Grandeur Its Several Elements, With Their Enumeration And Definition

I will next proceed to the examination of the different principles and elements of picturesque design in their order. And first as to the principle of grandeur. Grandeur as it affects the mind is of a varied character, for the most part pleasurable, with a measure of pain. It is elevating and exciting, although also grave and solemn, in its operation and mode of affecting us. Thus wonder, astonishment, and admiration mixed with awe, are the principal emotions that it calls forth. It seldom, indeed, happens that any object strikes us as very grand, unless it has the power of producing to some extent also a feeling of wonder. Hence uncommonness is a cause of grandeur, and which occasions the subject to differ from those of an ordinary nature. Consequently, we may sometimes find that viewing a grand prospect, as of the Alps; Mont Blanc, the foaming ocean, strikes us very much indeed the first time we behold it ; but that on a second survey we are disappointed, owing, probably, to the absence of all feeling of surprise. The descriptions afforded by Milton in some of the grandest scenes in `Paradise Lost,’ and the representation by Michael Angelo of the ` Last Judgment,’ are equally distinguished for the grandeur which they contain, and the secret feeling of awe which they instil into the mind. The rolling of thunder, and the cannon’s roar, derive much of their grandeur from the same cause. Moreover, in all works where grandeur is aimed at, nothing vulgar and common and commonplace should be admitted.

The gentle affection of the soul by mild and moderate pain, such as ideas of grandeur produce, appears to be agreeable in itself, independent of any other cause. In this case the mere excitement, which is generally pleasurable, outweighs the trifling measure of uneasiness. Although some subjects are much better adapted than others for grandeur, there is perhaps hardly any object or subject which may not have this high quality conferred upon it. Grandeur not only elevates but absorbs the whole mind, and is certainly the most powerful and influential of the orders of the picturesque.

The following appear to me to be the main essential elements which constitute grandeur :-1. Dignity. 2. Magnitude. 3. Multitude. 4. Strength. 5. Boldness. 6. Darkness. 7. Irregularity. 8. Simplicity. 9. Motion.

(1.) The first and perhaps the most essential of the elements of grandeur is that of dignity. Indeed, without the possession of this element, all the others, in whatever subject or object, would be unavailing. This element is applicable alike to form, sound, and motion.

Dignity consists in that air of lofty and majestic demeanour or character, whether in stature or action as regards the subject or object to be represented, which serves to raise it in the estimation of the mind completely above the level of the ordinary beings and subjects by which it is surrounded.

Dignity as an element of grandeur is entirely originating in its nature, and is also independent, and acts in a direct manner in the accomplishment of the end to be attained; it is also to a certain degree more or less actually and absolutely indispensable to the production of grandeur, inasmuch as no subject can be essentially grand which is wholly wanting in dignity.

Addison imagines the feeling of grandeur to originate in the soul’s admiration of whatever resembles its mighty Creator in its nature and attributes, of which dignity must be one of the leading constituents. The sublime is indeed the nearest approach to the Divine, and affords us all the notions of it which we possess that are in any way suitable or adequate. Accordingly in describing subjects of this nature, all due dignity should be in every respect maintained. Passion, however essential to the sublime, should not be vehement. It ought to be dignified and noble.

Age is, moreover, a constituent, although not a separate element of grandeur, because so many of the qualities and elements which contribute to grandeur are ordinarily found associated with age, such as dignity, simplicity, irregularity in outline, and subdued strength, especially as contrasted with youth.

Brutality and ferocity detract from grandeur as incompatible with dignity, however contributory to grandeur in certain other respects.

(2.) Magnitude is the next of the elements which contribute to constitute grandeur, and is applicable to form, and indirectly to sound also. It is doubtless of a very important and leading nature, and consists simply in the large extent of dimension possessed by, or attributed to any object or subject. In its nature it is originating, although passive as regards its operation. It is auxiliary to other elements, but acts in a direct manner, and is essential to the constitution of grandeur. It is, moreover, capable of producing extensive effects in the new characteristic features which it causes any form to assume. Thus a stone magnified is converted into a rock, and a rock into a mountain; a rivulet is thus exalted into a torrent, a pool into a lake, and a lake into a sea. Many wild streams require only magnitude to render them objects of extreme grandeur; and thus it is with regard to several other objects in nature. So prone indeed is magnitude of itself to promote grandeur, that even those buildings which are of intense beauty from the style of their structure, owing to their mere size expand at once into the grand ; as is seen in the case of several of our finest cathedrals, in which each part, if separately examined, partakes of beauty, but has little of grandeur in its form. The whole edifice, however, when viewed together, is strikingly grand, into which order of the picturesque whatever it has of beauty appears to be merged.

