and must always remain, alien, to the spatial. What makes terms correspond and refer to one another is a relation eternally disparate from the relation of propinquity or derivation between existences. Yet when sounds were attached to an event or emotion, the sounds became symbols for that disparate fact. The net of vocal relations caught that natural object as a cobweb might catch a fly, without destroying or changing it. The object's quality passed to the word at the same time that the word's relations enveloped the object; and thus a new weight and significance was added to sound, previously nothing but a dull music. A conflict at once established itself between the drift proper to the verbal medium and that proper to the designated things; a conflict which the whole history of language and thought has embodied and which continues to this day.
[Sidenote: Words remaining identical, serve to identify things that change.]
Suppose an animal going down to a frozen river which he had previously visited in summer. Marks of all sorts would awaken in him an old train of reactions; he would doubtless feel premonitions of satisfied thirst and the splash of water. On finding, however, instead of the fancied liquid, a mass of something like cold stone, he would be disconcerted. His active attitude would be pulled up short and contradicted. In his fairyland of faith and magic the old river would have been simply annihilated, the dreamt-of water would have become a vanished ghost, and this ice for the moment the hard reality. He would turn away and live for a while on other illusions. When this shock was overgrown by time and it was summer again, the original habit might, however, reassert itself once more. If he revisited the stream, some god would seem to bring back something from an old familiar world; and the chill of that temporary estrangement, the cloud that for a while had made the good invisible, would soon be gone and forgotten.
If we imagine, on the contrary, that this animal could speak and had from the first called his haunt the river, he would have repeated its name on seeing it even when it was frozen, for he had not failed to recognise it in that guise. The variation afterwards noticed, upon finding it hard, would seem no total substitution, but a change; for it would be the same river, once flowing, that was now congealed. An identical word, covering all the identical qualities in the phenomena and serving to abstract them, would force the inconsistent qualities in those phenomena to pass for accidents; and the useful proposition could at once be framed that the same river may be sometimes free and sometimes frozen.
[Sidenote: Language the dialectical garment of facts.]
This proposition is true, yet it contains much that is calculated to offend a scrupulous dialectician. Its language and categories are not purely logical, but largely physical and representative. The notion that what changes nevertheless endures is a remarkable hybrid. It arises when rigid ideal terms are imposed on evanescent existence. Feelings, taken alone, would show no identities; they would be lost in changing, or be woven into the infinite feeling of change. Notions, taken alone, would allow no lapse, but would merely lead attention about from point to point over an eternal system of relations. Power to understand the world, logical or scientific mastery of existence, arises only by the forced and conventional marriage of these two essences, when the actual flux is ideally suspended and an ideal harness is loosely flung upon things. For this purpose words are an admirable instrument. They have dialectical relations based on an ideal import, or tendency to definition, which makes their essence their signification; yet they can be freely bandied about and applied for a moment to the ambiguous things that pass through existence.
[Sidenote: Words are wise men's counters.]
Had men been dumb, an exchange and circulation of images need not have been wanting, and associations might have arisen between ideals in the mind and corresponding reactive habits in the body. What words add is not power of discernment or action, but a medium of intellectual exchange. Language is like money, without which specific relative values may well exist and be felt, but cannot be reduced to a common denominator. And as money must have a certain intrinsic value of its own in order that its relation to other values may be stable, so a word, by which a thing is represented in discourse, must be a part of that thing's context, an ingredient in the total apparition it is destined to recall. Words, in their existence, are no more universal than gold by nature is a worthless standard of value in other things. Words are a material accompaniment of phenomena, at first an idle accompaniment, but one which happens to subserve easily a universal function. Some other element in objects might conceivably have served for a common denominator between them; but words, just by virtue of their adventitious, detachable status, and because they are so easily compared and manipulated in the world of sound, were singularly well fitted for this office. They are not vague, as any common quality abstracted from things would necessarily become; and though vagueness is a quality only too compatible with perception, so that vague ideas can exist without end, this vagueness is not what makes them universal in their functions. It is one thing to perceive an ill-determined form and quite another to attribute to it a precise general predicate. Words, distinct in their own category and perfectly recognisable, can accordingly perform very well the function of embodying a universal; for they can be identified in turn with many particulars and yet remain throughout particular themselves.
