It was at the beginning of the Long Vacation, and Oxford was nearly empty. The Professor of the newly founded chair of Aesthetics, whose lectures had been unattended during the term, came one day in the evening to New College gardens and found John Hanbury a scholar of the college walking there. They knew each other, and had taken two or three turns under the chestnuts together, when a stranger came up to them and asked if these were Worcester Gardens.
"This is New College," said Hanbury: "May I direct you to Worcester?" No, the stranger said, he had only wished to know the name; and, then shewing a sketching-block, he asked if there would be any objection to his sketching there. "Not at all," said Hanbury: "shall I bring a chair ? My rooms are close by." He always drew standing, he said, and Hanbury and the Professor moved away.
"What was that paradox I heard of yours?" asked the Professor: "About criticism it was."
"O, it was nothing," said Hanbury drawing back.
"But let me hear it defended. Everybody likes a good paradox. The Frenchman said the marriage-tie was in every case a bad thing, for if the married tired of each other it bound them together against their will, and, if they did not, it was superfluous. I like that: do not you ?"
"But mine is not a good paradox," said Hanbury; "it is hardly one at all: at all events I do not see how to avoid the conclusion it brings me to. I was saying that in poetry purely common-sense criticism was not enough by itself: that is true, is it not?"
"And criticism is not advocacy: it is rather judicial, is it not ?"
"Judicial, it should be."
"And judgments depend on laws, on established laws. Now taste has few rules, and those not scientific and easily disputed, and I might add, often disputed. Am I right?"
"At least, go on," said the Professor.
"If a man disputes your judgment in taste, how can you prove he is wrong? If a man thinks beautiful what you think bad, you must believe he is sincere when he tells you so; and, if he is educated, how are you to say that his judgment is worse than yours? In fact de gustibus non est disputandum. Criticism, therefore, in matters of taste cannot be judicial. And purely common-sense criticism is not enough, we agreed. So criticism in matter of taste has no weight at all. That was it: do not be severe on it."
"I will respect it, my dear Hanbury, I will respect it, though I do not quite think you have proved your point. However I will not answer you directly, for do you know I am not so sure about de gustibus, which is going further back?"
"Indeed," said Hanbury. "Well if you think there are ascertainable laws, I should be glad of it for one; for when one is morally sure that one is right, it is a pity not to be able to refer to a logical ground for one's belief."
"I have my theory," said the Professor; "but I am afraid--"
"Do let me hear it," said Hanbury: "I shall be a disciple I am sure."
"My first," said the Professor "it will be then. But may I pursue the Socratic method? May I take up the dialectic battledore which you have just laid down ?"
"The dialectic battledore do you call it ? I shall be so glad to be the--what is that called now ? I have been about thirteen years out of the nursery. The shuttlecock, of course,--to be the shuttlecock to it."
"Now where shall I begin?" said the Professor. "I will begin here", and he pulled off one of the large lowest fans of the chestnuts. "Do you think this beautiful?"
"That? The chestnut-fan? Certainly: I have always thought the chestnut one of the most finely foliaged of trees."
"You see it consists of seven leaves, the middle largest, diminishing towards the stalk, so that those nearest the stalk are smallest."
"I see," said Hanbury. "I had never noticed there were seven before."
"Now if we look about we shall find--yes there is one. There is a fan, do you see? with only six leaves. Nature is irregular in these things. Can you reach it ? Now which do you think the more beautiful, the one with six, or the one with seven, leaves ? Shut out, if you can, the remembrance that the six-leaved one is an anomaly or imperfection: consider it symmetrical."
"Well I daresay the six-leaved one may improve the foliage by variety, but in themselves the seven-leaved one is the handsomer."
"Just so," said the Professor; "but could you give any reason?"
"I suppose, as they are like in all other respects, it is that seven is a prettier number than six, and that would agree with the mystical character attached to the number seven."
"Yes, but let me understand," said the Professor. "Now is 101 a prettier number than 100?"
"100? I do not know. No, I think 100 is. No: of course in fact it depends on 100 or 101 of what."
"Suppose then I had two great chestnut-fans, one with 100, one with 101, leaves, which would be the handsomer ? You will say you could not tell till you saw them. But now, following the arrangements of these six-leaved and seven-leaved fans, in the 100-leaved there would be 50 radiating leaves on either side and a gap in the middle, in the 101-leaved 50 on either side and one, the greatest, in the middle. Do you see?"
"Perfectly. And I think the 101-leaved, or in fact the odd-leaved one whatever its number of leaves, would be the handsomer; not, as you seem to shew, from the abstract excellence of an odd number, but because--well, I suppose because to have the greatest leaf in the middle is the handsomer way."
"But which is the more symmetrical?" asked the Professor. "Is not the six-leaved one?"
"Both have symmetry; yet, as you say, the six-leaved one seems the more so, supposing it of course to be really symmetrical, which this specimen is not."
"Is not this," asked the Professor "because
it is naturally divided into two equal parts of three leaves each,
while the seven-leaved is not, and cannot be symmetrical in the
same way unless we physically cut the greatest leaf down the middle."
"Yes that is it; I see," said Hanbury.
"And so you judge the less markedly symmetrical to be the handsomer. Still the seven-leaved one has much symmetry. But now look at the tree from which I pulled it. Do you like it better as it is, or would you have the boughs start from the trunk at the same height on opposite sides, symmetrically pair and pair ?"
"As it is, certainly."
"Or again look at the colouring of the sky."
"But," put in Hanbury "colouring is not a thing of symmetry."
"No: but now what is symmetry? Is it not regularity?"
"I should say, the greatest regularity," said Hanbury.
"So it is. But is it not that sort of regularity which is measured by length and breadth and thickness? Music for instance might be regular, but not symmetrical ever; is it not so?"
"Quite so," said Hanbury.
"Let us say regularity then. The sky, you see, is blue above, then comes a pale indescribable hue, and then the red of the sundown. You admire it do you not?"
"Very much," said Hanbury.
"But the red is the richest colour, is it not?"
"Now it is; yes."
"Should you then like the whole sky to be of one uniform rich red ?"
"Or the red and blue to end sharply with a straight line, without anything as a go-between?"
"No: I like the gradation."
"Again then you approve of variety over absolute uniformity. And variety is opposed to regularity, is it not ? while uniformity is regularity. Is it not so ?"
"Certainly. I am to conclude then that beauty is produced by irregularity?" said Hanbury.
"Ah! you run on very fast," said the Professor. 'I never said that. Once more, if you please, I must send my shuttlecock up to the sky. You will no doubt with your feathers of vantage see better than I can, considering how my view is cut off by the buildings of the College, that rows of level cloud run along the west of the sky."
"At all events," said he "I can see them."
"Do you think they would be better away?" asked the Professor.
"No: they add to the beauty of the sunset sky."
"Notice however that they are pretty symmetrical. They are straight, and parallel with the sky-line and with each other, and of a uniform colour, and other things in them are symmetrical. Should you admire them more if they were shapeless ?"
"I think not," said Hanbury.
"Again when we say anyone has regular features, do we mean praise or blame?"
"We were speaking of the chestnut-trees, of their unsymmetrical growth. Now is the oak an unsymmetrical tree?"
"Very much so; O quite a rugged boldly-irregular tree: and this I should say was one of the things which make us invest it with certain qualities it has in poetry and in popular and national sentiment," said Hanbury.
