The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century - Two Lectures delivered at the London Institution February - 4th and 11th, 1884
by John Ruskin
1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse





















The following lectures, drawn up under the pressure of more imperative and quite otherwise directed work, contain many passages which stand in need of support, and some, I do not doubt, more or less of correction, which I always prefer to receive openly from the better knowledge of friends, after setting down my own impressions of the matter in clearness as far as they reach, than to guard myself against by submitting my manuscript, before publication, to annotators whose stricture or suggestion I might often feel pain in refusing, yet hesitation in admitting.

But though thus hastily, and to some extent incautiously, thrown into form, the statements in the text are founded on patient and, in all essential particulars, accurately recorded observations of the sky, during fifty years of a life of solitude and leisure; and in all they contain of what may seem to the reader questionable, or astonishing, are guardedly and absolutely true.

In many of the reports given by the daily press, my assertion of radical change, during recent years, in weather aspect was scouted as imaginary, or insane. I am indeed, every day of my yet spared life, more and more grateful that my mind is capable of imaginative vision, and liable to the noble dangers of delusion which separate the speculative intellect of humanity from the dreamless instinct of brutes: but I have been able, during all active work, to use or refuse my power of contemplative imagination, with as easy command of it as a physicist's of his telescope: the times of morbid are just as easily distinguished by me from those of healthy vision, as by men of ordinary faculty, dream from waking; nor is there a single fact stated in the following pages which I have not verified with a chemist's analysis, and a geometer's precision.

The first lecture is printed, with only addition here and there of an elucidatory word or phrase, precisely as it was given on the 4th February. In repeating it on the 11th, I amplified several passages, and substituted for the concluding one, which had been printed with accuracy in most of the leading journals, some observations which I thought calculated to be of more general interest. To these, with the additions in the first text, I have now prefixed a few explanatory notes, to which numeral references are given in the pages they explain, and have arranged the fragments in connection clear enough to allow of their being read with ease as a second Lecture.

HERNE HILL, 12th March, 1884.





Let me first assure my audience that I have no arriere pensee in the title chosen for this lecture. I might, indeed, have meant, and it would have been only too like me to mean, any number of things by such a title;—but, to-night, I mean simply what I have said, and propose to bring to your notice a series of cloud phenomena, which, so far as I can weigh existing evidence, are peculiar to our own times; yet which have not hitherto received any special notice or description from meteorologists.

So far as the existing evidence, I say, of former literature can be interpreted, the storm-cloud—or more accurately plague-cloud, for it is not always stormy—which I am about to describe to you, never was seen but by now living, or lately living eyes. It is not yet twenty years that this—I may well call it, wonderful, cloud has been, in its essence, recognizable. There is no description of it, so far as I have read, by any ancient observer. Neither Homer nor Virgil, neither Aristophanes nor Horace, acknowledge any such clouds among those compelled by Jove. Chaucer has no word of them, nor Dante;[1] Milton none, nor Thomson. In modern times, Scott, Wordsworth and Byron are alike unconscious of them; and the most observant and descriptive of scientific men, De Saussure, is utterly silent concerning them. Taking up the traditions of air from the year before Scott's death, I am able, by my own constant and close observation, to certify you that in the forty following years (1831 to 1871 approximately—for the phenomena in question came on gradually)—no such clouds as these are, and are now often for months without intermission, were ever seen in the skies of England, France, or Italy.

In those old days, when weather was fine, it was luxuriously fine; when it was bad—it was often abominably bad, but it had its fit of temper and was done with it—it didn't sulk for three months without letting you see the sun,—nor send you one cyclone inside out, every Saturday afternoon, and another outside in, every Monday morning.

In fine weather the sky was either blue or clear in its light; the clouds, either white or golden, adding to, not abating, the luster of the sky. In wet weather, there were two different species of clouds,—those of beneficent rain, which for distinction's sake I will call the non-electric rain-cloud, and those of storm, usually charged highly with electricity. The beneficent rain-cloud was indeed often extremely dull and gray for days together, but gracious nevertheless, felt to be doing good, and often to be delightful after drought; capable also of the most exquisite coloring, under certain conditions;[2] and continually traversed in clearing by the rainbow:—and, secondly, the storm-cloud, always majestic, often dazzlingly beautiful, and felt also to be beneficent in its own way, affecting the mass of the air with vital agitation, and purging it from the impurity of all morbific elements.

In the entire system of the Firmament, thus seen and understood, there appeared to be, to all the thinkers of those ages, the incontrovertible and unmistakable evidence of a Divine Power in creation, which had fitted, as the air for human breath, so the clouds for human sight and nourishment;—the Father who was in heaven feeding day by day the souls of His children with marvels, and satisfying them with bread, and so filling their hearts with food and gladness.

Their hearts, you will observe, it is said, not merely their bellies,—or indeed not at all, in this sense, their bellies—but the heart itself, with its blood for this life, and its faith for the next. The opposition between this idea and the notions of our own time may be more accurately expressed by modification of the Greek than of the English sentence. The old Greek is—

[Greek: empiplon trophes kai euphrosynes tas kardias hemon.]

filling with meat, and cheerfulness, our hearts. The modern Greek should be—

[Greek: empiplon anemou kai aphrosynes tas gasteras hemon.]

filling with wind, and foolishness, our stomachs.

You will not think I waste your time in giving you two cardinal examples of the sort of evidence which the higher forms of literature furnish respecting the cloud-phenomena of former times.

When, in the close of my lecture on landscape last year at Oxford, I spoke of stationary clouds as distinguished from passing ones, some blockheads wrote to the papers to say that clouds never were stationary. Those foolish letters were so far useful in causing a friend to write me the pretty one I am about to read to you, quoting a passage about clouds in Homer which I had myself never noticed, though perhaps the most beautiful of its kind in the Iliad. In the fifth book, after the truce is broken, and the aggressor Trojans are rushing to the onset in a tumult of clamor and charge, Homer says that the Greeks, abiding them "stood like clouds." My correspondent, giving the passage, writes as follows:—

"SIR,—Last winter when I was at Ajaccio, I was one day reading Homer by the open window, and came upon the lines—

[Greek: All' emenon, nephelesin eoikotes has te Kronion Nenemies estesen ep' akropoloisin oressin, Atremas, ophr' heudesi menos Boreao kai allon Zachreion anemon, hoite nephea skioenta Pnoiesin lygyresi diaskidnasin aentes; Hos Danaoi Troas menon empedon, oud' ephebonto.]

'But they stood, like the clouds which the Son of Kronos stablishes in calm upon the mountains, motionless, when the rage of the North and of all the fiery winds is asleep.' As I finished these lines, I raised my eyes, and looking across the gulf, saw a long line of clouds resting on the top of its hills. The day was windless, and there they stayed, hour after hour, without any stir or motion. I remember how I was delighted at the time, and have often since that day thought on the beauty and the truthfulness of Homer's simile.

"Perhaps this little fact may interest you, at a time when you are attacked for your description of clouds.

"I am, sir, yours faithfully, G. B. HILL."

With this bit of noonday from Homer, I will read you a sunset and a sunrise from Byron. That will enough express to you the scope and sweep of all glorious literature, from the orient of Greece herself to the death of the last Englishman who loved her.[3] I will read you from 'Sardanapalus' the address of the Chaldean priest Beleses to the sunset, and of the Greek slave, Myrrha, to the morning.

"The sun goes down: methinks he sets more slowly, Taking his last look of Assyria's empire. How red he glares amongst those deepening clouds,[4] Like the blood he predicts.[5] If not in vain, Thou sun that sinkest, and ye stars which rise, I have outwatch'd ye, reading ray by ray The edicts of your orbs, which make Time tremble For what he brings the nations, 't is the furthest Hour of Assyria's years. And yet how calm! An earthquake should announce so great a fall— A summer's sun discloses it. Yon disk To the star-read Chaldean, bears upon Its everlasting page the end of what Seem'd everlasting; but oh! thou TRUE sun! The burning oracle of all that live, As fountain of all life, and symbol of Him who bestows it, wherefore dost thou limit Thy lore unto calamity?[6] Why not Unfold the rise of days more worthy thine All-glorious burst from ocean? why not dart A beam of hope athwart the future years, As of wrath to its days? Hear me! oh, hear me! I am thy worshiper, thy priest, thy servant— I have gazed on thee at thy rise and fall, And bow'd my head beneath thy mid-day beams, When my eye dared not meet thee. I have watch'd For thee, and after thee, and pray'd to thee, And sacrificed to thee, and read, and fear'd thee, And ask'd of thee, and thou hast answer'd—but Only to thus much. While I speak, he sinks— Is gone—and leaves his beauty, not his knowledge, To the delighted west, which revels in Its hues of dying glory. Yet what is Death, so it be but glorious? 'T is a sunset; And mortals may be happy to resemble The gods but in decay."

Thus the Chaldean priest, to the brightness of the setting sun. Hear now the Greek girl, Myrrha, of his rising.