[Sidenote: Nominalism right in psychology and realism in logic]
The psychology of nominalism is undoubtedly right where it insists that every image is particular and every term, in its existential aspect, a flatum vocis; but nominalists should have recognised that images may have any degree of vagueness and generality when measured by a conceptual standard. A figure having obviously three sides and three corners may very well be present to the mind when it is impossible to say whether it is an equilateral or a rectangular triangle. Functional or logical universality lies in another sphere altogether, being a matter of intent and not of existence. When we say that "universals alone exist in the mind" we mean by "mind" something unknown to Berkeley; not a bundle of psychoses nor an angelic substance, but quick intelligence, the faculty of discourse. Predication is an act, understanding a spiritual and transitive operation: its existential basis may well be counted in psychologically and reduced to a stream of immediate presences; but its meaning can be caught only by another meaning, as life only can exemplify life. Vague or general images are as little universal as sounds are; but a sound better than a flickering abstraction can serve the intellect in its operation of comparison and synthesis. Words are therefore the body of discourse, of which the soul is understanding.
[Sidenote: Literature moves between the extremes of music and denotation.]
The categories of discourse are in part merely representative, in part merely grammatical, and in part attributable to both spheres. Euphony and phonetic laws are principles governing language without any reference to its meaning; here speech is still a sort of music. At the other extreme lies that ultimate form of prose which we see in mathematical reasoning or in a telegraphic style, where absolutely nothing is rhetorical and speech is denuded of every feature not indispensable to its symbolic role. Between these two extremes lies the broad field of poetry, or rather of imaginative or playful expression, where the verbal medium is a medium indeed, having a certain transparency, a certain reference to independent facts, but at the same time elaborates the fact in expressing it, and endows it with affinities alien to its proper nature. A pun is a grotesque example of such diremption, where ambiguities belonging only to speech are used to suggest impossible substitutions in ideas. Less frankly, language habitually wrests its subject-matter in some measure from its real context and transfers it to a represented and secondary world, the world of logic and reflection. Concretions in existence are subsumed, when named, under concretions in discourse. Grammar lays violent hands upon experience, and everything becomes a prey to wit and fancy, a material for fiction and eloquence. Man's intellectual progress has a poetic phase, in which he imagines the world; and then a scientific phase, in which he sifts and tests what he has imagined.
[Sidenote: Sound and object, in their sensuous presence, may have affinity.]
In what measure do inflection and syntax represent anything in the subject-matter of discourse? In what measure are they an independent play of expression, a quasi-musical, quasi-mathematical veil interposed between reflection and existence? One who knows only languages of a single family can give but a biassed answer to this question. There are doubtless many approaches to correct symbolism in language, which grammar may have followed up at different times in strangely different ways. That the medium in every art has a character of its own, a character limiting its representative value, may perhaps be safely asserted, and this intrinsic character in the medium antedates and permeates all representation. Phonetic possibilities and phonetic habits belong, in language, to this indispensable vehicle; what the throat and lips can emit easily and distinguishably, and what sequences can appeal to the ear and be retained, depend alike on physiological conditions; and no matter how convenient or inconvenient these conditions may be for signification, they will always make themselves felt and may sometimes remain predominant. In poetry they are still conspicuous. Euphony, metre, and rhyme colour the images they transmit and add a charm wholly extrinsic and imputed. In this immersion of the message in the medium and in its intrinsic movement the magic of poetry lies; and the miracle grows as there is more or less native analogy between the medium's movement and that of the subject-matter.