"Very observant. You mean of course when it grows at liberty, rather than when influenced by confinement, cutting and so forth."
"Yes: what I say will of course be truest of the tree when uninfluenced by man."
"Very good. Now have you ever noticed that when the oak has grown to its full stature uninfluenced, the outline of its head is drawn by a long curve, I should think it would be that of a parabola, which, if you look at the tree from a little way off, is of almost mathematical correctness?"
"Dear me, is it indeed so ? No, I had never noticed it, but now that you name it, I do seem to find something in me which verifies what you say."
"Do you happen to remember," asked the Professor, "that fine oak at the top of the hill above Elsfield where you have such a wide view ?"
"Of course I do. Yes, a very fine tree."
"If you had analysed your admiration of it, I think you would have had to lay a good deal of it to that strict parabolic outline. Or again if one of the three side-leaves of this seven-leaved chestnut-fan be torn off, it will be less beautiful, will it not? And this, I am sure you will now say, because the symmetry is destroyed."
"Yes," said Hanbury. "Then beauty, you would say perhaps, is a mixture of regularity and irregularity."
"Complex beauty, yes. But let us inquire a little further. What is regularity? Is it not obedience to law? And what is law ? Does it not mean that several things, or all the parts of one thing, are like each other ?"
"Let me understand," said Hanbury.
"I fear I ply my battledore so fiercely that the best of shuttlecocks has not time to right itself between the blows; but I will be steadier. Is not a straight line regular ? and a circle?"
"Nothing can be more so," said Hanbury.
"And any part of a straight line or of a circle is exactly like another of the same size, is it not?"
"They are in fact consistent with themselves, and alike throughout."
"Yes they are."
"Regularity then is consistency or agreement or likeness, either of a thing to itself or of several things to each other."
"I understand the first part of what you say, but--I am very sorry again to trouble you--not quite the second."
"It is my fault," said the Professor. "I mean that although a leaf might have an outline on one side so irregular that no law could be traced in it, yet if the other side exactly agreed with it, you would say there was law or regularity about the leaf to make one side like the other. Or if the leaf of a tree were altogether irregular, supposing such a thing were to be found in nature, yet all the leaves on the tree were exactly like it, having precisely that same irregularity, then you would recognise the presence of law about the tree."
"Yes: I understand perfectly now."
"Then regularity is likeness or agreement or consistency, and irregularity is the opposite, that is difference or disagreement or change or variety. Is it so?"
"Then the beauty of the oak and the chestnut-fan and the sky is a mixture of likeness and difference or agreement and disagreement or consistency and variety or symmetry and change."
"It seems so, yes."
"And if we did not feel the likeness we should not think them so beautiful, or if we did not feel the difference we should not think them so beautiful. The beauty we find is from the comparison we make of the things with themselves, seeing their likeness and difference, is it not?"
'Yes. But let me think a little. This may be the nature of the beauty in the things you have spoken of and of many others, but I do not at all yet see how it applies to all things, and I should like to ask you to account for some of them. Let me collect some instances."
He stood looking out through a loophole in one of the towers of the old wall. Meanwhile the sketcher, who had long been drawing in a desultory way, moved from the stand he had taken up, as though meaning to walk about. He had become more interested in this philosophy of the Gardens than in his sketching, for in the clear air of the evening he had heard almost everything that was said, and the questioner and answerer had raised their voices: he was loath to lose the end of the debate. Hanbury hearing him move turned and asked if he would come in and have some tea. He thanked him and accepted the offer. It was then debated whether the party should go in at once or no, and it was agreed they should for the present at least continue to walk about. Hanbury in courtesy began to talk on indifferent subjects, but the stranger begged the discussion might be continued.
"I am afraid," he said, "I have heard more than I had any business to do, but I have become so interested that I-one's fondness for painting will be the best excuse for the interest a discussion on beauty has for one. Perhaps I might serve as alternative shuttlecock, while Mr. Hanbury'--he had heard the name from the Professor's mouth in the course of the talk--is collecting his instances. I hardly think I entirely understood the last of what was said."
"If you will be so kind," said the Professor. "But I fear that in the ardour of the game I thump the shuttlecock far too hard, in order to bring out the more resonant answers. I know quite well what sort of things Hanbury is going to bring forward, and in the meantime I would gladly fortify my first ground, which I took only with regard to things of abstract beauty. Of course everyone would allow as a truism that in making beautiful shapes (and the same will hold for the other kinds of abstract beauty) we must not have things too symmetrical; and most would allow we must not have them too unsymmetrical and rugged; but what this means and leads to they do not so much seem to consider. Now let me take an instance from those excellent frescos which are being added to the new smoking-room at the Union--"
"Excuse me," said the painter; "I have come up to paint those frescos, so perhaps you would find me too much prejudiced, for them to serve your purpose as examples."
"Indeed," said the others, "then your name is Middleton, we are to presume."
"Yes," said he; "but pray do not let the discussion be interrupted on account of my frescos. You will, I am sure, find another instance."
"I will return then to the chestnut-fan," said the Professor. Hanbury went in to make tea, promising soon to be back, and the Professor continued. "Each leaf is symmetrical is it not? Counting from the rib or spine which runs down the back of the middle leaf, each side of the fan answers to the other, does it not?"
"With the exception," went on the Professor, "of such slight inequalities or imperfections as are always to be found in nature. And these would not be expressed at all in an idealised chestnut-fan used in Art, would they? I mean of course not in a landscape picture, but in such a formalised and conventionalised shape as the chestnut-fan would have in decoration and architecture and so on."
"Yes," said Middleton; "it would then be quite symmetrical."
"But yet it would not have lost its beauty, would it?--But I am really ashamed to ask these questions."
"Not at all, not at all," said Middleton; "I beg you will not be so. No, it would not have lost its beauty. It is in fact one of the most beautiful natural shapes at the disposal of Art."
"And what was said of the whole fan is also true of each leaf of it, that it is symmetrical: but now let us see what this symmetry comes to. For first one side answers to the other, but yet there is a leaf, the middle one, which belongs to neither one side nor the other. Hanbury and I had agreed that this contrast of two opposite things, symmetry and the violation of it, was here preferable to pure symmetry. Next it radiates, but the radiation of leaves is not carried all the way round. Would it be improved by more regular radiation, do you think?"
"O no: whatever the beauties of regular radiation may be, the particular beauty of the chestnut-fan depends on its not being so radiated."
"Here again then contrast is preferred to agreement. Then the leaves are pretty much alike but not of the same size. You would not have them of the same size, I am sure, thus again preferring contrast to agreement. And one sees that, although differing, they differ by a law, diminishing as they do towards the stalk; and this I presume is more beautiful than if they differed irregularly, so that the contrast of regularity with variety is once more preferred to agreement, the agreement it would be in this case of entire irregularity. Is it not so ?"
"I think so, yes."
"Although from their diminishing they do not form part of that most regular of figures the circle, yet in their diminishing they shape out another figure, do they not? partly regular, though containing variety; I mean that of a Greek Omega."
"Yes, I see how you mean."
"Furthermore, although leaf answers to leaf on each side of the central one, you will see that the equal leaves are not diametrically opposite to each other--I use "diametrically" in its strict sense, opposite as the one half of a diameter is to the one on the other side of the center--with the exception of two of them."