"The day at last has broken. What a night Hath usher'd it! How beautiful in heaven! Though varied with a transitory storm, More beautiful in that variety:[7] How hideous upon earth! where peace, and hope, And love, and revel, in an hour were trampled By human passions to a human chaos, Not yet resolved to separate elements:— 'T is warring still! And can the sun so rise, So bright, so rolling back the clouds into Vapors more lovely than the unclouded sky, With golden pinnacles, and snowy mountains, And billows purpler than the ocean's, making In heaven a glorious mockery of the earth, So like,—we almost deem it permanent; So fleeting,—we can scarcely call it aught Beyond a vision, 't is so transiently Scatter'd along the eternal vault: and yet It dwells upon the soul, and soothes the soul, And blends itself into the soul, until Sunrise and sunset form the haunted epoch Of sorrow and of love."

How often now—young maids of London,—do you make sunrise the 'haunted epoch' of either?

Thus much, then, of the skies that used to be, and clouds "more lovely than the unclouded sky," and of the temper of their observers. I pass to the account of clouds that are, and—I say it with sorrow—of the distemper of their observers.

But the general division which I have instituted between bad-weather and fair-weather clouds must be more carefully carried out in the sub-species, before we can reason of it farther: and before we begin talk either of the sub-genera and sub-species, or super-genera and super-species of cloud, perhaps we had better define what every cloud is, and must be, to begin with.

Every cloud that can be, is thus primarily definable: "Visible vapor of water floating at a certain height in the air." The second clause of this definition, you see, at once implies that there is such a thing as visible vapor of water which does not float at a certain height in the air. You are all familiar with one extremely cognizable variety of that sort of vapor—London Particular; but that especial blessing of metropolitan society is only a strongly-developed and highly-seasoned condition of a form of watery vapor which exists just as generally and widely at the bottom of the air, as the clouds do—on what, for convenience' sake, we may call the top of it;—only as yet, thanks to the sagacity of scientific men, we have got no general name for the bottom cloud, though the whole question of cloud nature begins in this broad fact, that you have one kind of vapor that lies to a certain depth on the ground, and another that floats at a certain height in the sky. Perfectly definite, in both cases, the surface level of the earthly vapor, and the roof level of the heavenly vapor, are each of them drawn within the depth of a fathom. Under their line, drawn for the day and for the hour, the clouds will not stoop, and above theirs, the mists will not rise. Each in their own region, high or deep, may expatiate at their pleasure; within that, they climb, or decline,—within that they congeal or melt away; but below their assigned horizon the surges of the cloud sea may not sink, and the floods of the mist lagoon may not be swollen.

That is the first idea you have to get well into your minds concerning the abodes of this visible vapor; next, you have to consider the manner of its visibility. Is it, you have to ask, with cloud vapor, as with most other things, that they are seen when they are there, and not seen when they are not there? or has cloud vapor so much of the ghost in it, that it can be visible or invisible as it likes, and may perhaps be all unpleasantly and malignantly there, just as much when we don't see it, as when we do? To which I answer, comfortably and generally, that, on the whole, a cloud is where you see it, and isn't where you don't; that, when there's an evident and honest thundercloud in the northeast, you needn't suppose there's a surreptitious and slinking one in the northwest;—when there's a visible fog at Bermondsey, it doesn't follow there's a spiritual one, more than usual, at the West End: and when you get up to the clouds, and can walk into them or out of them, as you like, you find when you're in them they wet your whiskers, or take out your curls, and when you're out of them, they don't; and therefore you may with probability assume—not with certainty, observe, but with probability—that there's more water in the air where it damps your curls than where it doesn't. If it gets much denser than that, it will begin to rain; and then you may assert, certainly with safety, that there is a shower in one place, and not in another; and not allow the scientific people to tell you that the rain is everywhere, but palpable in Tooley Street, and impalpable in Grosvenor Square.

That, I say, is broadly and comfortably so on the whole,—and yet with this kind of qualification and farther condition in the matter. If you watch the steam coming strongly out of an engine-funnel,[8]—at the top of the funnel it is transparent,—you can't see it, though it is more densely and intensely there than anywhere else. Six inches out of the funnel it becomes snow-white,—you see it, and you see it, observe, exactly where it is,—it is then a real and proper cloud. Twenty yards off the funnel it scatters and melts away; a little of it sprinkles you with rain if you are underneath it, but the rest disappears; yet it is still there;—the surrounding air does not absorb it all into space in a moment; there is a gradually diffusing current of invisible moisture at the end of the visible stream—an invisible, yet quite substantial, vapor; but not, according to our definition, a cloud, for a cloud is vapor visible.

Then the next bit of the question, of course, is, What makes the vapor visible, when it is so? Why is the compressed steam transparent, the loose steam white, the dissolved steam transparent again?

The scientific people tell you that the vapor becomes visible, and chilled, as it expands. Many thanks to them; but can they show us any reason why particles of water should be more opaque when they are separated than when they are close together, or give us any idea of the difference of the state of a particle of water, which won't sink in the air, from that of one that won't rise in it?[9]

And here I must parenthetically give you a little word of, I will venture to say, extremely useful, advice about scientific people in general. Their first business is, of course, to tell you things that are so, and do happen,—as that, if you warm water, it will boil; if you cool it, it will freeze; and if you put a candle to a cask of gunpowder, it will blow you up. Their second, and far more important business, is to tell you what you had best do under the circumstances,—put the kettle on in time for tea; powder your ice and salt, if you have a mind for ices; and obviate the chance of explosion by not making the gunpowder. But if, beyond this safe and beneficial business, they ever try to explain anything to you, you may be confident of one of two things,—either that they know nothing (to speak of) about it, or that they have only seen one side of it—and not only haven't seen, but usually have no mind to see, the other. When, for instance, Professor Tyndall explains the twisted beds of the Jungfrau to you by intimating that the Matterhorn is growing flat;[10] or the clouds on the lee side of the Matterhorn by the wind's rubbing against the windward side of it,[11]—you may be pretty sure the scientific people don't know much (to speak of) yet, either about rock-beds, or cloud-beds. And even if the explanation, so to call it, be sound on one side, windward or lee, you may, as I said, be nearly certain it won't do on the other. Take the very top and center of scientific interpretation by the greatest of its masters: Newton explained to you—or at least was once supposed to have explained—why an apple fell; but he never thought of explaining the exactly correlative, but infinitely more difficult question, how the apple got up there!

You will not, therefore, so please you, expect me to explain anything to you,—I have come solely and simply to put before you a few facts, which you can't see by candlelight, or in railroad tunnels, but which are making themselves now so very distinctly felt as well as seen, that you may perhaps have to roof, if not wall, half London afresh before we are many years older.

I go back to my point—the way in which clouds, as a matter of fact, become visible. I have defined the floating or sky cloud, and defined the falling, or earth cloud. But there's a sort of thing between the two, which needs a third definition: namely, Mist. In the 22d page of his 'Glaciers of the Alps,' Professor Tyndall says that "the marvelous blueness of the sky in the earlier part of the day indicated that the air was charged, almost to saturation, with transparent aqueous vapor." Well, in certain weather that is true. You all know the peculiar clearness which precedes rain,—when the distant hills are looking nigh. I take it on trust from the scientific people that there is then a quantity—almost to saturation—of aqueous vapor in the air, but it is aqueous vapor in a state which makes the air more transparent than it would be without it. What state of aqueous molecule is that, absolutely unreflective[12] of light—perfectly transmissive of light, and showing at once the color of blue water and blue air on the distant hills?

I put the question—and pass round to the other side. Such a clearness, though a certain forerunner of rain, is not always its forerunner. Far the contrary. Thick air is a much more frequent forerunner of rain than clear air. In cool weather, you will often get the transparent prophecy: but in hot weather, or in certain not hitherto defined states of atmosphere, the forerunner of rain is mist. In a general way, after you have had two or three days of rain, the air and sky are healthily clear, and the sun bright. If it is hot also, the next day is a little mistier—the next misty and sultry,—and the next and the next, getting thicker and thicker—end in another storm, or period of rain.

I suppose the thick air, as well as the transparent, is in both cases saturated with aqueous vapor;—but also in both, observe, vapor that floats everywhere, as if you mixed mud with the sea; and it takes no shape anywhere: you may have it with calm, or with wind, it makes no difference to it. You have a nasty haze with a bitter east wind, or a nasty haze with not a leaf stirring, and you may have the clear blue vapor with a fresh rainy breeze, or the clear blue vapor as still as the sky above. What difference is there between these aqueous molecules that are clear, and those that are muddy, these that must sink or rise, and those that must stay where they are, these that have form and stature, that are bellied like whales and backed like weasels, and those that have neither backs nor fronts, nor feet nor faces, but are a mist—and no more—over two or three thousand square miles?

I again leave the questions with you, and pass on.

