THE principles laid down in this work relative to delineation and to composition, are, to a great extent, applicable to description, and also to narration and action, which are, as it were in art, the active principles, of which the two former are the passive; delineation, moreover, being composition in the singular number, while, composition is but delineation in the plural.
Reference has already been made to the power of imitation which the mind possesses, and by which it is able to effect re-presentations of certain objects in nature, closely resembling, in some of their qualities the things so imitated. This power of imitation is, as we have seen, largely exercised during design. By description, however, we present not so much the imitation of an object, as an account of a transaction; and by description, narration, and action together, is afforded a history of the various movements and proceedings that make up an event of importance which is the subject of artistical effort. In every case, however, even where an adequate and forcible description of a transaction is rendered, and by whatever art, the leading characteristics only of the subject which that particular art is calculated to describe can be portrayed, indeed alone should be attempted; and on the selection of them with due judgment and discretion, according to the principles enunciated for the regulation of design, mainly depends the effi- ciency of the description.
Two leading principles are essential to be observed during the process of description by whatever art :- The representation of the subject should be effected as regards its most prominent and striking characteristics, or those of them which are capable of being portrayed by the particular art resorted to. The suggestion of certain objects or ideas not immediately perceptible in the subject described, should also be attained.
(1.) In every transaction there is a crisis, or turning-point, on which the whole weight of the event seems hinged. This appears to be the moment which should be seized upon for representation by the painter or sculptor. Indeed, in each episode of the story, there is a crisis of this kind. They are, as it were, the joints in the frame.
Two things, moreover, appear essentially requisite as leading elements in description :-1. The selection of appropriate and striking circumstances, of which the most important in their nature and result are not always the most distinguished in this respect. 2. The connection together of these into a continuous narrative or representation.
All pictures of whatever kind should be, to a certain extent, representative ; that is, they should serve in the amplest and most efficient manner to present to us the leading and general appearance and circumstances of the object or event they describe. And this is applicable not only to compositions of an historical or epic class, but also to landscapes, and even to portraits as well, which should serve to represent the peculiar and precise characteristic expression of the individual, and not merely the form of his features, so as to indicate the mind and natural aspect of the person portrayed, and by which he will be recognized by those who know him. Moreover, in the description of an event either in painting, poetry, or any other art, you afford not only a general idea of the occurrence, but you preserve and present to the mind its very essence. The most striking features in the transaction are singled out and recorded. In all descriptions of this class it is, consequently, of the utmost importance to seize upon the leading, prominent, and characteristic circumstances, which mainly serve to distinguish the event. Homer is very successful in this respect, as are also Shakespeare and Spenser; and in painting, Raphael and Nicolas Poussin greatly here excel. And this is the real secret of the force and effectiveness of their descriptions.
(2.) All description and narration should be suggestive as well as representative or imitative, whether in painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, eloquence, music, or the other arts. Thus, in painting a landscape, the description of a storm should suggest the rolling of the thunder and the howling of the wind, as well as represent the scenes which it directly portrays. In architectural structures, many objects may be suggested which are not obviously portrayed. Music depends for much of its effect on its suggestive power.
The correct principle in narration appears, indeed, to be that while the main incident in the story is directly represented by the imitative or descriptive power of the art, the episodes in the event should be suggested only by incidental circumstances introduced as auxiliaries. Thus, in many a composition, while but little is directly represented, a great deal may be indirectly suggested. While the former power is limited, the latter is almost infinite. Many ideas, too, may be suggested with great force, which it is utterly impossible to represent or imitate. Imperfect, rough sketches often impress us more strongly’ than finished pictures, as so much is left for the mind to supply, which is led on in a right direction by the design. In the case of certain elaborate paintings, no scope is allowed to the imagination, but the mind is urged along without any choice as to its course. In poetry and in eloquence, a few general descriptions and leading ideas will frequently serve to convey impressions by suggestion, more forcibly than the most minute particulars.
Similes and metaphors are of equal or greater effect in description and narration than they are in composition. And nature should be observed and followed as attentively with regard to action as with regard to form.