"No, I see," said Middleton: "the greatest is opposite the stalk, which is the slimmest thing belonging to the fan; then the two next greatest, which are nearest to the middle one, are opposite to the two smallest, which are nearest to the stalk; only the two between these two last mentioned pairs are both opposite and answering to each other. All this I see; and I understand that you would point out the contrast made by the regularity of the continuous diameter with the irregularity of the unequal opposite radii."
"That is just what I would say," said the Professor. "Then it is not the radiation which is the beauty of the fan, but the radiation heightened by its cessation near the stalk."
"Nor the agreement of side with side, but that agreement as reflected on by the one dominant leaf which belongs to neither side."
"Nor the likeness of the leaves, but their likeness as thrown up by their difference in size."
"Nor their inequality, but the inequality as tempered by their regular diminishing."
"Nor their each having a diametrical opposite, but that opposite being the least answering to themselves in the whole fan."
"I might say even more. It seems then that it is not the excellence of any two things (or more) in themselves, but those two things as viewed by the light of each other, that makes beauty. Do you understand?"
"I think so, but might I ask you still further to explain?"
"I had reserved what I think will be my best proof for the last," said the Professor. "The leaves of most trees may be roughly described as being formed by the intersection of two equal circles, in fact the figure called vesica piscis, but the leaves of this fan are not so. They are narrow near the stalk, they pass outwards with a long concave curve, then more than half-way up they turn, form a pair of round shoulders, so to speak, and then come round sharply to the point. Look here for instance," and he pulled one off the tree.
"Yes, the curve is more complex than in most trees; but I am not sure I do not admire the commoner shape better in leaves."
"Yes," said the Professor, "but now would you have the fan made of that commoner sort? I have made a mock fan, see, with lime leaves."
"Certainly not," said Middleton. "The more complex curve is far more beautiful in the fan, for it leaves long narrow slits of light between the leaves, and in other respects the composition is finer and richer."
"Ah! that is the pith of the matter--'its composition.' But I am afraid to go on; I am talking to one who will laugh to see me fall into some snare as I trespass over his own grounds."
''Pray go on," said Middleton.
"If I am to do so," said the Professor, "I shall put these next questions in fear and trembling. Do not painters speak of balancing mass by mass in the composition of their pictures?"
"If they balance mass by mass, the mass in one part of a picture must be unbalanced until that in another part is put in."
"If unbalanced then, the picture is unbeautiful."
"Yes, in that respect."
"Now suppose when the picture was finished with two masses balanced, a copy were made from it, and one mass put in, not the one that was put in the first in the original picture but the other, and then the copying stopped; the picture would then bc unbalanced as before, would it not ?"
"Just as the first picture was, yes."
"And it would be unbeautiful, would it not?"
"But the finished picture was beautiful."
"The picture that had only one mass put in was unbeautiful: now as it was to be beautiful when both masses were put in, we might suppose the beauty must lie all in that mass which was yet to come: when however we in our second picture, anxious to have our beauty as soon as possible, put the second mass in first, pregnant as it was with graces, lo and behold! the result was as uninteresting as when we had the first mass alone put in. What are we to say then ? The beauty does not lie in this mass or in that, but in what ? In this mass as supported by that, and in that as supported by this. Is it so ?"
"And artists call this composition. Does not then the beauty lie in the relation between the masses?"
"It seems it does."
"Beauty then is a relation."
"I suppose it is."
"And things which have relation are near enough to have something in common, but not near enough to be one and the same, are they not ?"
"And to perceive the likeness and difference of things, or their relation, we must compare them, must we not?"
"Beauty therefore is a relation, and the apprehension of it a comparison. The sense of beauty in fact is a comparison, is it not ?"
"So it would appear."
"I have not yet said what the relation is," said the Professor, when he was interrupted by Hanbury who had returned some time since.
"Well," said he 'I must own, with all my wish for the logical ground I spoke of in discussions of taste, I feel it very unworthy to think that beauty resolves itself into a relation. However, it may be that the particular kind of beauty in a chestnut-fan, which seems after all a geometrical sort of thing, may be explained as you say, and you seem to have pulled it to pieces to exhibit that, so that I am either convinced or I really do not know what to say to the contrary; but I am sure there is in the higher forms of beauty--at least I seem to feel- -something mystical, something I don't know how to call it. Is not there now something beyond what you have explained ?"
"Oh! my dear friend, when one sets out with a priori notions--I am afraid I have lost the only chance of a disciple I ever had."
"Not at all, I hope," said Middleton.
"No, no," said Hanbury. "If you will explain on your theory what I am now going to put forward, I will then believe it will apply to everything else. But now where is the relation you speak of, and the comparison, in this for instance?
O blithe New-comer!
I have heard, I hear thee and rejoice.
O Cuckoo! Shall I call thee Bird
Or but a wandering Voice?
Now is there not something mystical there, or is it all in plain broad daylight?"
"A mathematical thing, measured by compasses, that is what you think I should make it, do you not?"
"Well yes, if you put the words into my mouth."
"But," went on the Professor "if I am to undertake the analysis of so subtle a piece of beauty as you have tasked me with, might I do it by the aid of candlelight ? for it is now dark, you see, and wet underfoot and one is almost cold, I think. I hope the tea is not."
"Ah! the tea," said Hanbury; and they went in.
"Now," said the Professor, when they were settled down at the tea table, "am I to consider the stanza you have quoted by itself or with reference to the rest of the poem?"
"How do you mean?" said Hanbury.
"It is rather an important point, and I must explain a little. You would say that The Tempest is beautiful (I mean Shakspere's play) would you not ? and you would say that Tennyson's poems are beautiful, and I will suppose for argument's sake that you like them all without exception: now do you mean the same thing in saying The Tempest is beautiful and that Tennyson's poems are beautiful?"
"Except for a difference in the degree of my admiration I suppose I do."
"No difference in kind?"
"I see none."
"Suppose from the volume of Tennyson's smaller poems there were a dozen taken away. Should you admire the remaining ones less?"
"Of course not. It could make no difference in them," said Hanbury.
"And your estimate of Tennyson would be much the same without them; and so in any other like case, except as far as each fresh poem might be a proof of a wider range and greater versatility; and, other things being equal, I suppose versatility would put one great man above another. That by the way however. In any case the remaining poems would seem neither more nor less beautiful. But now if from a play you leave out two or three scenes, should you admire the remainder as much as when taken together with them?"
"No. But of course the plot would be destroyed by their being left out, or mangled at all events; and a plot is so necessary to a play that--but in fact it is plain a play is almost nothing at all without its plot worked out."
"Ah yes, but it is a great deal more than that," said the Professor. "What I mean would apply to omissions which would not harm the plot, and I could make such omissions in many plays. For instance one hears a great deal about the tragic irony of the Greek playwriters, and the spirit which is meant by that phrase will run through a play and be developed in particular scenes, but yet have so little directly to do with the story, that a child would understand the play just as well if all expressions of this spirit were left out. The misconceptions, the unconsciously produced double senses, the prophecies and so on, of the characters are favourite channels of pathos and other dramatic effect with the poets. They are not needed by the plot or the bare statement of them only is needed, but dramatically considered their loss would be great, would it not?"
"The unity which is needed for every work of art and especially for a play is enforced on us by many other things besides the plot. For instance, you remember Dido's curse on Aeneas and his children in Virgil. Nothing more than the fact of the curse was needed for the story, if that. The first part, that referring to Aeneas, is fulfilled, you know, but in another sense than that meant by Dido. This seems to me, though as I say nothing to do with the intelligibility of the story, to give more and grander unity to the book than any other touch in it. The latter part,
Exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor,
and so on, looks beyond the time of the Aeneid to Hannibal's war, quite external therefore to the plot. You feel, I am sure, how great its loss would be."