Hitherto I have spoken of all aqueous vapor as if it were either transparent or white—visible by becoming opaque like snow, but not by any accession of color. But even those of us who are least observant of skies, know that, irrespective of all supervening colors from the sun, there are white clouds, brown clouds, gray clouds, and black clouds. Are these indeed—what they appear to be—entirely distinct monastic disciplines of cloud: Black Friars, and White Friars, and Friars of Orders Gray? Or is it only their various nearness to us, their denseness, and the failing of the light upon them, that makes some clouds look black[13] and others snowy?

I can only give you qualified and cautious answer. There are, by differences in their own character, Dominican clouds, and there are Franciscan;—there are the Black Hussars of the Bandiera della Morte, and there are the Scots Grays whose horses can run upon the rock. But if you ask me, as I would have you ask me, why argent and why sable, how baptized in white like a bride or a novice, and how hooded with blackness like a Judge of the Vehmgericht Tribunal,—I leave these questions with you, and pass on.

Admitting degrees of darkness, we have next to ask what color, from sunshine can the white cloud receive, and what the black?

You won't expect me to tell you all that, or even the little that is accurately known about that, in a quarter of an hour; yet note these main facts on the matter.

On any pure white, and practically opaque, cloud, or thing like a cloud, as an Alp, or Milan Cathedral, you can have cast by rising or setting sunlight, any tints of amber, orange, or moderately deep rose—you can't have lemon yellows, or any kind of green except in negative hue by opposition; and though by stormlight you may sometimes get the reds cast very deep, beyond a certain limit you cannot go,—the Alps are never vermilion color, nor flamingo color, nor canary color; nor did you ever see a full scarlet cumulus of thundercloud.

On opaque white vapor, then, remember, you can get a glow or a blush of color, never a flame of it.

But when the cloud is transparent as well as pure, and can be filled with light through all the body of it, you then can have by the light reflected[14] from its atoms any force conceivable by human mind of the entire group of the golden and ruby colors, from intensely burnished gold color, through a scarlet for whose brightness there are no words, into any depth and any hue of Tyrian crimson and Byzantine purple. These with full blue breathed between them at the zenith, and green blue nearer the horizon, form the scales and chords of color possible to the morning and evening sky in pure and fine weather; the keynote of the opposition being vermilion against green blue, both of equal tone, and at such a height and acme of brilliancy that you cannot see the line where their edges pass into each other.

No colors that can be fixed in earth can ever represent to you the luster of these cloudy ones. But the actual tints may be shown you in a lower key, and to a certain extent their power and relation to each other.

I have painted the diagram here shown you with colors prepared for me lately by Messrs. Newman, which I find brilliant to the height that pigments can be; and the ready kindness of Mr. Wilson Barrett enables me to show you their effect by a white light as pure as that of the day. The diagram is enlarged from my careful sketch of the sunset of 1st October, 1868, at Abbeville, which was a beautiful example of what, in fine weather about to pass into storm, a sunset could then be, in the districts of Kent and Picardy unaffected by smoke. In reality, the ruby and vermilion clouds were, by myriads, more numerous than I have had time to paint: but the general character of their grouping is well enough expressed. All the illumined clouds are high in the air, and nearly motionless; beneath them, electric storm-cloud rises in a threatening cumulus on the right, and drifts in dark flakes across the horizon, casting from its broken masses radiating shadows on the upper clouds. These shadows are traced, in the first place by making the misty blue of the open sky more transparent, and therefore darker; and secondly, by entirely intercepting the sunbeams on the bars of cloud, which, within the shadowed spaces, show dark on the blue instead of light.

But, mind, all that is done by reflected light—and in that light you never get a green ray from the reflecting cloud; there is no such thing in nature as a green lighted cloud relieved from a red sky,—the cloud is always red, and the sky green, and green, observe, by transmitted, not reflected light.

But now note, there is another kind of cloud, pure white, and exquisitely delicate; which acts not by reflecting, nor by refracting, but, as it is now called, diffracting, the sun's rays. The particles of this cloud are said—with what truth I know not[15]—to send the sunbeams round them instead of through them; somehow or other, at any rate, they resolve them into their prismatic elements; and then you have literally a kaleidoscope in the sky, with every color of the prism in absolute purity; but above all in force, now, the ruby red and the green,—with purple, and violet-blue, in a virtual equality, more definite than that of the rainbow. The red in the rainbow is mostly brick red, the violet, though beautiful, often lost at the edge; but in the prismatic cloud the violet, the green, and the ruby are all more lovely than in any precious stones, and they are varied as in a bird's breast, changing their places, depths, and extent at every instant.

The main cause of this change being, that the prismatic cloud itself is always in rapid, and generally in fluctuating motion. "A light veil of clouds had drawn itself," says Professor Tyndall, in describing his solitary ascent of Monte Rosa, "between me and the sun, and this was flooded with the most brilliant dyes. Orange, red, green, blue—all the hues produced by diffraction—were exhibited in the utmost splendor.

"Three times during my ascent (the short ascent of the last peak) similar veils drew themselves across the sun, and at each passage the splendid phenomena were renewed. There seemed a tendency to form circular zones of color round the sun; but the clouds were not sufficiently uniform to permit of this, and they were consequently broken into spaces, each steeped with the color due to the condition of the cloud at the place."

Three times, you observe, the veil passed, and three times another came, or the first faded and another formed; and so it is always, as far as I have registered prismatic cloud: and the most beautiful colors I ever saw were on those that flew fastest.

This second diagram is enlarged admirably by Mr. Arthur Severn from my sketch of the sky in the afternoon of the 6th of August, 1880, at Brantwood, two hours before sunset. You are looking west by north, straight towards the sun, and nearly straight towards the wind. From the west the wind blows fiercely towards you out of the blue sky. Under the blue space is a flattened dome of earth-cloud clinging to, and altogether masking the form of, the mountain, known as the Old Man of Coniston.

The top of that dome of cloud is two thousand eight hundred feet above the sea, the mountain two thousand six hundred, the cloud lying two hundred feet deep on it. Behind it, westward and seaward, all's clear; but when the wind out of that blue clearness comes over the ridge of the earth-cloud, at that moment and that line, its own moisture congeals into these white—I believe, ice-clouds; threads, and meshes, and tresses, and tapestries, flying, failing, melting, reappearing; spinning and unspinning themselves, coiling and uncoiling, winding and unwinding, faster than eye or thought can follow: and through all their dazzling maze of frosty filaments shines a painted window in palpitation; its pulses of color interwoven in motion, intermittent in fire,—emerald and ruby and pale purple and violet melting into a blue that is not of the sky, but of the sunbeam;—purer than the crystal, softer than the rainbow, and brighter than the snow.

But you must please here observe that while my first diagram did with some adequateness represent to you the color facts there spoken of, the present diagram can only explain, not reproduce them. The bright reflected colors of clouds can be represented in painting, because they are relieved against darker colors, or, in many cases, are dark colors, the vermilion and ruby clouds being often much darker than the green or blue sky beyond them. But in the case of the phenomena now under your attention, the colors are all brighter than pure white,—the entire body of the cloud in which they show themselves being white by transmitted light, so that I can only show you what the colors are, and where they are,—but leaving them dark on the white ground. Only artificial, and very high illumination would give the real effect of them,—painting cannot.

Enough, however, is here done to fix in your minds the distinction between those two species of cloud,—one, either stationary,[16] or slow in motion, reflecting unresolved light; the other, fast-flying, and transmitting resolved light. What difference is there in the nature of the atoms, between those two kinds of clouds? I leave the question with you for to-day, merely hinting to you my suspicion that the prismatic cloud is of finely-comminuted water, or ice,[17] instead of aqueous vapor; but the only clue I have to this idea is in the purity of the rainbow formed in frost mist, lying close to water surfaces. Such mist, however, only becomes prismatic as common rain does, when the sun is behind the spectator, while prismatic clouds are, on the contrary, always between the spectator and the sun.

The main reason, however, why I can tell you nothing yet about these colors of diffraction or interference, is that, whenever I try to find anything firm for you to depend on, I am stopped by the quite frightful inaccuracy of the scientific people's terms, which is the consequence of their always trying to write mixed Latin and English, so losing the grace of the one and the sense of the other. And, in this point of the diffraction of light I am stopped dead by their confusion of idea also, in using the words undulation and vibration as synonyms. "When," says Professor Tyndall, "you are told that the atoms of the sun vibrate at different rates, and produce waves of different sizes,—your experience of water-waves will enable you to form a tolerably clear notion of what is meant."

'Tolerably clear'!—your toleration must be considerable, then. Do you suppose a water-wave is like a harp-string? Vibration is the movement of a body in a state of tension,—undulation, that of a body absolutely lax. In vibration, not an atom of the body changes its place in relation to another,—in undulation, not an atom of the body remains in the same place with regard to another. In vibration, every particle of the body ignores gravitation, or defies it,—in undulation, every particle of the body is slavishly submitted to it. In undulation, not one wave is like another; in vibration, every pulse is alike. And of undulation itself, there are all manner of visible conditions, which are not true conditions. A flag ripples in the wind, but it does not undulate as the sea does,—for in the sea, the water is taken from the trough to put on to the ridge, but in the flag, though the motion is progressive, the bits of bunting keep their place. You see a field of corn undulating as if it was water,—it is different from the flag, for the ears of corn bow out of their places and return to them,—and yet, it is no more like the undulation of the sea, than the shaking of an aspen leaf in a storm, or the lowering of the lances in a battle.

