John Macculloch.

The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) online

. (page 18 of 37)
Online LibraryJohn MaccullochThe Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) → online text (page 18 of 37)
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and the white ants would have found little temptation in
a few strokes of a pencil and a halfpenny worth of Indian
ink : but the pencil and the paint are created in vain, and
the world remains as wise as it was before. Thus also
we are dying with curiosity to understand some piece of
architecture of the days of the Sassanides, or a monument
of the age of Nimrod, or a mountain that lifts its head to
the moon, and distributes its waters to half the globe;
we read, and wonder, and wish, and when the tale is
told, it is nothing: the traveller is nothing, and his toils
are worth nothing : he could not draw. Thus too, in
this enlightened country, we suffer taste to become a
trade ; and he who ought, alike, to dictate to the mecha-
nical retailer of this commodity and to despise him, now
opens his purse, and surrenders his house and lands, to
every pretender ; because he has not learnt to draw.

But putting out of the question, as too minute for the
present time and purpose, the particular kinds of utility
or pleasure resulting from a diffused knowledge of draw-
ing, I am desirous to go further than Aristotle, and to
maintain that it is a valuable branch of general educa-
tion, from its cultivating one of the most needful powers of
the mind; namely, the faculty of observation in general.



This mental quality, or power, is much more connected
with accuracy of vision, and with habits of making^ mi-
nute distinctions, than careless thinkers imagine ; and
there is nothing which so cultivates accuracy of obser-
vation in all visible matters, as drawing. Accuracy, and
tenacity, of memory, hang on the same faculty ; and thus
it is that minute and careful observation is accompanied
by distinct and tenacious recollection. Costard will not
allow that he forgot ; but he confesses to the " not mark-
ing of it." It will surprise those who are not accustomed
to analyze and study their impressions and recollections,
to find how little of accuracy their ideas of visible ob-
jects really possess : not only in remembrance, but even
at the moment of the impression. But it does not sur-
prise a painter to find that, even at the distance of years,
he can recall a subject which he once intended to paint ;
or give, at any time, the true characters of objects long-
since impressed on his mind. As far as painting is merely
imitative, this is its essence : a correct notion of visible
forms, and of colours : and he who cannot paint, differs far
more from the artist, in his eye for present observation,
or in his memory for past ones, than he does in dexterity
of hand. In truth, ordinary observers have but vague
notions of form, whatever they may imagine ; and the
test is, that they cannot draw them. When the eye has
acquired its knowledge, the hand will not be long in
learning to record it. It is something to be able, even to
copy accurately, forms that are present ; but the artist
has yet much to learn, of the human figure for example,
who cannot display it in all the attitudes of Rubens, or
contort it into the postures of Michael Angelo. To do
this, is to have acquired a thorough idea of the form of

He who will take the trouble to reflect on this sub-


ject at more length than I dare illustrate it, will be con-
vinced of the truth of the principle; and will find, on
trial, how little he really knows of visible objects as they
ought to be known, and how fast his knowledge increases
by the practice of drawing. When, after that acquisition,
he compares or examines himself at two distant periods,
he will soon become convinced of what he would not at
first easily have admitted. Nothing else can produce
this conviction ; since, in every thing that relates to the
senses, we all follow our own standard, and cannot, in
fact, follow any other. It is in vain, therefore, to tell the
idler who has travelled to Rome, that he cannot truly
distinguish between St. Peter's and St. Paul's; since he
judges truly enough according to his own vague scale :
although, as an artist, or an architect, falsely, and there-
fore, incorrectly and imperfectly. It is no less vain, than
it is to say to him whose optical defects disable him from
distinguishing between blue and crimson, that he does
not know colours. Modesty may make him yield his
opinion to the majority ; but he is not morally convinced
that he is wrong. Yet he is so, because he judges by a
wrong standard : and that is precisely the case with him
who judges of art without the education; or, what is,
fundamentally, the same thing, of the nature and forms
of visible objects without the power of drawing. It is
possible indeed that there may be an eye without a hand.
But power of hand is at least the best proof of its pre-
sence ; and we can never be thoroughly convinced that
the one exists, if we can find no proofs of the other.