"Oh yes," said Hanbury.
"This of course," went on the Professor "implies a knowledge in the reader; but almost all works of art imply knowledge of things external to themselves in the mind of the critic--in fact all do; but this is a wide field I must not now enter on. All I want to shew is that there is a relation between the parts of the thing to each other and again of the parts to the whole, which must be duly kept. If from the volume of poems we take a dozen away, we agreed there is no difference, the remainder are neither better nor worse. But if from one single work of art, one whole, we take anything appreciable away, a scene from a play, a stanza from a short piece, or whatever it is, there is a change, it must be better or worse without it; in a great man's work it will be-- there are of course exceptions--worse. Is it not so ?"
"Yes, it must be so," said Hanbury, "I see."
"And," said Middletonm "is not this to be explained in the same way ? I mean the oddness or new character a passage has which we have seen quoted and now come on with its context. It is not in this case that we imagined the thing to be a whole in itself and found it was only a part of the whole, because one generally sees at once that a quotation is something detached, but that our vague conception of what the drift of the context must be is found wrong. I must say that Wordsworth often disappoints me when I come upon a passage I knew by quotation: it seems less pointed, less excellent, with its context than without."
"It is the case with Virgil, I think," said Hanbury.
"With regard to that," said the Professor, "you see the few words of a quotation are impressed on us with a much greater intensity than the text of a long piece we are reading continuously. This intensity therefore is incongruous, it makes the quotation almost shine out from the page; it seems a new patch on an old garment, a purpureus pannus. As you read a poet you are more and more raised to his level, you breathe his air, you accustom yourself, till things seem less striking and beautiful than when sharply contrasted with a lower, at all events a different style, as they were in the quotation. All this is intimately akin to what I have been thinking about beauty. I need do no more than ask you to see it is again a question of comparison, for we must not wander on to first principles just now, till our present point is settled."
"Yes, there is a comparison of a certain kind, I see," said Hanbury.
"Sometimes however," said Middleton "one does imagine a quotation to be a whole when it is only a part. The effect is curious. I think what I mean would be explained by what you were saying. I have noticed sometimes this effect with regard to those quotations and tags of poetry and so on one sees added to the titles of pictures in the catalogue of the Academy. Suppose one saw this stanza of Shelley's chosen:
Music when sweet voices die
Vibrates in the memory
Odours when sweet violets sicken
Live within the sense they quicken.
Now if one imagined this stanza was a single thought and the whole poem, or what, though opposite to that, would in another way be as bad, four lines namely out of some piece in the metre of his lines written among the Euganean hills, how greatly would the effect lose, unless I am mistaken, of that beauty it has when you add the next stanza:
Rose-leaves when the rose is shed
Are heap'd for the beloved's bed
And so thy thought when thou art gone
Love himself shall slumber on.
You then know the poem is complete in these two stanzas. In proportion to the shortness of a finished poem one may say is the emphasis of each verse. It seems to me that the feeling what is the precise due emphasis, though a less important point, is almost as truly a point of noble poetry as the words on which the emphasis is to be laid. Pathos or majesty, I should imagine, demand some considerable emphasis; you could hardly have them given casually: while on the other hand over-emphasis is painful, sensational, if you understand me."
"Quite," said the Professor. "Sonnet-writing demands this feeling you speak of. A sonnet should end, or at all events may very effectively end, with a vigorous emphasis. Shakspere's end with an emphasis of pathos impressed in a rhyming couplet. I would use these as a strong instance of the relative character of beauty. On the one hand the sonnet would lose if you put two other lines instead of that couplet at the end, on the other the couplet would lose if quoted apart, so as to be without the emphasis which has been gathering through the sonnet and then delivers itself in those two lines seen by the eye to be final or read by the voice with a deepening of note and slowness of delivery. Wordsworth's sonnets seem to me sometimes to end too casually."
"I must not allow anything against Wordsworth," said Hanbury: "otherwise I agree. Yes, I have noticed there is a proper character belonging to beginning and ending lines which should not be misplaced; I have noticed it, as Mr. Middleton says, in the Academy catalogue. If you attribute by mistake the emphasis to a beginning line, or to an ending line that--I don't know what to call the feeling--I have about the beginnings of some poems."
"It is a sort of pleasurable expectancy, I think, sometimes," said the Professor, "and sometimes an artificial low pitch which you feel will be deserted by a flight or rise into a higher one presently."
"Yes, that is very much it. In either case if you attribute the peculiar character of the one to the other you misapprehend it and the beauty is partly lost--I allow."
"Well," said the Professor to Middleton, "you and Hanbury have worked this out for me, and I have had the pleasure of hearing my system developed in my silence."
"We can't say that, I fear," said Middleton.
"And now," went on the Professor, "I need not ask Hanbury that question, whether I am to consider the stanza he quoted by itself or with reference to the rest of the poem, any more, for I am sure he would say he had meant with reference to the rest of the poem."
"Yes," said he "I thought you knew the poem well; everybody does; and so I quoted only one verse. It is the spirit which I want to hear treated on your system, and that runs through all the poem. However, that being understood, I suppose it will be shorter to examine one stanza than the whole poem."
"Well then," said the Professor, "before we pass on, we understand that the collective effect of a work of art is due to the effect of each part to the rest, in a play of each act to the rest, in a smaller poem each stanza to the rest, and so on, and that the addition or loss of any act or stanza will not be the addition or loss of the intrinsic goodness of that act or stanza alone, but a change on the whole also, either for the better or for the worse necessarily. It depends however on the nature of the work what will be the importance of a gain or loss of this kind: I suppose that it will be greatest where the connection is strong, where the unity is strongly marked, that is a unity not of spirit alone but a structural one..."
"Stay," said Hanbury, "what is structural unity?"
"Well, a sonnet is an instance. It must be made up of fourteen lines:if you were to take a line out, that would be an important loss to the structural unity."
"Ah yes. That sort of unity everyone could preserve, I suppose, and also at all events enough unity of plot to make a play intelligible. Unity of spirit to be well kept needs power, you would say."
"Yes. In the particular case before us I do not mean to say perhaps that the unity of the poem would lose much by the loss or addition of a stanza, beyond..."
"Oh," cried Hanbury.
"...beyond, my enthusiastic friend, the loss of the intrinsic value of the stanza, which would be very great, I was going to say. And now I must come to closer quarters. I am going to make a swoop, Hanbury, a fell swoop, at rhythm, metre, and rhyme."
"Ah, if you were to have everything structural your own way, the main point would still be untouched," said Hanbury.
"I suppose however," said Middleton, "every admission widens the circle of things accounted for by the theory."
"Yes: well let him swoop."
"We must be dialectical again then," said the Professor. "You think these things beautiful, do you not, rhythm, metre, and rhyme?"
"Of course I do; everybody does. Swoop away," said Hanbury.
"And what is rhythm? Is it not the repetition of a regular sequence of syllables either in accent or quantity?"
"The repetition of a regular sequence of syllables. If I understand, yes."
"Well," said the Professor, "a trochee is a sequence of long and short; an anapaest is a sequence of short and short and long. These sequences are technically called feet, are they not ? The repetition of them makes language rhythmical. The repetition of trochees gives a trochaic rhythm, of anapaests an anapaestic rhythm, and so on."
