Art in itself, if not necessarily typical, is essentially a suggester of something subtler than that which it embodies to the sense. What Pliny tells us of a great painter of old, is true of most great painters; “their works express something beyond the works,”—“more felt than understood.” This belongs to the concentration of intellect which high art demands, and which, of all the arts, sculpture best illustrates. Take Thorwaldsen’s Statue of Mercury,—it is but a single figure, yet it tells to those conversant with mythology a whole legend. The god has removed the pipe from his lips, because he has already lulled to sleep the Argus, whom you do not see. He is pressing his heel against his sword, because the moment is come when he may slay his victim. Apply the principle of this noble concentration of art to the moral writer: he, too, gives to your eye but a single figure; yet each attitude, each expression, may refer to events and truths you must have the learning to remember, the acuteness to penetrate, or the imagination to conjecture. But to a classical judge of sculpture, would not the exquisite pleasure of discovering the all not told in Thorwaldsen’s masterpiece be destroyed if the artist had engraved in detail his meaning at the base of the statue? Is it not the same with the typical sense which the artist in words conveys? The pleasure of divining art in each is the noble exercise of all by whom art is worthily regarded.
We of the humbler race not unreasonably shelter ourselves under the authority of the masters, on whom the world’s judgment is pronounced; and great names are cited, not with the arrogance of equals, but with the humility of inferiors.
The author of Zanoni gives, then, no key to mysteries, be they trivial or important, which may be found in the secret chambers by those who lift the tapestry from the wall; but out of the many solutions of the main enigma—if enigma, indeed, there be—which have been sent to him, he ventures to select the one which he subjoins, from the ingenuity and thought which it displays, and from respect for the distinguished writer (one of the most eminent our time has produced) who deemed him worthy of an honour he is proud to display. He leaves it to the reader to agree with, or dissent from the explanation. “A hundred men,” says the old Platonist, “may read the book by the help of the same lamp, yet all may differ on the text, for the lamp only lights the characters,—the mind must divine the meaning.” The object of a parable is not that of a problem; it does not seek to convince, but to suggest. It takes the thought below the surface of the understanding to the deeper intelligence which the world rarely tasks. It is not sunlight on the water; it is a hymn chanted to the nymph who hearkens and awakes below.
Mejnour:—Contemplation of the Actual,—science. Always old, and must last as long as the Actual. Less fallible than Idealism, but less practically potent, from its ignorance of the human heart.