But, for the present purpose, it is of little moment
whether that be true or not, as one of the chief objects
here in view, was to shew the utility of drawing- as a
means of cultivating the faculty of observation. Whether
we are to make drawings or not, that faculty is in con-

Q 2


stant requisition in every step of ordinary life; and very
particularly so, in many portions of its business. The
enumeration would be as tedious as that which relates to
the utility of drawing; and I will not therefore enter on
it. Yet, among many other things, were it more gene-
rally diffused, the relations of travellers would differ far
less from each other than they now do, even on ordinary
matters ; and would convey far more accurate as well as
consistent ideas. No one who has not attended to this
subject, can conceive the extensive influence which the
art of drawing has in improving the power of observing;
and that, even on points with which it would seem to
have little connexion. Where works of art are concerned,
and even where natural objects are to be described, no
one who knows its value, 1 should rather say its neces-
sity, will pay much attention to the narratives of ordinary
travellers. It is the fashion, however, for every one to
imagine that he can describe pictures and buildings ;
though ignorant of painting and architecture, and unable
to mark on paper the outline of a column or the angle
of a pediment. The public at large has no resource in
these cases, but to submit with sad civility, or to believe
and be deceived. But he who knows what art is, will
pay the same attention to these tales, as he does to the
criticisms which he daily hears in picture galleries ;
where a knowledge of all that belongs to art, is sup-
posed innate or inherent in those who do not possess one
of its principles, but whose claims to knowledge consist
in wealth to purchase or in birth to dictate. Sir Joshua
shifts his trumpet and fakes snuff.

But enough of this; as I must not write treatises for
you not to read : so let us turn from utility to pleasure ;
which, nine times out of ten, is the better thing of the
two. And here I must limit myself to landscape, as the


only question that is before us, and as that which must
make my apology ; if an apolog^y for all this sugary
writing is possible. If the pleasures derived from any
art, from painting, architecture, poetry, or music, are
greatest to those who are educated, a truth which will
only be denied on the general ground of the felicity of
ignorance, then we ought to cultivate the art of draw-
ing; not merely for the amusement which it affords by
improving the taste, agreeably occupying the time, and
preserving the records of useful or beautiful objects, but
to ehable us to derive from natural scenery all the plea-
sures which it is capable of affording. Nature, as Cas-
tiglione says, is a great picture painted by the hand of
the Creator: it is an endless collection of pictures, offer-
ing inexhaustible sources of pleasure and study and criti-
cism; containing, not only all that art ever executed, all
its principles and all its details, but infinitely more than
it can ever attain. If it requires deep and long study to
understand art, if none can truly judge of it but he
whose hand can follow his eye, or whose eye at least has
acquired that knowledge which makes the painter, it
cannot require less to understand nature. Nor must it
be said that, in the study of art, any more than in that of
nature, taste may be independent of this accuracy of
knowledge, or that a perfect perception of beauty can
exist without it. As well might it be said that a perfect
perception of the beauties of poetry or music may exist
without critical knowledge. I do not mean technical
criticism ; but a distinct comprehension of all the sources
of beauty, of their nature and causes. In effect, taste,
in its true sense, is the result of study and of critical
knowledge. It is the produce of comparison and analysis,
in all the arts; and it is futile to say that, in painting,
more than in any other art, it can exist without know-


ledge; though there may be much minute technical dis-
crimination without a great deal of taste, and much
knowledge also in the possession of him who hardly sus-
pects it.