"You remember we agreed that regularity was the consistency or agreement or likeness either of a thing to itself or of several things to each other. Rhythm therefore is a instance of regularity, is it not?"
"Of exact, absolute regularity?" asked the Professor. "Must each anapaest be exactly like the next?"
"Why yes. If it were not, one of the two would be an anapaest no longer but some other foot."
"Let us see. We will try some English trochees, accentual trochees.
Odours when sweet violets sicken
Live within the sense they quicken.
Is each foot there like the next exactly ?"
"Yes, within certain allowances. Although our English poetry is accentual, quantity does play some not very well recognised part in it, and this makes it perhaps less regular than classical poetry, though indeed very likely accent may have played the same part in that. For this reason and also because it is made of two words, the foot when sweet is not exactly the counterpart of odours or sicken."
"That is very good, but I did not mean that. I will consider them as strictly regular as you like. Nothing else?"
"Except that violets is not a trochee at all but a dactyl. That is a licence."
"An alternative foot merely," said the Professor; "much as in the hexameter you may use the dactyl and spondee as alternatives in the first four places. I do not mean that either. Now you remember I wished beauty to be considered as regularity or likeness tempered by irregularity or difference: the chestnut-fan was one of my instances. In rhythm we have got the regularity, the likeness; so my aim is, as rhythm is agreed to be beautiful, to find the disagreement, the difference, in it. Do you still see none?"
"No, none. What is it?"
"This, my dear Hanbury. The accentual sequence (which we call a trochee) in odours is the same as in when sweet or in sicken, but the foot is not exactly like them simply because it is made of a different word. Odours is not the same word as sicken, therefore the foot odours is not the exact counterpart of the foot sicken. It has the same sequence of accentuation, but illustrated in different syllables. Rhythm therefore is likeness tempered with difference, is it not?"
"Yes, it is so. Well but--no: you are right. How could I not see that, I wonder."
"And the beauty of rhythm is traced to the same causes as that of the chestnut-fan, is it not so?"
"Yes it is."
"Now for metre," said the Professor. "Metre is the repetition of certain regular sequences of rhythm, is it not ? the combination of pieces of rhythm of certain lengths, equal or unequal."
"Oh yes, if you define metre that way. A metre is a whole of which each rhythmic foot is a part, or if you like feet are the members of lines and lines of metre. But I give up metre; go on to rhyme."
"What is rhyme?" said the Professor. "Is it not an agreement of sound ?"
"With a slight disagreement, yes," broke in Hanbury. 'I give up rhyme too."
"Let me however," said the Professor, "in the moment of triumph insist on rhyme, which is a short and valuable instance of my principle. Rhyme is useful not only as shewing the proportion of disagreement joined with agreement which the ear finds most pleasurable, but also as marking the points in a work of art (each stanza being considered as a work of art) where the principle of beauty is to be strongly marked, the intervals at which a combination of regularity with disagreement so very pronounced as rhyme may be well asserted, the proportions which may be well borne by the more markedly, to the less markedly, structural. Do you understand?'
"Yes," said Middleton. "In fact it seems to me rhyme is the epitome of your principle. All beauty may by a metaphor be called rhyme, may it not?"
"Indeed," said the Professor, "when explanation is added, I have not thought of any way so compendious of putting my principle. Thank you for it."
"Well, and I will make a clean sweep," said Hanbury. "Assonance is not an English practice, and in this particular stanza of Wordsworth's what alliteration there is is perhaps scarcely alliteration for alliteration's sake, but I will give up those things to save you any further trouble, and whatever else is structural in poetry. You will account for them all your own way, I see. Structure is artificial and does not require genius: The expression and spirit of my stanza are Wordsworth's own and these have to be explained yet. I would put it if you liked in an unrhythmical, unmetrical, unrhyming shape, and it would then be beautiful prose, except so far as my clumsiness might spoil it in the conversion."
"Ah, that is more than I ever asked of you," said the Professor. "No one's thoughts need be expected to look well if the channel he chose to convey them by be changed for another."
"Wordsworth's will however," said Hanbury. "He held that good poetry, if the structural part were taken away, would make good prose. Suppose I try:
Blithe New-comer, I have heard thee, even now I hear thee and my heart rejoices. O Cuckoo! is it Bird I must call thee or a wandering Voice?'
"You are generous," said the Professor. "The changes necessary to make it unrhythmical have inevitably destroyed some of the grace of expression, but not so much of it, I fear, as I shall hope to make you give up before we come to the ultimate feeling and spirit of the poem."
"Well, attack it your own way."
"First then I must ask you whether it is not necessary in things of sense that the parts of every whole must either pass into one another or else be divided from one another."
'Yes, they must: logically, I mean, I answer that all things must of course either be close to other things or not close to them. But I do not understand the drift of the question."
"No, I will explain," said the Professor. "Take some simple figures circle and triangle. The circle is made by a continuous line, the triangle by three lines which meet each other. And so arabesques must be made either of a continuous line, or if you like to say so, lines, or else of non-continuous lines."
"Or both," said Hanbury.
"Or both; that is, the arabesque or picture or whatever it is may be compounded of continuous and non-continuous lines: all but the simplest shapes are so, generally speaking. Only you understand that all figures must be composed of continuous or of non-continuous lines or of both."
"Have you not forgotten dots?" asked Middleton. "You may ornament by means of dots alone, and though you might not be able to do much that is complex in that way, you may help and touch up and emphasise more elaborate pictures by means of dots."
"How could one ornament in dots?" asked Hanbury.
"Out of five dots arranged in a particular way you make a cross, may you not ? There is--what I was thinking of in especial--a very simple and pretty pattern to be made out of dots, by arranging them, as it were, at the three angles of a triangle, thus..." And he dotted his meaning down on paper--in fact making the sign of because in Mathematics. "This is the pattern on a girl's dress in an etching of Rossetti's, the frontispiece to Miss Rossetti's Goblin Market, if you have seen it."
"Ah, I had forgotten the pattern," said Hanbury.
"I had not thought of dots certainly," said the Professor, "but I think they need give us little trouble. They may be regarded as the extreme case of non-continuous or disjoined lines, may they not? And when they are grouped into patterns they shape out or suggest the figures of which they are the extremities, as your five dots suggest a cross and your three a triangle, which might be represented respectively by two straight lines at right angles cutting each other, and three straight lines--well I need not go on. Might I stop for a moment to point out the exemplification of my theory given by an analysis of the triangle dot pattern? You will, of course, say that the dots thus arranged are prettier on the girl's dress than actual triangles would be. And why is this? I should like to consider it as being because, while whatever beauty a triangle may have is suggested to the eye, there is added the further element of beauty in the contrast between the continuity, the absolutely symmetrical continuity, of the straight lines which are the sides of the suggested triangle, and the discontinuity, if I may use the word, the emphasised extreme discontinuity, of the three dots."
Hanbury said with a smile,You would raise the whole country to bring grist to that mill."
"A very harmless excitement," said the Professor opening his hands outwards "if I compel nobody to buy my flour."
"It seems to me we are getting it as fast as we can. But go on."
"Yes. We may consider then that all figures are made of continuous or of non-continuous lines or of both. And the same will apply to colours: they must either pass into one another or else be immediately contrasted without transition; and to shading: we must either gradate or immediately oppose black and white, or at all events two different shades. Stop me if you disagree."