And the best of the jest is, that after mixing up these two notions in their heads inextricably, the scientific people apply both when neither will fit; and when all undulation known to us presumes weight, and all vibration, impact,—the undulating theory of light is proposed to you concerning a medium which you can neither weigh nor touch!

All communicable vibration—of course I mean—and in dead matter: You may fall a shivering on your own account, if you like, but you can't get a billiard-ball to fall a shivering on its own account.[18]

Yet observe that in thus signalizing the inaccuracy of the terms in which they are taught, I neither accept, nor assail, the conclusions respecting the oscillatory states of light, heat, and sound, which have resulted from the postulate of an elastic, though impalpable and imponderable ether, possessing the elasticity of air. This only I desire you to mark with attention,—that both light and sound are sensations of the animal frame, which remain, and must remain, wholly inexplicable, whatever manner of force, pulse, or palpitation may be instrumental in producing them: nor does any such force become light or sound, except in its rencontre with an animal. The leaf hears no murmur in the wind to which it wavers on the branches, nor can the clay discern the vibration by which it is thrilled into a ruby. The Eye and the Ear are the creators alike of the ray and the tone; and the conclusion follows logically from the right conception of their living power,—"He that planted the Ear, shall He not hear? He that formed the Eye, shall not He see?"

For security, therefore, and simplicity of definition of light, you will find no possibility of advancing beyond Plato's "the power that through the eye manifests color," but on that definition, you will find, alike by Plato and all great subsequent thinkers, a moral Science of Light founded, far and away more important to you than all the physical laws ever learned by vitreous revelation. Concerning which I will refer you to the sixth lecture which I gave at Oxford in 1872, on the relation of Art to the Science of Light ('The Eagle's Nest'), reading now only the sentence introducing its subject:—"The 'Fiat lux' of creation is therefore, in the deep sense, 'fiat anima,' and is as much, when you understand it, the ordering of Intelligence as the ordering of Vision. It is the appointment of change of what had been else only a mechanical effluence from things unseen to things unseeing,—from Stars, that did not shine, to Earth, that did not perceive,—the change, I say, of that blind vibration into the glory of the Sun and Moon for human eyes: so making possible the communication out of the unfathomable truth of that portion of truth which is good for us, and animating to us, and is set to rule over the day and over the night of our joy and our sorrow."

Returning now to our subject at the point from which I permitted myself, I trust not without your pardon, to diverge; you may incidentally, but carefully, observe, that the effect of such a sky as that represented in the second diagram, so far as it can be abstracted or conveyed by painting at all, implies the total absence of any pervading warmth of tint, such as artists usually call 'tone.' Every tint must be the purest possible, and above all the white. Partly, lest you should think, from my treatment of these two phases of effect, that I am insensible to the quality of tone,—and partly to complete the representation of states of weather undefiled by plague-cloud, yet capable of the most solemn dignity in saddening color, I show you, Diagram 3, the record of an autumn twilight of the year 1845,—sketched while I was changing horses between Verona and Brescia. The distant sky in this drawing is in the glowing calm which is always taken by the great Italian painters for the background of their sacred pictures; a broad field of cloud is advancing upon it overhead, and meeting others enlarging in the distance; these are rain-clouds, which will certainly close over the clear sky, and bring on rain before midnight: but there is no power in them to pollute the sky beyond and above them: they do not darken the air, nor defile it, nor in any way mingle with it; their edges are burnished by the sun like the edges of golden shields, and their advancing march is as deliberate and majestic as the fading of the twilight itself into a darkness full of stars.

These three instances are all I have time to give of the former conditions of serene weather, and of non-electric rain-cloud. But I must yet, to complete the sequence of my subject, show you one example of a good, old-fashioned, healthy, and mighty, storm.

In Diagram 4, Mr. Severn has beautifully enlarged my sketch of a July thundercloud of the year 1858, on the Alps of the Val d'Aosta, seen from Turin, that is to say, some twenty-five or thirty miles distant. You see that no mistake is possible here about what is good weather and what bad, or which is cloud and which is sky; but I show you this sketch especially to give you the scale of heights for such clouds in the atmosphere. These thunder cumuli entirely hide the higher Alps. It does not, however, follow that they have buried them, for most of their own aspect of height is owing to the approach of their nearer masses; but at all events, you have cumulus there rising from its base, at about three thousand feet above the plain, to a good ten thousand in the air.

White cirri, in reality parallel, but by perspective radiating, catch the sunshine above, at a height of from fifteen to twenty thousand feet; but the storm on the mountains gathers itself into a full mile's depth of massy cloud, every fold of it involved with thunder, but every form of it, every action, every color, magnificent:—doing its mighty work in its own hour and its own dominion, nor snatching from you for an instant, nor defiling with a stain, the abiding blue of the transcendent sky, or the fretted silver of its passionless clouds.

We so rarely now see cumulus cloud of this grand kind, that I will yet delay you by reading the description of its nearer aspect, in the 'Eagle's Nest.'

"The rain which flooded our fields the Sunday before last, was followed, as you will remember, by bright days, of which Tuesday the 20th (February, 1872) was, in London, notable for the splendor, towards the afternoon, of its white cumulus clouds. There has been so much black east wind lately, and so much fog and artificial gloom, besides, that I find it is actually some two years since I last saw a noble cumulus cloud under full light. I chanced to be standing under the Victoria Tower at Westminster, when the largest mass of them floated past, that day, from the northwest; and I was more impressed than ever yet by the awfulness of the cloud-form, and its unaccountableness, in the present state of our knowledge. The Victoria Tower, seen against it, had no magnitude: it was like looking at Mont Blanc over a lamp-post. The domes of cloud-snow were heaped as definitely: their broken flanks were as gray and firm as rocks, and the whole mountain, of a compass and height in heaven which only became more and more inconceivable as the eye strove to ascend it, was passing behind the tower with a steady march, whose swiftness must in reality have been that of a tempest: yet, along all the ravines of vapor, precipice kept pace with precipice, and not one thrust another.

"What is it that hews them out? Why is the blue sky pure there,—the cloud solid here; and edged like marble: and why does the state of the blue sky pass into the state of cloud, in that calm advance?

"It is true that you can more or less imitate the forms of cloud with explosive vapor or steam; but the steam melts instantly, and the explosive vapor dissipates itself. The cloud, of perfect form, proceeds unchanged. It is not an explosion, but an enduring and advancing presence. The more you think of it, the less explicable it will become to you."

Thus far then of clouds that were once familiar; now at last, entering on my immediate subject, I shall best introduce it to you by reading an entry in my diary which gives progressive description of the most gentle aspect of the modern plague-cloud.

"Bolton Abbey, 4th July, 1875.

Half-past eight, morning; the first bright morning for the last fortnight.

At half-past five it was entirely clear, and entirely calm; the moorlands glowing, and the Wharfe glittering in sacred light, and even the thin-stemmed field-flowers quiet as stars, in the peace in which—

'All trees and simples, great and small, That balmy leaf do bear, Than they were painted on a wall, No more do move, nor steir.'

But, an hour ago, the leaves at my window first shook slightly. They are now trembling continuously, as those of all the trees, under a gradually rising wind, of which the tremulous action scarcely permits the direction to be defined,—but which falls and returns in fits of varying force, like those which precede a thunderstorm—never wholly ceasing: the direction of its upper current is shown by a few ragged white clouds, moving fast from the north, which rose, at the time of the first leaf-shaking, behind the edge of the moors in the east.

This wind is the plague-wind of the eighth decade of years in the nineteenth century; a period which will assuredly be recognized in future meteorological history as one of phenomena hitherto unrecorded in the courses of nature, and characterized pre-eminently by the almost ceaseless action of this calamitous wind. While I have been writing these sentences, the white clouds above specified have increased to twice the size they had when I began to write; and in about two hours from this time—say by eleven o'clock, if the wind continue,—the whole sky will be dark with them, as it was yesterday, and has been through prolonged periods during the last five years. I first noticed the definite character of this wind, and of the clouds it brings with it, in the year 1871, describing it then in the July number of 'Fors Clavigera'; but little, at that time, apprehending either its universality, or any probability of its annual continuance. I am able now to state positively that its range of power extends from the North of England to Sicily; and that it blows more or less during the whole of the year, except the early autumn. This autumnal abdication is, I hope, beginning: it blew but feebly yesterday, though without intermission, from the north, making every shady place cold, while the sun was burning; its effect on the sky being only to dim the blue of it between masses of ragged cumulus. To-day it has entirely fallen; and there seems hope of bright weather, the first for me since the end of May, when I had two fine days at Aylesbury; the third, May 28th, being black again from morning to evening. There seems to be some reference to the blackness caused by the prevalence of this wind in the old French name of Bise, 'gray wind'; and, indeed, one of the darkest and bitterest days of it I ever saw was at Vevay in 1872."

