(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Children's Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
See other formats

Full text of "Laocoon"

Presented to the 

LIBRARY of the 


The Estate of the hte 


Head of the 

Department of English 

University College 



<3riw Mzti> Snibfrasl ICibrsrg 


Motto by Lessing. 

'YXt) koX rpoTTOt? joii/ai7(Tea)s SLa(f>epov<Ti. £0 \ 

Jl\ovT. nor. A*. Kara 11. ^ Kara 2. ei/S. ^''^ 

Motto by Translator. 

"Macaulay told me that the reading of this little book 
fonned an epoch in his mental history, and that he learned 
more from it than he had ever learned elsewhere." 

Lewes, Life of Goethe, p. 57. 








RiCHAKD Clay & Sons, Limitbd, 




Zbc IRlgbt Donourable W. l£. 6lat)5tone /Db.iP. 







Note.— This edition is reprinted, with the kind consent of 
Sir Walter Phillimore, Bart., from the edition published by 
Messrs Macmillan in 1874. A few misprints have been 
corrected, and the notes have been transposed to the end of 
the volume. The publishers take this opportunity of express- 
ing their sincere thanks to the family of the late Sir Robert 
Phillimore for permission to include his work in their New 
Universal Library. 



Translator's Preface 1 

Introduction 55 


I 59 

II 64 

III 70 

IV 74 

V 85 

VI 92 

VII 98 

VIII 102 

IX 107 

X Ill 

XI 114 

XII 119 

XIII* 124 

XIV 127 

XV 129 

XVI 131 


Chapter pagb 

XVII 139 

XVIII 145 

XIX 152 

XX 158 

XXI 165 

XXII 169 

XXIII . .175 

XXIV 179 

XXV 183 

XXVI 191 

XXVII 199 


XXIX 206 

Notes 211 

Appendix 290 

Index 333 


Section I 

1. Birth and Education of Lessingi; 2. State of German Literature 
when Lessing began his career as autlior; 3. Lessing's Works 
generally; 4. Winkelinann. Lessing's Laocoon : 5. Ancient 
Versions of the story of Laocoon ; 6. Notice of some of the prin- 
cipal Modern Authors referred to by Lessing ; 7. Notice of 
Modern Authors not referred to by Lessing, but who wrote, before 
the publication of the Laocoon, on Poetry and Painting. 

1. The territory which once formed the ancient 
German margraviate of Lusatia was divided into 
Upper and Lower Lusatia. It lay between the 
Elbe and the Oder, situated to the north of Bohemia, 
to the south of Brandenburg, and to the west of 
Silesia. The race which dwelt on the northern de- 
clivities of the Giant mountains (Riesen Gebirge), 
which separate Silesia from Bohemia, were men 
of robust and vigorous minds ; and early in the 
seventeenth century intellectual life began to 
develop itself simultaneously in Upper Lusatia 
and Silesia. 

In one of the six towns of Upper Lusatia, of 
r which Gorlitz was the intellectual centre, Joliann 
Gottfried Lessing and his wdfe, Justine Salome, 
whose maiden name was Feller, dwelt. He was 
the Lutheran pastor of Kamenz ; and of these 
parents, on the 22nd of January, 1729, Johann 

1 The principal authorities to which I have had recourse for the 
materials of this sketch are : G. E. Lessiufr's Lehen unci Werke, vol. i, 
by Danzel ; vol. ii, by Gurauer: Leipzig, 1849. G. E. Lessing's Sein 
Lehen und Seine Werke, von A. Stahr : Berlin, 1859. Goedeke's 
G)-undri8s zur Geschichte der Beutschen Dlchtung, 1, Cll, § 221. Ger- 
vinus's Geschichte der Poetischen National-Literatur, 4, 318 : Leipzig, 
1843. German Classics, by Dr Buchheim, vol. iii. Clarendon Pres3 
Series: Oxford, 1873. Gostwick and Harrison's Outlines of German 
Literature, 201. 



Gotthold Ephraim, commonly called Gotthold 
Ephraim Leasing, the writer of the Laocoon, was 
born. He died at Brunswick in 1781. 

Logical powers of a high order, an intense love 
of study, which he derived from his father's ex- 
ample and teaching, restless incessant eagerness 
of inquiry into every subject unchecked by any 
reverence for authority, keen susceptibilities, con- 
stant literary and polemical controversy, unsettled 
religious opinions, very straitened circumstances, 
unquiet habits, a craving for excitement which 
sometimes led liim to the gaming table, a passion 
for that kind of society — in which the stream of 
life ran rapidly, though turbidly—and domestic 
sorrow, combined to chequer the fifty -two yeai-s of 
his very distinguished and very unhappy life. 

His public education, begun at Meissen in the 
year 1741, was continued at the Universitj'^ of 
Leipzig in 1746, where he renounced the studies 
and career of a Theologian, which his father had 
wished him to follow. He went to Berlin in 1748. 
He resided for some time at Leipzig, and in 1760 
became a member of the Academy tliere. He sup- 
ported himself by translating foreign works, and 
taught liimself French, Italian, and Spanish. He 
resided at Breslau 1760-1764, where he was official 
secretary to General Tauenzien. He was at Berlin 
from 1765 to 1767. He lived at Hamburg, where 
he became a journalist, during 1767-1769. He was 
appointed b^ the Duke of Brunswick Privy Coun- 
cillor and Librarian of a ^reiit Library at Wolfen- 
biittel ; there he took up his abode in May 1770. In 
this library he discovered, and afterwards published, 
a treatise of Berengarius ', supposed to be lost, 
respecting the Holy Eucharist. In 1775 lie accom- 
panied Prince Leopold of Brunswick in his journey 
to Italy. He married, in April, 1776, a widoM', Eva 
Konig, who died in 1778. He appears to have felt 
her loss very deeply. 

1 Gurauer, 2, 11 ; Qoedeke, 611, 612, 663. 


2. German literature is one of the youngest^ of 
the European family. At the time when Lessing 
began to write it was in a very meagre condition. 

Leibnitz and Wolff had indeed, in their different 
paths, attained deserved literary honours. The 
former had been dead nearly half a century, and 
wrote his great works in a foreign language. The 
latter was too ponderous and too scholastic to be 
popular. Neither left any abiding marks upon their 
native language or literature ^. 

Gottsched and his school had done their utmost 
to lower the national taste to the level of a base 
imitation of French literature ; and the efforts of 
the Swiss, Breitinger and Bodmer, from whom 
works of considerable merit appeared simultane- 
ously at Zurich in 1740, and upon whom the dawn of 
a better day had shone, had not sufficient power to 
stem the tide. Haller, Hagedorn, Kastners, Rabe- 
ner, Liscow, keeping aloof from the contest between 
Gottsched and the Swiss, contributed something, 
but not much, to the improvement of German 
literature. Klopstock, indeed, vindicated the higher 
claims of poetry to be the fruit of genius — unat- 
tainable by the intellect alone or mere learned 
industry — and to be far above the frozen mediocrity 
and petty conventional decencies, within which 
Gottsched, in his absence of all the susceptibility of 
genius, his blind admiration for the French imita- 
tion of classical antiquity, would have confined it. 
But it was reserved for Lessing thoroughly to 
awaken the sleeping German mind, and imbue it 
witli a true philosophy, which included the romantic 
as well as the classical school within the domain of 
poetry ; from which Gottsched's narrow and unin- 
spired mind would have excluded Shakspere, Milton, 
Ariosto, and Tasso. * Lessing schrieb deutsch ', says 

1 'Die deutsche Literatur ist eine derjiingsten unter der Europa- 
ischen ', Schlegel, Kritische Schriften, i, 1. 

2 Danzel, 1, 118; De Quincey, vol, xii, 232; Gervinus, 4, 63; 
Goedeke, 560-1. 


Gervinus. He was liimself ' unaffectirt deutsch ' ; 
and because he was a genuine German, and not a 
French or Englishman travestied, he drank at the 
pure fountains of classical lore, unalloyed by their 
passage through a foreign channel ^ 

3. Of the many literary productions of Lessing, 
very few are now familiarly known out of, perhaps 
even in, Germany. Three at least of his plays are 
still read. 

Minna Von Barnhelm^, finished in 1765, but first 
published in its corrected form in 1776, praised by 
Goetlie as the most genuine production oi the Seven 
Years' War, and the most perfect expression of 
German nationality, and as having been a peace- 
maker between Prussia and Saxony, is still a great 
favourite of the German stage ; and the very pretty 
and interesting recent edition by Dr Buchheim-*, 
witli English notes, a critical analysis, and a sketch 
of Lessing's life, is likely to restore its popularity 
to the libraries at least of England. 

Nathan der Weise. His greatest dramatic, and, 
as some think, his most philosophical work, founded 
on tlie Third Novella of Boccaccio*, still lives on 
account of its intrinsic merit. It was no doubt a 
consequence of Lessing's friendship with the Jew 
Mendelssohn. It has been supposed to have been 
the most effective sermon of the day on the Duty 
of Toleration in matters of Religion, and to have 
generated a much-needed and beneficial change in 
the social status and estimation of the Jews in 
Germany. The English reader may be interested 
in comparing with it the affecting legend which 
ends J. Taylor's Liberty of Prophesifing^ and Miss 
Edgeworth's novel of lIarrin(jton. The tragedy of 
Emilia Oalotti was founded on the story of Virginius, 

1 iv, 819. 

a Minna von Barnhchn, odfr dcu Soldatcngliick, Gofdeke, 615. 
s rublished in the Oxford Clarendon Press SericH, 1878. 
* Novella Terza. Mclchisedeck giudtb con una Novella di tre anelle 
ccua un gran pericolo dal Salculino apparecchiatogli. 


but the scene of the drama is in Italy, and the time 
is modern. 

If ever man deserved tlie epithet, in which the 
Germans delight, of ' Polyhistor ', Lessing deserved 
it ; and it has been often bestowed upon him by his 
countrymen. The ordinary, indeed the educated, 
reader of the Laocoon is astonished at the way in 
which Lessing takes for granted his acquaintance 
with recondite subjects. Of course everybody 
knows, he seems to think, about the 'politische 
verse ' of Constantinus Manasses, about Skanopoeia, 
the Ghezzi, and Crocylegmus. I have ventured to 
write some notes upon these and other references. 

It was at Berlin that Lessing contracted habits 
of intimate and lasting friendship with Mendelssohn 
and Nicolai. Here, in conjunction with his friends, 
he wrote literary trifles for newspapers, and made 
translations for booksellers ; and here also he laid 
the foundation of the Letters on Modem Literature ^ 
This was the first publication of the time in which 
a liberal, unfettered and comprehensive spirit, aided 
by a critical faculty of high order, examined into 
the claims and merits of the ancients, and did 
justice to the literature of England. In the admir- 
able criticisms of these letters the shadow of his 
Laocoon, though the substance did not appear till 
long afterwards, was cast before. 

4. We are now brought to the threshold of the 
work on which the literary renown of Lessing is 
mainly and deservedly built. It is the work of 
which the following pages contain a translation, his 
famous Laocoon, which first saw the light in 1766. 
Lessing, besides the notes which he appended to the 
first and completed part, had prepared many notes 
for a second and third part. They are unfortunately 
only notes : iDut not a few of them are pregnant 
with suggestion, and I have not shrunk from the 

1 Briefe die neueste Literatur hetreffend. The papers subscribed 
F 11 and Q are by Lessing, the others for the most part by Abbt, 
Mendelssohn, and Resewitz: Goedeke, 615. 


labour of translating the latter as well as the 

Winkelmann ^ had remarked in his essays on the 
Imitation of the Ancients in Painting and Statuary'^, 
that the principal characteristics of Greek sculpture 
were simplicity and quiet grandeur. The study of 
the Laocoon led Winkelmann to this conclusion ; 
observing that natural beauty underlaid the beau- 
tiful forms of Greek art, he thought somewhat 
perhaps in the spirit of a French writer of tragedy, 
that greatness of soul was intended to overcome all 
expression of pain in Laocoon. 

Lessing seems to have felt a reverence for 
Winkelmann^, which he felt for no other autliority. 
This was partly because lie was not unaffected by 
the general enthusiasm in Germany for him at this 
period. Lessing criticises his dogmas with studious 
gentleness and unusual forl)earance. 

The authority of Winkelmann upon art is still 
considerable, though much diminished. Fuseli was 
a violent hater, and his opinions as to contempo- 
raries must always be read with a recollection of 
this fact. But I am not aware that he had any 
aniniosity to the memory of Winkelmann. His 
opinion of him, in a sketch of Lessing's life, is not 
uninteresting. Fuseli says : 

' About the middle of the last century the German 
critics, established at liome, began to claim the 

1 Assassinated 17(iS, at Trieste, on his way home trom Italy, where 
he had been since 1758. 

2 Gedanken veher die Kachdhmung der griechUchen Werke, in der 
Malereij uiid Bildhauerkunst. Leipzig, 1766. 

3 Winkelmann writes to a friend, who sent him extracts from the 
Laocoon, that he had bought the book before he left Dresden, and 
adds :— ' I^ssin^ von deiii icli loider nichta gesehen hatte schreibt. wie 
man geschrieben zu haben wuns<-hen niochte'. He would have 
written to htm if he had not lieanl he was coming to Rome. ' Es 
verdient dirselbe also, wo man sei vertlieidigen kann, eine wlirdige 
Antwort. Wie es niiimlich ist von wiirdinen Lenten gelobt zu werden 
80 kann esauch riihmlich werden ihrer li<Mirtheilung wurdJK geiichtet zu 
aeyn'. The report at Leipzig that Winkelmann was furious against 
Liocoon must have been false. See 0. E. Lessing's Leben, etc., heraus- 
gegeben von R. C. Lessing. 


exclusiv^e privilege of teaching the art (of painting), 
and to form a complete system of antique style. 
The verdicts of Mengs and Winkelmann became 
tlie oracles of Antiquaries, Dilettanti, and artists 
from the Pyrenees to the utmost north of Europe, 
have been detailed, and are not without their 
influence here. Winkelmann was the parasite of 
the fragments that fell from the conversation or 
the tablets of Mengs, a deep scholar, and better 
fitted to comment on a classic than to give lessons 
on art and style, he reasoned himself into frigid 
reveries and Platonic dreams on beauty. As far 
as the taste or the instructions of his tutor directed 
him, he is right, whenever they are, and between his 
own learning and the tuition of the other, his 
history of art delivers a specious system and a 
prodigious number of useful observations. He has 
not, however, in his regulation of epochs, discrim- 
inated styles and masters with the precision, 
attention, and acumen, which, from the advantages 
of his situation and habits, might have been ex- 
pected ; and disappoints us as often by meagreness, 
neglect, and confusion, as he offends by laboured 
and inflated rhapsodies on the most celebrated 
monuments of Art. To him Germany owes the 
shackles of her artists, and the narrow limits of 
their aim ; from him they have learnt to substitute 
the means for the end, and by a hopeless chase after 
wliat tliey call beauty, to lose what alone can make 
beauty interesting — expression and mind. The 
works of Mengs himself are no doubt full of the 
most useful information, deep observation, and 
often consummate criticism. He has traced and 
distinguished the principles of the moderns from 
those of the ancients ; and in liis comparative view 
of the design, colour, composition, and expression 
of RafFaello, Correggio, and Tiziano, with luminous 
perspicuity and deep precision, pointed out the 
prerogative or inferiority of each. As an artist he 
is an instance of what perseverance, study, expe- 


rience, and encouragement can achieve to supply 
the place of genius ' ^ 

I have mentioned the extraordinary reverence of 
Lessing for Winkelmann ; but Lessing, nourished 
upon Homer and Sophocles, could not bring himself 
to accept the dictum of Winkelmann about Laocoon. 
Lessing, on the contrary, maintains that the Greeks 
would have considered the scream of bodily anguish 
quite compatible with greatness of soul — a pro- 
jDOsition which in Germany was fruitful in results 
as to the theory of tragedy, and which overcame 
the angry and resolute opposition of Herder, and 
won the approbation of Schiller and indeed of 
Goethe. The first and highest law of ancient art 
Lessing maintained was tlie production of Beauty ; 
this Art therefore avoided all caricature, all ex- 
tremes of passion which bordered on what w^as 
hideous. The true and proper end of art is that 
which she ever works out for herself without the 
aid of any other art. That end is, in Plastic Art, 
corporeal beauty, to be found only in men, and in 
them only by virtue of an ideal -. 