Nevertheless, the distant prospect of mountains of great magnitude, which seem much diminished from the space between us and them, forms an object of grandeur from our consciousness of their vast extent. To this is also owing the grandeur of the heavenly bodies which, at the distance we view them, appear but comparatively minute objects. In sound also, loudness is essential to a high degree of grandeur. Sometimes, indeed, the appearance of greatness, which is contrived by paying due attention to proportion in certain architectural edifices, has the same effect as magnitude itself.

In each of the arts the leading principles are the same, and for the regulation of the various styles in each. Thus in painting and in architecture alike, breadth is requisite for producing the appearance of greatness. And even in eloquence and poetry the same principle applies, and the subdivision of the description or address into several parts, destroys on this account the effect and grandeur of the whole. A great mountain or a great cloud are grand objects ; but an assemblage of small hills, or a collection of little clouds is not calculated to excite ideas of this kind. So in music, although one loud sound may be very grand, a succession or contemporaneous uttering of several small ones is not at all of this character.

Solitude is certainly not an independent element of grandeur, and can hardly be said by itself to contribute anything directly to it ; it is in fact the complete converse of multitude. A man or a star in a solitary position is in no respect more grand than one which forms part of a group. It is probably only as associated with magnitude that solitude seems to contribute to the sublime, as in the case of a tree or a building or a mountain standing by itself, which from that cause appear larger than when others are near it.

(3.) The element of multitude consists simply in the assemblage together in a single composition or subject, so as together to constitute one entire mass, of a great number of distinct and independent objects.

As regards its operation, this element is passive, but it is originating in its nature. It is in its effect independent of the other elements, and also indirect. Its existence is by no means in every case essential in the constitution of grandeur, however important in many instances to this end, inasmuch as many very grand subjects are constituted of single figures.

Multitude, which is applicable to form and to sound, is nearly allied to magnitude, and is also, and from much the same cause, a main element of grandeur, and the results of both on the mind are nearly identical ; although, probably, while the effect of magnitude is direct, that of multitude arises principally from the association of ideas. The finest and most striking example of multitude is afforded to us in the prospect of the whole array of the starry firmament, which is doubtless one of the grandest sights in nature, and is only less affecting than might be expected, because we see it so frequently.

(4.) The idea of vast strength is highly calculated to excite the sentiment of grandeur in the mind, and must consequently be deemed to constitute one of the elements of this order, consisting in the appearance of power of a certain kind as possessed by any object or subject in an artistical composition.

This element is passive as regards its operation, and is derivative from other elements rather than originative in itself, and is auxiliary to them. In its effect it is indirect, and is not essential for the constitution of grandeur.

Strength is to some extent allied to magnitude; it is applicable alike to motion, form, sound, and shape. Thus the rolling of a mighty torrent with irresistible force; the sight of the ocean, which, when agitated by a storm, bears with resistless power every object before it that would impede its progress; the idea of amazing power which accompanies the sound of thunder ;’and the appearance of strength in the lion’s shape, are what mainly contribute to confer grandeur on those objects.

(5.) Boldness is another element of grandeur, and contributes greatly to it in many subjects; it is applicable alike to form, sound, and motion. It consists in the bold and rude character possessed by any object, whether as regards its shape, its action, or its general qualities.

This element is as regards its operation passive, and is in its nature derivative from other elements, being auxiliary to them rather than independent by itself, and in its effect indirect only; it is not essential as a constituent of grandeur.

The wild boldness of mountain scenery is directly associated in poetry and painting, which ought to reflect nature correctly, with the principle of grandeur. In landscape views, indeed, grandeur is mainly occasioned by rugged rocks and mountains, with rude and bold outlines, particularly when they are of a dark colour or thrown into shade, and have black clouds above them, or dark waters beneath.

There is, indeed, a great deal of style and character in the various qualities of rock which contribute to the composition of mountain scenery. Probably the marble, from its bold outline and the rugged masses into which it is wont to resolve itself, is particularly adapted to form objects of grandeur; while the slate, from its pointed and jagged and peculiarly marked and striking outlines, and the acute irregular shapes into which it runs, contributes mainly to the constitution of forms allied to the tragic and pathetic styles. And it might be laid down that the general form and character of the marble rock is sublime and elevating, while that of the slate is moving and exciting.