Both language and ideas involve processes in the brain. The two processes may be wholly disparate if we regard their objects only and forget their seat, as Athena is in no way linked to an elephant's tusk; yet in perception all processes are contiguous and exercise a single organism, in which they may find themselves in sympathetic or antipathetic vibration. On this circumstance hangs that subtle congruity between subject and vehicle which is otherwise such a mystery in expression. If to think of Athena and to look on ivory are congruous physiological processes, if they sustain or heighten each other, then to represent Athena in ivory will be a happy expedient, in which the very nature of the medium will already be helping us forward. Scent and form go better together, for instance, in the violet or the rose than in the hyacinth or the poppy: and being better compacted for human perception they seem more expressive and can be linked more unequivocally with other sources of feeling. So a given vocal sound may have more or less analogy to the thing it is used to signify; this analogy may be obvious, as in onomatopoeia, or subtle, as when short, sharp sounds go with decision, or involved rhythms and vague reverberations with a floating dream. What seems exquisite to one poet may accordingly seem vapid to another, when the texture of experience in the two minds differs, so that a given composition rustles through one man's fancy as a wind might through a wood, but finds no sympathetic response in the other organism, nerved as it may be, perhaps, to precision in thought and action.
[Sidenote: Syntax positively representative.]
The structure of language, when it passes beyond the phonetic level, begins at once to lean upon existences and to imitate the structure of things. We distinguish the parts of speech, for instance, in subservience to distinctions which we make in ideas. The feeling or quality represented by an adjective, the relation indicated by a verb, the substance or concretion of qualities designated by a noun, are diversities growing up in experience, by no means attributable to the mere play of sound. The parts of speech are therefore representative. Their inflection is representative too, since tenses mark important practical differences in the distribution of the events described, and cases express the respective roles played by objects in the operation. "I struck him and he will strike me," renders in linguistic symbols a marked change in the situation; the variation in phrase is not rhetorical. Language here, though borrowed no doubt from ancestral poetry, has left all revery far behind, and has been submerged in the Life of Reason.
[Sidenote: Yet it vitiates what it represents.]
The medium, however, constantly reasserts itself. An example may be found in gender, which, clearly representative in a measure, cuts loose in language from all genuine representation and becomes a feature in abstract linguistic design, a formal characteristic in expression. Contrasted sentiments permeate an animal's dealings with his own sex and with the other; nouns and adjectives represent this contrast by taking on masculine and feminine forms. The distinction is indeed so important that wholly different words—man and woman, bull and cow—stand for the best-known animals of different sex; while adjectives, where declension is extinct, as in English, often take on a connotation of gender and are applied to one sex only—as we say a beautiful woman, but hardly a beautiful man. But gender in language extends much farther than sex, and even if by some subtle analogy all the masculine and feminine nouns in a language could be attached to something suggesting sex in the objects they designate, yet it can hardly be maintained that the elaborate concordance incident upon that distinction is representative of any felt quality in the things. So remote an analogy to sex could not assert itself pervasively. Thus Horace says:
Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa perfusis liquidis urget odoribus grato, Pyrrha, sub antro?
Here we may perceive why the rose was instinctively made feminine, and we may grant that the bower, though the reason escape us, was somehow properly masculine; but no one would urge that a profusion of roses was also intrinsically feminine, or that the pleasantness of a bower was ever specifically masculine to sense. The epithets multa and grato take their gender from the nouns, even though the quality they designate fails to do so. Their gender is therefore non-representative and purely formal; it marks an intra-linguistic accommodation. The medium has developed a syntactical structure apart from any intrinsic significance thereby accruing to its elements. Artificial concordance in gender does not express gender: it merely emphasises the grammatical links in the phrases and makes greater variety possible in the arrangement of words.
[Sidenote: Difficulty in subduing a living medium.]