Winkelmann' had said, 'In the anguish and 
suffering of the Laocoon, which is shown in every 
muscle and nerve, we see the tried spirit of a great 
man, who wrestles with torment ana seeks to sup- 
press and confine within itself the outbreak of 
sensibility. He does not burst forth into a loud 
cry as Virgil describes him to us, but only sad and 
still sighs come from him, etc ' *. 

This comparison stimulated the critical faculty of 
Lessing, and together with a perusal of the works 

1 Introduction to Futeli't Life and Writing*, vol. ii, p. 13. 

2 See CIl XX, in/ra, and compare Sir Joshua Reynolds's Works, vol. 
ii, 78, 13th DisuourHe. 

3 For references bi' Winkelmann to the Laocoon, see i, 81, 65, 216, 
261, 255, 382; ii, 203-206, 208, 209. 228; iii, 84, 320; iv, 61, 105, 148, 
160, 173, 267, 370, 372, 881, 388, 418, 419; v, 40, 105, 119, 159, 221, 
260, 417 ; vi, 1, 101, 131, 268; vii, 1*7, 98, 187, 269, 291. Ed. Dresden, 

* Kuntt der Zeichnung unter den Gricchcn, 4 Kap. §34 ; 7 Band, p. 
98, ed. 1817. 


of Spence and Caylus, led to his profound examin- 
ation of the then generally accepted thesis which 
had been current even before the time of Plutarch 
and Pliny ; namely, that Poetry was a speaking 
Picture, and Painting a dumb Poem. I will here 
cite at length the passage in Plutarch which refers 
to this adage and also contains the motto which 
Lessing adopted, though he did not quite understand 
it, for his Laocoon : 

TovTO rh fpyov Ev^pduoop typaype, Koi vapecniv bpav eV 
(Ik6vi ttjs fxdxv^ TO aiy^pa/JL/xa Kot r^u avTfpctciv aKKrjs Koi 
Qvjxov KoX irvevfxaros "yifMOvaav. aW' ovk hv olfxai T-i]u ^wypd- 
(pou Kpiaiv irpo(T9elr]T€ Trphs top arparriyhv, oi»5' avdcrxoicrOe 
tS>v irpoTiixwvTwv rhu TrivuKa tov Tpoiraiov, koX rh fMliJ.r]fj.a ttjs 
o\rj0eias. ttX^v 6 'S.ificovlSrjs, t})U p-lv ^cay pacpiav, iroir)- 
aiv a iccTT waav irpoffayopevcav, t}]v Se Ttoi't](Tiv, 
Co}ypa(piav \a\ov(Tau. hs yap ol C^ypd<poi irpd^eis us 
yivofievas deiKVvovai, ravTas oi Koyoi ycyevrj/jLevas dirfyovvrat 
Kol avyy pdcpoucriV et de ol fjikv xP^y-°-^'' '^"^ axv/J-o-ff'^i', ol d'^ 
ov6p.a<n KoL \4^effi toCto driKovcriu, vKri Kal rp6iT0is 
ixifx-fiffeeas 8 ia(p4pov<x i' t4\os 5' afjLporepois ev virSKeirai, 
Kol Twv IcrropiKOiV Kpdri(TTOs 6 r^v 5ii\yr]aiv &(Tirep ypa(p^u 
TrdOeai Kal irpoacciTOis eldwXoirofliaas^. 

The dictum of Simonides, whether correct or in- 
correct, was intended to be construed and applied 

1 Plutarch, Comm. Bellone an Pace clariores fuerini Athenienses, v. 7, 
p. 36G, ed. Reiske : ' This action Euphranor painted, and you can see in 
similitude tlie story of the battle, and the contest teeming with might, 
courage, and sjiirit ; but you would not, I think, make comparison of 
the painter and the general, nor endure those who would honour the 
picture above the trophy, and the imitation above the reality. Yet 
Simonides addre-ised painting as silent poetry, ami poetry as speaking 
painting. For those actions which painters pourtray as taking place, 
are, when they have taken place, recounted and described by words. 
But if the one set present these actions by colcairs and figures, and the 
other by names and iihrases, they differ in the material and in the modes 
of their imitation. Both, however, have one object, and the best his- 
tiirian is lie who, in the passions and persons of his story, has produced 
a series of images as if they were painted in a picture'. 'YXtj koI tpottoi? 
/ait/u.TJ(Tea>s 6ta<^epov<ri. ' They difler in the material and in the modes 
of their expression '. Tliis is the passage which I mentioned as having 
been chosen by Lessiug for the motto of his work, and though, as will 
have been seen, he slightly misconstrued it, a better could not have 
been chosen. 


with the recollection that the variety of the means 
employed by the poet and the painter was a matter 
of common everyday knowledge. The author of the 
dictum, moreover, knew that it would receive modi- 
fication in practice from the right feeling of the 
artist. It has been said ' to be the privilege of the 
ancients in nothing to do too much or too little ' ^ 

5. The fable of Laocoon has been variously related 
by writers before and after the time of Virgil. As 
to the last, according to the version of Quintus 
Calaber^, when Laocoon struck the wooden horse 
with his spear an earthquake was caused by Minerva 
whicli stupefied him with terror. Nevertheless, 
when the horse was moved into the city he was 
urgent that it should be burnt : and then Minerva 
invoked two serpents from the island of Calydna, 
which devoured the children of Laocoon in vain 
.stretching forth their hands to him for succour. 
Then the serpents rush to the temple of Minerva 
and disappear beneath the earth, and Laocoon is 
smitten with blindness. Hyginus, tlie next writer 
on the subject after Virgil, speaks of the children 
being slain with their father, and makes Laocoon 
the priest of Neptune and not of Apollo. 

As to the authors before the time of Virgil who 
wrote about Laocoon, they were Lysimaclms, Lyco- 
phron, and a once very celebrated poet, Euphorion, 
of whom we know from Quintilian^ that Virgil had 
a very high opinion. Tliese were writers of tlie 
Alexandrian School, to wliom those of tlie Augustan 
School, and especially Virgil, seem to have been 
much indebted*. Laocoon was also probably the 
theme of more than one Greek writer. It was the 
subject, we know, of a lost tragedy of Sophocles ^. 

The so-called Cyclic Poets were, according to 
Heyne", (to whom I am chiefly indebted for these 
observations), the real fountain of these different 

1 Ourauor, 11, 13. 2 xit, 8R8-409. 

» X, 1, 36, < Cicero, Tiuc. Q. Ifi, 19. 

6 Dioiiys. Hallcar. I, 43. « Excure. v, vi, ad lib. 11 VirglL 


^'ersions, and above all Leschis, 'quern utique 
Quintus expressisse visus est '. 

Cardinal Sadolet's comparatively modern poem 
on the Laocoon is, as will be seen, given at length 
by Lessing, who highly esteemed it, in a note to one 
of the sections of this work ^ 

Lessing made use of the fable of Laocoon as fur- 
nishing the occasion for expressing certain principles 
of criticism discriminating between the arts of 
Poetry and Painting. He did not intend — as he 
more than once, I think, says — to write a philo- 
sophical treatise, modo et forma , on art. One of his 
biographers has observed that the pursuit of Truth 
was more agreeable to him than the capture of the 
object of his pursuit. He delighted in the chase 
itself and the opportunities which it afforded for 
the exercise of his vigorous sense, great erudition, 
and masculine understanding. 

6. I have written in the Appendix a few concise 
historical notes to each Chapter, illustrative of the 
authors mentioned by Lessing, and have added a few 
additional references. To many readers the inform- 
ation thus supplied will probably be unnecessary, 
but there are some, to whom I liope it will not be 
disagreeable, and to both classes it may be perhaps 

There are, however, two or three authors whom 
Lessing, for purposes of explanation or censure, very 
frequently mentions : and there are others whom 
one is surprised that he does not mention. I will 
say a word on both these topics. 

As to the former, the first author in date is 

With Dryden's Parallel of Poetry and Painting (an 
essay prefixed in 1695 to Du Fresnoy's Latin poem 
De Arte Graphica) Lessing seems to have been well 
acquainted. The essay, though it bears marks of 
his unrivalled style, has not contributed much to 
the fame of Dryden. It was truly observed, that 

1 See Ch. VI, Note 3, infra. 


' wanting a competent knowledge of painting, he 
suffered himself to be misled by an unskilful guide '. 
As to the general subject, Dry den relied greatly on 
the authority of Bellori,to whom Lessing also refers^ 
Dryden says in one place '^ 'that the principal end 
of Painting is to please, of Poetry to instruct ' ; and 
in another place ^ 'that one main end of Poetry and 
Painting is to please '. . . ' The imitation of Nature 
is, therefore, justly constituted as the general, indeed 
the only, rule of pleasing both in Poetry and Paint- 
ing ' *. Then he refers to Aristotle's opinion, which 
is considered fully hereafter in the notes to the 

The poem of Du Fresnoy was translated into 
English verse by Mason in 1782, and was published, 
with valuable notes, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and 
is to be found in the last edition of his Works. 

Du Fresnoy begins with a fragment from Horace'?; 
Ars Poetica, '*tJt Pictura Poesis erit'^. Mason cittis 
in a note the adage of Simonides from Plutarch, and 
says 'There is a Latin line somewhere to the 
same purpose, but I know not whether ancient or 
modern, "Poesis est Pictura loquens, mutum Pictura 

Francis Junius was born at Heidelberg in or about 
1589. A man of vast classical erudition, and a great 
traveller, a friend of Grotius, Salmasius, Vossius (his 
brother-in-law), and Archbishop Usher. 

In 1620 he came to England, and was received 
into the household of the Earl of Arundel and Surrey. 
Here he wrote his folio volume, De Pictura Veternvi, 
on the Art of Painting among the Ancients, whicli 
was first published in Holland. He died at Windsor 
in 1678, and in his eighty-eighth or eighty-ninth year. 
He was buried at Windsor ; and the University of 
Oxford, to whom he bequeathed his manuscript and 
books out of gratitude, caused a Latin inscription to 
be placed over liis tomb. In it he is described as 

1 Works, iv. 811, ed. Malone. 2 See Ch. II, Note 17, in/m. 

3 Works, iv, 318. < lb. 822 » v, 361. 


pene nonagenarins, and as one ' qui per omnem aeta- 
tem sine querela aut injuria cujusquam musis tan- 
tum et sibi vacavit '. The edition which I have used 
was published at Rotterdam 1694. Lessing blames 
Spence for relying on the accuracy of Junius's cita- 
tions without verification. They were often very 
incorrect ^ 

Joseph Spence 2 was for ten years Professor of 
Poetry at Oxford. He spent five years on the 
Continent, chiefly at Florence and Rome. He 
published Dialogues in ten books, in royal folio, in 
1747. His work w^as entitled, Polymetis ; or, an 
Inquiry concerning the Agreement between the Works of 
the Roman Poets and the Remains of the Ancient Artists, 
being an attempt to illustrate them mutually from one 

' When you look on the old pictures ' (Spence says, 
p. 3) ' or sculptures, you look on the works of men 
who thought much in the same train with the old 
poets. There was generally the greatest union in 
their designs ; and when they are engaged on the 
same subject they must be the best explainers of 
one another. As we lie so far north from this last 
great seat of Empire, we are placed out of the reach 
of consulting these finer remains of antiquity so 
much and so frequently as one could wish. The 
only way of supplying this defect to any degree 
among us is by copies, prints, and drawings ' . 

(P. 285) : ' I think, therefore, there can be no room 
to doubt that some of the best comments we could 
have on the ancient poets, might be drawn from the 
works of the artists who were their contemporaries ; 
and whose remains often present to our eyes the 
very things which the othei-s have delivered down 
to us only in words '. 

1 See Ch. XXIX, infra. 2 See Ch. VII, Note 2. 

3 It contains forty-one plates, seventeen 'ornamental pieces at the 
close of the Dialogues', three figures (disposed in the manner of an 
ancient relievo) in the frontispiece : the Goddess of Painting, the God 
of Poetry, and the Grenius of Sculpture, from antiques. 


This author is continually referred to in the 
Laocoon. He and Caylus are the subject of some of 
Lessing's severest and justest criticisms. 

Jonathan Richardson published Works on Painting 
in 1725. Discourses on 1. The Tlieory of Painting ; 
2. Essay on the Art of Criticism, so far as it relates 
to Painting ; 3. The Science of a Connoisseur. A 
new edition of the Works was prepared by his son, 
and dedicated to Sir Joshua Reynolds, in 1773. 

In 1728 there was published in Amsterdam, in 
three volumes, Traite de la Peinhire et de la Sculpture, 
and this is the work to which Lessing constantly 
refers. ' It is ' (Pilkington remarks, in his Dictionary 
of Painters) ' a curious circumstance that a man who 
could write so well upon the art should so ill apply 
to his own practice the rules he gave to others. Full 
of theory, profound in reflections, and possessed of 
a numerous collection of dra\vings, he appears not 
to have possessed the smallest invention as applic- 
able to the Painter's art, and drew nothing well 
below the head ' ^ 

Hogarth (born 1698, died 1764) published The 
Afudysis of Beauty, written ivith a view of fixing the 
fluctuating ideas of Taste, in 1753. The object of the 
work was to show that the curve was the natural 
line of beauty. But Hogarth had no classical know- 
ledge, and indeed was, generally speaking, very 
uneducated. In his chap, iii, 'Of Simplicity or 
Distinctness', he says 'The authors' (for tliere were 
three concerned in the work) 'of as tine a ^roup of 
figures in sculpture as ever was made either by 
ancients or moderns ' (I mean L;iocoon and his two 
sons) ' chose to be guilty of making tlie sons iialf 
the lather's size, though they have every mark of 
being designed for men, rather than not brin^ their 
composition within the boundary of a pyramid '. 