"It is your results I disagree with," said Hanbury.
"Thanks. 'Her very frowns are sweeter far.' And of music I may say the same. Sounds must either pass from note to note, as wind does in a cranny or as may be done with the string of a violin, or notes may follow each other without transition as on the piano. Well, this will apply to all things I suppose. Never mind for the time what this has to do with my theory: you can allow, whatever theory is true about beauty, and whatever importance you attach to the fact, much or little, that it is a fact, namely that any change in things, any difference between part and part, must be either transitional or abrupt."
'Yes it is."
"Then of the many divisions one might make of beautiful things, I shall consider that there is one, never mind how unimportant, of transitional and abrupt. I think I would call it, though I am afraid you will laugh at the terms, a division into chromatic and diatonic beauty. The diatonic scale, you know, leaves out, the chromatic puts in, the half-notes. Of course in Music the chromatic scale is not truly chromatic; it is only nearer to a true chromatic scale than the diatonic is: but that you will understand. Now therefore we may arrange under these two heads many artificial forms, especially, as we are particularly on that subject, poetical forms, which belong to either of them: for I think you will see that the division is not in truth unimportant, when we have made this distribution. But first I must ask some more questions. All like things are also unlike, are they not?"
"I suppose they are."
"And all unlike things are also like, are they not?"
"Let me see," said Hanbury.
"Well, things are like by virtue of their having some property in common, are they not? Now any two things, however unlike, have something in common, if only we take a wide enough basis of comparison: one knows that from Logic. And in the same way any two things, however like, have some difference from each other, as, if they are absolutely like in all other respects, they cannot be in the same place at the same time. Is it not so ?"
"Likeness therefore implies unlikeness, does it not, and unlikeness likeness ?"
"And we may compare things in three ways, first, things that we regard as like to find their difference, next, things that we regard as unlike to find their likeness, and last, things about which we are not wholly decided to find both their likeness and unlikeness. This third is the way of comparison proper to philosophy, to science; the other two to art. You may in art mark the likeness of two things, as in simile, or the difference, as in antithesis, but you do not bring them together to say they are partly like, look, and partly unlike, do you?"
"No, certainly not."
"There are no doubt in poetry," went on the Professor "instances of comparisons of that third sort in which both likeness and unlikeness are deliberately regarded, but these are far from shewing the opposite of what I have just said, namely that poetry delights in single likeness or single unlikeness, if we look into them; for it will be found that they make of each resemblance a reason for surprise in the next difference and of each difference a reason for surprise in the next resemblance; and yet or such words run before each new point of comparison, and resemblances and antitheses themselves are made to make up a wider antithesis. One remembers such things in Pope, but I cannot give a better instance than Denham's well-known couplet. He wishes to compare the majestic qualities of the river Thames to the same qualities in other things, and yet shew that they are in this case unaccompanied by those kindred or contingent qualities which lessen their value where they are found. He says it is:
Though deep yet clear, though gentle yet not dull,
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full."
"Yes I understand."
"By the way," said the Professor, "what makes those lines doubly ingenious is not generally known and is lost by their being quoted alone. It is that there is a further comparison: he says he wishes his verse might be like his theme, 'though deep yet clear' and so on. But to return. When two things are marked as being like in poetry they are understood to have been considered unlike before, and when they are contrasted they are understood to have been viewed as like before. Is it not so?"
"Yes I see. If I may interrupt, is not this a good instance of that third kind of comparison you spoke of?
------------------facies non omnibus una,
nec diversa tamen, qualis decet esse sororum."
"It is. Then there are practically only these two kinds of comparison in poetry, comparison for likeness' sake, to which belong metaphor, simile, and things of that kind, and comparison for unlikeness' sake, to which belong antithesis, contrast, and so on. Now there is a convenient word which gives us the common principle for both these kinds of comparison--Parallelism. Hebrew poetry, you know, is structurally only distinguished from prose by its being paired off in parallelisms, subdivided of course often into lower parallelisms. This is well-known, but the important part played by parallelism of expression in our poetry is not so well-known: I think it will surprise anyone when first pointed out. At present it will be enough to remember that it is the cause of metaphor, simile, and antithesis, to see that it is anything but unimportant. Parallelism then, that term being now understood, we put under the head of diatonic beauty; under that of chromatic beauty come emphasis, expression (in the sense it has in Music), tone, intensity, climax, and so on. When I say emphasis and intensity I am speaking incorrectly in strictness, for they may be given abruptly of course, so as to come under the other head; but terminology in this baby science is defective: perhaps tone or expression best gives the field of chromatic beauty."
"But is that not rather begging the question," said Hanbury, 'to speak of diatonic beauty and chromatic beauty?"
"I will in future," said the Professor "speak of diatonism and chromatism, if you will pardon the words. Talking of the latter, it is hard from the nature of the thing to lay one's finger on examples; but I think you will feel it plays an important part in art."
"Certainly," said Hanbury. "But there is a question I want to ask. All these things, metaphor, simile, antithesis, tone, expression, and the others you have named, are found in prose as well as in poetry, as a rule more sparingly no doubt, but yet so that many prose passages have for instance more metaphor and antithesis than passages I could easily find of equal length in poetry. What difference of principle then is there between prose and poetry?"
"The plain difference which strikes all is what we call verse, is it not ? It is that poetry has regular structure and prose has not," said the Professor.
"O but you do not mean to say there is no more than that, no subtler difference than that. Upon my word that is a beggarly difference."
"Ah, my friend, this is a point on which I know I must look for more pelting than on any other. I foresee I shall be told a string of sublime unlaborious definitions of poetry, that Poetry is this and Poetry is that, and that I am not to vex the Poet's mind with my shallow wit, for I cannot fathom it, and that the divine faculty is not to be degraded to the microscope and the dissecting knife, and that wherever a flower expands and dedicates its beauty to the sun there, there is Poetry, and that I am a Positivist (as I do not object to be called in a way), and that I am a fingering slave and would peep and botanise upon my mother's grave, and that I am the carrion vulture and wait, or do not wait, to tear the Poet's heart before the crowd, and that I am a Philistine of an aggravated specious kind, and that Shakspere and Wordsworth and Tennyson and many others have uttered curses on me, and that my only reward will be that I shall be cankered and rivelled together and crisped up by the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, which the Poet, the emphatic authentic ideal Poet, will treat me with. Dear me, I seem to myself to have become poetically and vividly descriptive of that last effect in my energetic forecast. Yes, I see it all with a glassy countenance. And you who made such flattering promises have cast the first stone. But do your worst: let me spell poet with a little p and perish. This is a shuttlecock that once did not disdain in the intervals of its flights to tread the vellum; now, flown with sublimities and 'winged with desire,' it has gone to its natural clouds. There, Hanbury, is my farewell tribute to you in half-rhythmical prose."
"Remember please," said Middleton, "that I am alternative with Mr. Hanbury. I am anxious to hear the distinction between poetry and prose stated."