This example may prepare us to understand a general principle: that language, while essentially significant viewed in its function, is indefinitely wasteful, being mechanical and tentative in its origin. It overloads itself, and being primarily music, and a labyrinth of sounds, it develops an articulation and method of its own, which only in the end, and with much inexactness, reverts to its function of expression. How great the possibilities of effect are in developing a pure medium we can best appreciate in music; but in language a similar development goes on while it is being applied to representing things. The organ is spontaneous, the function adventitious and superimposed. Rhetoric and utility keep language going, as centrifugal and centripetal forces keep a planet in its course. Euphony, verbal analogy, grammatical fancy, poetic confusion, continually drive language afield, in its own tangential direction; while the business of life, in which language is employed, and the natural lapse of rhetorical fashions, as continually draw it back towards convenience and exactitude.
[Sidenote: Language foreshortens experience.]
Between music and bare symbolism language has its florid expansion. Until music is subordinated, speech has little sense; it can hardly tell a story or indicate an object unequivocally. Yet if music were left behind altogether, language would pass into a sort of algebra or vocal shorthand, without literary quality; it would become wholly indicative and record facts without colouring them ideally. This medium and its intrinsic development, though they make the bane of reproduction, make the essence of art; they give representation a new and specific value such as the object, before representation, could not have possessed. Consciousness itself is such a medium in respect to diffuse existence, which it foreshortens and elevates into synthetic ideas. Reason, too, by bringing the movement of events and inclinations to a head in single acts of reflection, thus attaining to laws and purposes, introduces into life the influence of a representative medium, without which life could never pass from a process into an art. Language acquires scope in the same way, by its kindly infidelities; its metaphors and syntax lend experience perspective. Language vitiates the experience it expresses, but thereby makes the burden of one moment relevant to that of another. The two experiences, identified roughly with the same concretion in discourse, are pronounced similar or comparable in character. Thus a proverb, by its verbal pungency and rhythm, becomes more memorable than the event it first described would ever have been if not translated into an epigram and rendered, so to speak, applicable to new cases; for by that translation the event has become an idea.
[Sidenote: It is a perpetual mythology.]
To turn events into ideas is the function of literature. Music, which in a certain sense is a mass of pure forms, must leave its "ideas" imbedded in their own medium—they are musical ideas—and cannot impose them on any foreign material, such as human affairs. Science, on the contrary, seeks to disclose the bleak anatomy of existence, stripping off as much as possible the veil of prejudice and words. Literature takes a middle course and tries to subdue music, which for its purposes would be futile and too abstract, into conformity with general experience, making music thereby significant. Literary art in the end rejects all unmeaning nourishes, all complications that have no counterpart in things or no use in expressing their relations; at the same time it aspires to digest that reality to which it confines itself, making it over into ideal substance and material for the mind. It looks at things with an incorrigibly dramatic eye, turning them into permanent unities (which they never are) and almost into persons, grouping them by their imaginative or moral affinities and retaining in them chiefly what is incidental to their being, namely, the part they may chance to play in man's adventures.
Such literary art demands a subject-matter other than the literary impulse itself. The literary man is an interpreter and hardly succeeds, as the musician may, without experience and mastery of human affairs. His art is half genius and half fidelity. He needs inspiration; he must wait for automatic musical tendencies to ferment in his mind, proving it to be fertile in devices, comparisons, and bold assimilations. Yet inspiration alone will lead him astray, for his art is relative to something other than its own formal impulse; it comes to clarify the real world, not to encumber it; and it needs to render its native agility practical and to attach its volume of feeling to what is momentous in human life. Literature has its piety, its conscience; it cannot long forget, without forfeiting all dignity, that it serves a burdened and perplexed creature, a human animal struggling to persuade the universal Sphinx to propose a more intelligible riddle. Irresponsible and trivial in its abstract impulse, man's simian chatter becomes noble as it becomes symbolic; its representative function lends it a serious beauty, its utility endows it with moral worth.
[Sidenote: It may be apt or inapt, with equal richness.]