Lessing does not refer to this passage, and very 
possibly it escaped his notice. Sir J. Reynolds 

1 See Ch. XI, Note 1, infra. 


says ^ : ' It naturally occurs to oppose the sensible 
conduct of Gainsborough, in this respect, to that of 
our late excellent Hogarth, who, with all his extra- 
ordinary talents, was not blessed with this knowledge 
of his own deficiency ; or of the bounds which were 
set to the extent of his own powers. After this 
admirable artist had spent the greater part of his 
life in an active, busy, and, we may add, successful 
attention to the ridicule of life ; after he had 
invented a new species of dramatic painting, in 
which probably he will never be equalled, and had 
stored his mind with infinite materials to explain 
and illustrate the domestic and familiar scenes of 
common life, which were generally, and ought to 
have been always, the subject of his pencil, he very 
imprudently, or rather presumptuously, attempted 
the great historical style, for which his previous 
habits had by no means prepared him ; he was. 
indeed so entirely unacquainted with the principles 
of this style, that he was not even aware that any 
artificial preparation was at all necessary. It is to 
be regretted that any part of the life of such a 
genius should be fruitlessly employed. Let his 
failure teach us not to indulge ourselves in the vain 
imagination, that by a momentary resolution we 
can give either dexterity to the hand, or a new habit 
to the mind '. 

7. And now let me say a word as to authors whom 
Lessing does not mention, but with whom he was 

The Abbe Du Bos wrote his Rdjlexions critiqites sur 
la Foesie et la Peinture in 1719. In this work he 
includes, as will be presently noticed, several 
ingenious chapters on music, and the relation of 
that art to poetry and painting. He died at Paris 
in 1742. His work was very highly esteemed by 
Voltaire ; and perhaps the tone and spirit of it bore 
a closer affinity to the Laocoon than the work of any 

1 Vol. ii, Disc. 14. 88. 


other predecessor of Lessing. His style is per- 
spicuous and agreeable ; his criticisms generally- 
luminous. Lessing was well acquainted with him, 
^nd certainly made use of him ^ It is strange that 
no reference should be made to him in the Laocoon. 
It is true that Lessing differed from him as to the 
principle of his comparison of poetry and painting, 
Du Bos adopting for his motto ' Ut Pictura Poesis '. 
But Du Bos laid down many of the sound principles 
which Lessing relied upon. Above all he held that 
Poetry could attain to the sublime, which Painting 
could not reach, because she was limited to the 
representation of one moment of a continuing 

Daniel Webb published, among other works, An 
Enquiry into the Beauties of Painting^ and into the 
Merits of the most celebrated Painters, ancient and 
modern, in 1760*'^; and Obsem-ations on tlie Corre- 
spondences between Poetry and Music, in 1769^; and 
Remarks on the Beauties of Poetry, in 1762*. 

He sought to establish the position that poetry 
was an union of powers of music and painting. He 
considered Shakspere to be as great a painter as 
Titian. Effective colouring ought in his opinion to 
be the great object of the painter. 

Webb is said to have derived all his information 
on sesthetical subjects from Mengs, with whom he 
lived on terms of intimacy for some years. If this 
were so, he never acknowledged the obligation. In 
his turn, however, 'suos patitur manes ', for I cannot 
find that Lessing ever refers to Webb, though his 
obligation, if any, was certainly mucli lighter : yet 
sometimes there is a remarkable correspondence 
in their ideas. Lessing was infinitely his superior, 
liowever, in every literary respect. 

Harris (born 1709, died 1780) first published his 
treatises, Concerning Art., Music, Painting, and Poeti-y, 
in 1765, a year before the publication of the Laocoon. 

1 GuraTier, ii, 15. 2 Ed. London, 17S7. 

8 lb. 1769. •» lb. 1762. 


These treatises have great merit ; they are not 
referred to by Lessing, who, but for his extraordinary 
erudition, might be presumed not to have been 
acquainted with them. I have introduced several 
extracts from them in the notes \ 

Section II 

1, EiTect of the Laocoon in Germany ; 2. On the Continent of Europe. 

1. The effect of the Laocoon in Germany was marvel- 
lous ; while on the Continent of Europe it was very 
great. It is hardly too much to say that what Adam 
Smith did, in the domain of Political Economy, by 
his Wealth of Nations, Lessing did, in the domain of 
Art and Criticism, by this memorable treatise. It 
created a new era in aesthetic^ culture and litera- 
ture. It has leavened not only the teaching and 
the practice of Professors of Art and practical 
Artists, but, like other great works, it has purified 
the taste, and informed the mind of many, who 
have benefited by the streams flowing in various 
channels from a fountain head which they have 
never visited. 

After the publication of the Laocoon a different 
atmosphere, so to speak, of aesthetic taste and criti- 

1 See Oh. II, Note 18, and Ch. VI, Note 2, infra. 

2 'In English, this expression, feeling, like all others of a psycho- 
logiral applicaiiDH, was primarily of a purely physical relation, being 
originally employed to denote the sensations we experience through 
the sense of touch, and in this meaning it still continues to be em- 
ployed. From this, its original relation to matter and the corporeal 
sensibility, it came, by a very natural analogy, to express our con- 
scious states of mind in general, but particularly in relation to the 
qualities of pleasure and pain, by which they are charaiterised. Such 
is the fortune of the term in English; and precisely similar is that of 
the cognate term, Gefiihl, in German. The same, at least a similar, 
history might be given of the Greek term ato-flrjcrts, and of the Latin 
sensus, sensatio, with their immediate and mediate derivatives in the 
different Romaic dialects of modern Europe, — the Italian, Spanish, 
French, and English dialects '. Sir W. Hamilton's Lectures on Meta- 
physics, Lecture xli. See also Lecture xlvi. 



cism prevailed, and was insensibly imbibed by pos- 
terity, first in Germany, then on the Continent, and 
lastly in England. 

The similarity and liarmony of the two arts, 
Poetry and Painting, had been frequently and 
copiously discussed ; but Lessing reversed the medal, 
and investigated the inherent dissimilarity, and 
showed that this dissimilarity was foundea upon 
laws peculiar to each art, and which often com- 
pelled the one to tread a different path from the 

Lessing perceived the important relation of the 
category of time to painting and the plastic art 
generally ; he saw that the artist had only a moment 
in which to tell his tale, and he maintained that the 
right choice of this moment was everything (a 
remark which he often repeated) ; that it sliould 
be one which was most fruitful or pregnant with 
suggestion, which allowed the freest scope to the 
imagination of the spectator, who the more he 
looked at what was represented, the more he ought 
to exercise thought. Therefore plastic art ought 
not to exhibit the last and extremest thing, whicli 
left no room for the working of the imagination. 

Lessing held that the artist ought not to express 
what was absolutely momentary and transitory, 
and the ancient artist never did this. It has been 
observed that the idea in Lessing's mind was riglit, 
but perhaps not quite correctly formulated in lan- 
guage, inasmuch as what is to be avoided by the 
artist is not whatever is absolutely momentary, but 
that of which the inspection could only be tolerated 
for a moment, because it introduced what was 
hideous. The painter employs figures and colours 
in sjoace, the poet articulate sounds in fmie. Lessing 
having considered the laws of painting or plastic 
art generally, then considered those of Doetry ; liis 
main position is that the law respecting tlie category 
of time, applicable to painting, was inapplicable to 


It was competent to the poet, by previous recital, 
to prepare the mind of his audience for an effect, or 
by subsequent recital to soften the consequences of 
the etfect : and in the Laocoon of the poet who could 
employ successive action in aid of his mental pic- 
tures, there was a much wider scope of representation 
than in the Laocoon of the artist. 

Virgil might represent his Laocoon clothed, 
because in poetry clothing is no clothing, conceal- 
ing nothing. The artist could not even venture to 
bind the lillet of the priest on the brow of the 
Laocoon, because he would have concealed the brow, 
which is the seat of expression. 

The best poetical picture therefore possesses fea- 
tures of which the artist can make no use ; but the 
converse is not true. Every trait of the artist's 
work may be made use of by the poet, and Lessing 
thought it far more probable that the artist had 
present to his mind the Laocoon of the poet, than 
that the poet had present to his mind the Laocoon 
of the artist. Lessing is led by the development of 
his theory on this subject to condemn Count Caylus 
and the French essayists on art, who would compel 
tlie painter to adopt and paint the pictures in 
Homer, and the English writers, especially Spence, 
who thought that the ancient poets could be ex- 
plained by ancient works of art, such as statues 
and models, without exercising any discrimination 
between the different nature of the two arts, or ob- 
serving tlie far wider scope and province of poetry. 

Finally, Lessing arrives at the goal which he had 
proposed to himself, and establishes the supremacy 
of poetry over all other arts. At the same time he 
revives the old precepts of Horace, and denies alto- 
gether to poetry the domain of pure description. 
' A flower ', he says, ' by a Dutch painter recalls all 
that word painting of it can effect. Homer does 
not describe the shield of Achilles when made, but 
he paints the action of the divine maker of it, and 
thus places the whole before our eyes. The trans- 


oendent beauty of Helen is painted, by Homer, not 
by descriptive detail, but in the effect which it 
produced on the aged counsellors of Troy'. Tliat 
Lessing carried the doctrine, that poetry had nothing 
to do with description, too far, in his eagerness to 
destroy the passion for descriptive poetry which 
prevailed in his youth, and which an extravagant 
admiration of Thomson's Seasons had done much to 
foster, is a proposition which 1 think the reader of 
the second volume of Humboldt's Kosmos will not 

I purpose to return to this subject a little further 
on, but I may observe, how often it happens that 
a few words of description animate tlie painter's 
picture, awakening the imagination to the exquisite 
taste and beauty of a performance wliich, of itself, 
would have commanded admiration only for the 
merits of imitation and execution. For instance, it 
is not difficult to imagine the picture of an old man- 
of-war towed by a steam -tug up a river. The exe- 
cution of such a subject may deserve great praise 
and give great satisfaction to the beholder. But 
add to the representation the statement that it is 
'The fighting Tem^raire towed to her last V>erth', 
and a series of the most stirring events of our 
national history fills our imagination, while the 
contrast between the ancient and modern powers 
of na\'igation is also, but, not alone, forcibly pre- 
sented to the mind. 

In the following lines the picture of a painting 
seems to transcend the painting itself: 

2 Servant. 
Dost thou love pictures ? we will fetch thee straight 
Adonis, painted bj' a running brook, 
And Cytherea, all in sedges liid. 
That seem to move and wanton with her breath. 
Even as the waving sedges play with wind. 

We'll show thee lo as she was a maid. 
And how she was beguiled and huri)risod. 
As lively painted as the deed was done. 



Or Daphne, roaming through a thorny wood, 
Scratching her legs that one shall swear she bleeds, 
And at that sight shall sad Apollo weep : 
So workmanly the blood and tears are drawn i. 

Goethe ^ wrote his essay * upon Laocoon' in 1797, 
in the Propylaen^. At the close of this essay he 
considers the relation of the subject to poetry. ' It 
is a great injustice', he argues, 'against Virgil and 
poetry to compare the most carefully executed 
masterpiece of sculpture with the episodic treat- 
ment of the same subject in the Aeneid. The unfor- 
tunate tempest-tossed Aeneas had to tell the whole 
story of the taking of Troy, and to excuse the in- 
credible folly of introducing the wooden horse into 
the city. 

' The history of the Laocoon ', he says, ' is a kind 
of rhetorical argument, which admits of varied ex- 
aggeration. Hence the picture of the enormous 
serpents advancing from the sea and fastening upon 
the children of Laocoon who had injured the horse. 
The people fly — no one dares any more to be a 
patriot, and the hearer, aghast at the horrors, 
finds the introduction of the horse not unnaturaL 
In Virgil the history of the Laocoon is only a means 
to a higher end, and it is still a very moot question 
whether the event be per se a poetical incident '. 

This work of Goethe is of rather a feeble character. 
The mind of Lessing was of a more robust and manly 
texture than the mind of Goethe. 

Mr Lewes observes that 'Instruction in the 
theory of art he (Goethe) gained from Oeser, from 
Winkelmann, and from Laocoon, the incompar- 
able little book which Lessing at this period care- 

1 Taming of the Shrew, Induction, scene ii. 

2 Werke, S8, B. 49. 

3 Goedeke, 824. The Propylaen meant the vestibnle of the Temple 
of Knowledge or Truth. See EinUitung in die Pro. Goethe's Werke, B. 
38, 1. It is remarkable that in this essay lie does not refer toLessing's 
work, to which he was much beholden, and with which he was well 


lessly flung upon the world. Its effect upon Goetlie 
can only be appreciated by those who in early life 
have met with this work and risen from it with 
minds widened, strengthened, inspired '^ 

Frederick Schlegel^, in his work on Lessing, 
remarked with justice ' that the mere erudition of 
Germans was undeniable, what was wanted for the 
foundation of their literature was the substratum 
of a learned, vigorous and yet popular spirit of 
criticism, continued on the model which Lessing 
had furnished — a free spirit of investigation strug- 
gling to attain just ideas of art, vigorous in logic, 
but quick in sympathy, and extending to the whole 
domain of literature'. 

2. Whether the literary rank and position of 
Lessing in Germany was ever equal to that of Dr 
Johnson in England — wliether a parallel can be 
instituted between Lessing and Shaftesbury, the 
author of the Chaj-aderidics, are propositions which, 
in spite of the considerable authority of Mr De 
Quincey in favour of them, are to my mind very 
doubtful. The effect produced by the Laocoon 
upon the European Continent out of Germany, 
tliough great, was by no means equal to its merits. 
Europe generally seems to have taken less interest 
in it than in his other works. Vanderbourg appears 
— I have never seen the work— to liave published a 
French translation in 1780. But it had no influence 
on the criticism then prevalent in France. Another 
French translation appeared in 1802, which is more 
generally known. Lessing had prepared a French 
preface, and intended to have translated the whole 
work into that language. It is perhaps fortunate 
that he did not execute his intention. His power 
of writing French, if we may judge from tlie preface 
which he translated into this language, was much 
less than he appeiirs himself to liave been aware of. 

1 Life of Goethe, p. 67. 

2 Leasing's Oeitt aut seinen Schriften, Oder detten Oedanken und 
Meinungen zu^ammengettellt und erlautert. Leii>z. 1804. 


Section III 

1. Influence of the Laocoon in England ; 2. Writers and Lecturers on 
Poetry and Painting. Lord Macaulay ; 3. English Translations 
of the Laocoon. 

1. Lord Bacon, in his Advancement of Learning^ 
had said^ 'The parts of Human Learning have 
reference to three parts of man's Understanding, 
which is the seat of learning : History to his 
Memory, Poesy to his Imagination, and Philosophy 
to his Reason'^. Gurauer remarks that in conse- 
quence of this division the English school of thought 
naturally considered Fancy ' as the common factor ' 
of poetry and painting, and it was from this kind 
of psychological treatment of the arts that the true 
principle of ancient art, namely, objective imita- 
tion, that is, the reality of the object, was exchanged 
for the subjective principle of fiction. False 
Idealism took the place of Nature and Truth, and 
prepared the way for the confusion of poetry and 
painting in England, which prevailed when the 
Laocoon was written. The confusion does appear 
to have existed, but, not long after the publication 
of the Laocoon^ it was in a great measure dispelled 
by high authority, as will be seen in the Discourses 
of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first of which was 
delivered in 1769. 

