Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE MORAL AND THE ARTISTIC IN PROSE FICTION.

The popular novel of modern times is Hamlet, it comes “easy as lying." Were perhaps too well known to need a definition. older heads to give their attention to the Still it

may
be

proper, in reference to the boy narratives that spell the ears of the acquisition of just standards, to throw out happy groups that linger by the schoolsome general considerations in regard to this house porch, or in the play-grounds, or on peculiar structure in art. The history of a Saturday out among the woods, they the novel is a very simple one. In general would be surprised to discover, amidst so respects it is that of the drama; one of the much of the frivolous and puerile, so much happy modes by which ingenuity contrives that betrayed thought and talent in invento beguile ignorance to knowledge. Its tion,—the invention or the capacity for strucbeginnings are to be found amongst the first ture invariably preceding the moral in the dawnings of the human intellect. The child mind of the boy, and even the thought by himself is a raconteur. He begins the ex- which what is simply moral in the story is ercise of his thought by tasking his con- educed or indicated; the boldness of the structive faculty for its assistance, in the fancy and the readiness of resource in the ambitious desire to provoke the wonder and raconteur, still showing themselves superior admiration of his young and less endowed to the general crudeness of the conception, companions. He invents facts and situa- and the feeble and common-place character tions, and accumulates events in proper of the materials. We are made to see the order and becoming relation, so as to form scheme in spite of the agency; made to a history. And in this exercise he becomes observe a fitness of parts and a symmetrical an artist. The continuance of the practice design, leading through a thousand awkwardresults in a greater or smaller degree of per- nesses and obscurities to a really judicious fection, more or less modified by the sur-moral. Of course the moral as such forms rounding influences of society and proper no part of the object of the juvenile narrator, models.

or his more juvenile audience. The comEven in childhood, however, the faculty is mon aim is the story—the simple accumulaan extraordinary one. It betrays talents which tion of interesting incidents in relation to are by no means shared by many. Not some hero for whom all sympathies are one child in the hundred possesses the en- enlisted. But as truthfulness is never wantdowment, or certainly to no great extent. ing in its moral, and as the great end of They may possess large faculties of thought every artist is the approximation of all his and of expression. They may give forth elab- fiction to a seeming truth, so unavoidably orate sentiments and show proofs of inge- he inculeates a moral, of more or less value, nious speculation, accompanied by eloquent whenever he tells a story. As the peculiar utterance. They may be poets even, without endowment which makes the raconteur is possessing the faculty of weaving together, equally native and decided, so the passion in intricate relation and with due depend- for his narratives, even among those who do ency, such scenes and events in life, indi- not share his faculties, is equally true to the cated by the interposition of moral agents, moral instincts of his auditory. All listen as distinguish the labors of the composer in with eagerness, and yield ready credence to

For this they strive vainly; all statements which keep within the verge and many strive, who, highly endowed in of possibility; and with the eager and beseemingly kindred departments of art, yet lieving mind of youth, the limits of the posfail utterly to take the first step in the consible are wonderfully flexile, and oppose no structing of prose fiction.

unnecessary barriers to the ardent spirit and Not so with him who is "to the manner the free imagination. born." To him, employing the language of It is this ready faith in the auditory which

8

prose fiction.

VOL. VIII.

NO. II.

NEW SERIES.