Applying this rule to the simple enjoyment of natural
scenery, as the object now before us, it is only the poeti-
cal painter, he who is, at the same time, every thing that
a painter ought to be, who can derive from landscape, all
the pleasures which it is calculated to yield. And the
ignorant or uncultivated spectator will receive less enjoy-
ment from it than he who, though not an artist, has studied
the art of painting ; or who, from his practical knowledge
of drawing, has learnt to observe and compare truly, and
to attend to a thousand minute circumstances, in colour,
form, shadow, contrast, and so forth, which escape ordi-
nary spectators. He is the poetical critic examining a
fine poem. The obvious beauties may strike the coarsest
reader; but the refined one alone will appreciate the

There is an art, even in discovering landscape at all in
nature, much more limited than will readily be believed
by those who have not long and seriously studied de-
sign ; who have not studied it in nature as well as in the
works of artists, and even who have not reduced their
studies and observations to some practice. Everyone
who, after a certain progress, will review his past ex-
perience, by travelling again among the scenes which
he had before visited, will easily convince himself of
this. He will often detect beauties which had before
escaped his notice; and will often also be surprised to
find, at some distant day, that he had unconsciously been
long residing amid scenery of the most exquisite nature,
heedless of it charms. In this art, as in all others, his
powers in eliciting knowledge, in striking fire from the


dark flint, in discovering- hidden or retiring beauties, will
depend on his previous acquirements. The ignorant and
uneducated man overlooks the phenomenon or the sub-
stance, from which the philosopher draws important con-
clusions or extracts valuable results ; on which he founds
the greatest discoveries. It is the experience, guided by
the taste of Salvator or Poussin, which elicits the most
sublime or varied landscape from a confusion of objects
where a common eye sees nothing, or sees nothing but
disorder and chaos.

Among- artists also, each has his particular bent ; each
observes something which another will overlook. While
the eye of Claude comprehends the whole extent of a
rich or fertile country, dressed up in all the luxuriance
of art and nature, adorned with mountains and rivers and
trees and temples, and teeming with life, that of Cuyp
will content itself with a sunny bank and a group of cat-
tle, as that of Berghem too often does with a few ruined
walls : while the degenerate taste of others is satisfied,
where nature spreads all her beauties around, to grovel
among hay-fields and pig-sties, to study and detail the
anatomy of a wooden bridge or a muddy wharf.

As we are quite sure that, of the thousands who read
Milton or Shakspeare, there are very few who can appre-
ciate, or even discern the far greater number of the
beauties of these writers, though, as they receive all the
pleasure of which their standard renders them suscep-
tible, they imagine that they are enjoying the whole, so,
in the contemplation of natural landscape, we may be
convinced that the far greater number of spectators re-
ceive but a very vague and limited pleasure; even ad-
mitting that, as far as it exists, it is legitimate. Were
not the general principle true, it would be easy to con-
vince ourselves of this practically, by observation on the


iiiiprcssioiis whicli fine scenery produces on individuals
of different talents or acquirements. Among the abso-
lutely uneducated, there is an utter insensibility to this
class of beauty. The rustic sees nothing in the rude
magnificence of alpine landscape but its inconveniences
and barrenness; and in the richest scenes of ornamented
nature, nothing but the agricultural value. To him,
that is the most beautiful country whose produce is the
most abundant, where the corn is yellowest and the grass
greenest, where the enclosures are most perfect and the
woods fittest for the axe. As we ascend in the scale of
society, we find similar insensibility, if in a less degree.
The apprehension of natural beauty continues to increase
with general education and general improvement; or
with experience in it, which is education. Thus there is
a gradation from insensibility to criticism; that last point
of full enjoyment, whicli cannot be attained without a
knowledge of art, and which is rarely attained in per-
fection but by the thorough artist ; by the Salvators, the
Claudes, and the Turners.

No point can be fixed where a high sense of natural
beauty, unaccompanied by a critical knowledge of art,
stops ; because Nature must be felt as well as studied by
means of art. Nor is this a false or a technical opinion;
since the rules of art are derived from Nature: they are
her own canons of beauty. Art is the concentration or
quintessence of Nature; and it therefore forms her laws.
Those, consequently, who are highly sensible on this sub-
ject, have made a step in art, even when unaware of it.
They are artists to a certain stage, and are in the progress
of their education. But as, in all the sciences, a single
mind cannot do every thing for itself, but must profit by
the observations of others, by the concentrated light of
former cultivators, so, in this study of natural beauty, the


progress of education is accelerated by an acquaintance
Mitli that art which contains and concentrates tlie accu-
mulated taste of ages. Hence the utility of art in direct-
ing* the taste for natural landscape, and in forming- that
sensibility which must otherwise have been of slow
growth, or which might never have been attained.