The influence of the Laocoon in England was 
much later and slower than on the Continent. The 
German language was little studied during the last 
century in this country. 

2. There is a peculiar kind of English literature 
in which we should expect to find early mention of 
the aesthetic principles laid down in the Laocoon. I 
mean the Discourses of the Presidents, and the 
Lectures of Professors of Painting, in our Royal 

1 Book vi. 2 ii, 14. 


Academy ; a literature, let me observe, in passing, 
very interesting and instructive, and too mucli 
neglected in the present age. Not improbably 
Jclmson and Burke contributed to the lectures of 
Sir Joshua Reynolds ; but in any event the educa- 
tion of an English gentleman is incomplete with- 
out a knowledge of them. The first Discourse 
of Sir Joshua was delivered in 1769, the last in 

In no Discourse, in no letter or essay, by Sir 
Joshua is there any reference, I believe, to Lessing. 
Nevertheless, the reader of the Laocoon will often 
be struck by the resemblance of the canons in that 
work to those laid down by Sir Joshua. I have 
referred in the notes to some of them. The reader 
may not dislike to read in this place some of the 
passages which bear this character. 

'A painter* (writes Sir Joshua in 1771) 'must com- 
pensate the natural deficiencies of art. He has but one 
sentence to utter, but one moment to exhibit ' ^. 

' The true test of all the arts is not solely whether the 
production is a true copy of nature, but whether it 
answers the end of art, which is to produce a pleasing 
eflfect upon the mind '. . . . 'I believe it may be considered 
as a general rule that no art can be grafted with success 
on another art -. For though all profess the same origin, 
and to proceed from the same stock, yet each has its own 
peculiar modes, both of imitating Nature and of deviating 
from it, each for the accomplishment of its own particular 
purpose ' ^. 

' I fear ijuc (painters) have but very scanty means of 
exciting those powers over the imagination which make 
so very considerable a part of poetry. It is a doubt with 
me whether we should even make the attempt. The 
chief, if not the only, occasion which the painter has for 
this artifice, is when the subject is improper to be more 
fully represented either for the sake of decency, or to 
avoid what would be disagreeable to be seen ; and this is 
not to raise or to increase the passions, which is the reason 

1 Workt, I, 848, 4th Discourse. 2 gee p. 304 of this work. 

8 Work«, ii, 73, 18th Discourse. 


that is given for this practice, but, on the contrary, to 
diminish their effect ' ^ 

' Invention in painting does not imply the invention of 
the subject, for that is commonly supplied by the poet or 
historian. With respect to the choice, no subject can be 
proper that is not generally interesting. It ought to be 
either some eminent instance of heroic action, or heroic 
suffering. There must be something either in the action, 
or in the object, in which men are universally concerned, 
and which powerfully strikes upon the public sympathy '2. 

' It is not the eye, it is the mind which the painter of 
genius desires to address ; nor will he waste a moment 
upon those smaller objects which only serve to catch the 
sense, to divide the attention, and to counteract his great 
design of speaking to the heart. This is the ambition 
which I wish to excite in your minds ; and the object I 
have had in my view throughout this discourse is that one 
great idea which gives to painting its true dignity, which 
entitles it to the name of a liberal art, and ranks it as a. 
sister of poetry ' ^. 

' Poetry operates by raising our curiosity, engaging the- 
mind by degrees to take an interest in the event, keep- 
ing that event suspended, and surprising at last with an 
unexpected catastrophe. 

' The painter's art is more confined, and has nothing 
that corresponds with, or perhaps is equivalent to, this 
power and advantage of leading the mind on till attention 
is totally engaged. What is done by painting must be 
done at one blow ; curiosity has received at once all the 
satisfaction it can ever have ' ■*. 

This was written in 1778. 

In one respect Sir Joshua differed materially 
from Lessing : he did not disapprove of allegorical 
painting ^ 

1 Works i, 460, 8th Discourse. 2 ib., S45, 4th Discourse. 

3 1b., 340, 3rd Discourse. •* lb., 439, 8th Discourse. 

5 lb., 1, 420-1, 7th Discourse. Compare Fuseli's Life, ii, 197. 
See p. 112 of this work, where the following note would have been 
better placed : • Premettianio, che di tre fatte esstr posson gli Em- 
blemi : poiche alcuni sono, che dichiarano la natura, e la cagion delle 
cose : e questi si cliiamano Fisici. Altri sono, che racchiudono 
qualche azione, o favolosa o vera, che sia : e questi si dicono Jstorici, 
mi V azione fxi vera ; o Mithilogici, se 1' azione fu falsa. Altri final- 


It was in 1807 that Jolin Opie read his lectures 
to the Royal Academy. He does not mention 
Lessing, but he makes the following observations 
on the arts of Poetry and Painting : 

' Here, however, it will be proper to remark, that, 
though from the acknowledged similarity in the principles 
and effects of these two arts, the one has been called mute 
poesy, and the other speaking picture, such is still the very 
great diversity in their modes and means of exerting their 
powers, that the study of one can, at best, be considered 
as a general only, and, not at all, as a technical help to 
invention in the other : the roads they take, though 
parallel, lie as entirely apart, and unconnected, as the 
senses of hearing and seeing, the different gates by which 
they enter the mind. The one operates in time, the other 
in space ; the medium of the one is sound, of the other 
colour ; and the force of the one is successive and cumula- 
tive, of the other collected and instantaneous. Hence the 
poet, in his treatment of a story, is enabled to bespeak the 
reader's favour by a graceful introduction, describing his 
characters, relating what has already happened, and 
showing their present situation ; and thus preparing him 
for what is to come, to lead him on step by step with 
increasing delight, to the full climax of passion and 
interest ; whilst the painter, on the contrary, deprived of 
all such auxiliary aid, is obligated to depend on the eflfect 
of a single moment. That indeed is the critical moment 
in which all the most striking and beautiful circumstances 
that can be imagined are concentrated, big with suspense, 
interest, passion, terror, and action ; in short, the moment 
of explosion, which illuminates and brings at once into 
view the past, present, and future, and wliich, when well 
rendered, is often more than equivalent to all the 
successive energies of the past. 

' This contrariety in their means, in some degree, 
separates and limits their fields of operation ; and (though 
there are many subjects equally adapted to both arts) 
calls, in general, for a different principle in the choice of 

mente a' coHtvimi s" aspettano ; e si chianmno Ethici, o Moraii'. Il 
QuADRio, Delia Storia e Ragiom d' ogni Poctia, Lib. ii, Dlst. iii, voL 
iii, c. ix, part, v, p. 418. 


them. The most striking beauties, as presented to one 
sense, being frequently wholly untranslatable into the 
language of another, it necessarily results that many 
interesting passages in history and poetry are incapable of 
affording more than a bald and insipid representation on 
canvass ' ^. 

In 1813, Dr Copleston published at Oxford his 
Praelectiones Academicae, in which the philosophy of 
poetry is treated with the acumen, the grace of 
style, and admirable Latinity which were among 
tlie accomplishments of the distinguished writer. 
The whole treatise was divided into four parts : 
De Imitatione, De Affectibus, De Phantasia, De Judicio. 
In the first part he examined the propriety of call- 
ing poetry an imitative art ; and, likeLessing, took 
Horner^ for his example and authority, speaking of 
his ingenii plusquam Prometheus ardoi\ by which he 
had penetrated into the whole domain of nature. 
The lectures contain a comparison of Poetry with 
Painting — an enquiry, among other matters, into 
the proper functions of each, with respect to de- 
scription, embellished and supported by many 
citations from the classics. No reference is to be 
found to Lessing, and I think the Laocoon was 
unknown to him. 

Henry Fuseii, or Fuessli, a native of Switzerland, 
came to England at an early age, and, encouraged 
by Sir Joshua, devoted himself to painting in tliis 
country. He died at the age of eighty-seven, in the 
year 1 825. In 1803 he was elected Professor of Paint- 
ing to the Royal Academy, an office of which he dis- 
charged the duties for twenty years. During this 
period he published his Lectures, which have obtained 
considerable reputation. His English is not idio- 

1 Opie's Lectures on Painting (published 1809). Lecture II, read at 
the Royal Academy, Feb. 23, 1807, pp. 61-3. 

2 ' Atque ut omittam nunc dicere de variis scribendi formis, quales 
sunt Epica Lyrica Dramatica aut de styli varietate, de ipsa re ae 
materia videainvis, quantum inter partes sit discrimen quae sensibus 
nostris oblectamentum pariunt. Quod ne in infinitum excurramus 
Unius Homeri jirmandv.m est exemplo ', etc. Prael. 2, p. 17. 


niatic or pure, and is often turgid, but not without 
force and fire. Of German he was a complete 
master — one consequence of which was that, first of 
English Professors of Painting, he did full justice 
by name to Lessing's Laocoon, upon the principles 
of which his third lecture ' on Invention ' is in great 
measure founded. It opens with a reference to 
Simonides and Plutarch, and observes 

' that as Poetry and Painting resemble each other in 
their uniform address to the senses, for the impression 
they mean to make on our fancy, and by that on our mind, 
so they differ as essentially in their materials and in their 
modes of application, which are regulated by the diversity 
of the organs which they address, ear and eye. Successive 
action communicated by sound and tune are the medium of 
poetry : form displayed in space and momentaneous energy 
are the elements of painting ' ^. 

Professor Phillips succeeded to the chair of 
Fuseli in 1824, and in one of his very eloquent 
lectures shows himself to have been imbued with 
the principles of the Laocoon, though he does not 
refer to the work, and probably knew them only 
through the medium of Fuseli s Lecture on Invention. 

' It is scarcely possible ', Phillips says, ' to consider the 
quality and the object of invention, as employed by the 
painter, without reference to its influence in poetry. 
There is an unity of object in the minds of the poet and 
the painter, which gives a near degree of affinity to the 
arts they profess when employed upon the illustration of 
history or the productions of fancy ; they differ only in 
their varied means. One spirit actuates them, one power 
directs them to the same end ; their course only is differ- 
ent, as are the agents through whose means they act upon 
the different organs of our senses, the eye, and the ear. 

' The greatest and most important effort required of 
invention in either of those arts, is the selection of that 
which best relates, adorns, and elevates the subject 
chosen ; or the separation of that wliich is essential, 

1 Fuseli, JVorkt, vol. iii, pp. 183-4 ; ed. Knowles, 1881. 


which gives vitality to it from the ordinary matter 
accompanying all mundane things, 

' Under what regulation the painter or the poet may 
select from among these visions of his imagination which 
are calculated to elevate, or to give to his subject the 
air of ideal character, or of refinement demanded by his 
fancy, remains a matter of taste ; but one thing is clear, 
the basis of his means for the fulfilment of his desire 
must be sought for on earth, and he must elevate the 
matter as he may ; with constant reference to nature. A 
character understood by human beings must be main- 
tained in the vision ; and, however small the portions, 
it will be the leading principle in the mind of the reader 
of the poem, or the observer of the picture. 

' Though both the poet and the painter are confined in 
their compositions to this principle of reference to nature, 
the poet is infinitely the most unrestrained of the two. 
The instrument he employs, and the organ he addresses, 
require far less of materiality than is demanded of the 
painter ; and numberless are the instances in which the 
privilege has been successfully indulged ' ^. 

During the last half century a knowledge of 
German has become very general in this country. 
Mr Lewes ^ says ' Macaulay told me that the read- 
ing of this little book (the Laocoon) formed an 
epoch in his mental history, and that he learned 
more from it than he had ever learned elsewhere '. 

3. The Laocoon was translated into English by 
Mr Ross in 1836. Mr De Quincey's eloquent 
paraphrase of a part of the Laocoon will be found 
in the twelfth volume of his works. Mr Beasley's 
translation appeared in 1859, and one by an 
American lady, Miss Frothingham, appeared first 
in Boston, and afterwards in London, during this 

That there are still in tins country many edu- 
cated persons capable of appreciating the Laocoon, 
but reluctant to take the trouble of reading it in 
German, I am satisfied. Not long ago I suggested 

1 Phillips's Lectures on Painting (1833), pp. 194-106. 

2 Life of Goethe, p. 57. 3 1874. 


the perusal of a German book to a highly educated 
man, adding, ' I suppose you read German ? '. He 
said, ' Yes, but I prefer reading a translation '. It 
may, indeed, be not unreasonably asked why another 
English translation should appear ? To which the 
answer must be, however unsatisfactory, that I 
had nearly finished this translation before I could 
obtain a copy of Mr Beasley's work, and quite 
finished it before the American translation reached 
me : and it seemed to me that a translation with a 
preface and notes, and which was not confined to 
the first part of the Laocoon, but included the frag- 
ments of the unfinished parts, which have not yet, 
I believe, been translated into English, might still 
be acceptable to the public, and conduce in a 
humble degree to a better acquaintance with 
Lessing's great work. I hope I have not incurred 
the censure of Don Quixote, and shown, as he says 
bad translators are apt to do, the wrong side of the 
tapestry *. 

Section IV 

1. Poetry in its relation to the Drama, Ilamhuriyische Dramaturgie; 
2. Poetry in its relation to Music. 

1. Lessing might have been satisfied that he had 
laid down sound aesthetical principles on the re- 
spective boundaries of Poetry and Painting when 
he published his essay on the Laocoon ; but he 
knew that he had not exhausted even tliis subject, 
while lie had left almost untouched othei*s inti- 
mately connected with it. I^irst, poetry in the 
form of the drama required a fuller consideration, 
both generally and as compared with painting ; 

1 Don Quixote, t, iv, cap. cxv. 330; e<l. Madrid, 1777. The German 
edition of the Laocoon which I tiave used was published at Berlin, 


secondly, these arts had not been treated in their 
relation to, and in comparison with, the science of 
sound and the art of music ^ 

The defect as to the former subject was in a 
great measure supplied by a very remarkable, 
though now much forgotten^ publication. The first 
number of the Hamburgische Dramaturgie appeared 
on the 1st of May 1767 -. It reached 104 numbers, 
and the last appeared, I believe, on the 19th of 
April 1768. The work consisted of weekly Papers 
on the drama and dramatic literature published 
at Hamburg. The title was taken from an Italian 
work entitled Dramaturgia, written at the begin- 
ning of the 16th century by Leo Allatius or Leoni 
Alacci. In these vigorous essays Lessing let loose 
all his wrath against the French dramatists and 
the French staged If tragedy was the highest 
form of dramatic poetry, by that standard the 
French, he maintained, had no theatre. He treated 
with merciless severity the pretensions of Voltaire, 
then the unworthy idol of Europe, to be an his- 
torian, or a dramatic poet ; and he maintained that 
the principle upon which Corneille wrote tragedy 
was thoroughly rotten and false *. He threw over 
with might and main the French worship of the 
three unities of place, time, and action, and con- 
fined, with a vehemence which went perhaps beyond 
its mark, the drama within the unity of action ^. 
He dwelt on the extraordinary merits and genius 
of Shakespere. But he did more. 'The Laocoon 
is the work ' (says Gervinus) ^ ' which by one blow 

1 'Dryden's Musical Pictures.' 