For poetry of the grand style, blank verse is better adapted than rhyme, mainly because it is bolder, and thus more in accordance with the principles of this style in art.

(6.) Colour, as well as shape and size, has extensive influence as regards the nature of the ideas that are excited by any object. In order to promote grandeur by colour, it should incline to darkness, and to plainness and sobriety in respect to its tone. Hence darkness, by which may be meant either obscurity in relation to the general character of any subject or object, or the deep tone of its hue, must be considered as another element of grandeur.

As regards its operation this element is passive, and is derived from other elements and auxiliary to them, rather than independent by itself. In its effect it is only indirect, and is not indispensable in the constitution of grandeur. Nevertheless, it is very serviceable in contributing to it; and with regard to visual objects, it will generally be observed that those which are dark, or incline to that colour, partake most of grandeur, while those inclining to whiteness are more calculated to excite ideas of beauty. Thus, in the case of sculpture, dark substances, such as bronze and iron, appear to be the most suitable for figures and compositions where grandeur is mainly aimed at ; while white substances, such as marble and alabaster, are best, and indeed peculiarly adapted for those which are beautiful. So also in the case of landscape scenery, it will in-variably be remarked that dark lowering clouds are apt to excite grand emotions, while those of light or varied colours, such as are caused by the reflection upon them of the rays of the declining sun, are eminently qualified to raise ideas of beauty. Light colour does not, however, in every case necessarily prevent an object from being grand, as hardly any object can be more grand than the appearance of the Alps, or of Mont Blanc covered with snow. This is, however, of course not from their colour, but from various other causes, such as their magnitude, and the feeling of astonishment caused by viewing them in that state. I cannot, however, but think that they would appear grander if of a dark and lowering colour; although, perhaps, if of the ordinary natural hue, they might appear less grand than they do, as the commonness of that alone would in part destroy their grandeur, and do away with all feeling of astonishment or rarity. As regards this latter point, in the case of the Alps especially, than which no scenery can be more sublime, their indistinct, shadowy appearance, conduces largely both to their grandeur and their imaginative effect. So also the clouds which hover about the mountains, sometimes crowning or encircling their peaks, at other times forming white wreaths around their sable base, and occasionally in part obscuring their outline, or seeming quite to vary their form, add greatly on the whole to their grandeur, and confer upon them a sublimity, and an almost celestial character, which they could not otherwise possess.

Excessive brightness and glory, however, as in the case of the heavenly bodies (although from different causes already adverted to), add much to the grandeur of the appearance of any object.

(7.) Irregularity is another element of the grand, and is applicable alike to form, sound, and motion.

This element is observable in the irregular and wild and uncouth form of any object, as also in sounds of this description, which strike the mind in a harsh and uncertain manner.

As regards the operation of this element, it is entirely passive, and is derivative from other elements and auxiliary to them rather than independent in itself. In its effect it is indirect, and it is not essential for the constitution of this principle.

Age is for the most part in each object, whether in man, in animals, in plants, or in buildings, sublime and grand; and they incline more and more to irregularity as they acquire age. In their youth they partake mainly of the beautiful, as children, young animals, young trees. And buildings lately erected are for the most part beautiful rather than grand; for grandeur we look principally to ancient edifices and to ruins. Clouds and mountains owe much of their grandeur to the irregularity of their form. In the objects above alluded to which are grand, irregular and abrupt lines chiefly prevail. In those that are beautiful, the lines are regular and smooth, and vary gradually.

(8.) Another important element of grandeur, which is applicable alike to sound, form, motion, and colour, is simplicity; by which is meant the freedom from all complexity or confusion of the subject or object in question, and through which it is made to strike the mind at once as a whole, in full force, without the attention being diverted to minute points or features.

This element is passive as regards its operation, is derived mainly from other elements, and is auxiliary to them. In its effect it is indirect, and it is not essential to the constitution of grandeur in any subject or object, although often extensively conducive to it.

Simplicity is, however, but a negative element, and is rather corrective of other qualities, than calculated to confer any positive character by itself. Simplicity in excess is indeed apt to degenerate into poverty, which is inimical to grandeur.