[Sidenote: Absolute language a possible but foolish art.]
These relations, in determining the function of language, determine the ideal which its structure should approach. Any sort of grammar and rhetoric, the most absurd and inapplicable as well as the most descriptive, can be spontaneous; fit organisms are not less natural than those that are unfit. Felicitous genius is so called because it meets experience half-way. A genius which flies in the opposite direction, though not less fertile internally, is externally inept and is called madness. Ineptitude is something which language needs to shake off. Better surrender altogether some verbal categories and start again, in that respect, with a clean slate, than persist in any line of development that alienates thought from reality. The language of birds is excellent in its way, and those ancient sages who are reported to have understood it very likely had merely perceived that it was not meant to be intelligible; for it is not to understand nature to reduce her childishly to a human scale. Man, who is merged in universal nature at the roots of his being, is not without profound irrational intuitions by which he can half divine her secret processes; and his heart, in its own singing and fluttering, might not wholly misinterpret the birds. But human discourse is not worth having if it is mere piping, and helps not at all in mastering things; for man is intelligent, which is another way of saying that he aspires to envisage in thought what he is dealing with in action. Discourse that absolved itself from that observant duty would not be cognitive; and in failing to be cognitive it would fail to redeem the practical forces it ignored from their brute externality, and to make them tributary to the Life of Reason. Thus its own dignity and continued existence depend on its learning to express momentous facts, facts important for action and happiness; and there is nothing which so quickly discredits itself as empty rhetoric and dialectic, or poetry that wanders in dim and private worlds. If pure music, even with its immense sensuous appeal, is so easily tedious, what a universal yawn must meet the verbiage which develops nothing but its own irridescence. Absolute versification and absolute dialectic may have their place in society; they give play to an organ that has its rights like any other, and that, after serving for a while in the economy of life, may well claim a holiday in which to disport itself irresponsibly among the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field. But the exercise is trivial; and if its high priests go through their mummeries with a certain unction, and pretend to be wafted by them into a higher world, the phenomenon is neither new nor remarkable. Language is a wonderful and pliant medium, and why should it not lend itself to imposture? A systematic abuse of words, as of other things, is never without some inner harmony or propriety that makes it prosper; only the man who looks beyond and sees the practical results awakes to the villainy of it. In the end, however, those who play with words lose their labour, and pregnant as they feel themselves to be with new and wonderful universes, they cannot humanise the one in which they live and rather banish themselves from it by their persistent egotism and irrelevance.
POETRY AND PROSE
[Sidenote: Force of primary expressions.]
There is both truth and illusion in the saying that primitive poets are sublime. Genesis and the Iliad (works doubtless backed by a long tradition) are indeed sublime. Primitive men, having perhaps developed language before the other arts, used it with singular directness to describe the chief episodes of life, which was all that life as yet contained. They had frank passions and saw things from single points of view. A breath from that early world seems to enlarge our natures, and to restore to language, which we have sophisticated, all its magnificence and truth. But there is more, for (as we have seen) language is spontaneous; it constitutes an act before it registers an observation. It gives vent to emotion before it is adjusted to things external and reduced, as it were, to its own echo rebounding from a refractory world. The lion's roar, the bellowing of bulls, even the sea's cadence has a great sublimity. Though hardly in itself poetry, an animal cry, when still audible in human language, renders it also the unanswerable, the ultimate voice of nature. Nothing can so pierce the soul as the uttermost sigh of the body. There is no utterance so thrilling as that of absolute impulse, if absolute impulse has learned to speak at all. An intense, inhospitable mind, filled with a single idea, in which all animal, social, and moral interests are fused together, speaks a language of incomparable force. Thus the Hebrew prophets, in their savage concentration, poured into one torrent all that their souls possessed or could dream of. What other men are wont to pursue in politics, business, religion, or art, they looked for from one wave of national repentance and consecration. Their age, swept by this ideal passion, possessed at the same time a fresh and homely vocabulary; and the result was an eloquence so elemental and combative, so imaginative and so bitterly practical, that the world has never heard its like. Such single-mindedness, with such heroic simplicity in words and images, is hardly possible in a late civilisation. Cultivated poets are not unconsciously sublime.