"The lowest view of prose," said the Professor "would make it stand to poetry as a trade to an art, or, if you like better, as an art to a fine art; but this view could only in fact be true of the barest, most utilitarian prose. Beyond this all prose is in some degree or other artificial, aims at beauty, I presume, and uses, as our friend himself pointed out, the same unstructural forms as poetry does for that end. The truth I believe was that Hanbury thought of noble verse (or as some people say poetry, who call what is inferior only verse), I of noble verse, the work of genius, with common uninteresting prose the work of a commonplace or utilitarian pen; and with that view no wonder he thought my words unworthy and levelling. But at that rate one might just as fairly compare doggrel or commonplace verse with noble and eloquent prose, such as Burke wrote or Plato or as Shelley's preface to Adonais. No; in comparing prose and poetry, it must be commonplace prose and commonplace verse, or noble prose and noble verse. If therefore by poetry you understand all verse, we may define it as differing from prose by having a continuous and regular artificial structure, the nature of which we will consider in a minute; if by poetry you mean only noble verse, then let us define verse as above, and merely add that poetry is a particular case of it, namely the case of its being noble or successful. As for the nature of the artificial structure, from what we agreed before I think I may conclude you will say that rhythm, metre, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and whatever other structural properties may belong to verse, are cases of strictly regular parallelisms. Is it not so?"
"Quite so," said Middleton.
"Verse and artificial prose then," said the Professor, "are arts using the medium of words, and verse is distinguished from prose as employing a continuous structural parallelism, ranging from the technically so-called parallelism of the Psalms to the intricate structure of Greek or Italian or English verse."
"Of course," said Hanbury, "I do not object to this. All this is very true, I dare say. But there is one thing which you do not seem to allow or account for at all. You seem to think that the difference between the best prose, we will say, and the best verse is only that one has the advantage of a continuous artificial structure, in fact that the advantage of poetry over prose may be expressed by the intrinsic value of that structure, that is, of verse. But now is it not always assumed that the highest literary efforts, creative of course I mean, have been made in verse and not in prose ? If you want examples of the deepest pathos and sublimity and passion and any other kind of beauty, do you not look for them in verse and not in prose ? Surely this is not because one thinks one may as well have the pathos or sublimity or whatever it is with verse as without, just as one would say the best of tea was better with sugar than without."
"I had not in fact overlooked this," said the Professor; "but you are quite right to bring it forward. You see, as others have seen, that genius works more powerfully under the constraints of metre and rhyme and so on than without, that it is more effective when conditioned than when unconditioned. It is far too late tonight to enter on a discussion of this subject, but I think I shall be able to make good my defence, for considering the difference between prose and poetry what I have done. I was giving, if you remember, only a definition, a scientific definition, of poetry: now the fact you speak of is very striking no doubt, but it is either to be considered an accident of poetry or else, what is the truer way of putting it, the logical result of the conditions of poetry; to know about poetry we must know that, but we are not to put it in the definition, are we ? It is too late, as I say, to discuss this now, but one may put the cause roughly like this, that the concentration, the intensity, which is called in by means of an artificial structure brings into play the resources of genius on the one hand, and on the other brings us to the end of what inferior minds have to give us.'
"In the lower levels of art," said Middleton, "all artists, great and little, as Sir Joshua Reynolds says, are alike; but every new level exhausts and distinguishes. Greatness is measured by the powerful action of mind under what we look on as difficulties."
"Very true," said Hanbury, "but what has the concentration to do with it?"
"It works thus, I suppose," said the Professor: "everyone feels that it is useless to write in metre, for instance, if you are only to say the same as you might without it. Besides the emphasis which metre gives calls for point and emphasis of expression. I think this is enough for the present, and we may turn to our enquiries again. Let me see: where were we? O yes, we were speaking of chromatism and diatonism in poetry. We agreed, if you remember, to place expression and all that that implies under the former head, and under the latter parallelism both structural and unstructural. I said, you know, that I thought the great frequency and importance of parallelism (the same which in a recognised, rather more artificial and structural, shape is the groundplan of Hebrew poetry) was little understood. I wish I had time to shew this by analysing a number of examples, but..."
"Why, I hope," said Hanbury, "if there is not time now you will do it another day, and explain some other things besides; for I have come so far that, even if I disagree, I should be anxious to hear how all things are accounted for on your system. Perhaps I might hear at any rate what I want to know in your next term's lectures, for I shall have leisure then."
"Earlier, if you wish; as early as you like. We are all only too glad to get a listener. A listener though! I should say a shuttlecock, an interlocutor, an anything that has all the arduous part of the business of system-making, all the tossing to and fro, while I sit at ease and do myself the listening. But for these parallelisms: I may choose a few examples only tonight; but perhaps when I have shewn you how to look you will find yourself an abundance of them at home, especially in lyrical poetry which lives in them; and I think you will find they increase in number and distinctness with the rise of passion. Not to look further, let us take Shelley's little piece, which has served us before now tonight. What idea does the poem express? to speak vaguely, it is the place of memory in love. But if we look closer we find the idea, which is summed in the last two lines, is shaped as an antithesis-
Thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.'
"Can you call it a deliberate antithesis?" said Hanbury. 'It is beautiful, but so simple--'thy thoughts, when thou art gone,' I mean,- -that it is doubtful whether it could have been put more simply."
"Well," said the Professor, "let us consider. In writing this poem Shelley must either have put before his mind an idea which he wishes to embody in words, namely, as we said before, the place of memory in love, or else the idea rose in the forms of expression which we read in the poem in his mind, thought and expression indistinguishable. The latter I believe to be the truer way of regarding composition, but be that as it may, one or the other must have been the case, must it not ?"
"I suppose so."
"Very well. Then if the first, out of all the conceivable ways which might have been taken to express a fertile idea he chose this one: so the antithesis of 'thy thoughts, when thou art gone' pleased him more than other imaginable less antithetical ways of expression, and was therefore deliberate. But if the second. then his thought rose at once into his mind in that form, which shews that a singularly beautiful expression of poetry has of its essence an antithetical shape:--for that the antithesis is essential to the beauty you can easily prove by seeing how you destroy the pathos by leaving out the words 'when thou art gone.' Try it in prose: which is more beautiful ?--'Love itself shall slumber on thoughts of thee, when thou art gone' or 'Love itself shall slumber on the memory of thee'?"
"Reduction into prose," said Hanbury, "is a rough and ready sort of test, as you say. However I think you are right. Go on."
"Yes. The idea of the piece then is thrown into the shape of an antithesis. Now this is illustrated in three metaphors, making with the couplet in which the idea is expressed a system of parallelisms in four members, the metaphors being taken from music, scented flowers, and rose-leaves. But now see further the subordination of parallelism to parallelism. Each of these metaphors contains an antithesis within itself-'Music, when sweet voices die,' 'Odours, when sweet violets sicken,' and 'Rose-leaves, when the rose is shed' and answer to the antithesis in 'thy thoughts, when thou art gone.' And you must not say that the antithesis is necessary to their intelligibility, for one answers at once that it is part of the substance of their beauty besides."
"Yes," said Hanbury, "that poem is made up of parallelisms. All poetry however is not so artificially constructed, I am sure. Well, well, I remember you are at present only shewing their importance in poetry, not their necessity. I once saw that thing of Shelley's beautifully illustrated in the Water-colours Exhibition some few years ago--I forget the name of the painter.'
"Smallfield," suggested Middleton.
"Yes," said the Professor, "it was Smallfield. It was an exquisite thing. It is seldom one sees a picture shewing so much imagination of the painter's own which yet in no way draws aside the expression of the sentiment of its text. It was full of what one calls poetry in painting and other arts: it is not in fact that the quality belongs to poetry and is borrowed by the other arts, but that it is in larger proportion to the whole amount there than anywhere else, and that, for reasons which would take some time to enquire into, the accessories without it collapse more completely and obviously than in the other arts."