2 Goedeke, Gt-undriss 2. Gesch. d. deutschen Dichtung, 2. 615. 16. 

3 Stahr's Lessing, 324, Kap. 5. 4 Stahr, 338. 

5 It is remarkable that neither Manzoni, in his admirable letter to 
Monsieur Chauvet, ' Siir I'unite de temps et de lieu dans la Tragedie', 
nor Goethe in his approving reviews of Manzoni's Carmagnola and 
Adelchi, should refer to Lessing's Dramaturgie; Manzoni's proposi- 
tion being that unity of action was alone necessary {Opere, 8fc. di 
Manzoni, p. 95, Paris, 1843). Goethe, Werke, 38. 253. 305. Goethe 
speaks, however, of the principle as well known in German}'. 

6 Gesch. der deutschen Lit. 4. 399. 


set us free from the yoke of French bondage, and 
which called fortli the energy, the life, and the 
depth of our national literature. It was the polar 
star of the future poets of Germany '. 

At present we are only concerned with these 
essays in their relation to the Laocoon. 'If you 
wish', observes Gurauer ^, 'to find a parallel in the 
former works of Lessing to the Dramaturgie, both 
with respect to the form and the depths of the 
discussions, the Laocoon presents itselt to you for 
this purpose. As the laws of the plastic arts and 
of poetry, especially of epic poetry, were in the 
Laocoon the object of his inquiry, so in the Drama- 
turgic are the laws of dramatic poetry, especially 
of tragedy'. The transition from the one to the 
other was natural. In the same way as there is no 
formal proposition of the schools laid down as the 
basis of the Laocoon, from which laws and ide-as 
arose in a complete symmetrical system, inasmuch 
as they arose from the consideration of a single 
work of art, and wandered into various paths in 
order to arrive at general results ; so the Drama- 
turgic was not intended to be a teacher's book on a 
dramatic system ; but certain pieces, not always 
the best, considered together, were examined and 
used for the purpose of throwing light upon certain 
contested or obscure questions without arriving at 
a complete resolution of them. But tliey were to 
be considered only as thoughts, the chief value of 
whicli was to stimulate the reader to think for 
himself. Nevertheless, the course taken by the 
critic was different in the two works. 

* In the Laocoon his principal object was to discover the 
law of the plastic arts— first as compared with Poetry by 
speculative abstractions, chiefly taken from Homer and 
the principal works of antiquity. This was not the 
object of the Dramaturgic. Lessing was of opinion that 
the codex dramaticus was not to seek, but was found ; it 

1 P. 170. 


existed in the Parties of Aristotle. Lessing had no rever- 
ence for merely great names or consecrated authorities. 
" If that were all ", he said^, " I would make short work of 
Aristotle " ; but it is because his canons and propositions 
as to the drama exactly agreed with those of Lessing ; 
because, after studying the drama for many years, he was 
convinced that you could not take a step in an opposite 
direction from the rules of Aristotle's Poetics without 
taking a step in the opposite direction to perfection. 
Pointing with his finger, as it were, to Shakespere, Lessing 
laid down in his Drainaiurgie canons for the German 
drama, even as in his Laocoon he had furnished canons for 
the theory and practice of art and poetry. Laocoon 
sufficed for the latter ; Homer and Milton, Sophocles and 
Shakespere, for the former '. 

2. Now as to the second point, namely, the relation 
of Music to Poetry. Herder, who trembled unneces- 
sarily for the fate of all lyrical and epic poetry, as 
undermined by the principles of the Laocoon^, wrote 
upon this work his first important criticism ; and 
complained of the want in it of a comparison and 
juxtaposition of Music and Poetry. 

He did not know that Lessing intended to deal 
fully with this theme— which he afterwards touched 
upon in his Dramaturgie — in the second part of his 
Laocoon, for which w^e have only a few notes, and 
' with a depth and comprehensiveness ', says one of 
his biographers ^, ' which Herder never imagined '. 
It appears, from an anecdote related by Gurauer, 
that Lessing was not able to endure a musical per- 
formance of any length, especially of sonatas, and 
that, after a certain time, he was obliged to rush 
out into the air in order to breathe freely. How 
far, if at all, this curious physical fact in his consti- 
tution might have influenced his opinion on the 
subject we cannot tell, but there are many reasons 
for lamenting that Lessing never completed his 

1 lb. 171. 2 Gurauer, ii, 76. 

3 Stahr, ii, 347. See also Gurauer, ii, 3i7 ; i, 12, 67, and see pp. 316- 
20 of this work. 


Laocoon; and especially we must regret that we 
are deprived of a treatise by him on the relation of 
music to poetry and the plastic arts. 

He well knew that an investigation of the com- 
mon bond which united them all was one of the 
most interesting subjects of philosophy, both with 
respect to its moral results and to the mutual 
working and influence of each art upon the other. 
He knew too, and perhaps this was his peculiar 
merit, that the subject ought to be considered not 
merely as a cold abstraction, but in its relation to 
daily actual life ; the finest needs of which had 
called the arts into existence, and made them one 
of the noblest vocations of man. 

He knew that from a keen perception and critical 
observance of their mutual affinities had been 
derived the doctrine both of the beautiful and the 
ideal, which had animated the unrivalled creations 
of the great philosophers, poets, and artists of 
Greece, and led to a recognition of a divine origin 
in the inspirations of Homer and Pindar. 

He knew how important a part in the education 
and elevation of man the art of music had played, 
not only in the wide signification wliich it obtiiined 
among the ancients, but in the much narrowei* and 
more restricted signification of modern times ; and 
though he could hardly have anticipated the posi- 
tion which it has assumed in the present system of 
education, he would scarcely have approved of the 
statement that 'music, as distinguished from the 
various rude attempts of the past, is only about 
400 years old ' ^ 

The great ItJilian work by Doni \ written about 
the beginning of the seventeentli century, has been 
said, by competent authority, to have sounded the 
depths of ancient Greek music, botli theoretical and 

Eractiail, voc;il and instrumental, and to liave 
rought to light and compared every classical 

1 MusU and Morals, by Rev. H. R. Haweis, 9. 

2 Tiraboschi, Sloria delta Lett. Ital. vol. viii, pp. Ivi. Ivii. 


authority upon the subject. Nevertheless it is 
probable that a treatise by Lessing on the science 
of sound and the art of music would have given us 
another occasion for admiring his immense erudi- 
tion, the vigour of his criticism, and the clearness 
of his conclusions, while he brought to our know- 
ledge, in his own way and after his own fashion, 
what Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Quintilian, Aristides 
Quintilian, and St Augustine, had said upon the 
subject ; and not only with respect to antiquity, 
but with regard to modern times, he would have 
known how 'to clear the whole matter with good 
distinctions and decisions' ^ 

We should have had the advantage of his great 
critical faculty in the investigation and apprecia- 
tion of the theories of modern writers, so far as they 
had then been developed. He would have passed in 
review before us opinions of Doni, Martini, Webb, 
Harris, Du Bos, upon the once much vexed question 
as to whether and to what extent music is to be 
considered as an imitative art ; he would have 
dwelt upon the distinction between the power of 
music to affect the mind by direct and by indirect 
imitation, and especially with reference to the 
difference in this respect between vocal and instru- 
mental music. We should have had his opinion 
upon the propositions of Webb^, which were prob- 
ably suggested by Mengs, that while painting and 
sculpture produce their effect simply as imitative 
arts, music has the double character of an art of 
impression as well as of imitation, that the passions 
are to be traced by their internal movement, or 
external signs, that the musician first catches the 
movement of the passions as they spring from the 
soul, the painter waits till they take the form of 
action, the poet possesses the advantages of both 
and embraces in his imitations the movement and 
the effect. And then what illustrations he would 

1 Bacon, Of Cliurch Controversies. 

2 On Poetry and Music, p. 28. 


have drawn from Shakspere, whom he so thoroughly 
appreciated, and who is pre-eminently the poet of 

There is one portion of this subject on which we 
should have listened with especial interest to his 
remarks, namely, the origin and progress of those 
theatrical representations in which the charms of 
music and poetry were intended to be combined. 
He who knew Milton so well might have taken for 
the text of his lectures on this subject 

And ever against eating cares, 

Lap me in soft Lydian airs, 

Married to immortal verse. 

Such as the meeting soul may pierce 

In notes, with many a winding bout 

Of linked sweetness long drawn out, 

With wanton heed, and j;iddy cunnincr, 

The melting voice through mazes running, 

Untwisting all the chains that tie 

The hidden soul of harn.ony. 

What would he have said upon this * marriage ' of 
Music and Poetry as shown in the gorgeous repi*e- 
sentations which arose out of the prodigious magni- 
hcence of the Medici feasts at Florence, towards the 
end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seven- 
teenth century, and which ofiered to Italy 'the 
first apparition of a new art ?' ^ This music, founded 
upon a careful study of the treatises of Greek music 
brought into Italy after the capture of Constanti- 
nople, faithfully noted tlie accent, the quantity, 
without symmetriciil rhytlnn or regular measure, 
and was in fact a declamation rendered more 
pathetic by appreciable sounds and vocal charms ; 
this 'canto recitativo', 'chant recitatif ', eventually 
losing its adjective, became, as a substantive, the 
' recitative ' of the then new Italian opera '^. 

It would have been interesting to he^ir his opinion 
on the probable future effect of this class of musical 

1 Gintu^n^, pt. 6, ch. xxvi. 

2 Delia Storia t della Ragiont d' ogni Poesia, etc., dl F. 8. Quadrio, 
vol. V, p. 427, lib. iii, Dist. iv, cap. 1. Dove deW Origine e ddl' Anti- 
ehitd dci Mimicali Drammi »i parla; ed, Milano, 1744. 


representation on poetry. Would he have fore- 
stalled the opinion of great modern critics 1 Would 
he have foreseen that this music would end in de- 
basing poetry, and, having been her handmaid, 
would become her tyrannical mistress ^ ; and that 
'the poet would be hampered by the composer and 
the composer by the poet 1 '-. That poetry and music 
were both great arts, but greater alone than in 
company? Or would he have pronounced their 
union happy and natural, their separation unhappy 
and unnatural? Would he have agreed with Du 
Bos that music was invented to give increased force 
to poetry V^. ^ 

Then, as to the imitative character of music, 
would he have said, with Harris*, that the genuine 
charm of music, and the wonders which it works, 
are due, not to its powers of imitation, which lie 
within a narrow range and are of little comparative 
efficacy, but to its power of raising the affections ; 
and that the ideas of the poet make the most sensible 
impressions when the affections to which he appeals 
have been already excited by music? It is then 
that he 

pectus inaniter angit, 
Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet, 
Ut magus 5 

It seems to me most probable that he would have 

1 Hallam, ii, 153. 2 Haweis, 28. 

3 ' II nous reste a parler de la Musique, comme du troisifeme des 
moyens que les homnies out inventes pour donner une nouvelle force 
a la Poesie, et pour la mettre en etat de faire sur nous une plus grande 
impression. Ainsi que le Peintre imite les traits et les couleurs de la 
nature, de meine le Musicien imite les tons, les accens, les soupirs, les 
inflexions de voix, enfin tous ces sons, a I'aide desquels la nature menie 
exprime ses sentimens et ses passions. Tous ces sons, comme nous 
I'avons dej^ expose ont une force merveilleuse pour nous emouvoir, 
rarcequ'ils sont les signes des passions, institu^s par la nature dont 
ils ont reQU leur energie ; an lieu que les mots articules ne sont que 
des signes arbitraires des passions. Les mots articules ne tirent leur 
signification et leur valeur que de I'institution des hommes, qui n'ont 
pu leur donner coui s que dans un certain pays '. Du Bos, Reflexions 
cHtiques sur la PoSsie et sur la Peinture, vol. i, pp. 466, 467. 

4 Discourse on Music, Painting, and Poetry, pp. 99, 100. 

5 Hor. Ep. 1. 1. 2. 


anticipated the more modern judgments on tlie 
question whether music, by certain sounds alone, 
moves the passions or affects the general mental 
disposition, without presenting any distinct image 
to the mind and without the aid of words ; and 
that it was only in the ancient sense of music, 
including within its wide scope a recitative in 
language, and in connection with the drama, that 
music could properly be called an imitative art \ 

Because, though music might imitate natural 
sounds of the inanimate world, such as the Hail- 
stone Chorus, the imitations of the wind, the 
thunder, and the sea, by Handel, or sounds of the 
animate world, such as the songs of birds, accord- 
ing to Lucretius^, or of the human kind, like sounds 
of j oy and grief and anguish ; yet these are imita- 
tions of so secondary and subordinate a kind, when 
compared with the great power of music in other 
respects, as not to justify the application of the 
term imitative to the art in general-'. 

It was early in the nineteenth century that Mr 
Twining became acquainted, through a French 
translation, witli the Dramaturgie of Lessing, and, 
in his own admirable translation of, and dissertation 
upon, Aristotle's poetry, Twining remarks upon the 
many 'excellent and uncommon things' which 
Lessing's work contained, regretting that he liad 
not written a regular commentary upon Aristotle's 
works*. I think Lessing would have approved of 
his admirer's observation upon the present subject. 

'With respect to modern -vrriters', Twining says, 'at 
least, there seems to be a manifest impropriety in de- 
nominating music an imitative art, while they confine the 

1 For a very ingenious and learned disquisition on the sense in which 
Aristotle in his Poetics used ,iiM»io-is, ai'd ihe diflerence on tl.is subject 
lietween him and Plato, the reader is refeind to a little tract, De 
M«>iij<r«ws, etc., by O. Abeken, Gottingen, 1836. 

'■i 'At 1 quidas avium vooes imitarier ore', etc. Lucret., lib. v, 1378. 

3 HariiH, Digcourge on Micnic, Painiiny, and Poetry, ]). fi<, n«>te. 

* Twinin^'K Arigtotle, Tnat, on Poetry, with two Dissertations on 
PocticAl and Musical Imitations. Ed. 1812, p. xxxi. 


application of the term imitative to what they confess to 
be the slightest and least important of all its powers. In 
this view consistency and propriety are, certainly, on the 
side of Dr Beattie, when he would " strike music off the 
list of imitative arts " ^. But, perhaps, even a farther 
reform may justly be considered as wanting in our language 
upon this subject. With whatever propriety, and how- 
ever naturally and obviously, the arts both of music and 
of poetry may be separately and occasionally regarded 
and spoken of as imitative, yet, when we arrange and 
class the arts, it seems desirable that a clearer language 
were adopted. The notion that painting, poetry, and 
music are all arts of imitation, certainly tends to produce, 
and has produced, much confusion. That they all in 
some sense of the word or other imitate, cannot be denied ; 
but the senses of the word, when applied to poetry or 
music, are so different both from each other, and from 
that in which it is applied to painting, sculpture, and the 
arts of design in general — the only arts that are obviously 
and essentially imitative — that when we include them all, 
without distinction, under the same general denomination 
of imitative arts, we seem to defeat the only useful purpose 
of all classing and arrangement ; and, instead of producing 
order and method in our ideas, produce only embarrass- 
ment and confusion ' ^. 