I will not proceed further to illustrate that, of which
the truth ought to be apparent. But the Critic in Art
finds other sources of enjoyment in landscape, which are
unknown, even to those whose acquired taste may, short
of this information, stand at a hig-h point in the scale.
A thousand circumstances attract his eye and delight his
mind, which, to others, are imperceptible, or which they
cannot appreciate. In the accidents of light and shade,
he perceives beauties which those do not know how to
feel or value, who are unaware of their powers in giving
force and attraction to paintings. In the multiplicity
and harmony of direct, reflected, and half lights, under a
thousand tones for which there are no terms, he sees
charms which are only sensible to a highly cultivated
and somewhat technical eye. It is only such an eye that
can truly feel the beauty of colouring, that is sensible to
its innumerable modifications, to all the hidden links by
which it is connected, and to all the harmony which results
from arrangement and contrast.

Even omitting all consideration of the general land-
scape, not a cloud, a rock, or a tree, or even a casual bank
or a group of weeds, can occur, in which he does not dis-
cover beauties that are insensible to those who have not
studied as artists ; who have not learnt to analyze and
value whatever they may have occasion to transmit to
paper. Thus also, a critic in forms, he learns, from the
heap, to select and dwell on those alone which are fine,
to make these his study and enjoyment; omitting such


as are unpleasing, and thus extracting beauties where
ordinary spectators see only deformity. It is only the
critic also in forms, who can trace those which are really
beautiful, or who can derive from them the pleasure which
they can yield, but will only surrender to him who pos-
sesses within himself a knowledge of the principles of

The mere art of omission in contemplating landscape,
is a most material one ; nor is it one that can be acquired
without study and technical knowledge. Nature is rarely
indeed faultless; more commonly she is full of faults to
counteract her beauties. And as the deformities are
commonly the most obvious, invariably so to the unedu-
cated, so these often turn with neglect or aversion from
scenes whence the educated and the critic, without diffi-
culty, extract beauties. This is the species of criticism
which is the result and produce of real knowledge : it is
true criticism; a source of felicity instead of discontent :
and thus the real critic in art, multiplies the enjoyments
which are to be derived from nature. It is in that which
is called composition in landscape, that this art of omis-
sion is of most use; for it is inseparable from the art of
composition. To an ordinary eye, nature is often a heap
of confusion, as it is a mass of faults. The artist omits,
while he may also add and alter: and thus he extracts
^jeauty from deformity, or discovers what appears to have
had no existence.

This chiefly constitutes the art of seeing landscape,
already noticed : an attainment, like many more, to be
acquired by practice, and by study of the principles of
painting. He who possesses this art, will not only see
innumerable beauties undiscoverable by a common eye,
but will extract distinct and entire landscapes, where
a less practised person feels no pleasure, comprehends


nothing-, and finds nothing- but confusion. Thus he may
also, if he practises drawing-, fill his portfolio with sub-
jects, from countries where others would not make a
single sketch ; or, if that is not his object, he still travels
in the midst of beautiful scenes, when his companions, if
he has any, are dull and uninterested ; with the addi-
tional satisfaction, if he thinks it such, that results from
his consciousness of superiority, and Avith the much more
legitimate one, that he is enjoying the reward of his own
exertions and studies. Any one who will take the trouble
to review his earlier impressions, will be soon convinced
of the truth of these views ; he will easily recollect the
time when he saw little or nothing; and will the better
know how to appreciate the deficient comprehension, and
the far less perfect and lively pleasures, of those who
are inferior to him in this acquirement.