* * * * *

The first time I recognized the clouds brought by the plague-wind as distinct in character was in walking back from Oxford, after a hard day's work, to Abingdon, in the early spring of 1871: it would take too long to give you any account this evening of the particulars which drew my attention to them; but during the following months I had too frequent opportunities of verifying my first thoughts of them, and on the first of July in that year wrote the description of them which begins the 'Fors Clavigera' of August, thus:—

"It is the first of July, and I sit down to write by the dismalest light that ever yet I wrote by; namely, the light of this midsummer morning, in mid-England, (Matlock, Derbyshire), in the year 1871.

"For the sky is covered with gray cloud;—not rain-cloud, but a dry black veil, which no ray of sunshine can pierce; partly diffused in mist, feeble mist, enough to make distant objects unintelligible, yet without any substance, or wreathing, or color of its own. And everywhere the leaves of the trees are shaking fitfully, as they do before a thunder-storm; only not violently, but enough to show the passing to and fro of a strange, bitter, blighting wind. Dismal enough, had it been the first morning of its kind that summer had sent. But during all this spring, in London, and at Oxford, through meager March, through changelessly sullen April, through despondent May, and darkened June, morning after morning has come gray-shrouded thus.

"And it is a new thing to me, and a very dreadful one. I am fifty years old, and more; and since I was five, have gleaned the best hours of my life in the sun of spring and summer mornings; and I never saw such as these, till now.

"And the scientific men are busy as ants, examining the sun, and the moon, and the seven stars, and can tell me all about them, I believe, by this time; and how they move, and what they are made of.

"And I do not care, for my part, two copper spangles how they move, nor what they are made of. I can't move them any other way than they go, nor make them of anything else, better than they are made. But I would care much and give much, if I could be told where this bitter wind comes from, and what it is made of.

"For, perhaps, with forethought, and fine laboratory science, one might make it of something else.

"It looks partly as if it were made of poisonous smoke; very possibly it may be: there are at least two hundred furnace chimneys in a square of two miles on every side of me. But mere smoke would not blow to and fro in that wild way. It looks more to me as if it were made of dead men's souls—such of them as are not gone yet where they have to go, and may be flitting hither and thither, doubting, themselves, of the fittest place for them.

"You know, if there are such things as souls, and if ever any of them haunt places where they have been hurt, there must be many about us, just now, displeased enough!"

The last sentence refers of course to the battles of the Franco-German campaign, which was especially horrible to me, in its digging, as the Germans should have known, a moat flooded with waters of death between the two nations for a century to come.

Since that Midsummer day, my attention, however otherwise occupied, has never relaxed in its record of the phenomena characteristic of the plague-wind; and I now define for you, as briefly as possible, the essential signs of it.

1. It is a wind of darkness,—all the former conditions of tormenting winds, whether from the north or east were more or less capable of co-existing with sunlight, and often with steady and bright sunlight; but whenever, and wherever the plague-wind blows, be it but for ten minutes, the sky is darkened instantly.

2. It is a malignant quality of wind, unconnected with any one quarter of the compass; it blows indifferently from all, attaching its own bitterness and malice to the worst characters of the proper winds of each quarter. It will blow either with drenching rain, or dry rage, from the south,—with ruinous blasts from the west,—with bitterest chills from the north,—and with venomous blight from the east.

Its own favorite quarter, however, is the southwest, so that it is distinguished in its malignity equally from the Bise of Provence, which is a north wind always, and from our own old friend, the east.

3. It always blows tremulously, making the leaves of the trees shudder as if they were all aspens, but with a peculiar fitfulness which gives them—and I watch them this moment as I write—an expression of anger as well as of fear and distress. You may see the kind of quivering, and hear the ominous whimpering, in the gusts that precede a great thunderstorm; but plague-wind is more panic-struck, and feverish; and its sound is a hiss instead of a wail.

When I was last at Avallon, in South France, I went to see 'Faust' played at the little country theater: it was done with scarcely any means of pictorial effect, except a few old curtains, and a blue light or two. But the night on the Brocken was nevertheless extremely appalling to me,—a strange ghastliness being obtained in some of the witch scenes merely by fine management of gesture and drapery; and in the phantom scenes, by the half-palsied, half-furious, faltering or fluttering past of phantoms stumbling as into graves; as if of not only soulless, but senseless, Dead, moving with the very action, the rage, the decrepitude, and the trembling of the plague-wind.

4. Not only tremulous at every moment, it is also intermittent with a rapidity quite unexampled in former weather. There are, indeed, days—and weeks, on which it blows without cessation, and is as inevitable as the Gulf Stream; but also there are days when it is contending with healthy weather, and on such days it will remit for half an hour, and the sun will begin to show itself, and then the wind will come back and cover the whole sky with clouds in ten minutes; and so on, every half-hour, through the whole day; so that it is often impossible to go on with any kind of drawing in color, the light being never for two seconds the same from morning till evening.

5. It degrades, while it intensifies, ordinary storm; but before I read you any description of its efforts in this kind, I must correct an impression which has got abroad through the papers, that I speak as if the plague-wind blew now always, and there were no more any natural weather. On the contrary, the winter of 1878-9 was one of the most healthy and lovely I ever saw ice in;—Coniston lake shone under the calm clear frost in one marble field, as strong as the floor of Milan Cathedral, half a mile across and four miles down; and the first entries in my diary which I read you shall be from the 22d to 26th June, 1876, of perfectly lovely and natural weather.

"Sunday, 25th June, 1876.

Yesterday, an entirely glorious sunset, unmatched in beauty since that at Abbeville,—deep scarlet, and purest rose, on purple gray, in bars; and stationary, plumy, sweeping filaments above in upper sky, like 'using up the brush,' said Joanie; remaining in glory, every moment best, changing from one good into another, (but only in color or light—form steady,) for half an hour full, and the clouds afterwards fading into the gray against amber twilight, stationary in the same form for about two hours, at least. The darkening rose tint remained till half-past ten, the grand time being at nine.

The day had been fine,—exquisite green light on afternoon hills.

Monday, 26th June, 1876.

Yesterday an entirely perfect summer light on the Old Man; Lancaster Bay all clear; Ingleborough and the great Pennine fault as on a map. Divine beauty of western color on thyme and rose,—then twilight of clearest warm amber far into night, of pale amber all night long; hills dark-clear against it.

And so it continued, only growing more intense in blue and sunlight, all day. After breakfast, I came in from the well under strawberry bed, to say I had never seen anything like it, so pure or intense, in Italy; and so it went glowing on, cloudless, with soft north wind, all day.

16th July.

The sunset almost too bright through the blinds for me to read Humboldt at tea by,—finally, new moon like a lime-light, reflected on breeze-struck water; traces, across dark calm, of reflected hills."

These extracts are, I hope, enough to guard you against the absurdity of supposing that it all only means that I am myself soured, or doting, in my old age, and always in an ill humor. Depend upon it, when old men are worth anything, they are better humored than young ones; and have learned to see what good there is, and pleasantness, in the world they are likely so soon to have orders to quit.

Now then—take the following sequences of accurate description of thunderstorm, with plague-wind.

"22d June, 1876.

Thunderstorm; pitch dark, with no blackness,—but deep, high, filthiness of lurid, yet not sublimely lurid, smoke-cloud; dense manufacturing mist; fearful squalls of shivery wind, making Mr. Severn's sail quiver like a man in a fever fit—all about four, afternoon—but only two or three claps of thunder, and feeble, though near, flashes. I never saw such a dirty, weak, foul storm. It cleared suddenly, after raining all afternoon, at half-past eight to nine, into pure, natural weather,—low rain-clouds on quite clear, green, wet hills.

Brantwood, 13th August, 1879.

The most terrific and horrible thunderstorm, this morning, I ever remember. It waked me at six, or a little before—then rolling incessantly, like railway luggage trains, quite ghastly in its mockery of them—the air one loathsome mass of sultry and foul fog, like smoke; scarcely raining at all, but increasing to heavier rollings, with flashes quivering vaguely through all the air, and at last terrific double streams of reddish-violet fire, not forked or zigzag, but rippled rivulets—two at the same instant some twenty to thirty degrees apart, and lasting on the eye at least half a second, with grand artillery-peals following; not rattling crashes, or irregular cracklings, but delivered volleys. It lasted an hour, then passed off, clearing a little, without rain to speak of,—not a glimpse of blue,—and now, half-past seven, seems settling down again into Manchester devil's darkness.