The common bond, if these remarks be just, which 
unites Poetry, Painting, and Music, would not be 
the principle of mere imitation, but the common 
property which each art, properly cultivated, pos- 
sesses of affecting the emotions, raising the imagi- 
nation, and directing heart and mind to the 
contemplation of the sublime'^. 

' These arts in their highest province ', says Sir 
J. Reynolds, *are not addressed to the gross senses, 
but to the desires of the mind, to that spark of 
divinity which we have within, impatient of being 
circumscribed and pent up by the world which is 
about us'^ 

1 Oj>. cit. p. 129. 2 lb., pp. 91-3. 

3 See Gervinus, 4, 64, as to Breitinger's, Lessing's forerunner's, 
o]anion on this point. 
•» Vol. ii, 78 lath Discourse. 


Lessing would probably have admitted that music 
was the universal language of man, but he would, 
I think, have assigned to poetry, especially dramatic 
poetry, pre-eminence over music as well as painting 
—would have agreed with the modern author of the 
Epilogue to Lessing's Laocoon : 

They speak ! the happiness divine 

They feel, runs o'er in every line. 

Its spell is round them like a sliower ; 

It gives them pathos, gives them power. 

No painter yet hath such a way 

Nor no musician, made, as they ; 

And gather'd on immortal knolls 

Such lovely flowers for cheering souls ! 

Beethoven, Raphael, cannot reach 

The charm which Homer, Shakspeare, teach. 

To these, to these, their thankful race 

Give-*, then, the first, the fairest place ! 

And brightest is their glory's sheen. 

For greatest has their labour been i. 

Section V 

1. Notice of some defects in Lessing ; 2. Lessing's censure of descrip- 
tive Poetry considered ; 3. Lessing's account of himself. 

1. It is a defect in Lessing* not to have recognised 
or understood tlie effect of Christian life and teacli- 
ing upon the art of Painting ; and the defect is the 
more remarkable as with resiDect to the art of Poetry 
he was fully aware of the merit of the romantic 
poetry of Milton and Shakspere, as compared with 
the classical poetry. To this defect is traceable a 
certain hardness of tone, as if the stjindard of 
ancient art was the only standard, a hardness which 
by degrees Herder and Schiller softened and over- 
came. They recognised the claims of the modern 
or romantic school in poetry, architecture, painting 
especially, and landscape painting, which latter 
Winkelmann and Lessing greatly underrated, but 

1 Poenu by Matthew Arnold, p. 171. 2 Gurauer, ii, C7. 


which the Kosmos of Humboldt restored to its 
proper place. 

Lessing makes, as it were, only one bound from 
the age of the ancients to the age of the moderns. 
He takes no cognizance of that long intervening 
period which we call the Middle Ages. Yet in these 
ages the seed of modern culture, art, and poetry- 
was sown. And for a long period pictures^ were 
the books of the people, according to Gregory the 
Great's well-known remark, ' quod legentibus scrip- 
tura, hoc idiotis praestat pictura cernentibus, etc'^. 

The mediaeval pictures as well as the medieeval 
religious edifices strove to attain expression of 
sentiment as their highest, and indeed only, end. 
And the mediaeval painter while he sought out this 
end, out of regard to the common people clothed his 
figures : he, moreover, introduced allegory into his 
picture in order to teach the fact of Scripture 

2. One of the biographers of Lessing observes, 

* Since we have had Lessing's Laocoon it has become 
the A B C of poetry that the poet should not 
paint '^ And it has no doubt been a common 
remark that a death blow was given by Lessing to 
what is called descriptive poetry"^. Not the less 
fatal a blow because he who dealt it had in his early 
life written in praise of Thomson's Seasons. 

This seems to me to be an error. It is true that 
a Dutch painter, to use the illustration of Lessing ^, 
will give a better idea of a flower by his picture of it 
than a poet can do by descriptive verses, though even 
this proposition with regard to a single object is not 
universal. Mackintosh^ asks what Chinese could 
paint a butterfly better than Spenser : 

1 ' Die alte Welt ist nicht schroff von der neueren gescliieden ' : 

* There is no abrupt line of severance between the old and the new 
world ' ; Humboldt observes, Kosmos, ii, 26. 

2 S. Greg. Registr. Epist. lit, xi, Indict, iv, Ep. xiii, ed. Paris, 1705. 

3 Stahr, 242. 

4 Preface to Minna von Barnhelm, by Dr Biichheim, p. 34. 

5 P. 142. 6 Mackintosh's Memoirs, ii, 246. 


The velvet nap which on his winjrs doth lie, 
The silken down with which his back is dight. 
His broad outstretched horns, his hairy thighs, 
His glorious colours, and his glistering eyes 1 

Take also this single image : 

His station like the herald Mercury, 
New lighted on a heaven kissing hilP. 

Is John of Bologna better than this ? 

But in any case it is not true that a painter can 
always give a better representation of scenery, 
whether at sea or on land, than a poet. And here 
it must be observed that if the maxim were true it 
would apply to all descriptions by words, whether 
in prose or poetry. 

The proposition is surely much too broadly stated. 
That a mere catalogue or enumeration, even with 
distinctive epithets, of a series of natural objects, 
does not convey a picture to the mind, may be 
safely maintained'-. But the writer who makes a 
happy choice of various natural objects, who, 
grouping them so as the imagination shall represent 
them, avails himself of his powers to bring them 
forward in succession^ may often surpass the painter, 
who must exhibit his scene at once. Homer^, I 
think, deserves Lucian's title of being the best of 
painters, whether of landscape or of sea, as of men 
and actions ; thouprli indignation of Pope's false and 
meretricious version, ascribing to Homer puny 
epithets and descriptive words which he did not 
employ, has given rise perhaps to a contrary 

I venture to offer some examples in jioetry and 

f)rose in support of my proposition, l^irst as to 
andscape. Take Homer's unsurpassed moonlight 
scene ^ : 

Oi Sf, /if70 (PpovfovTfS, iir\ irToXiixoio ye<pvpas 
iXaro -navvvx^ot' irvpiL oi ff<piari Kaitro troWd. 

1 Hamlet, act iii, 8C. 4. 2 CJopleston, Pracl. Iv. ; Twining, 44, etc. 
3 8te Ch. XI, Note 2, of this work. * 11. e bA'd-bb. 


'ns S' '6t' eV ovpavo) &(TTpa (paeiv}]v a^icpX aeX-fjprjv 
Waiver' apnrpcirea, ore t' CTrAero vqv^jxos ai6})p, 
"E/c T* ^^(pavev iraaai crKOirial, Koi irpwoves oLKpoi, 
Kal vdnar oupav66ev S' &p' vTrep^dyrj ^arireTos aiO^p, 
ndvra 54 T elfSerat 6.aTpa' y4ynde 84 re <f>p4va iroiiJLrju^. 

Truly does Lessing say 'All the masterpieces of 
Homer were older than any masterpiece of art : for 
Homer had looked at nature with the eye of a 
painter long before Phidias and Apelles' 2. 

Take a scene which no Claude can rival, in which 
Aeneas's entrance into the Tiber is described by 

Jamque rubescebat radiis mare, et aethere ab alto 

Aurora in roseis fulgebat lutea bigis ; 

Quura venti posuere, oinnisque repente resedit 

Flatus, et in lento luctantur marmore tonsae. 

Atque hie Aeneas ingentem ex aequore lucum 

Prospicit. Hunc inter fluvio Tiberiniis amoeno, 

Vorticibus rapidis, et iriulta flavus arena 

In mare prorumpit. Variae circumque supraque 

Assufttae ripis volucres et fluminis alveo 

Aethera mulcebant cantu, lucoque volabant 4 

1 Pope's translation, with ' his swain blessing the useful light ', is as 
feeble as old Chapman's is vigorous : 

And spent all night in open field : fires round about them shined 

As when about the silver moon, when air is free from wind, 

And stars shine clear : to whose sweet beams high prospect and the 

Of all steep hills and pinnacles thrust up themselves for shows ; 
And even the lowly valle>s joy to glitter in their sight. 
And the unmeasured firmament bursts to disclose her light. 
And all the signs in heaven are seen that glad the shejiherd's heart. 

2 See Ch. XVIII, infra. 3 Virg., Aeneid, lib. Tii, 25-34, 

4 Now, when the rosy morn began to rise, 
And wav'd her saffron streamer thro' the skies, 
When Thetis blush'd in purple, not her own, 
And from her face the breathing winds were blown, 
A sudden silence sat upon the sea. 
And sweeping oars, with struggling, urge their way. 
The Trojan, from the main, beheld a wood. 
Which thick with shades, and a brown horror, stood: 
Betwixt the trees the Tiber took his course. 
With whirlpools dimpl'd ; and with downward force 
That drove the sand alone, he took his way 
And roll'd his yellow billows to the sea. 


Similar features of natural beauty made a deep 
impression on Columbus as he sailed along the coast 
of Cuba, between the small Lucayan Islands and 
the Jardinillos. This great man speaks of the 
wonderful aspect of the vegetation, in which the 
leaves and flowers belonging to each stem were 
scarcely distinguishable, and of tlie rose-coloured 
flamingoes fishing at the mouths of the rivers in the 
early morning, and animating the landscape ^ 

Then as to the ocean. What painter can rival 
Homer's painting of the sea 1 '^. 

'D.S 5' '6t' €U alyiaX^ iroXvrjx^i Kv/iia da\dcr<Tr]s 
"Opuvr' iiracravrepov, Zttpvpov viroKivriffavros' 
'n.6vT(f fxkv rh. irpwTa Kopvatrerai, avrap tirciTa 
X4pacp pr)yvvfi€vov jx^ydXa $p4fi€i, a/xtpl 54 t' &Kpas 
Kvprhv 4hv Kopvcpovrai, hiroTrTvn 5' a\hs 6.xvr]v ^ 

Or take Virgil's excellent copy* 

Fluctus uti medio coepit cum albescere ponto, 
Longius ex altoque sinum trahit : utque, volutus 
Ad terras, iminane sonat per saxa, neque ipso 
Monte minor prof^umbit : at ima exaestuat iinda 
Vorticibus, nigramque alte subjectat arenani 5 

About him, an^ above, and round the wood, 
The birds that haunt the borders of his flood, 
That bathed within, or bask'd upon his side, 
To tuneful songs tlieir narrow throats applied. 

Dryden's Virgil, book vii, 35-40. 

1 Ko8ino8, ii, 50. ^ II., A 422. 

3 And as when with the west wind flaws the sea thrusts up her 
One after other, th=ck and high, upon the groaning shores : 
First in herself loud, but opposed with banks and rocks, she roars, 
And all her back in bristles set, spits everyway her foam. 

* Oeorg., iii, 237. 

6 Not more with madness, rolling from afar. 
The spumy waves proclaim the watery war, 
And mounting upwanls, with a mij,'hty roar, 
March onwards, and insult the rocky shore. 
Thev mate the middle rej^ion with their height, 
And fall no less than with a mountain's weight ; 
The waters boil, and belching from below, 
Black sands, as from a forceful engine, throw.— Drydex. 


Magnificent as Homer's storm is, I do not fear to 
place Shakspere's in comparison : 

Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast 

Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains 

In cradle of the rude imperious surge ; 

And in the visitation of the winds, 

Who take the ruffian billows by the top, 

Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them 

With deafening clamours in the slippery clouds, 

That, with the hurly, death itself awakes ? l 

Take a modern poet's description - : 

Loud hissed the sea beneath her lee — my little boat flew fast. 
But faster still the rushing storm came borne upon the blast. 
Lord ! what a roaring hurricane beset the straining sail 1 
What furious sleet, with level drift, and fierce assaults of hail ! 
What darksome caverns yawn'd before !, what jagged steeps behind I 
Like battle steeds, with foamy manes, wild tossing in the wind, 
Eai'h after each sank down astern, exhausted in the chase, 
But where it sank another rose and galloped in its place ; 
As black as night — they turned to white, and cast against the cloud 
A snowy sheet, as if each surge upturned a sailor's shroud. 

What painting can place such a picture of a sea- 
storm before the mind as is placed by the descrip- 
tion of these poets ? 

Turn to the gentler image of a landscape, possess- 
ing all the picturesque features of which a cultivated 
country is susceptible, and listen to Lucretius ^ : 

Inque dies magis in montem succedere sylvas 
Cogebant, infiaque locum concedere cultis : 
Prata, lacus, rivos, segetfs, vinetaque laeta 
Collibus, et campis ut haberent, atque olearum 
Cacrula distinguens inter plaga currere posset 
Per luianlos, et convalleis, camposque profusa : 
Ut nunc esse vides vario distiiicta lepore 
Omnia, quae pomis intersita dulcibus ornant, 
Arbustisque tenent felicibus obsita circum* 

1 Henry IV, pt. II, act iii, scene 1. 

2 Hood, The Demon Ship. 3 Lib. v, 1369-1377. 

* These beautiful lines are about to lose much of their charm in my 
translation : 

And day by day nnto the mountain-top 
The wood receded, and the valleys smiled 
With culture. Meadows, pools and rivers. 
Corn and glad vines, and olives with a band 
Of grey-blue foliage climb, and mark their course 


Juvenal's picture of the Egerian grot affords 
another illustration ^ : 

In vallem Egeriae descendimus et speluncas 
Dissiiniles veris. Quanto praestantius esset 
Numen aquae, viridi si margine clanderet undas 
Herba, nee ingenuum violarent marmora tophum ? 2 

So Ovid's Valley and Cave of Diana ^ : 

Vallis erat, piceis et acuta densa cupressn, 
Nomine Gargaphie, succinctae sacra Dianae ; 
Cujus in extrenio est antrum nemorale recessu, 
Arte laboratum nulla ; simulaverat artem 
Ingenio natura suo ; nam pumice vivo, 
Et levibus tophis navitum duxcrat arcum. 
Fons sonat a dextra, tenui perlucidus unda, 
Margine grauiineo patulos incinctus hiatus. 
Hie Dea silvarum, venatu fessa, solebat 
Virgineos artus liquido perfundere rore * 

And again his Hymettus ^ : 

Spread over knoll and valley. All around 
Smiles with a varied grace, while flowering shrubs, 
Apples, and fruit-trees beautify the ground. 

1 Juvenalis Satirae, Sat. iii, 17. 

2 Thence slowly winding down the vale, we view 
The Bgerian grots— aJi, how unlike the true ! 
Nymph of the Spring ! more honour'd hadat thou been, 
If, free from art, an edge of living green 
Thy bubbling fount had circumscribed alone. 
And marble ne'er profaned the native stone. 

Gifford's Juvenal, Sat. iii, 27. 
3 0^^d, Met, lib, iii, 155. 

