S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
In no circumstance whatever can man be comfortable without art. The butterfly is independent of art, though it is only in sunshine that it can be happy. The beasts of the field can roam about by day, and couch by night on the cold earth, without danger to health or sense of misfortune. But man is miserable and speedily lost so soon as he removes from the precincts of human art, without his shoes, without his clothes, without his dog and his gun, without an inn or a cottage to shelter him by night. Nature is worse to him than a stepmother,he cannot love her; she is a desolate and howling wilderness. He is not a child of nature like a hare. She does not provide him a banquet and a bed upon every little knoll, every green spot of earth. She persecutes him to death if he do not return to that sphere of art to which he belongs, and out of which she will show him no mercy, but be unto him a demon of despair and a hopeless perdition.
The power, whether of painter or poet, to describe rightly what he calls an ideal thing, depends upon its being to him not an ideal but a real thing. No man ever did or ever will work well, but either from actual sight, or sight of faith.
All real and wholesome enjoyments possible to man have been just as possible to him since first he was made of the earth as they are now; and they are possible to him chiefly in peace. To watch the corn grow and the blossom set, to draw hard breath over plough-share and spade, to read, to think, to love, to hope, to praythese are the things to make man happy: they have always had the power of doing thesethey never will have the power to do more.
There is religion in everything around usa calm and holy religion in the unbreathing things of nature, which man would do well to imitate. It is a meek and blessed influence, stealing in, as it were, unawares upon the heart; it comes quietly, and without excitement; it has no terror, no gloom, in its approaches; it does not rouse up the passions; it is untrammelled by the creeds, and unshadowed by the superstitions, of man; it is fresh from the hands of its Author, glowing from the immediate presence of the Great Spirit, which pervades and quickens it; it is written on the arched sky; it looks out from every star; it is on the sailing cloud and in the invisible wind; it is among the hills and valleys of the earth, where the shrubless mountain-top pierces the thin atmosphere of eternal winter, or where the mighty forest fluctuates before the strong wind with its dark waves of green foliage; it is spread out, like a legible language, upon the broad face of the unsleeping ocean; it is the poetry of nature; it is this which uplifts the spirit within us until it is strong enough to overlook the shadows of our place of probation; which breaks, link after link, the chain that binds us to materiality; and which opens to our imagination a world of spiritual beauty and holiness.
It is a shallow criticism that would define poetry as confined to literary productions in rhyme and metre. The written poem is only poetry talking, and the statue, the picture, and the musical composition are poetry acting. Milton and Goethe at their desks were not more truly poets than Phidias with his chisel, Raphael at his easel, or deaf Beethoven bending over his piano, inventing and producing strains which he himself could never hope to hear. The love of the ideal, the clinging to and striving after first principles of beauty, is ever the characteristic of the poet, and whether he speaks his truth to the world through the medium of the pen, the perfect statue, or the lofty strain, he is still the sharer in the same high nature. Next to blind Milton describing Paradise, that same Beethoven composing symphonies and oratorios is one of the finest things we know. Milton saw not, and Beethoven heard not; but the sense of beauty was upon them, and they fain must speak. Arts may be learned by applicationproportions and attitudes may be studied and repeatedmathematical principles may be, and have been, comprehended and adopted; but yet there has not been hewn from the marble a second Apollo, and no measuring by compasses will ever give the secret of its power. The ideal dwelt in the sculptors mind, and his hands fashioned a statue which yet teaches it to the world.