Quarter to eight, morning.—Thunder returned, all the air collapsed into one black fog, the hills invisible, and scarcely visible the opposite shore; heavy rain in short fits, and frequent, though less formidable, flashes, and shorter thunder. While I have written this sentence the cloud has again dissolved itself, like a nasty solution in a bottle, with miraculous and unnatural rapidity, and the hills are in sight again; a double-forked flash—rippled, I mean, like the others—starts into its frightful ladder of light between me and Wetherlam, as I raise my eyes. All black above, a rugged spray cloud on the Eaglet. (The 'Eaglet' is my own name for the bold and elevated crag to the west of the little lake above Coniston mines. It had no name among the country people, and is one of the most conspicuous features of the mountain chain, as seen from Brantwood.)

Half-past eight.—Three times light and three times dark since last I wrote, and the darkness seeming each time as it settles more loathsome, at last stopping my reading in mere blindness. One lurid gleam of white cumulus in upper lead-blue sky, seen for half a minute through the sulphurous chimney-pot vomit of blackguardly cloud beneath, where its rags were thinnest.

Thursday, 22d Feb. 1883.

Yesterday a fearfully dark mist all afternoon, with steady, south plague-wind of the bitterest, nastiest, poisonous blight, and fretful flutter. I could scarcely stay in the wood for the horror of it. To-day, really rather bright blue, and bright semi-cumuli, with the frantic Old Man blowing sheaves of lancets and chisels across the lake—not in strength enough, or whirl enough, to raise it in spray, but tracing every squall's outline in black on the silver gray waves, and whistling meanly, and as if on a flute made of a file.

Sunday, 17th August, 1879.

Raining in foul drizzle, slow and steady; sky pitch-dark, and I just get a little light by sitting in the bow-window; diabolic clouds over everything: and looking over my kitchen garden yesterday, I found it one miserable mass of weeds gone to seed, the roses in the higher garden putrefied into brown sponges, feeling like dead snails; and the half-ripe strawberries all rotten at the stalks."

6. And now I come to the most important sign of the plague-wind and the plague-cloud: that in bringing on their peculiar darkness, they blanch the sun instead of reddening it. And here I must note briefly to you the uselessness of observation by instruments, or machines, instead of eyes. In the first year when I had begun to notice the specialty of the plague-wind, I went of course to the Oxford observatory to consult its registrars. They have their anemometer always on the twirl, and can tell you the force, or at least the pace, of a gale,[19] by day or night. But the anemometer can only record for you how often it has been driven round, not at all whether it went round steadily, or went round trembling. And on that point depends the entire question whether it is a plague breeze or a healthy one: and what's the use of telling you whether the wind's strong or not, when it can't tell you whether it's a strong medicine, or a strong poison?

But again—you have your sun-measure, and can tell exactly at any moment how strong, or how weak, or how wanting, the sun is. But the sun-measurer can't tell you whether the rays are stopped by a dense shallow cloud, or a thin deep one. In healthy weather, the sun is hidden behind a cloud, as it is behind a tree; and, when the cloud is past, it comes out again, as bright as before. But in plague-wind, the sun is choked out of the whole heaven, all day long, by a cloud which may be a thousand miles square and five miles deep.

And yet observe: that thin, scraggy, filthy, mangy, miserable cloud, for all the depth of it, can't turn the sun red, as a good, business-like fog does with a hundred feet or so of itself. By the plague-wind every breath of air you draw is polluted, half round the world; in a London fog the air itself is pure, though you choose to mix up dirt with it, and choke yourself with your own nastiness.

Now I'm going to show you a diagram of a sunset in entirely pure weather, above London smoke. I saw it and sketched it from my old post of observation—the top garret of my father's house at Herne Hill. There, when the wind is south, we are outside of the smoke and above it; and this diagram, admirably enlarged from my own drawing by my, now in all things best aide-de-camp, Mr. Collingwood, shows you an old-fashioned sunset—the sort of thing Turner and I used to have to look at,—(nobody else ever would) constantly. Every sunset and every dawn, in fine weather, had something of the sort to show us. This is one of the last pure sunsets I ever saw, about the year 1876,—and the point I want you to note in it is, that the air being pure, the smoke on the horizon, though at last it hides the sun, yet hides it through gold and vermilion. Now, don't go away fancying there's any exaggeration in that study. The prismatic colors, I told you, were simply impossible to paint; these, which are transmitted colors, can indeed be suggested, but no more. The brightest pigment we have would look dim beside the truth.

I should have liked to have blotted down for you a bit of plague-cloud to put beside this; but Heaven knows, you can see enough of it now-a-days without any trouble of mine; and if you want, in a hurry, to see what the sun looks like through it, you've only to throw a bad half-crown into a basin of soap and water.

Blanched Sun,—blighted grass,—blinded man.—If, in conclusion, you ask me for any conceivable cause or meaning of these things—I can tell you none, according to your modern beliefs; but I can tell you what meaning it would have borne to the men of old time. Remember, for the last twenty years, England, and all foreign nations, either tempting her, or following her, have blasphemed[20] the name of God deliberately and openly; and have done iniquity by proclamation, every man doing as much injustice to his brother as it is in his power to do. Of states in such moral gloom every seer of old predicted the physical gloom, saying, "The light shall be darkened in the heavens thereof, and the stars shall withdraw their shining." All Greek, all Christian, all Jewish prophecy insists on the same truth through a thousand myths; but of all the chief, to former thought, was the fable of the Jewish warrior and prophet, for whom the sun hasted not to go down, with which I leave you to compare at leisure the physical result of your own wars and prophecies, as declared by your own elect journal not fourteen days ago,—that the Empire of England, on which formerly the sun never set, has become one on which he never rises.

What is best to be done, do you ask me? The answer is plain. Whether you can affect the signs of the sky or not, you can the signs of the times. Whether you can bring the sun back or not, you can assuredly bring back your own cheerfulness, and your own honesty. You may not be able to say to the winds, "Peace; be still," but you can cease from the insolence of your own lips, and the troubling of your own passions. And all that it would be extremely well to do, even though the day were coming when the sun should be as darkness, and the moon as blood. But, the paths of rectitude and piety once regained, who shall say that the promise of old time would not be found to hold for us also?—"Bring ye all the tithes into my storehouse, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord God, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."


March 11th, 1884.

It was impossible for me, this spring, to prepare, as I wished to have done, two lectures for the London Institution: but finding its members more interested in the subject chosen than I had anticipated, I enlarged my lecture at its second reading by some explanations and parentheses, partly represented, and partly farther developed, in the following notes; which led me on, however, as I arranged them, into branches of the subject untouched in the former lecture, and it seems to me of no inferior interest.

[Footnote 1: The vapor over the pool of Anger in the 'Inferno,' the clogging stench which rises from Caina, and the fog of the circle of Anger in the 'Purgatorio' resemble, indeed, the cloud of the Plague-wind very closely,—but are conceived only as supernatural. The reader will no doubt observe, throughout the following lecture, my own habit of speaking of beautiful things as 'natural,' and of ugly ones as 'unnatural.' In the conception of recent philosophy, the world is one Kosmos in which diphtheria is held to be as natural as song, and cholera as digestion. To my own mind, and the more distinctly the more I see, know, and feel, the Earth, as prepared for the abode of man, appears distinctly ruled by agencies of health and disease, of which the first may be aided by his industry, prudence, and piety; while the destroying laws are allowed to prevail against him, in the degree in which he allows himself in idleness, folly, and vice. Had the point been distinctly indicated where the degrees of adversity necessary for his discipline pass into those intended for his punishment, the world would have been put under a manifest theocracy; but the declaration of the principle is at least distinct enough to have convinced all sensitive and earnest persons, from the beginning of speculation in the eyes and mind of Man: and it has been put in my power by one of the singular chances which have always helped me in my work when it was in the right direction, to present to the University of Oxford the most distinct expression of this first principle of mediaeval Theology which, so far as I know, exists in fifteenth-century art. It is one of the drawings of the Florentine book which I bought for a thousand pounds, against the British Museum, some ten or twelve years since; being a compendium of classic and mediaeval religious symbolism. In the two pages of it, forming one picture, given to Oxford, the delivery of the Law on Sinai is represented on the left hand, (contrary to the Scriptural narrative, but in deeper expression of the benediction of the Sacred Law to all nations,) as in the midst of bright and calm light, the figure of the Deity being supported by luminous and level clouds, and attended by happy angels: while opposite, on the right hand, the worship of the Golden Calf is symbolized by a single decorated pillar, with the calf on its summit, surrounded by the clouds and darkness of a furious storm, issuing from the mouths of fiends;—uprooting the trees, and throwing down the rocks, above the broken tables of the Law, of which the fragments lie in the foreground.]

[Footnote 2: These conditions are mainly in the arrangement of the lower rain-clouds in flakes thin and detached enough to be illuminated by early or late sunbeams: their textures are then more softly blended than those of the upper cirri, and have the qualities of painted, instead of burnished or inflamed, color.

They were thus described in the 4th chapter of the 7th part of 'Modern Painters':—

"Often in our English mornings, the rain-clouds in the dawn form soft level fields, which melt imperceptibly into the blue; or when of less extent, gather into apparent bars, crossing the sheets of broader cloud above; and all these bathed throughout in an unspeakable light of pure rose-color, and purple, and amber, and blue, not shining, but misty-soft, the barred masses, when seen nearer, found to be woven in tresses of cloud, like floss silk, looking as if each knot were a little swathe or sheaf of lighted rain.