"It was full of beauty, you think," said Hanbury.
"And closely expressing the spirit of Shelley's piece, you said, did you not?"
"Yes. I see you are setting a trap for me to walk into. Are you not?"
"Yes I am. Now where were the parallelisms?"
"O but," said the Professor "it is very unreasonable of you, when it takes us so long to analyse but one stanza, to wish to make me plunge in illustration into the wide sea of another art. You know in illustrating one art by another we do not carry over the structure of the art to be illustrated. Now structurally painting is more chromatic than poetry. However, let us return to our examples of parallelism of sense in poetry. Before we come to Wordsworth's poem I will take but one poem and that not at first sight fuller of parallelisms than other lyrical poetry (when I say, at first sight, I mean that it really is not fuller of them than other lyrical poetry, not so full as much is; but I am using a moderate, not an extreme, instance). Do you know a poem called The Nix by Richard Garnett? I saw it in the collection by Coventry Patmore called The Children's Garland. I think I can repeat it.
The crafty Nix, more false than fair,
Whose haunt in arrowy Iser lies,
She envied me my golden hair,
She envied me my azure eyes.
The moon in silvery cyphers traced
The leaves and on the waters play'd;
She rose, she caught me round the waist
She said, Come down with me, fair maid.
She led me to her crystal grot,
She set me in her coral chair,
She waved her hand, and I had not
Or azure eyes, or golden hair.
Her locks of jet, her eyes of flame
Were mine, and hers my semblance fair;
'O make me, Nix, again the same
O give me back my golden hair.'
She smiles in scorn, she disappears,
And here I sit and see no sun,
My eyes of fire are quench'd in tears,
And all my darksome locks undone.
I wished to take this poem in place of better known things for several reasons. I presume the author is not very well known, so we shall estimate this piece--I do not at all say this is what one should always do--on its single merits without reference to the author's style: I at least am in the position to do this. I must hope you will go along with me in my admiration, for of course, in case you should not see beauty in it, it will be no good to analyse it to shew how its beauty is brought into being. But if I am allowed to presume on your feelings, I say, as postulate for my after reasonings, that it is a charming poem. But the feeling that is borne in upon me first about it is this, that it is so essentially poetry. I will explain: it is not the power of the writer that I am impressed with--that is what one feels before all things besides in Dryden, who seems to take thoughts that are not by nature poetical, stubborn, and opaque, but under a kind of living force like fire they are powerfully changed and incandescent: Dean Milman's poetry is of this kind; nor is it the nobleness of the thoughts or the splendour of the images brought forward, which might except for their concentration and elaboration perhaps have been put in prose; but I seem to see that the author has things put before him in a light that is precisely that of poetry, that he is an absolute and unembarrassed instance of a poet, or if we may put it in another way that he is a workman come from his apprenticeship with the Muses skilled to perfection in his trade and having made himself master of all that the science has to give him. The poem is artificial, you see, but with that exquisite artifice which does not in truth belong to artificial but to simple expression, and which, except in point of polish, is found in natural and national ballad-making. This therefore is why I considered this piece a good and a typical example out of many, because I seemed to feel it was what a poet expressed as a poet, in the transparent, almost spontaneous, artifice which alone can make a genuinely simple subject palatable,--for where this is not used so openly, as in some of Wordsworth's seemingly much more simple pieces, we shall find if we look a subtle complexity of emotion at the bottom, not simplicity, which is the secret of their beauty. Well, now let us pull the poem to pieces. You see it turns on an antithesis: if we put the central idea, that one central idea which critics say is what makes the essence of lyrical poetry, in its most concrete pictorial light, we shall find it is that of the transformation of the golden hair and azure eyes with the black hair and eyes of flame. This is the central idea and it is enforced also several times in the expression of the poem. Then let us see the parallelisms individually: first there is "more false than fair", heightened of course by the alliteration, always an aid in that way. Then the latter two lines of that first stanza are a marked case; they are, to avail myself of what Mr. Middleton was saying, a rhyme--only the relative position of the parts being changed. Then the description in the next two lines is couched in a slighter parallelism,
The moon in silvery cyphers traced
The leaves, and on the waters play'd."
"Stay," said Hanbury, "would not that make any two clauses coupled by and into a parallelism?"
"Of course," said the Professor "they are so strictly, but we take no notice of it if it is, so to speak, only a utilitarian one. But you would say perhaps that this case is so--that the writer had no intention of giving beauty by that form of expression, but merely by the ideas. But I do not think so: it was quite possible to have drawn the look of moonlight in one clause, using more detail, but the nature of his subject, the instinctive feeling of the requirements of the precise pitch of idealism in which that poem is written, led him to put it into a parallelism. As soon as composition becomes formal and studied, that is as soon as it enters the bounds of Art, it is curious to see how it falls into parallelisms. Read for instance the Exhortation in the Prayerbook, which they say is full of repetitions, meaning by that, as we may now see, that it uses parallelism to attain dignity but attains--shall we say?--only pomposity, because the members of the parallelism do not bear the just proportion to each other."
"How do they not?"
"Because, if we are to keep up the metaphor of parallel lines, the expressions are not only parallel but equal, which they should not be, as a rule, to attain beauty-that is they are just the same thing in other words. Let me see: 'acknowledge and confess,' 'sins and wickedness,' 'not dissemble nor cloke,' 'assemble and meet together,' 'requisite and necessary,' 'pray and beseech'--these are not very artistic parallelisms. But let us go on. Another parallelism follows next, which I pass over; then in the third stanza two parallelisms play into one another; the first-
She led me to her crystal grot,
She set me in her coral chair,
She waved her hand,
and the other-
She waved her hand, and I had not
Or azure eyes or golden hair.
The last line being made of an independent parallelism of its own. And there we see why we use or and or and nor and nor in that way in poetry only and not in prose; for prose has need sometimes to express alternatives fully as strongly as poetry, but when it does it says either and or and neither and nor, which put the parallelism of sense strongly, but not so strongly the parallelism of expression."
"Repeat the next stanza," said Hanbury; and when it was done he said "One needs no analysis of that, I think, now: go on to the last."
"It is not made up merely," said the Professor, "of detached consecutive parallelisms. Let us consider. The two terms of a parallelism make a whole of beauty, but these wholes again may be the terms of a higher whole; as so many lines make up each speech in a scene, so many speeches each scene, so many scenes each act, so many acts the play, and, on the Greek stage, four plays a tetralogy: I mean only that works of art are composite, having unity and subordination; are they not so?'
"Certainly, and each of the coordinates having a unity of its own towards its subordinates."
"Just so, and now for this carrion-vulture business and tearing the last stanza anatomically. Of the whole stanza we may make two unequal pieces, one being the first line, and the other the rest of the stanza. These make the antithesis between the nix and the maiden. Each piece may be dismembered again, the first into 'She smiles in scorn' and 'She disappears,' and the second, that has more articulation, first unequally, one member being the second line of the stanza, the other the last two lines, and afterwards each line may be divided again.
And here I sit and see no sun
is just like
She smiles in scorn, she disappears
except that in that the absence of and gives more antithesis. And then the antitheses of the last couplet how charming they are! how the irony of her unhappiness is summed up in the eyes of fire being quenched in tears! And for the darksome locks being undone, you know how much use poetry makes of negative words and just for the reason that they express an antithesis.