Nor is it alone by altering and omitting, by varying,
transposing, or adding*, in his imagination, that he thus
discovers or creates landscapes. To an uneducated eye,
the very magnitude of Nature is often no less an enemy
to her picturesque beauties, than her apparent confusion,
or occasional want of grace, unity, and consistency. That
magnitude he learns to reduce, as he acquires the art of
bringing her confusion into order, till he sees it as it
ought to be seen. She is every where full of graces,
but they are often concealed from every eye but his. He
too who knows how to produce consistency himself, will
find it in nature; as he will fix on the point where every
thing tends to a centre of character or composition ; thus
discovering that unity of intention without which land-
scape cannot exist. It is the same for the distribution of
light, so essential to the composition of landscape, and so
essential, even to its existence. Of all the lights which
a day may yield, few landscapes can bear the whole; and


there are innumerable cases where, at certain periods,
every thing is confusion, or even deformity, while, at
others, all is beautiful. It is for the practised eye to see
here, beauty in the midst of confusion : to anatomize and
illuminate the mountain and the valley, according to the
rules of art or the possibilities of nature; or to view in
his mind's eye, under the broad shadows and subdued or
harmonious colouring of a morning or evening sun, that
which is lost in the glare of noon.

Such are the chief principles of the art of seeing
landscape, on which I might easily dwell at great length,
were I not sure that every one must coincide with me in
these views. This is the education which, not only
teaches us how to enjoy nature, but which absolutely
creates the very scenes for our enjoyment. This too is the
education which is attainable by all. But the artist who
is versed in the works of his predecessors, finds still fur-
ther sources of pleasure in comparison ; as the critic does
in comparing the several styles of authors. He traces,
through the hands of the great masters of the art, the
several sources in nature whence their ideas were formed,
and compares them with each other and with nature,
referring them to their great and original standard. He
observes what different persons have selected for study and
imitation, and thus improves his powers of criticism in art.

But even this is far from all which he derives from
that source of study. Thus he learns to look at nature
alternately with the eye of Poussin, or Claude, or Berg-
hem, or Rembrandt, or Waterlo : detecting, by their aid,
beauties that would otherwise have escaped him, and
multiplying, to an incalculable degree, the sources of his
enjoyment as well as of his studies. It is of the character
of one artist, perhaps, as I before remarked, to dwell on
all that is placid and rich in composition and colour ;


another delights in the foaming torrent, the ravine, and
the precipice; the simplicity of rural nature exclusively
attracts a third ; and others yet, select for imitation, the
edifices of art, the depths of the forest, the ocean decked
with smiles or raging with fury, or the merest elements
of landscape, the broken bank, the scathed tree, or the
plants that deck the foreground. Viewing with the eyes
of the whole, personifying the infinite variety of tastes
that has gone before him, stored with the ideas which he
has accumulated from the study of their works, his atten-
tion is alive and his senses open to every thing ; and not
a beauty can pass before him but he is prepared to see it
and to enjoy it. There are pleasures in nature for allj
when they know where to seek or how to enjoy them.
This it is to learn how to see Nature, and thus we must
form our own minds : nor let any one imagine that he
has exhausted half her stores, unless he knows all that
his predecessors have extracted from them.

In every thing, moreover, the art of seeing is really
an art, and an art that must and may be learnt. It must
be learnt for the plainest of reasons. It is not a simple
eflTort, nor the result of simple sensations. It is the con-
sequence of short and quick, but complicated, trains of
reasoning, and is necessarily connected with, or depen-
dent on, a thousand associations, without which it were
the same if the objects were exhibited to the eyes of a
child or a quadruped.

After all, this is but the history of all human know-
ledge. It is only the application of a simple and admitted
principle, to a daily and common pursuit, which the
thoughtless are apt to imagine an easy one, because its
objects are daily and common. He who views nature
without previous and fundamental knowledge, is no other
than he who expects to relish the beauties of poetry with-


out reading', or the works of art without study of their
principles. It is he who travels into foreign lands with-
out the requisite preliminary acquirements, and whore-
turns as uninformed as he went. It is the incipient bota-
nist or juvenile mineralogist, who presumes that he has
only to open his eyes, to see and to collect treasures ; but
who, yet uneducated, discovers nothing but common
weeds and stones. In every science and art, our acquisi-

Online LibraryJohn MaccullochThe Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities, with an account of the political history ... present condition of the people, &c. ... founded on a series of annual journeys between the years 1811 and 1821 ... in letters to Sir Walter Scott, bart (Volume 1) → online text (page 18 of 37)