"No clouds form such skies, none are so tender, various, inimitable; Turner himself never caught them. Correggio, putting out his whole strength, could have painted them,—no other man."]

[Footnote 3: I did not, in writing this sentence, forget Mr. Gladstone's finely scholastic enthusiasm for Homer; nor Mr. Newton's for Athenian—(I wish it had not been also for Halicarnassian) sculpture. But Byron loved Greece herself—through her death—and to his own; while the subsequent refusal of England to give Greece one of our own princes for a king, has always been held by me the most ignoble, cowardly, and lamentable, of all our base commercial impolicies.]

[Footnote 4: 'Deepening' clouds.—Byron never uses an epithet vainly,—he is the most accurate, and therefore the most powerful, of all modern describers. The deepening of the cloud is essentially necessary to the redness of the orb. Ordinary observers are continually unaware of this fact, and imagine that a red sun can be darker than the sky round it! Thus Mr. Gould, though a professed naturalist, and passing most of his life in the open air, over and over again, in his 'British Birds,' draws the setting sun dark on the sky!]

[Footnote 5: 'Like the blood he predicts.'—The astrological power of the planet Mars was of course ascribed to it in the same connection with its red color. The reader may be interested to see the notice, in 'Modern Painters,' of Turner's constant use of the same symbol; partly an expression of his own personal feeling, partly, the employment of a symbolic language known to all careful readers of solar and stellar tradition.

"He was very definitely in the habit of indicating the association of any subject with circumstances of death, especially the death of multitudes, by placing it under one of his most deeply crimsoned sunset skies.

"The color of blood is thus plainly taken for the leading tone in the storm-clouds above the 'Slave-ship.' It occurs with similar distinctness in the much earlier picture of 'Ulysses and Polypheme,' in that of 'Napoleon at St. Helena,' and, subdued by softer hues, in the 'Old Temeraire.'

"The sky of this Goldau is, in its scarlet and crimson, the deepest in tone of all that I know in Turner's drawings.

"Another feeling, traceable in several of his former works, is an acute sense of the contrast between the careless interests and idle pleasures of daily life, and the state of those whose time for labor, or knowledge, or delight, is passed forever. There is evidence of this feeling in the introduction of the boys at play in the churchyard of Kirkby Lonsdale, and the boy climbing for his kite among the thickets above the little mountain churchyard of Brignal-bank; it is in the same tone of thought that he has placed here the two figures fishing, leaning against these shattered flanks of rock,—the sepulchral stones of the great mountain Field of Death."]

[Footnote 6: 'Thy lore unto calamity.'—It is, I believe, recognized by all who have in any degree become interested in the traditions of Chaldean astrology, that its warnings were distinct,—its promises deceitful. Horace thus warns Leuconoe against reading the Babylonian numbers to learn the time of her death,—he does not imply their promise of previous happiness; and the continually deceptive character of the Delphic oracle itself, tempted always rather to fatal than to fortunate conduct, unless the inquirer were more than wise in his reading. Byron gathers into the bitter question all the sorrow of former superstition, while in the lines italicized, just above, he sums in the briefest and plainest English, all that we yet know, or may wisely think, about the Sun. It is the 'Burning oracle' (other oracles there are by sound, or feeling, but this by fire) of all that lives; the only means of our accurate knowledge of the things round us, and that affect our lives: it is the fountain of all life,—Byron does not say the origin;—the origin of life would be the origin of the sun itself; but it is the visible source of vital energy, as the spring is of a stream, though the origin is the sea. "And symbol of Him who bestows it."—This the sun has always been, to every one who believes there is a bestower; and a symbol so perfect and beautiful that it may also be thought of as partly an apocalypse.]

[Footnote 7: 'More beautiful in that variety.'—This line, with the one italicized beneath, expresses in Myrrha's mind, the feeling which I said, in the outset, every thoughtful watcher of heaven necessarily had in those old days; whereas now, the variety is for the most part, only in modes of disagreeableness; and the vapor, instead of adding light to the unclouded sky, takes away the aspect and destroys the functions of sky altogether.]

[Footnote 8: 'Steam out of an engine funnel.'—Compare the sixth paragraph of Professor Tyndall's 'Forms of Water,' and the following seventh one, in which the phenomenon of transparent steam becoming opaque is thus explained. "Every bit of steam shrinks, when chilled, to a much more minute particle of water. The liquid particles thus produced form a kind of water dust of exceeding fineness, which floats in the air, and is called a cloud."

But the author does not tell us, in the first place, what is the shape or nature of a 'bit of steam,' nor, in the second place, how the contraction of the individual bits of steam is effected without any diminution of the whole mass of them, but on the contrary, during its steady expansion; in the third place he assumes that the particles of water dust are solid, not vesicular, which is not yet ascertained; in the fourth place, he does not tell us how their number and size are related to the quantity of invisible moisture in the air; in the fifth place, he does not tell us how cool invisible moisture differs from hot invisible moisture; and in the sixth, he does not tell us why the cool visible moisture stays while the hot visible moisture melts away. So much for the present state of 'scientific' information, or at least communicativeness, on the first and simplest conditions of the problem before us!

In its wider range that problem embraces the total mystery of volatile power in substance; and of the visible states consequent on sudden—and presumably, therefore, imperfect—vaporization; as the smoke of frankincense, or the sacred fume of modern devotion which now fills the inhabited world, as that of the rose and violet its deserts. What,—it would be useful to know, is the actual bulk of an atom of orange perfume?—what of one of vaporized tobacco, or gunpowder?—and where do these artificial vapors fall back in beneficent rain? or through what areas of atmosphere exist, as invisible, though perhaps not innocuous, cloud?

All these questions were put, closely and precisely, four-and-twenty years ago, in the 1st chapter of the 7th part of 'Modern Painters,' paragraphs 4 to 9, of which I can here allow space only for the last, which expresses the final difficulties of the matter better than anything said in this lecture:—

"But farther: these questions of volatility, and visibility, and hue, are all complicated with those of shape. How is a cloud outlined? Granted whatever you choose to ask, concerning its material, or its aspect, its loftiness and luminousness,—how of its limitation? What hews it into a heap, or spins it into a web? Cold is usually shapeless, I suppose, extending over large spaces equally, or with gradual diminution. You cannot have in the open air, angles, and wedges, and coils, and cliffs, of cold. Yet the vapor stops suddenly, sharp and steep as a rock, or thrusts itself across the gates of heaven in likeness of a brazen bar; or braids itself in and out, and across and across, like a tissue of tapestry; or falls into ripples, like sand; or into waving shreds and tongues, as fire. On what anvils and wheels is the vapor pointed, twisted, hammered, whirled, as the potter's clay? By what hands is the incense of the sea built up into domes of marble?"]

[Footnote 9: The opposed conditions of the higher and lower orders of cloud, with the balanced intermediate one, are beautifully seen on mountain summits of rock or earth. On snowy ones they are far more complex: but on rock summits there are three distinct forms of attached cloud in serene weather; the first that of cloud veil laid over them, and falling in folds through their ravines, (the obliquely descending clouds of the entering chorus in Aristophanes); secondly, the ascending cloud, which develops itself loosely and independently as it rises, and does not attach itself to the hill-side, while the falling veil cloud clings to it close all the way down;—and lastly the throned cloud, which rests indeed on the mountain summit, with its base, but rises high above into the sky, continually changing its outlines, but holding its seat perhaps all day long.

These three forms of cloud belong exclusively to calm weather; attached drift cloud, (see Note 11) can only be formed in the wind.]

[Footnote 10: 'Glaciers of the Alps,' page 10.—"Let a pound weight be placed upon a cube of granite" (size of supposed cube not mentioned), "the cube is flattened, though in an infinitesimal degree. Let the weight be removed, the cube remains a little flattened. Let us call the cube thus flattened No. 1. Starting with No. 1 as a new mass, let the pound weight be laid upon it. We have a more flattened mass, No. 2.... Apply this to squeezed rocks, to those, for example, which form the base of an obelisk like the Matterhorn,—the conclusion seems inevitable that the mountain is sinking by its own weight," etc., etc. Similarly the Nelson statue must be gradually flattening the Nelson column, and in time Cleopatra's needle will be as flat as her pincushion?]

[Footnote 11: 'Glaciers of the Alps,' page 146.—"The sun was near the western horizon, and I remained alone upon the Grat to see his last beams illuminate the mountains, which, with one exception, were without a trace of cloud.

"This exception was the Matterhorn, the appearance of which was extremely instructive. The obelisk appeared to be divided in two halves by a vertical line, drawn from its summit half-way down, to the windward of which we had the bare cliffs of the mountain; and to the left of it a cloud which appeared to cling tenaciously to the rocks.