determines the legitimacy of the art—which I real, into the rare atmosphere of an ideal has been practised from the beginning of which suffered from no incumbrances. time, in all the nations and all the ages of Gradually, as art continued to advance the earth. No people have ever lived with in the refinement of her own powers, and out their authors of fictitious narrative. No in the more facile employment of her own people can live without them, since the machinery, fiction became a thing of more faculties which find their utterance through complexity of form and of diminished imathis medium are the very faculties--the gination in respect to its conceptions. As creative, the combining, and the endow- the faith of the ignorant in the objects of ing—by which men are distinguished from former superstition became lessened and inall other animals. The art has shown itself flexible, the raconteur found it necessary to quite as decidedly among the savages of accommodate his fiction to the more rigid North America, as among the most highly and exacting standards of the popular belief. refined of the Asiatic nations. The inven- To seem like truth was still, as it had tions of our Six Nations, of the Cherokees, always been in all ages, the object of the Choctaws, and Catawbas, if inferiorin polish judicious artist; and the invention which and variety, do not seem to have been less had hitherto been exercised with the vague daring and original than those of the Ara- | and supernatural, suffered no real or great bians, to whom we are indebted for some of diminution of its resources, when it felt itself the most admirable of those legends which compelled to turn its eye without rather than seem particularly designed to do their of- within for its materials; when the deeds of fices of tuition with a young and primitive man, rather than his secret soul and specupeople. These fictions, constituting some of lative performances, afforded the substance the very loveliest conceptions which art has of the chronicle; and the collective heart of over drawn from the fountains of the imagi- the multitude, in its open exhibitions, served nation, were at first simple, and like those for the field of analysis, in place of the sinof childhood. The additions of succeeding gle individual, being, doing, or suffering, generations, the more elaborate efforts of which bitherto had been the almost exclusuperior artists, have improved them for the sive study. Histories of men - periods delight of races more matured. At first which betrayed large groups in active issues, these performances were scenes and sketches such as the middle ages--naturally took the rather than histories, and were employed place of more primitive material. The roupon such events of the common experience mance of progress was the legitimate sucas were at once most natural and impressive.eessor of that which illustratrd the purely But when religion began to act upon the spiritual nature - which, by the way, was a imagination, the artist soon became tasked romance of progress also, though in a sense for higher exercises, and glimpses of the very different froin any other; and this, in wild and spiritual were made to elevate the turn, was followed just as naturally by the common-place and ordinary. This led to romance of society, or the ordinary novel of the machinery of superstition. Hence magic, I the present day. as an agency by which romance was first In each of the latter classes of fiction, the begotten; hence diablerie, by which the chief object seems to have been so to delinsoul was made to startle at contact with a cate the aspects of real life, under certain spiritual world, even when the doctrine of a conditions of society, as at once to preserve future itself was left totally untaught, except all their distinctive characteristics, and to as a purely speculative philosophy. In the invest with a biographical interest certain phantoms of the imagination, the spectres favorite studies of character and situation. o ignorant dread, and those vague and These objects render necessary an admirable shadowy aspects that lurked in lonely co-operation of the artist with the philosoplaces, among the woods, in the hollows of pher; the painter of detail with the poet of desolate hills, in the depths of lovely but fine conceptions. It must be evident, even forbidden waters, the various orders and to persons of the most ordinary reflection denominations of Gnome, Kobold, Ondine, 1 and understanding, that to execute such a Sylph and Fairy, we behold the fantastci design with only moderate success, demands creations of a genius struggling constantly a very rare combination of moral attributes. to pass from the oppressive chambers of the Scarcely any intellectual performance, indeed, could task a greater variety of human has raised ? He must be a person of great powers. Keen perception, quick instincts, vigilance and freshness of resource, else how delicate tastes, strong good sense, a perfect should he vary his entertainments for his knowledge of character, a nice appreciation guests according to their differing characterof all that constitutes the sensibilities, and istics and desires? The flexibility of his all that makes the virtues of the social man; intellectual vision inust be great, else how

- these are all absolute requisites for that should he be capable of that instinctive apm artist, who, in the delineation of real life, in preciation of character which is called for by an atmosphere of fiction, must, to a certain the constant necessity of discriminating his extent, borrow faculties from every other dramatis persone, the great essential requidepartment of human art. The poet must site for success in portraiture and for drayield him fancy and imagination; the matic vitality in action? The first dawning painter, an eye to the landscape; the sculp- of the humors of a period,—using the word tor, a just conception of form and attitude; in the sense of Ben Jonson,-its passing the dramatist, combination and the art of moods and fashions, its singular traits of trouping ;- and even the lawyer and the moral and society, (which are mostly epigistorian must, or may be drawn upon,- demical, and flit with the progress of a the one for the capacity to argue out a case season,) are among the minor but scarcely from certain premises and facts to a just less necessary requisitions of his art; to conclusion,—to weigh the motives to action, execute which requires a rare versatility of and determine the awards of judgment; talent. To this versatility no mere sumand the other, to sift the causes of social mary, like the present, could possibly do progress-to estimate duly the morals of justice. Let it suffice that the great or leading events, the effects which they should successful worker in prose fiction must be, produce, and the principles to which, taking Walter Scoit for our most obvious whether for good or evil, they are likely to example, a person of equal imagination and give birth hereafter, affecting equally the cool common sense;.of lively but healthy condition of the community and the aspira- sensibilities; of great tact, (which is another tions of the individual man. In a rare word for admirable taste,) and of equal vigijudgment all these faculties are necessarily lance and courage. He must be able to found to unite. The artist in prose fiction, observe without effort,-so endowed by namore than any other, must possess in ture and so trained by practice as to achieve, large degree the constructive faculty. Poe- so to speak, by the simple outpouring of try depends chiefly upon its courage and his customary thoughts. His habitual mensentiment; the drama upon its passion; tal exercise must be the acquisition of matemusic upon its spirituality; and painting rial, and its partial subjection to his purposes, upon its happy distribution of light and though in detached and fragmentary condishade, the harmony of its colors, and the ditions, susceptible of adaptation to more symmetry of its forms. But, borrowing in elaborate uses when his schemes ripen into some degree all these agencies, the artist in design. Carrying the materials which he prose fiction makes them all ancillary to thus habitually realizes, without effort and one particularly his own, and that we co:1- almost without consciousness, to the alembic sider the constructive faculty. With this of his thought, he will extract from them faculty it is that he frames and adapts his by a process which, in the trained author, materials to whatever sort of edifice it is the goes on without respite, all the sublimated particular aim of his genius to erect. That essences which, thus resolved, become aggreedifice may be a palace or a hovel, but it is gated within himself and constitute the required to be symmetrical, in compliance means and expedients of his own genius. with laws growing out of the very concep- He is original and inventive in due degree tion which suggests the structure. The as he has incorporated these external elebuilder, to achieve the reputation of a mas- ments in with his own thoughts, and the ter, must conceive boldly the plan and pur- habitual workings of his own intellect. pose of his fabric; and this requires a To acquire such materials, and to attain vigorous imagination. He must possess a these results, no mere fagging with a purpose lively fancy, else how should he adorn fitly can possibly avail. No mere drudgery under and properly embellish the fabric which he the stimulating force of will can possibly