* Down in a vale with pine and cypress clad, 
Ilefresh'd with gentle winds, and brown with shade 
The chaste Diana's private haunt there stood, 
Full in the centre of the darksome wood, 
A spacious grotto, all around o'ergrown 
With hoary moss, and arch'd with pumice-stone 
From out its rocky clefts the waters flow, 
And trickling swell into the lake below. 
Nature had everywliere so play'd her part, 
That everywhere she seemed to vie with art. 

Addison, in Garth's Ovid, p. 857. 

« Ovid, Arte Amandi, lib. iii, 687-604. 

Near, where his purple head Hymettus shews 
And flow'ring hills, a sacred fountain flows. 
With soft and verdant turf the soil is spread 
And sweetly-smelling shrubs the ground o'ershade. 


Est prope piirpureos colles florentis Hymetti 

Fons sacer, et viridi caespite mollis humus. 
Silva nemus non a'.ta facit ; tegit arbutus herbam, 

Ros maris, et latiri, cigraque myrtus olent ; 
Nee densae toliis buxi, fragilesque myricae, 

Nee tenues oytisi, cultaque pinus abest. 
Lenibus impulsae Zephyris auraque salubri 

Tot generum frondes, herbaque summa tremunt. 

I pass by the pictures to be found in the pastoral 
epics of Theocritus and in the Greek Tragedians, 
such as the picture of Colonos^ in Sophocles, and 
those in the Ion ^ and the Bacchae ^ of Euripides, 
Aelian's vale of Tempe,* with the detailed de- 
scription of natural scenery, in which he uses the 
remarkable expressions, Siaypdipofiev koI Ziatrxdaaifiiv, 
depingamus atque ejffingamus : ' Let us paint and let 
us mould '. For the Greeks^ though they did not 
cultivate according to our modern ideas, as a distinct 
branch of aesthetics, the art of describing natural 
scenery, though they had not the counterpart of 
our word 'picturesque'^, and were less occupied 
with describing the phsenomena of inanimate nature 

There, rosemary and bays their odours joiu, 
And with the fragrant myrtle's scent combine, 
There, tamarisks with t>iick-leav'd box are found, 
And cytisus, and garden-pines, abound. 
While thro' tlie boughs, soft winds of Zephyr pass, 
Tremble the leaves and tender tops of grass. 

Dryden, in Garth's Ovid. 

I Oed. Col. 668, etc. 2 jon, 82. 

3 Bacchae, 1045. 4 i. 191. 

5 See the first and second chapters of the second volume of Hum- 
bo'dt's Kosmos. 

*> ' Tlie feelings of satisfaction which result from the joint energy of 
the understanding and phantasy, are principally those of beauty and 
sublimity ; and the judgments which pronounce an object to be 
sublime, beautiful, &c., are called by a metaphorical expression Judg- 
ments of Taste. These have also been styled JEsthetical Judgments ; 
and the term cesthetical has now, especially among the philosophers of 
Gennany, nearly superseded the term taste. Both tenns are unsatis- 
factory. The gratification we feel in the beautiful, the sublime, the 
picturesque, &c., is purely contemplative, that is, the feeling of 
jileasure which we then experience, arises solely from the considera- 
tion of the object and altogether apart from any desire of, or satisfac- 
tion in, its possession'. Sir W. Hamilton, ieciwes on Metaphysics : 
Lect. XLVI. Compare Sir J. Reynolds, vol. ii, 78, end of 13th 


than the actions and passions of men\ were not, as 
has been vulgarly supposed, wanting in sensibility 
to the charms of nature. It is true that the 
Christian, dwelling on the greatness and goodness 
of the Creator, who has made ' all nature beauty to 
the eye and music to the ear ', delighted in those 
descriptions of that beauty which are to be found 
in the works of the early Greek Fathers. 

The sensibility to natural beauty was of later 
growth among the Latins than the Greeks, and 
scarcely appeared before the poets and writers of 
the Augustan age. Virgil and Lucretius and Ovid 
ha%e been cited. Ovid abounds in passages of 
picturesque description ; and though such passages 
are rare in the prose writers of Rome as of Greece, 
many are to be found in the letters of Cicero. It 
is hardly necessary to mention Pliny '^ ; but I do 
not think his description of the Clitumnus could 
be transferred to canvass, although it must be 
admitted that when he describes, with great 
minuteness of detail, the picturesque features of 
his villa at Tusci, he sums it up, as it were, in one 
sentence, saying it gives you the joleasure of a well 
painted landscape^. 

How wonderfully Poetry, Music, and Painting, 
are all blended together, and all present to us, in 
this one description of a midsummer night in these 
lines : 

1 Socrates tells Phaedrus that the conntry and trees do not teach 
him anything, and that as a lover of knowledge lie prefers men and 
cities, ^vyyivu}(TK€ St fioi, St apiar*' <|)iXo/xa6i)? yap «t/xu raniv ovv 
vutpia, Koi TOL StvBpa ovSiv ft.' i6(X.tL SiSdtTKtiv, ot 6' iv ri^aarn avffpitnoi. 
(Platonls opera, ed. Stalbaum, vol. iv, p. 20, D. Phaedrus.) The 
banished Duke in As You Like It had another philosophy : 

And this our life, exempt from public haunt, 

Finds tongues in trees, books in tlie running brooks, 

Sermons in stones, and good in everything.— Act ii, sc. 1. 

2 Lib. viii, Epist. ix. 

8 ' Magnam capies voluptatem si hunc reglonis sitnm ex monte yro- 
spexeris. Neque eniui terras tibi, sed formum aliqtiain, ad exlniiam 
pulchritudinem picUim videberis cernere ; ea varietate ea descripticne 
quocumque iuciderint oculi, reficiuntur '. Lib. v, Ep. vi, 18. 


And bring your music forth into the air. 

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank !• 

Here w ill we »it, and let the sounds of music 

Creep in our ears ; soft stillness and the night, 

Become the touches of sweet harmony. 

Sit, Jessica : Look, how the floor of heaven 

Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold l. 

No painting could describe the Dover cliff like 
Edgar 2, though in this marvellous passage the 
power of delineating natural beauty is less remark- 
able than the power of describing the height so 
as to make the brain of the reader dizzy. Not less 
power does Imogen, enquiring after her husband's 
departure, exhibit of painting in words the vanish- 
ing point of distance. In all these instances, especi- 
ally the two last, the poet reaps the full advantage 
of his successive description over the moment of the 

One more example. The encampment of the 
hosts before the day of battle may be fraught with 
circumstances of which the painter may avail 
himself : but could he paint what follows 1 

From camp to camp, through the foul womb of night. 

The hum of either army stilly sounds ; 

That the flxt sentinels almost receive 

Tlie secret whispers of each other's watch : 

Fire answers fire ; and through their paly flames 

Each battle sees the other's umbered face ; 

Stted threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs 

Piercing the Night's dull ear ; and from the tents 

The armourers, accomplishing the knights, 

With busy hammers closing rivets up, 

Give dreadful note of preparation 3, 

The picturesque descriptions in the Paradise Lost 
are familiar to the reader of Milton ; in them, indeed, 
many principles of modern landscape, in which art 
imitates, cultivates, and improves nature, are to be 
found. The subject is a very large one, and the 
ternptation to enter more at length upon it must be 
resisted \ The English writers in prose offer many 

1 Merchant of Venice, act t, sc. 1. 2 gee p. 324, 

3 Henry the Fifth, act iv : Chorus. 

* I abstain from noticing the pictui-es in Italian Poetry and the 
Lusiad of Camoens, so much esteemed by Humboldt, Kosmos, 2, 1. 



illustrations of the position for which I am con- 
tending, but I will confine myself to an extract 
from the prose of that great painter in prose and 
poetry, Sir Walter Scott. His novels abound in 
passages of the highest picturesque merit. Often 
what appears as a single picture in his description, 
cannot be represented on canvass otherwise than 
by a series of paintings, and then with a loss of 

Take for example the following extract from the 
first chapter of Ivanhoe : 

The sun was setting upon one of the rich grassy glades 
of that forest which we have mentioned in the beginning 
of the chapter. Hundreds of broad short-stemmed oaks, 
which had witnessed perhaps the stately march of the 
Roman soldiery, flung their broad gnarled arms over a 
thick carpet of the most delicious green sward : in some 
places they were intermingled with beeches, hollies, and 
copsewood of various descriptions, so closely as totally to 
intercept the level beams of the sinking sun : in others 
they receded from each other, forming those long sweep- 
ing vistas, in the intricacy of which the eye delights to 
lose itself, while imagination considers them as the paths 
to yet wilder scenes of sylvan solitude. Here the red rays 
of the sun shot a broken and discoloured light, that par- 
tially hung upon the shattered boughs and mossy trunks 
of the trees, and then they illuminated in brilliant patches 
the portions of turf to which they made their way. A 
considerable open space, in the midst of this glade, seemed 
formerly to have been dedicated to the rites of Druidical 
superstition ; for on the summit of a hillock, so regular as 
to seem artificial, there still remained part of a circle of 
rough unhewn stones, of large dimensions. Seven stood 
upright ; the rest had been dislodged from their places, 
probably by the zeal of some convert to Christianity, and 
lay, some prostrate near their former site, and others on 
the aide of the hill. One large stone only had found its 
way to the bottom, and in stopping the course of a small 
brook, whicli glided smoothly round the foot of the 
eminence, gave, by its opposition, a feeble voice of murmur 
to the placid and elsewhere silent streamlet. The human 


figures which completed this landscape were in number 
two ^. 

One more example from the opening of a chapter 
in The Heart of Midlothian : 

If I were to chuse a spot from which the rising or setting 
sun could be seen to the greatest possible advantage, it 
would be that wild walk winding around the foot of the 
high belt of semi-circular rocks called Salisbury Craigs, 
and marking the verge of the steep descent, which slopes 
down into the glen, on the South-eastern side of the city of 
Edinburgh. The prospect in its general outline commands 
a close-built high-piled city, stretching itself out beneath 
in a form which to a romantic imagination may be sup- 
posed to represent that of a dragon ; now a noble arm of 
the sea, with its rocks, isles, distant shores, and boundary 
of mountains : and now a fair and fertile champaign 
country, varied with hill, dale, and rock, and skirted by 
the varied and picturesque ridge of the Pentland Moun- 
tains. But as the path gently circles round the base of 
the clifife, the prospect, composed as it is of these enchant- 
ing and sublime objects, changes at every step, and presents 
them blended with or divided from each other in every 
possible variety which can gratify the eye and the imagin- 
ation. When a piece of scenery so beautiful yet so varied, 
so exciting by its intricacy and yet so sublime, is lighted 
up by the tints of morning and evening, and displays all 
that variety of shadowy depth exchanged with partial 
brilliancy, which gives character even to the tamest of 
landscapes, the effect approaches nearer to enchantment. 

In these extracts the descriptive power of the 
painter is, I think, surpassed. But there are many 
other passages where the author is the rival of the 
painter, such as the approach to the Baron of 
Bradwardine's TuUyVeolan^, the return of Morton^ 
to Scotland by the winding descent which led to 
Bothwell Castle and the Clyde, the spot in which 
Rob Roy, the morning after his escape, spreads the 
morning banquet for Osbaldistone '*. 

1 Chap, i, p. 6. 2 WaverUy, i, 74. 

3 Old Mortality, 3. 108. 4 Rob Roy, 3. 280. 


My conclusion is, even from these scanty pre- 
misses — but they might be very greatly increased 
— that Lessing is mistaken in saying the poet, 
whether he write in poetry or prose, ought not to 
paint or describe natural scenery ^ ; that, on the 
contrary, the poet may often rival and sometimes 
surpass the painter even in this department of art. 

3. It remains only to draw the reader's attention 
to Lessing's estimate of his own powers : Lessing, 
Gervinus says 2, was not deceived about himself. 
You may desiderate certain gifts in him : but the 
use which he made of those he had is an everlasting 

example to us He knew that he was a cold 

thinker, that he had none of that enthuiasm which 
he called the a/c^^, the crown and blossom of the 
fine arts, the want of which in a poet it would be a 
sin to suspect. He makes tliis confession at the 
close of his Dramaturgie, and resolves to devote his 
intellect to science and criticism. Nevertheless, 
adds Gervinus, let no man of mere aestlietical pur- 
suits, or historian of literature venture, out of the 
wisdom of his own conceit, to decide hastily against 
Lessing ; let him be judged by his own never to be 
forgotten words : 

' I am ' — such is his explanation — ' neither an actor nor 
a poet. People have often done me the honour of calling 
me the latter : but only because they do not know what 
I really am. It is by no means an inference to be drawn 
from a few dramatic essays which I have attempted. Not 
every one who takes a brush in his hand and lays on 
colours is a painter The earliest of these essays were 
written in those years in which one mistook joyousness 
and levity for genius. For whatever is tolerable in the 
later essays I am well convinced I am entirely and alone 
indebted to criticism. I do not feel the living spring 
within me which works its wav up by its own strength, 
which by its own strength snoots out into such rich, 
fiesh, pure rays. I am obliged to squeeze everything out 

1 See pp. 141, 143, 202. 

a Ouch, der deuUchen Dichtung, 4. 848. 


of myself by pressure and conduit pipes. I should have 
been so poor, so cold, so shortsighted, if I had not learnt 
in some measure to borrow modestly from the treasures 
of others, to warm myself at a stranger's fire, and to 
strengthen my vision by the glasses of art. I have there- 
fore always been ashamed and vexed when I have heard 
or read anything which found fault with criticism. It 
ought to stimulate genius, and I flatter myself that I 
have gained something from it which comes very near to 
genius. I am a lame man who cannot p ssibly be edified 
by a satire upon crutches. But of course I am aware 
that crutches may help the lame to move, though they 
cannot make him run and so it is with criticism '. 



The first person who compared Painting and 
Poetry with each other was a man of fine feeling, 
who perceived that both these arts produced upon 
him a similar effect. 

Both, he felt, placed before us things absent as] 
present, appearance as reality. Both deceived, and 
the deceit of both was pleasing. A second person] 
sought to penetrate into the inner nature of this 
pleasure, and discovered that in both it flowed from 
one and the same source. The beautiful, the notion 
of which we first derive from corporeal objects, has 
general rules applicable to various things ; to actions, 
to thoughts, as well as to forms. A third person, 
who reflected upon the value and upon the dis- 
tribution of these general rules, remarked that some 
of tliem had prevailed more in Painting and others 
more in Poetry, and that with respect to the latter 
rules, Poetry could be aided by the illustrations and 
exq-mples supplied by Painting ; with respect to 
the former rules, Painting could be aided by the 
illustrations and examples supplied by Poetry. 

The first was an amateur; the second was a 
philosopher; the third was a critic. 