"In reality, however, there was no clinging; the condensed vapor incessantly got away, but it was ever renewed, and thus a river of cloud had been sent from the mountain over the valley of Aosta. The wind, in fact, blew lightly up the valley of St. Nicholas, charged with moisture, and when the air that held it rubbed against the cold cone of the Matterhorn, the vapor was chilled and precipitated in his lee."

It is not explained, why the wind was not chilled by rubbing against any of the neighboring mountains, nor why the cone of the Matterhorn, mostly of rock, should be colder than cones of snow. The phenomenon was first described by De Saussure, who gives the same explanation as Tyndall; and from whom, in the first volume of 'Modern Painters,' I adopted it without sufficient examination. Afterwards I re-examined it, and showed its fallacy, with respect to the cap or helmet cloud, in the fifth volume of 'Modern Painters,' page 124, in the terms given in the subjoined note,[A] but I still retained the explanation of Saussure for the lee-side cloud, engraving in plate 69 the modes of its occurrence on the Aiguille Dru, of which the most ordinary one was afterwards represented by Tyndall in his 'Glaciers of the Alps,' under the title of 'Banner-cloud.' Its less imaginative title, in 'Modern Painters,' of 'Lee-side cloud,' is more comprehensive, for this cloud forms often under the brows of far-terraced precipices, where it has no resemblance to a banner. No true explanation of it has ever yet been given; for the first condition of the problem has hitherto been unobserved,—namely, that such cloud is constant in certain states of weather, under precipitous rocks;—but never developed with distinctness by domes of snow.

But my former expansion of Saussure's theory is at least closer to the facts than Professor Tyndall's "rubbing against the rocks," and I therefore allow room for it here, with its illustrative wood-cut.

"When a moist wind blows in clear weather over a cold summit, it has not time to get chilled as it approaches the rock, and therefore the air remains clear, and the sky bright on the windward side; but under the lee of the peak, there is partly a back eddy, and partly still air; and in that lull and eddy the wind gets time to be chilled by the rock, and the cloud appears, as a boiling mass of white vapor, rising continually with the return current to the upper edge of the mountain, where it is caught by the straight wind and partly torn, partly melted away in broken fragments.

"In the accompanying figure, the dark mass represents the mountain peak, the arrow the main direction of the wind, the curved lines show the directions of such current and its concentration, and the dotted line encloses the space in which cloud forms densely, floating away beyond and above in irregular tongues and flakes."

[Footnote A: "But both Saussure and I ought to have known,—we did know, but did not think of it,—that the covering or cap-cloud forms on hot summits as well as cold ones;—that the red and bare rocks of Mont Pilate, hotter, certainly, after a day's sunshine than the cold storm-wind which sweeps to them from the Alps, nevertheless have been renowned for their helmet of cloud, ever since the Romans watched the cloven summit, gray against the south, from the ramparts of Vindonissa, giving it the name from which the good Catholics of Lucerne have warped out their favorite piece of terrific sacred biography. And both my master and I should also have reflected that if our theory about its formation had been generally true, the helmet cloud ought to form on every cold summit, at the approach of rain, in approximating proportions to the bulk of the glaciers; which is so far from being the case that not only (A) the cap-cloud may often be seen on lower summits of grass or rock, while the higher ones are splendidly clear (which may be accounted for by supposing the wind containing the moisture not to have risen so high); but (B) the cap-cloud always shows a preference for hills of a conical form, such as the Mole or Niesen, which can have very little power in chilling the air, even supposing they were cold themselves; while it will entirely refuse to form huge masses of mountain, which, supposing them of chilly temperament, must have discomforted the atmosphere in their neighborhood for leagues."]]

[Footnote 12: See below, on the different uses of the word 'reflection,' note 14, and note that throughout this lecture I use the words 'aqueous molecules,' alike of water liquid or vaporized, not knowing under what conditions or at what temperatures water-dust becomes water-gas; and still less, supposing pure water-gas blue, and pure air blue, what are the changes in either which make them what sailors call "dirty "; but it is one of the worst omissions of the previous lecture, that I have not stated among the characters of the plague-cloud that it is always dirty,[A] and never blue under any conditions, neither when deep in the distance, nor when in the electric states which produce sulphurous blues in natural cloud. But see the next note.

[Footnote A: In my final collation of the lectures given at Oxford last year on the Art of England, I shall have occasion to take notice of the effect of this character of plague-cloud on our younger painters, who have perhaps never in their lives seen a clean sky!]]

[Footnote 13: Black clouds.—For the sudden and extreme local blackness of thundercloud, see Turner's drawing of Winchelsea, (England series), and compare Homer, of the Ajaces, in the 4th book of the Iliad,—(I came on the passage in verifying Mr. Hill's quotation from the 5th.)

"[Greek: hama de nephos eipeto pezon. Hos d' hot' apo skopies eiden nephos aipolos aner Erchomenon kata ponton hypo Zephyroio ioes, To de t', aneuthen eonti, melanteron, eute pissa Phainet', ion kata ponton, agei de te lailapa pollen; Rhigesen te idon, hypo te speos elase mela; Toiai ham Aiantessin areithoon aizeon Deion es polemon pykinai kinynto phalanges Kyaneai,]"

I give Chapman's version—noting only that his breath of Zephyrus, ought to have been 'cry' or 'roar' of Zephyrus, the blackness of the cloud being as much connected with the wildness of the wind as, in the formerly quoted passage, its brightness with calm of air.

"Behind them hid the ground A cloud of foot, that seemed to smoke. And as a Goatherd spies On some hill top, out of the sea a rainy vapor rise, Driven by the breath of Zephyrus, which though far off he rests, Comes on as black as pitch, and brings a tempest in his breast Whereat he, frighted, drives his herds apace into a den; So, darkening earth, with swords and shields, showed these with all their men."

I add here Chapman's version of the other passage, which is extremely beautiful and close to the text, while Pope's is hopelessly erroneous.

"Their ground they still made good, And in their silence and set powers, like fair still clouds they stood, With which Jove crowns the tops of hills in any quiet day When Boreas, and the ruder winds that use to drive away Air's dusky vapors, being loose, in many a whistling gale, Are pleasingly bound up and calm, and not a breath exhale."]

[Footnote 14: 'Reflected.'—The reader must be warned in this place of the difference implied by my use of the word 'cast' in page 11, and 'reflected' here: that is to say, between light or color which an object possesses, whatever the angle it is seen at, and the light which it reverberates at one angle only. The Alps, under the rose[A] of sunset, are exactly of the same color whether you see them from Berne or Schaffhausen. But the gilding to our eyes of a burnished cloud depends, I believe, at least for a measure of its luster, upon the angle at which the rays incident upon it are reflected to the eye, just as much as the glittering of the sea beneath it—or the sparkling of the windows of the houses on the shore.

Previously, at page 10, in calling the molecules of transparent atmospheric 'absolutely' unreflective of light, I mean, in like manner, unreflective from their surfaces. Their blue color seen against a dark ground is indeed a kind of reflection, but one of which I do not understand the nature. It is seen most simply in wood smoke, blue against trees, brown against clear light; but in both cases the color is communicated to (or left in) the transmitted rays.

So also the green of the sky (p. 13) is said to be given by transmitted light, yellow rays passing through blue air: much yet remains to be known respecting translucent colors of this kind; only let them always be clearly distinguished in our minds from the firmly possessed color of opaque substances, like grass or malachite.

[Footnote A: In speaking, at p. 11 of the first lecture, of the limits of depth in the rose-color cast on snow, I ought to have noted the greater strength of the tint possible under the light of the tropics. The following passage, in Mr. Cunningham's 'Natural History of the Strait of Magellan,' is to me of the greatest interest, because of the beautiful effect described as seen on the occasion of his visit to "the small town of Santa Rosa," (near Valparaiso.) "The day, though clear, had not been sunny, so that, although the snowy heights of the Andes had been distinctly visible throughout the greater part of our journey, they had not been illuminated by the rays of the sun. But now, as we turned the corner of a street, the chain of the Cordillera suddenly burst on our gaze in such a blaze of splendor that it almost seemed as if the windows of heaven had been opened for a moment, permitting a flood of crimson light to stream forth upon the snow. The sight was so unexpected, and so transcendently magnificent, that a breathless silence fell upon us for a few moments, while even the driver stopped his horses. This deep red glow lasted for three or four minutes, and then rapidly faded into that lovely rosy hue so characteristic of snow at sunset among the Alps."]]

[Footnote 15: Diffraction.—Since these passages were written, I have been led, in conversation with a scientific friend, to doubt my statement that the colored portions of the lighted clouds were brighter than the white ones. He was convinced that the resolution of the rays would diminish their power, and in thinking over the matter, I am disposed to agree with him, although my impression at the time has been always that the diffracted colors rose out of the white, as a rainbow does out of the gray. But whatever the facts may be, in this respect the statement in the text of the impossibility of representing diffracted color in painting is equally true. It may be that the resolved hues are darker than the white, as colored panes in a window are darker than the colorless glass, but all are alike in a key which no artifice of painting can approach.

1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse