Immagini della pagina

the Iliad remains. Italy may die and, with her, every memory of Guelf and Ghibelline; the Divina Commedia will remain. The content is subject to all the hazards of history; it is born and it dies; the form is immortal.” 1 He held firmly to the independence of art, without which there can be no Æsthetic; but he objected to the exaggeration of the formula of art for art's sake in that it tended to the separation of the artist from life, to the mutilation of the content and to the conversion of art into a proof of mere cleverness.?

For De Sanctis, the concept of forin was identical with De Sanctis as that of imagination, the faculty of expression or represent

art-critic. ation, artistic vision. So much must be said by any one anxious to express clearly the direction which his thought was taking. But De Sanctis himself never succeeded in defining his own theory with scientific exactitude ; and his æsthetic ideas remained the mere sketch of a system never properly interrelated and deduced. The speculative tendency shared his attention with many other lively interests, the desire to understand the concrete, to enjoy art and rewrite its actual history, to plunge into practical and political life ; so that by turns he was professor, conspirator, journalist and statesman. “My mind inclines to the concrete,” he was wont to say. He philosophized just so much as was necessary to the acquisition of a point of view in problems of art, history and life ; and, having procured light for his intellect, found his bearings, derived some satisfaction from the consciousness of his own activity, he plunged as quickly as possible into the particular and the determinate. To immense power of seizing the truth in the highest general principles was joined a no less intense abhorrence for the pale region of ideas in which the philosopher takes an almost ascetic delight. As critic and historian of literature he is unrivalled. Those who have compared him with Lessing, Macaulay, SainteBeuve or Taine are making rhetorical comparisons.

1 Nuovi saggi critici, loc. cit.

a Ibid. and cf. Saggio sul Petrarca, p. 182; also Scritti vari, i. pp. 209-212, 226.

Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand : “In your last letter you speak of criticism, and say you expect it soon to disappear. I think, on the contrary, that it is just appearing over the horizon. Criticism to-day is the exact opposite of what it was, but that is all. In the days of Laharpe the critic was a grammarian; to-day he is a historian like Sainte-Beuve and Taine. When will he be an artist, a mere artist, but a real artist? Do you know a critic who interests himself whole-heartedly in the work itself? They analyse with the greatest delicacy the historical surroundings of the work and the causes which produced it : but the underlying poetry and its causes ? the composition ? the style ? the author's own point of view ? Never. Such a critic must have great imagination and a great goodness of heart; I mean an ever-ready faculty of enthusiasm ; and then, taste; but this last is so rare, even among the best, that it is never mentioned nowadays.” 1 Flaubert's ideal has been worthily reached by one critic only (that is to say, amongst critics who have given themselves to the interpretation of great writers and entire periods of literature) and that one is De Sanctis. No literature of any country possesses so perfect a mirror as that possessed by Italy in the History and the other

critical essays of Francesco de Sanctis. De Sanctis as But the philosopher of art, the æsthetician in De Sanctis philosopher. is less great than the critic and historian of literature.

The critic is primary, the philosopher a mere accessory. The æsthetic observations scattered in aphorisms up and down his essays and monographs take various colours from various occasions, and are expressed in uncertain and often metaphorical language; this has led to his being accused of contradictions and inexactitudes which had no existence in his inmost thought and whose very appearance vanishes as soon as one takes into account the particular cases with which he was dealing. But form, forms, content, the living, the beautiful, natural beauty, ugliness, fancy, feeling, imagination, the real,

1 Lettres à George Sand, Paris, 1884 (Letter of Feb. 2, 1869), p. 81. * See above, p. 363, the judgement of De S. on French criticism,

[ocr errors]

the ideal, and all the other terms which he used with varying signification, demand a science both on which to rest and from which to derive. Meditation on these words stirs up doubts and problems on every side and reveals everywhere gaps and discontinuities. Compared with the few philosophical æstheticians, De Sanctis seems wanting in analysis, in order and in system, and vague in his definitions. But these defects are outweighed by the contact he establishes between the reader and real concrete works of art, and by the feeling for truth which never leaves him. He has, too, the attraction possessed by those writers who lead one on to suspect and to divine new treasures in store beyond what they themselves reveal -living thought, which stimulates living men to pursue and prolong it.



Revival of WHEN the cry “ Away with metaphysic !” was raised Herbartian in Germany, and a furious reaction began against the Æsthetic.

kind of Walpurgis-night to which the later Hegelians had reduced the life of science and history, the disciples of Herbart came to the front and seemed to ask, with an insinuating air : “ What is all this? a rebellion against Idealism and Metaphysic? why, it is exactly what Herbart wished and undertook all by himself half a century ago ! Here we stand, his legitimate descendants, and we offer you our services as allies. We shall not find it hard to agree. Our Metaphysic accords with the atomic theory, our Psychology with mechanism, and our Ethics and Æsthetic with hedonism.” Herbart himself (had he not died in 1841) would most likely have spurned these disciples of his who pandered to popularity, cheapened metaphysics and gave naturalistic interpretations to his reals, his representations, his ideas, and all his highest conceptions.

With the school thus coming into fashion, the Herbartian Æsthetic too tried to put on flesh and acquire a pleasing plumpness so as not to cut too miserable a figure beside the well-nourished corpora of science launched upon the world by idealists. The feeding-up process was accomplished by Robert Zimmermann, professor of philosophy at Prague and later at Vienna, who, after years of laborious effort and an introductory sample in the shape of an ample history of Æsthetic (1858), at

length produced his General Æsthetic as Science of Form
in 1865.1
This formalistic Æsthetic, born under bad auspices, is Robert

Zimmermann. a curious example of servile fidelity in externals combined with internal infidelity. Starting from unity, or rather from subordination of Ethics and Æsthetic to a general Æsthetic defined as “a science which treats of the modes by which any given content may acquire the right to arouse approval or disapproval ” (thereby differing from Metaphysic, science of the real, and from Logic, science of right thinking), Zimmermann places such modes in form, that is to say, in the reciprocal relation of elements. A simple mathematical point in space, a simple impression of hearing or sight, a simple note, is in fact neither pleasing nor displeasing: music shows that the judgement of beauty or ugliness always depends on the relation between two notes at least. Now these relations, i.e. forms universally pleasing, cannot be empirically collected by induction; they must be developed by deduction. By the deductive method it can be demonstrated that the elements of an image, which in themselves are representations, may enter into relations either according to their force (quantity), or according to their nature (quality) ; whence we have two groups-æsthetic forms of quantity, and æsthetic forms of quality. According to the first, the strong (large) is pleasing in comparison with the weak (small), and these latter are displeasing when set beside the former ; according to the other form, that pleases which is substantially identical in quality (the harmonious), and that displeases which is on the whole diverse (the discordant).

But the substantial identity must not be pushed to the point of absolute identity, for in that case the harmony itself would cease to be. From harmonious form is deduced the pleasure of the characteristic or expression; for what is the characteristic but a relation of prevalent

1 Allgemeine Asthetik als Formwissenschaft, Vienna, 1865; see also Meyer's Konversations - Lexikon (4th ed.), art. Asthetik, by Zimmermann.

« IndietroContinua »