Art Theory – Expression Of Compound Operations

We have next to consider the expression of his sentiments by any particular person, as one of the modes for the representation of human character and emotion. By sentiment I here mean the general tone of the opinions or principles maintained by an individual, as whether high and noble, or mean and base, which of itself at once serves to confer a character on the person who utters them, corresponding exactly with the nature of the sentiments so expressed.

These sentiments are not only of various kinds, but may even contain principles of grandeur, as also of beauty in them-selves; and their introduction into any composition serves to tincture its character accordingly, as will be observed in many of the following extracts.

Great, and noble, and sublime sentiments accord well with expressions grand in their nature ; mild and amiable with those of beauty. Grandeur and beauty in sentiment consist, however, not so much in exciting actual ideas of grandeur or beauty, as in raising in the mind feelings corresponding with those which such sentiments would produce. Grand sentiments, for instance, like ideas of the same nature, elevate the mind, serve to stimulate it, and are of a painful rather than a pleasurable kind. Sentiments of a beautiful nature, on the other hand, like ideas of beauty, are soothing and placid in their effect, and of a pleasing description.

It is, moreover, in all cases essential that a high tone of morality be maintained, and pervade the sentiments which are expressed, not only from the correctness of such a course, but because this is necessary in order to render the story tasteful and acceptable to the mind, which is naturally elevated by what is pure and ennobling, and no less naturally revolts at that which is mean and debasing. Whatever conduces to render an artistical performance, in either branch of art, displeasing or repulsive, tends to detract both from the excellence of the work itself, and to frustrate one of its chief ends. As a consequence also of this principle, the characters represented should correspond, as regards their dignity and high bearing, with that of the subject of which they form a part. In eloquence, and also in poetry, sentiment is the chief mode by which the expression of character and feeling is conveyed by inference drawn from it.

The language and style of speech made use of by each particular person, by which he expresses his ideas on any topic, afford the most perfect notion of the mind of such person, as here the very image of the soul is reflected in the most complete manner. No mechanical art being required to communicate oral language, it serves fully to convey the ideas in the mind of the speaker on which it is solely dependent; and the peculiarities of idiom and expression in the language of each individual, even more perfectly exhibit the peculiarities in the being from which they spring. The very pronunciation of each word evinces further the temperament and tone of mind ; and the construction of the sentences, the intellectual feeling and taste o the orator. Thus the sentiments, although not containing any description, reflect as it were in their nature the character and feelings of the utterer of them. And even in descriptions themselves, the very manner of describing exhibits the mind of the narrator.

The character of a people is also to a large extent exhibited by the character of the language spoken by it while the character of the people in turn influences that language, and the various changes in its condition cause a change also in the dialect of its tongue.* This is observable alike in individuals and in nations in several ways, as regards the manner in which they make use of the same language. Among the various nations both of antiquity and of our own day, we find the character of each country forcibly displayed by that of the language in use, especially as regards the Greeks and Romans in the former, and the French and Italians and Germans in the latter. Among different barbarous nations, too, this characteristic feature is equally discernible.

In painting and sculpture, on the other hand, we are led to infer the sentiments which are being spoken, from the expression of character and emotion contained in the composition ; as in the cartoon of ‘ Paul Preaching at Athens,’ where the appearance, countenance, attitude, and demeanour both of the orator and the audience convey to us vivid notions of the noble sentiments uttered by the former.

Indeed, the sensations and ideas called forth in the mind by objects of art, whether directly expressed or indirectly suggested, form of themselves an independent, although complete language, which if not equally definite, is at least equally forcible with that of words. Ideas are by this means originated in the mind, as efficiently as by letters or signs. And the subjects embraced by language, of which artistical representations, whether oral or visual, form the symbols, and which may be called the language of sentiment, extend to all those ideas and sensations of a refined nature by which taste and imagination, and whatever belongs to art of either kind, are excited.

The dignity of sentiment, and the exalted feelings expressed by Demosthenes, are what confer such grandeur on his orations, and give them also so much power. They are giants, as it were, among efforts of this class, in all their proportions and in all their movements. Thus the following magnificent exclamation, t raises at once in the mind the most sublime and noble ideas of the stupendous exertions which had been made through the energies of the orator in directing the resources of his countrymen ; and consequently also of the wisdom and patriotism by which he was distinguished.

” I have not fortified Athens with stone walls and tiled roofs ;; No, not I ! Neither is it on deeds like these that I plume my-self. But would you justly estimate my outworks, you will find armaments and cities and settlements, and harbours and fleets, and cavalry and armies raised to defend us; these are the de-fences that I drew round Attica, as far as human prudence could defend her, and with such outworks as these I fortified the country at large, not the mere circuit of the arsenal and the city.”

Similar observations are applicable to his noble declaration in another part of the same magnificent oration :

” It is not true that you have done wrong, men of Athens ! in fighting the battle of all Greece for her freedom and salvation ! No ! By your forefathers, who for that cause rushed upon destruction at Marathon, and by those who stood in battle array at Plataea, and those who fought the sea-fight at Salamis, and by the warriors of Artemisium, and by all the others who now repose in the sepulchres of the nation.”

Here, not only the exalted nature, but the moral dignity of the sentiment conduces to its sublimity; and the reference to the valour of their ancestors, and to the sepulchres of these great men, heightens extensively the effect of the orator’s appeal.

Some noble epic description is contained in the concluding passage of the eloquent oration of AEschines against Ctesiphon, t where after exclaiming :

” I imagine that you see the great benefactors of your country in this place from whence I speak, arrayed against the villany of these men.”

The orator goes on to summon them forth, as it were, while he names them.

” Solon, the man who adorned our free constitution with the noblest laws, the philosopher, the renowned legislator, entreating you with that decent gravity which distinguished his character, by no means to pay a greater regard to the speeches of Demosthenes than to your oaths and laws ; Aristides, who was suffered to prescribe to the Greeks their several subsidies, whose daughters received their portions from the people at his decease, roused to indignation at this insult on public justice.” Each great character, as he is here introduced, is endowed with those noble attributes and qualities which so peculiarly become him; and the feelings with which the orator describes him to be animated, add immensely to the force and energy of the representation. Every attribute is, moreover, made to contribute to their dignity, moral indeed rather than physical. Their sublime virtues, more than their personal appearance or high rank, are what excite our admiration with regard to them. And their superior qualities are heightened by contrast with the baseness and infamy of those by whom they were opposed.

Of all the arts, eloquence is undoubtedly that which is mainly and most directly fitted for the expression of sentiment, and after that, poetry is the next best adapted for this purpose; as we shall indeed see from some of the examples afforded of its success here, in a subsequent section. Architecture and music, costume and gardening, are suggestive rather than expressive in the development of sentiment, as they must also necessarily be in the representation of endowments, qualities, and feelings ; and acting is in each of these respects to be regarded rather as a very powerful and effective auxiliary art, than as an original agent in efforts of this kind.