yield the habitual condition by which such ) prosecution of his scheme. There must be accumulations go on, with all the regularity no need to stop, and study, and adjust, beof advancing and returning hours. Cram- | fore he can conscientiously set down. His ming is no more likely to produce digestion implements must all be at hand, and at his in the case of the intellectual, than in that of instant control. His mental constitution the animal condition. On the contrary, as must be that of the poet. He must be born in the latter, the effect is unfavorable to the to his task. You cannot fashion him to it proper incorporation of the food with the by any course of training. He works quite healthy flesh and blood, and true nature of as much by intuition as by calculation and the recipient. And without the harinonious common reasoning. His plan once fairly co-operation of the several powers and attri-conceived, his thoughts and fancies, to use butes,-unless the aliment taken in by the the felicitous language of Milton, must,“ like senses of the student and the inventor be so many nimble and airy servitors, trip about kindred in quantity and qnality with that him at command, and, in well-ordered files, upon which his genius may be supposed to as he would wish, fall aptly in their own feed, the latter is enfeebled rather than sus places." He leaps to his conclusions as if tained by the innutritious supply, and the upon a wing of equal certainty and fleet fruits of his labor lack equally congruity and ness; and the chief and difficult study behealth. If, as Milton hath it, the life of him fore him is at the beginning, when reason who would write a poem must itself be a demands that he should choose his grond poem, so must the habitual tendency of ob- and field of operations, with such a careful servation and thought of him who deals in regard to his peculiar tastes, studies and prose fiction, tend to the supply of means experiences, as shall give free play to whatfavorable in particular to his freshness, his ever is individual in his character and geinvention, and his just appreciation of all the nius. Great freedom of speech, affording a varieties of human character. Perhaps we ready flow in the narrative, a prompt fancy may say all this, when we adopt the pecu- to meet emergencies and supply details, so liar idiom of another nation, and say that that the action shall at no time falter or for his art there must be a nature.

become flat; a quick and keen perception of It is very clear that, of the thousand fine the differing shades and degrees, in quality, issues which belong to every action in the of human character; a nice appreciation of progress of a story, the trials of the heart, the delicate and noble, the lofty and the the displays of passion, the subtle combina- low, the sublime and the ridiculous; an eye tions of wit, the logical results of judgment, eager to seek and prompt to discern the the fancy which happily relieves the action picturesque; a facility in finding varieties in the proper place, the vivacity which keeps and in the suggestion of lively contrasts; the interest astir, the invention which pro- and that flexibility of mood, by which one, vides the impressive incident, and all the having a ready utterance, may individualize various and numerous faculties, of feeling the several dialects of the dramatis personaand understanding, which need to have ful- dialects which as completely distinguish the ness and free play in the development and individual from his companions, as do the action of a scheme which embodies equally particular traits of his countenance, the and all the characteristics by which society sound of his voice, and movement of his is moved and human sensibility excited; it body; these are all, in greater or less demust be very clear, we say, that there can gree, essential to the successful pursuit of his be very few of these agencies, about which, art by the novelist and writer of prose ficas the necessity for their employment arises, tion. If held generally, and in large enthe author could deliberately sit down to dowment, and exercised with corresponding reason. It would be morally and physically industry, these faculties must render him an impossible, were any such necessity to exist, artist of the highest order,—remarkable, as that his labors should ever arrive at the the Germans have it, for the great faculty honors of a single volume. On the contrary, of Shakspeare, his many-sidedness, or cathohis resources should be so equally ready and licity,—a poet, a philosopher and dramatist, ample, that he shall be conscious, his pro- a painter, à seer, and a prophet! His words gress once begun, of no let or hindrance, will flow from him like those of inspiration, calling for long pause or hesitation in the His creations, from their equal majesty, grace