The dignified simplicity of some of the Grecian statues, affords us probably the noblest examples of grandeur in sculpture, perhaps in any art, that the world possesses.

This is also one great cause of the efficiency of Raphael’s compositions, and what occasions them so to resemble nature. From the simplicity of the design, the intention and aim of the composition are perceived at the first glance ; and as from objects in nature, the ideas seem at once to shoot into the mind. The simplicity of their design constitutes one of the chief merits and excellences of composition among the ancients, and is absolutely essential for grandeur of effect, whether in painting, sculpture, poetry, eloquence, music, or architecture, acting, costume, or landscape scenery.

(9.) The last of the elements in the constitution of grandeur is that of motion ; by which is here simply meant the circumstance of the subject or object of artistical representation being in action instead of in repose.

This element is active as regards its operation; but as regards its nature it is derivative from other elements, instead of being in itself originative, and is also auxiliary to them. In its effect it is indirect, and it is not essential in every subject or object to the constitution of grandeur.

Motion in many cases contributes to grandeur, while stillness is calculated rather to raise in the mind emotions allied to beauty. Thus an object of great magnitude is grander when in action than when stationary. It is more exciting, and there is a dignity in its movement which becomes united to that of its appearance merely as an object. Hence a large ship, a regiment of soldiers, a mass of clouds, are all grander when in slow and stately motion than while stationary. Also the foaming ocean is an object of extreme grandeur ; while, on the other hand, when it is becalmed, and in a perfectly serene state, it is an object rather of beauty.

The rule here laid down cannot, however, in every case be adopted as an invariable one, inasmuch as in some instances repose or stillness rather than action, contributes to produce grandeur. The lone and solemn stillness of the mountain wilds, is. a very great cause of the grandeur of the scene. The human form, too, is grander when in repose than when in intense action. But although action of the latter kind may be deficient in grandeur from its want of dignity, slow solemn action appears grander than even repose. It may therefore probably be laid down as a general principle, that gradual motion or action, as being more dignified, is mainly conducive to grandeur, while quick and sprightly motion is. more allied to beauty. The element of motion is applicable to sound as well as to corporeal action.

It should here be observed, in regard to each of the elements of grandeur, that where grandeur, and that alone, is especially aimed at, it is essential that those elements only which contribute to constitute it be infused into the composition ; and that none of those of an opposite character be admitted, whether belonging to beauty or even pathos, and above all, to satire or ridicule, which would at once in a great measure mar the whole, and destroy its effect. Thus any-thing low, or commonplace, or ridiculous, not only changes the character of the scene or object, but alters entirely the condition of the mind and feelings which would be produced by viewing it. On the other hand, in compositions of beauty, or pathos, or ridicule, there may be enough to affect the mind in the peculiar mode at which they aim, although many opposite ideas are excited by the piece. Compositions in the grand style must be viewed and excite us as a whole; while particular points in humbler efforts may be allowed to divert the attention in another direction.

It may also be observed that the excitement in the mind of the sentiment of grandeur, being of so intense and powerful a nature, and being to a partial extent painful rather than pleasurable in its effect, cannot be sustained for so long a period as one of the opposite kind. It is more sudden and less durable than beauty or pathos; although ridicule, on the other hand, is more transient in its operation, but less permanent than either of the others.

The most perfectly grand spectacle which it will ever be permitted to human eye to behold,—which has formed the theme for the pencil of several great painters, but which painting, or any other art alone, is utterly incompetent adequately to represent,—will be the Day of Judgment, in which, indeed, all the elements of grandeur will be . combined, and all co-existent to the fullest extent. Magnitude especially, and also multitude, as regards the number of beings assembled, must be among the elements in that scene, and the highest dignity will characterize its proceedings. No less, indeed, than the whole Universe will be the space occupied by this tremendous occurrence. All nature agonized and convulsed, shrieking forth at her approaching doom ; the planets turned pallid and driven from their spheres ; the mountains heaving their massive heads ; the rocks quivering; the earth dissolving; the ocean foaming, boiling up from her mighty depths; the roar of the elements; and yet more terrible than all these, the trumpet of the arch-angel, and the voice of the Judge; must each contribute to render the scene the most sublime and magnificent, and truly grand, which the mind of man can be capable of comprehending. A gorgeous sunset is, perhaps, its fairest shadow; and the roar of a thunderstorm but the faintest echo of its sound.