Description And Expression
( Originally Published 1869 )
If, therefore, the due and adequate representation of human nature is of such important consequence in art, we have next to inquire into the mode by which this grand object can be efficiently attained. This can be accomplished only by the apt delineation of the characters and feelings of the various personages introduced into compositions of this kind, which may be effected by two principal methods. The first of these, which is practicable in painting, sculpture, poetry, and eloquence, is by a direct representation or description of the appearance of the individuals alluded to, and the exhibition of the peculiar aspect or demeanour which they present.
It is to be borne in mind that the character and feelings of the different persons to be represented must not only be such as are strictly proper to them, but such as will be efficient to supply the want of speech and of animation. The language of the countenance, if it may be so termed, when closely examined is as complete and as powerful as is that of the lips ; both alike are the reflection of the action of the soul. The sculptured form of the dying gladiator expresses all that the tongue of the real man could do ; in some respects, indeed, suggesting far more than any words could accomplish. In such a representation by art, while vigour is requisite to the efficiency of the design, exaggeration at once destroys its effect, and banishes nature from the composition. The delineation of the countenance should not only display the correct working of the features, but reflect the operation of the soul. According as it effects this end, is the representation perfect.
Almost as much expression is however sometimes displayed by the attitude of the figure, as by the conformation of the features, although that conveyed by the latter mode is perhaps of a higher and more intellectual kind than the former. Whether the face or the figure is that through which mainly the character is described, must depend on the nature and quality of the individual to be represented. Where mental character is to be exhibited, the countenance must of course be resorted to to attain this important end. But when mere physical power or animal passion is to be represented, this may in some. cases be as efficiently attained by the limbs as by the features.
Historical compositions in painting should in one sense be real portraits of the personages introduced,—exhibiting, indeed, the likeness not in the outward form and features, but in the true representation which they afford of the character of the individual portrayed. As in composition and description, so in the delineation of character and feeling, there is occasionally as much effect, and real force, too, in repose as in action.
There is a sort of infection in passion, even in the representation, so that the description of strong emotions of any kind at once excites corresponding feelings in the soul of the spectator, although different persons differ much as regards their disposition to be thus affected. In all cases the representation of passion or emotion should be that of nature, not of the imitators of nature it should be supplied from real life itself.
The other mode of communicating ideas of the description referred to, is by putting such expressions into the mouths of the persons represented as will serve at once to afford a just and forcible notion as regards their qualities and feelings. By this means both the general character and disposition, and also the peculiar temperament of mind at the time when the words were uttered are communicated; and the intellectual endowments and state of mental cultivation of the individuals are also made known to us.
This latter method of affording an idea of the character and feelings can of course be employed only in those arts, such as poetry and eloquence, which admit of language being expressed. The leading points to be embraced or represented in these different modes may be severally comprehended under the four main following heads :-1. Personal endowments. 2. Personal qualities. 3. Animal feelings. 4. Expression of sentiments.