[Sidenote: Its exclusiveness and narrowness.]
The sublimity of early utterances should not be hailed, however, with unmixed admiration. It is a sublimity born of defect or at least of disproportion. The will asserts itself magnificently; images, like thunder-clouds, seem to cover half the firmament at once. But such a will is sadly inexperienced; it has hardly tasted or even conceived any possible or high satisfactions. Its lurid firmament is poor in stars. To throw the whole mind upon something is not so great a feat when the mind has nothing else to throw itself upon. Every animal when goaded becomes intense; and it is perhaps merely the apathy in which mortals are wont to live that keeps them from being habitually sublime in their sentiments. The sympathy that makes a sheep hasten after its fellows, in vague alarm or in vague affection; the fierce premonitions that drive a bull to the heifer; the patience with which a hen sits on her eggs; the loyalty which a dog shows to his master—what thoughts may not all these instincts involve, which it needs only a medium of communication to translate into poetry?
Man, though with less wholeness of soul, enacts the same dramas. He hears voices on all occasions; he incorporates what little he observes of nature into his verbal dreams; and as each new impulse bubbles to the surface he feels himself on the verge of some inexpressible heaven or hell. He needs but to abandon himself to that seething chaos which perpetually underlies conventional sanity—a chaos in which memory and prophecy, vision and impersonation, sound and sense, are inextricably jumbled together—to find himself at once in a magic world, irrecoverable, largely unmeaning, terribly intricate, but, as he will conceive, deep, inward, and absolutely real. He will have reverted, in other words, to crude experience, to primordial illusion. The movement of his animal or vegetative mind will be far from delightful; it will be unintelligent and unintelligible; nothing in particular will be represented therein; but it will be a movement in the soul and for the soul, as exciting and compulsive as the soul's volume can make it. In this muddy torrent words also may be carried down; and if these words are by chance strung together into a cadence, and are afterwards written down, they may remain for a memento of that turbid moment. Such words we may at first hesitate to call poetry, since very likely they are nonsense; but this nonsense will have some quality—some rhyme or rhythm—that makes it memorable (else it would not have survived); and moreover the words will probably show, in their connotation and order, some sympathy with the dream that cast them up. For the man himself, in whom such a dream may be partly recurrent, they may consequently have a considerable power of suggestion, and they may even have it for others, whenever the rhythm and incantation avail to plunge them also into a similar trance.
[Sidenote: Rudimentary poetry an incantation or charm.]
Memorable nonsense, or sound with a certain hypnotic power, is the really primitive and radical form of poetry. Nor is such poetry yet extinct: children still love and compose it and every genuine poet, on one side of his genius, reverts to it from explicit speech. As all language has acquired its meaning, and did not have it in the beginning, so the man who launches a new locution, the poet who creates a symbol, must do so without knowing what significance it may eventually acquire, and conscious at best only of the emotional background from which it emerged. Pure poetry is pure experiment; and it is not strange that nine-tenths of it should be pure failure. For it matters little what unutterable things may have originally gone together with a phrase in the dreamer's mind; if they were not uttered and the phrase cannot call them back, this verbal relic is none the richer for the high company it may once have kept. Expressiveness is a most accidental matter. What a line suggests at one reading, it may never suggest again even to the same person. For this reason, among others, poets are partial to their own compositions; they truly discover there depths of meaning which exist for nobody else. Those readers who appropriate a poet and make him their own fall into a similar illusion; they attribute to him what they themselves supply, and whatever he reels out, lost in his own personal revery, seems to them, like sortes biblicoe, written to fit their own case.
[Sidenote: Inspiration irresponsible.]
