The necessity of perspicuity and clearness as regards the principles of delineation, has already been shown in a previous chapter, and the value of the observance of this rule fully pointed out. What perspicuity and clearness are to delineation, arrangement and order are to composition ; and, indeed, the two former constitute a necessary, and the only sure foundation for the latter. Perspicuity is, therefore, essential here, as well as in delineation, although it is applicable rather to the individual portions or figures in it than to the whole composition, to which latter the principles of arrangement and order appear more peculiarly appropriate. Indeed, as in composition, from its almost necessary perplexity to some extent, there is greater danger of confusion than there is in simple delineation, so the principle here inculcated is even more essential than is perspicuity in delineation.
As in composition generally, so especially with regard to the principle now under consideration, nature affords at once the best example of the value, and the most complete illustration of the operation of the rule. And, indeed, the arrangement and order which nature exhibits in her various compositions, is another characteristic of her style, and is one which art cannot too closely imitate.
In some artistical compositions of each kind, the figures and images and metaphors, which are in themselves clear and striking, are so confused and jumbled together that the mind is considerably perplexed and bewildered by the description.
The arrangement and order observed in a composition in art should, however, be, not only perfect in themselves, but in strict accordance with nature. As seen in her they should neither be too uniformly regular on the one hand, nor present too great a series of strong contrasts on the other. Both these errors are alike extensive, not only from the displeasing effect which they produce, but more especially from their contrariety to nature.
On the other hand, while due order and perspicuity should ever be preserved in the arrangement of a composition, this should be the order and perspicuity of nature, and such as we see there observed, and not the formal order of a regiment of soldiers, of cattle at a fair, or of goods arranged for sale. Some artists nevertheless seem to regulate their compositions by principles analogous to those which direct the order of the latter. In poetry and in eloquence, the due arrangement of the subject with perspicuity and clearness is of the first importance, both as regards the ideas excited, and the metaphors introduced.
The above rule has, however, been to a certain extent departed from in some celebrated compositions, where confusion and disorder are expressly intended to be represented, as in pictures and musical pieces describing battles and storms. The topic must be deemed to apologize for the mode of treating it. But the principles of composition should still be regarded even here, however much the nature of the composition may vary from ordinary subjects.
The perfection of composition in the representation of scenes of disorder and confusion, is indeed to describe the event in such a manner that the ideas suitable may be conveyed to the mind in the most forcible way, while at the same time the design and composition are, as a whole, kept under the most complete control. The very confusion thus attains its aim, and the very disorder produces the desired effect. If, on the other hand, the representation is clouded in obscurity, the result intended altogether fails. At the same time, although design exists, the appearance of it must be carefully and strictly concealed.
Nevertheless, the collection and amalgamation together, as it were, in a heap, and in some disorder and confusion, of a vast number of different ideas and images, altogether varying in their nature one from another, and many of them wild and uncouth and rude, has very often, and in particular instances, a great effect in rendering a description or representation striking and effective in its way. This appears to be the secret and the charm of some of Chaucer’s pieces. Shakespeare and Milton also occasionally resort to this mode. Indeed, the very presence of disorder and confusion, if skilfully managed and kept in due subjection, sometimes contributes, more. than anything, to give life and reality to the composition.
Illustrations of this are afforded in the account by Virgil of the storm at sea, which is quoted at length in the subsequent chapter ; in the battle pieces of Homer and Milton, and in the descriptions by Chaucer of the forest and of crime, as also in some musical compositions of this character. In pictorial composition also the same principle applies, of which illustrations may be seen in some of the designs of Salvator Rosa, and in numerous battle-pieces and storms. Both in poetry and in eloquence, however, the due order and arrangement of the composition are in general essential, and the rule is only to be departed from in extraordinary and special cases. But even then a degree of order should rule over and regulate the very disorder that is tolerated. Still less in architectural design can any extensive departure from the principle here inculcated be permitted, although a certain disorder, or rather irregularity and wildness, may in some cases, after the fashion of nature, be effectively introduced. The same rule is also applicable to acting and to costume. In the former the irregularity of passion, and in the latter the rudeness of nature, can occasionally be imitated and allowed. More especially is this the case in gardening, where an amount of wildness and confusion in some parts of the composition, but so that absolute disorder and displeasing effect are not thereby produced, adds considerably to its charms, as we see indeed sometimes effected in nature, which is ever the most correct guide in artistical composition.