and beauty, will seem worthy to have owned and counselled by the lovely and the sweet, a divine original. His voice will swell, in the graceful and the bright, which the gardue season, to a natural authority in every den groups beneath his eye, or the groves ear, and his works will gradually pass into cherish and encourage about his footsteps. * the common heart, lifting it to an habitual | And thus informed, insensibly to himself appreciation of the high humanities which as it were, he models his own mind into it is the becoming object of a genius so images which posterity is fain to deify. Thus, worthily endowed to teach.

while the tout ensemble of his fabric will awe The fabric of such an artist will be raised by its magnificence, the exquisiteness of its with an equal eye to its uses, its durability, detail must persuade to a near delight which and grandeur. It will be no mere pleasure- loves to linger upon the study of its cunhouse. Its objects are never temporary. ning joinery; and this is the perfection of The true genius works not less for eternity art, where the exquisite delicacy of the finthan man. It is, indeed, in working for ish is not required to compensate for defieternity that he works for man. He has cient majesty and greatness in the first conbut a slender appreciation of the importance ception. of his race, who only sees them as they exist The first conclusive proof that we have of around him; who, satisfied with the present the superior artist will be in the manifestasounds that fill his ears, entertains no hun- tion of design. The really great genius is gering thirst for that faint voice, sounding conspicuous chiefly in this quality. It is ever in the solitude, which comes slowly but talent that simply finishes. It is taste surely up from the far-off abodes of his pos- only that never offends. It is art that adapts terity. He, on the contrary, who properly with propriety. It is genius that creates ! esteems his vocation, feels indeed that suc- To be sure of this faculty in the artist, we cessful working must always imply the future must see that he works out a purpose of his only. To be of and with the present only, own; and we estimate his strength by the to speak the voice with which it is already resolution which he shows, under allcirfamiliar, to go nothing beyond it, to have cumstances, in the prosecution of his scheme. no mysteries which it shall not and cannot It will not do that he follows, however adfathom; this is, surely, to forfeit all claim mirably, in the track of other masters. It upon the future generations, with whom will not do, even should he rival them sucprogress only is existence. But the true cessfully, in a region which they had exartist knows better than to toil for such bar- plored already. The world can never be ren recompense. His ambition, or we should persuaded of his superiority, who shall do rather say, his nature is governed by a more nothing better than multiply specimens unselfish instinct. He builds in compliance der well-known laws and models. He may with laws and motives which do not seem triumph for a season; he may give a certain to consider earth. His conceptions are degree of pleasure always, as adroitness, caught from the Highest, and would seem aptness and ingenuity, the sources of the to emulate his achievements. In what con- imitative faculty, are very apt to do; but sists his material ? The soul of man, his there will always be apparent in his performhopes and fears, his humanities; the inner ances that want of courage and enterprise, nature, the spirit and the heart, where lie which give to the original a masculine vigor his most permanent and most valuable pos- and proportion which men esteem the most session. And from what other of God's essential of all qualities in their guides and creations does he take the tributary forms leaders. The admiration which hails the and aspects which he groups around his imitator is seldom of long duration. It lasts subject as subservient to the action? The only while he seems like an original. It is sky for beauty and repose ; the sea for im- by the strongest instincts that the world dismensity; the forest for depth and intricacy; tinguishes between the substance and the the rock and mountain for solidity and shadow. Not to sink into a pun, they soon strength: such are the model forms and at- feel the difference between them. The distributes that impress his soul from the begin-covery once made, they resent the deception. ning, and fashion, unconsciously to himself, In due degree with the extent of the imposall the shapes and creations of his genius. ture, will be the scorn and indignation which His fancies, in like manner, are controlled follow its exposure ; and the innocent fol

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »