Having considered the general principle which regulates the subject before us, we have next to inquire into the proper mode of its application to each particular art, from which it will be seen that these several arts vary from one another in this respect as extensively as they do in their essential nature. Nevertheless, to each of the arts, although in a different manner, may these principles be applied.
Here, perhaps, I ought to premise that the term narration I have adopted mainly with regard to the representation of a passing event or story, while description is most properly used with reference to a transaction which is not actually progressing. This observation may be applied to each of the arts, as in each narration and description are the leading modes by which the whole operation is carried on. In painting, sculpture, poetry, and eloquence, this is at once obvious. But it is, in reality, no less so in music and in architecture. In the former of these a sound is described, or indeed narrated, being strictly imitated; and by the associations created, even a scene may be represented.
As regards painting, sculpture, poetry, eloquence, music, and acting, these arts are each fitted alike for description, narration, and the representation of action in a direct manner. But with regard to architecture, gardening, and costume, although they may be also adapted both for description and narration, and the representation of action, they are not fitted for them in a direct, but only in an indirect manner, and are merely able to effect them emblematically or symbolically instead of really or literally; as will be seen from the examples of their operation adduced in the following sections of this chapter. Perhaps, in-deed, these latter arts may be deemed by some to be strictly in their nature suggestive only, rather than either emblematical, symbolical, or typical, in respect to their mode of describing, narrating, and representing action.
The arts differ, moreover, both in their manner of attaining these great objects, and as regards the power with which they achieve them; as do even those, such as poetry and painting and sculpture, which are most nearly allied to each other. Thus, in poetry, a transaction may be described, not only at the precise period when the principal event to be recorded is taking place, but narrated also in its various stages and proceedings; the mind may be gradually introduced to the event, and the description continued and carried on through all the circumstances connected with it. In painting and sculpture, however, that instant of time alone in which the action to be represented is achieved, is that which can be actually availed of; although in painting, which admits of a fuller account, and has more scope here than what sculpture possesses, the description may in some measure serve to inform us of what has just preceded, and what is immediately to follow.
The two leading variations of profile and full face serve not inaptly to typify the modes of representation in pictorial art ; the first giving more distinctly and forcibly the leading characteristics of the features, the other portraying them more completely and comprehensively, although with less vigour.
The main point to be observed in the selection of a period of representation or description in each of these different arts, is to choose that time which, according to the principle enunciated in the preceding section, serves to afford at once the most complete idea of the critical event in the transaction, and the display of its most important results, as regards the personages represented in the piece.
It is essential, indeed, that the moment described in a composition in painting or sculpture, where one period only of the story can be narrated, should not only be the most important in its nature, but what might be termed the most representative; that is the precise period which will best serve to convey a general idea of the spirit and quality of the transaction as a whole. Such is the crisis in a tragical tale.
A description must, moreover, be sufficient not only to excite ideas respecting, but to afford a representation of a transaction. Any rude design or reference to it may suffice for the former; but it is the province of art only to supply the latter.
The descriptions by art, as in nature, should not merely be real but living. The most powerful narrations are, however, often the simplest, as the deepest streams are also the most placid. We have an example of this in some of the sublimest parts of the Holy Scriptures, especially in the account of the creation. Moreover, both in narration and description, in all the arts alike, there is as much skill evinced in knowing when to end, as where to select the period for representation.