Justice has never been done to Plato's remarkable consistency and boldness in declaring that poets are inspired by a divine madness and yet, when they transgress rational bounds, are to be banished from an ideal republic, though not without some marks of Platonic regard. Instead of fillets, a modern age might assign them a coterie of flattering dames, and instead of banishment, starvation; but the result would be the same in the end. A poet is inspired because what occurs in his brain is a true experiment in creation. His apprehension plays with words and their meanings as nature, in any spontaneous variation, plays with her own structure. A mechanical force shifts the kaleidoscope; a new direction is given to growth or a new gist to signification. This inspiration, moreover, is mad, being wholly ignorant of its own issue; and though it has a confused fund of experience and verbal habit on which to draw, it draws on this fund blindly and quite at random, consciously possessed by nothing but a certain stress and pregnancy and the pains, as it were, of parturition. Finally the new birth has to be inspected critically by the public censor before it is allowed to live; most probably it is too feeble and defective to prosper in the common air, or is a monster that violates some primary rule of civic existence, tormenting itself to disturb others.
[Sidenote: Plato's discriminating view.]
Plato seems to have exaggerated the havoc which these poetic dragons can work in the world. They are in fact more often absurd than venomous, and no special legislation is needed to abolish them. They soon die quietly of universal neglect. The poetry that ordinarily circulates among a people is poetry of a secondary and conventional sort that propagates established ideas in trite metaphors. Popular poets are the parish priests of the Muse, retailing her ancient divinations to a long since converted public. Plato's quarrel was not so much with poetic art as with ancient myth and emotional laxity: he was preaching a crusade against the established church. For naturalistic deities he wished to substitute moral symbols; for the joys of sense, austerity and abstraction. To proscribe Homer was a marked way of protesting against the frivolous reigning ideals. The case is much as if we should now proscribe the book of Genesis, on account of its mythical cosmogony, or in order to proclaim the philosophic truth that the good, being an adequate expression to be attained by creation, could not possibly have preceded it or been its source. We might admit at the same time that Genesis contains excellent images and that its poetic force is remarkable; so that if serious misunderstanding could be avoided the censor might be glad to leave it in everybody's hands. Plato in some such way recognised that Homer was poetical and referred his works, mischievous as they might prove incidentally, to divine inspiration. Poetic madness, like madness in prophecy or love, bursts the body of things to escape from it into some ideal; and even the Homeric world, though no model for a rational state, was a cheerful heroic vision, congenial to many early impulses and dreams of the mind.
[Sidenote: Explosive and pregnant expression.]
Homer, indeed, was no primitive poet; he was a consummate master, the heir to generations of discipline in both life and art. This appears in his perfect prosody, in his limpid style, in his sense for proportion, his abstentions, and the frank pathos of his portraits and principles, in which there is nothing gross, subjective, or arbitrary. The inspirations that came to him never carried him into crudeness or absurdity. Every modern poet, though the world he describes may be more refined in spots and more elaborate, is less advanced in his art; for art is made rudimentary not by its date but by its irrationality. Yet even if Homer had been primitive he might well have been inspired, in the same way as a Bacchic frenzy or a mystic trance; the most blundering explosions may be justified antecedently by the plastic force that is vented in them. They may be expressive, in the physical sense of this ambiguous word; for, far as they may be from conveying an idea, they may betray a tendency and prove that something is stirring in the soul. Expressiveness is often sterile; but it is sometimes fertile and capable of reproducing in representation the experience from which it sprang. As a tree in the autumn sheds leaves and seeds together, so a ripening experience comes indifferently to various manifestations, some barren and without further function, others fit to carry the parent experience over into another mind, and give it a new embodiment there. Expressiveness in the former case is dead, like that of a fossil; in the latter it is living and efficacious, recreating its original. The first is idle self-manifestation, the second rational art.
[Sidenote: Natural history of inspiration.]
Self-manifestation, so soon as it is noted and accepted as such, seems to present the same marvel as any ideal success. Such self-manifestation is incessant, many-sided, unavoidable; yet it seems a miracle when its conditions are looked back upon from the vantage ground of their result. By reading spirit out of a work we turn it into a feat of inspiration. Thus even the crudest and least coherent utterances, when we suspect some soul to be groping in them, and striving to address us, become oracular; a divine afflatus breathes behind their gibberish and they seem to manifest some deep intent. The miracle of creation or inspiration consists in nothing but this, that an external effect should embody an inner intention. The miracle, of course, is apparent only, and due to an inverted and captious point of view. In truth the tendency that executed the work was what first made its conception possible; but this conception, finding the work responsive in some measure to its inner demand, attributes that response to its own magic prerogative. Hence the least stir and rumble of formative processes, when it generates a soul, makes itself somehow that soul's interpreter; and dim as the spirit and its expression may both remain, they are none the less in profound concord, a concord which wears a miraculous providential character when it is appreciated without being understood.
[Sidenote: Expressions to be understood must be recreated, and so changed.]
Primitive poetry is the basis of all discourse. If we open any ancient book we come at once upon an elaborate language, and on divers conventional concepts, of whose origin and history we hear nothing. We must read on, until by dint of guessing and by confronting instances we grow to understand those symbols. The writer was himself heir to a linguistic tradition which he made his own by the same process of adoption and tentative use by which we, in turn, interpret his phrases: he understood what he heard in terms of his own experience, and attributed to his predecessors (no matter what their incommunicable feelings may have been) such ideas as their words generated in his own thinking. In this way expressions continually change their sense; they can communicate a thought only by diffusing a stimulus, and in passing from mouth to mouth they will wholly reverse their connotation, unless some external object or some recurring human situation gives them a constant standard, by which private aberrations may be checked. Thus in the first phrase of Genesis, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," the words have a stable meaning only in so far as they are indicative and bring us back to a stable object. What "heavens" and "earth" stand for can be conveyed by gestures, by merely pointing up and down; but beyond that sensuous connotation their meaning has entirely changed since they were here written; and no two minds, even to-day, will respond to these familiar words with exactly the same images. "Beginning" and "created" have a superficial clearness, though their implications cannot be defined without precipitating the most intricate metaphysics, which would end in nothing but a proof that both terms were ambiguous and unthinkable. As to the word "God," all mutual understanding is impossible. It is a floating literary symbol, with a value which, if we define it scientifically, becomes quite algebraic. As no experienced object corresponds to it, it is without fixed indicative force, and admits any sense which its context in any mind may happen to give it. In the first sentence of Genesis its meaning, we may safely say, is "a masculine being by whom heaven and earth were created." To fill out this implication other instances of the word would have to be gathered, in each of which, of course, the word would appear with a new and perhaps incompatible meaning.
[Sidenote: Expressions may be recast perversely, humorously, or sublimely.]
Whenever a word appears in a radically new context it has a radically new sense: the expression in which it so figures is a poetic figment, a fresh literary creation. Such invention is sometimes perverse, sometimes humorous, sometimes sublime; that is, it may either buffet old associations without enlarging them, or give them a plausible but impossible twist, or enlarge them to cover, with unexpected propriety, a much wider or more momentous experience. The force of experience in any moment—if we abstract from represented values—is emotional; so that for sublime poetry what is required is to tap some reservoir of feeling. If a phrase opens the flood-gates of emotion, it has made itself most deeply significant. Its discursive range and clearness may not be remarkable; its emotional power will quite suffice. For this reason again primitive poetry may be sublime: in its inchoate phrases there is affinity to raw passion and their very blindness may serve to bring that passion back. Poetry has body; it represents the volume of experience as well as its form, and to express volume a primitive poet will rely rather on rhythm, sound, and condensed suggestion than on discursive fulness or scope.