It was not easy for the two first to make a wrong 
use either of their feeling or of their reasoning. On 
the other hand, the principal force of the remarks 
of the critic depends upon the correctness of their 
application to the particular case, and it would be 
astonishing, inasmuch as for one really acute, you 


will find fifty merely witty critics, if this application 
had always been made with all the caution requisite 
to hold the scales equal between the two Arts. 
Apelles and Protogenes, in their lost writings upon 
Painting confirmed and illustrated the rules relating 
to it by the rules of Poetry, which had been already 
established; so that we may be assured that in 
them the same moderation and accuracy prevailed, 
which at the present day we see in the works of 
Aristotle, Cicero, Horace, and Quintilian, when they 
apply the principles and experience of Painting to 
Eloquence and to Poetry. 
t It is the privilege of the Ancients in no one thing 
' to do too much or too little. 

But we moderns have often believed that in many 
of our works we have surpassed them, because we 
have changed their little byways of pleasure into 
highways, even at the risk of l3eing led by these 
shorter and safer highways into paths which end in 
a wilderness. 

The dazzling antithesis of the Greek Voltaire, 
that Painting is dumb Poetry, and Poetry eloquent 
Painting, is not to be found in any rudimental 
work. It was a smart saying, like many others of 
Simonides, the true side o^ which is so brilliant that 
we think it necessary to overlook the want of 
precision and the falseness which accompany it. 

But the Ancients did not overlook this ; for while 
they confirmed the dictum of Simonides as to the 
effect produced by botli Arts, they did not forget to 
inculcate that, notwithstanding the perfect simi- 

tlarity of this effect, these Arts differed, as well in 
the object as in the manner of tlieir imitations 

{"ykV ««^ rp6roii ntuvfffus) ^ i^<|<> > J» / f €0 

I Nevertheless, many of our most modern critics, 
as if they were ignorant of any such distinction, 
have said the crudest things in the world upon the 
harmony of Painting and Poetry. 

At one time they compress Poetry within the 
narrow limits of Painting : at another time they 


make Painting fill the whole wide sphere of Poetry. 
Whatever is the right of the one must be conceded 
to the other. Whatever is in the one pleasing, or 
unpleasing, must necessarily please or displease in 
the other ; and full of this idea, they pronounce in 
the most confident tone the most superficial judg- 
ments, when, criticising the works of the Poet and 
the Painter upon the same subject, they consider 
the difference of treatment to be a fault, which 
fault they ascribe to the one or the other accordingly 
as they happen to have more taste for Poetry or for 

This spurious criticism has partially corrupted 
even the Virtuosos themselves. It has generated a 
mania for pictorial description in Poetry, and for 
allegorical style in Painting ; while it was sought 
to render the former a speaking Picture, without 
really knowing what could and ought to be painted ; 
and the latter a mute poem ; not having considered 
how far general ideas are susceptible of expression 
without departing from their proper end, and 
without falling into a purely arbitrary style of 

To oppose this false taste, and to counteract these 
unfounded opinions, is the principal object of the 
following observations. 

They have arisen casually, and have grown to 
their present size rather in consequence of tl^e 
course of my reading than through any methodical 
development of general principles. They are rather 
irregular collectanea for a book, than a book. Yet, I 
flatter myself that, even as such, they will not be 
wholly despised. We Germans have no lack of 
systematic treatises. We know, as well as any 
nation in the world, how, out of some granted 
definition, to arrange all that we want to arrange 
in the very best order. 

Baumgarten acknowledged that he was indebted 
to Gesner's Dictionary for the greater portion of 
his examples in his treatise on Aesthetics. If my 


raisonnement is not as conclusive as Baumgarten's, 
at least my examples will savour more of the 
fountain head. 

As I set out from Laocoon, and often return to 
him, I have thought it right to give him a share in 
the title of the work. As to other little digressions 
upon several points, of the ancient history of the 
Arts, they contribute little to my main object, and 
they are only allowed to remain here because I 
cannot hope to find a better place for them 

I should also mention that under the name of 
Painting I include generally the plastic Arts : and 
I do not deny that under the name of Poetry 1 may 
also have had some regard to the other Arts which 
have the characteristic of progressive imitation. 


WiNKELMANN considers that the characteristics 
of general excellence, which are to be found in 
the masterpieces of Greek painting and sculpture, 
consist of a noble simplicity and quiet grandeur as f 
well in their attitude as in their expression. I 

As the depths of the sea, he says^, always remain at 
rest, let the surface rage as it will, even so does the ex- 
pression in the Greek figures show through all suffering f 
a great and calm soul. This soul is pourtrayed in thej 
countenance of Laocoon, and not in the countenance alone, 
notwithstanding the intense severity of his suffering. 
The pain which discovers itself in all the muscles and 
sinews of the body, and which from these only, without 
considering the face and other parts, we seem to perceive 
in the agonised expression of the belly alone ; this pain, 
I say, expresses itself nevertheless without any torture 
in the face or in the general position. He utters noj 
horrible scream as Virgil's verse makes his Laocoon utter : 1 
the opening of his mouth does not show this : it is rather \ 
a subdued groan of anguish, as Sadolet^ describes it. 
Pain of body and greatness of soul are distributed with 
equal strength throughout the whole figure and in equal 
proportions. Laocoon suffers, but he suffers like the 
Philoctetes of Sophocles : his misery touches our very I 
souls ; but we desire to be able to bear suffering as this | 
great man bears it. 

The expression of so great a soul goes far beyond a 
representation of natural beauty. The Artist must have 
felt in himself the strength of the soul which he has 
unpressed upon his marble. Greece had artists and 
philosophers blended in one person, and more than one 
Metrodorus^, Philosophy gave her hand to Art, and 
breathed into the forms of it no common soul, etc. 

The observation which lies at the foundation of 
this theory, namely, that pain does not show itself I 


in the countenance of Laocoon with that furious 
vehemence, whicli from the intensity of it we should 
expect, is perfectly true. It is also indisputable 
that in this respect where a man of half knowledge 
would pronounce that the Artist liad not attained 
to nature and had not reached the true pathos of 
suffering : in this very respect, I say, the wisdom of 
the observation is most clearly manifest. 

It is only as to the fundamental reason on which 
Winkelmann founds this wise observation, and as 
to the generality of the rule which. he extracts from 
this fundamental reason that I venture to differ 
from him. 

I confess that the unfavourable side glance which 
he casts upon Virgil startled me at first, and in the 
next place the comparison with Philoctetes. From 
this I will take my point of departure, and write 
down my thoughts in the order in which they have 
been developed. 

* Laocoon suffers like the Philoctetes of Sophocles'. 
How does he suffer ? It is strange that his suffer- 
ings have left so different an impression upon us. 
The lamentations, the screams, the wild curses with 
which his pain filled the camp, and disturbed all 
the sacrifices, all the holy acts, resounded no less 
dreadfully in the desert island, and were the cause 
of his being banished to it. What tones of dejection, 
misery, and despair, with the imitation of which the 
Poet caused the theatre to resound. The third Act 
of this piece has been discovered to be much shorter 
than the others ; a plain proof, say the critics^ tliat 
the Ancients troubled themselves very little about 
the equal length of the Acts ^ That I too believe ; 
but I should prefer to found my belief upon another 
example. The piteous exclamations, the moaning, 
the broken off & & <pfi> irraTa.: & fiol noi ; whole lines 
full of yrd-rra iroiret, of whicli tliis Act consists, and 
which must have been declaimed with other pro- 
longations and pauses than would l)e needed for a 
continuous reading, have, in the representation of 


this Act, doubtless caused it to continue as long as 
the others. It appears much shorter on paper to 
the reader than it would have appeared to the 

To scream is the natural expression of bodily pain. 
Homer's wounded warriors not unfrequently fall 
with a scream to the earth. The wounded Venus 
screams loudly, — not in order that by this scream 
she may appear as the soft goddess of pleasure, but 
rather to give her a right to a suffering nature®. 
For even the brazen Mars, when he felt the lance of 
Diomede, shrieks as dreadfully as ten thousand 
raging warriors would shriek at once — so dreadfully 
that both armies were terrilied ^. 

High as Homer exalts his heroes above human 
nature, yet they remain true to it whenever there 
is a question of the feeling of anguish or suffering, 
or of the expression of that feeling by screams or 
tears or invectives. In their deeds they are creatures 
of a higher kind ; in their feelings they are true 

I am aware that we, the refined Europeans of a, 
wiser posterity, know how to command better our 
mouths and our eyes. High breeding and decency 
forbid screams and tears. The active courage of 
the first rough ages of the world has been changed,, 
in our day, into the courage of suffering. Yet even 
our forefathers were greater in the latter than in 
the former. But our forefathers were barbarians. 
To suppress all expression of pain, to meet the 
stroke of death with unchanged eye, to die smiling 
under the asp's bite, to abstain from bewailing our 
sins or the loss of our dearest friend, are traits of 
the old hero courage of the Northmen ^. Talnatako 
laid down a law to his Gomsburgers that they 
should fear nothing, and that the word fear should 
not once be named amongst them. 

Not so the Greek ! He had feelings and fear ; he 
uttered his anguish and his sorrow ; he was ashamed 
of no mortal weakness ; none ought to withhold him 


from the path of honour or the fulfilment of his 
duty. What the barbarian derived from savageness 
and from being inured to hardship, principle pro- 
duced in the Greek. In him heroism was like the 
concealed sparks in the flint, which sleep in peace 
so long as no external force awakens them^, and 
which do not take from the stone either its clearness 
or its coldness. In the barbarian, heroism was a 
bright devouring flame which was always raging, 
and devoured, or at least obscured, every otlier 
good quality he possessed. When Homer leads the 
Trojans with a wild shout, and the Greeks, on the 
other hand, in deliberate stillness to the battle, the 
commentators justly remark that by the former 
the poet intended to represent the barbarians, by 
the latter the people of civilisation. I am surprised 
that they have failed to notice a like opposition of 
character in another passage^*'. The rival hosts 
have agreed to a suspension of arms ; they are 
busied with the burning of their dead, which does 
not take place without many hot tears, SaKpva dfpua 
xeoi/T€s. But Priam forbids his Trojans to weep, 
ou5' efoj K\aie7v Upia/jLos fi4yai. He forbids them to 
weep, says Madame Dacier, because he is afraid that 
they would enfeeble themselves, and on the morrow 
combat with diminished fury. Well, but I ask 
myself, why must Priam alone feel this anxiety ? 
Why does not Agamemnon give the same prohibi- 
tion to his Greeks ? The meaning of the poet lies 
deeper. He wishes to teach us that only the cIa il- 
ised Greeks can at the s;ime time weep and be bold : 
while the uncivilised Trojan cannot weep without 
having firet stifled his manhood. N€/i€<r(r«/iot ye /xfv 
ovdiv K\aie7y he makes, in another place, the discreet 
son of the wise Nestor say ". 

It is remarkable that out of the few Tragedies 
which liave come to us from antiquity, there are 
only two in which bodily pain is not the least part 
of tl»e misfortune wliich affects the suffering hero. 
Besides Philoctetes there is the dying Hercules. 


He also is made by Sophocles to complain, whine, 
weep, and scream. Thanks to our clever neighbours, 
those masters of the ' convenable ', no longer can a 
whining Philoctetes, a screaming Hercules, those 
most ridiculous and intolerable personages appear 
on the stage. It is true that one of their latest 
Poets has ventured on a Philoctetes. But would he 
venture to show us a real Philoctetes 1 ^\ 

Laocoon himself is mentioned among the plays of 
Sophocles. If fate had only spared us this Laocoon ! 
From the slight notices of some old Grammarians 
we cannot draw any inference as to how the Poet 
treated this subject ; of this I am assured, that he 
would not have described Laocoon as more stoical 
than Philoctetes and Hercules. Everything stoical 
is unsuited to the stage, and our sympathy is always 
proportioned to the suffering which the object of 
interest expresses. If we observe that he bears 
suffering with a great soul, this great soul will, it is 
true, awaken our wonderment ; but wonderment is a 
cold affection : the inert amazement produced by it 
is excluded by every warmer passion, as well as by 
every more distinct representation of the idea. 

And now I come to^X-Conclusion. If it be tru e 
that the cry w hich arises f rointTie~sensation of bodily 
'sufiering,"^pecrally according to the old Greek 
fasHion of thinking, may well consist with a great 
soul, then the outwarH^expTSS^n of strcha sotil 
cannot Tje th e cause why — notwithstanding it— the 
artist s hourd^ot miitate in his marble this cry"; 
but there must be another cause why, in this respect, 
Ue diffe rs from his rival tlie Po et, who has ver y good 
reasons for expressing this cry. 


Be it fable or history that Love caused the first 

attempt of the creative Art, thus much is certain, 

that it was never weary of assisting tlie great old 

Masters ; for although now the scope of Painting is 

enlarged so as to be more especially the art which 

imitates bodies upon flat surfaces, yet the wise Greek 

placed it within much narrower limits and confined 

it to the imitation of beautiful bodies. £is_Paiiiter 

r painted nothing but the beautiful ; even the com- 

' mon type of the beautiful, the beautiful of an in- 

I ferior kind, was to him only an accidental object 

' for the exercise of his practice and for his recreation. 

I The p erfectionpf the object itself must be the thing 

whicn enraptures liim : he was too great to require 

of those who contemplated him that they sliould be 

content with the cold satisfaction arising from the 

sight of a successful resemblance, or from reflection 

upon the skill of the artist producing it ; to his Art 

y, inoUiing was dearer, nothing seemed to him nobler 

oA '"tEajitlie object and end of Art itself. 

*Who would paint you when nobody will look 

at you ? ' says the old epigrammatist of a very ugly 

man^ Many modern artists would siiy, ' Be as ugly 

as it is possible to be, I will nevertheless paint you, 

i though no one will willingly look at you, yet they 

J will willingly look at my picture ; not because it 

i reproduces you, but because it is a proof of my 

skill which can so exactly imitate so hideous an 


In truth the connection between this extravagant 
boasting and a fatal dexterity, whicli is not enno- 
bled by the worth of the object, is only too natural ; 
even the Greeks have had their Pauson and their 




Pyreicus.^ They had them, but they passed severe 
judgment upon them. Pauson, who confined him- 
self to the beautiful of ordinary nature, whose low 
taste most congenially expressed ^ the deficient and 
the hateful, lived in the most sordid poverty* ; and 
Pyreicus, who painted barbers' rooms, dirty work- 
shops, donkeys, and kitchen vegetables with all the 
diligence of a Dutch painter, as if such things in 
nature had so much fascination and were so rarely 
seen, obtained the nickname of ' 'PvrrapSypacpos \ the 
filth painter ^ ; although the rich voluptuary bought 
his works at extravagant prices, thus coming to the 
help of their utter worthlessness by impressing upon 
them a fictitious value. Governments themselves! 
have not thought it unw^orthy of their vigilance to j 
restrain by force the artist within his proper sphere. \ 
The law of the Thebans, which ordered the imita- .' 
tion of the beautiful and forbad the imitation ofl 
the ugly, is well known. It was no law against the 
bungler, which it was generally supposed to be, even 
by Junius ^. It condemned the Greek Ghezzi '', the 
unworthy trick of Art to attain a likeness through 
an exaggeration of the uglier parts of the original 
— in a word, the caricature. 

From the spirit of the beautiful also flowed the law 
of the Olympic judges. Every Olympian conqueror 
obtained a statue, but an Iconic was only granted 
to him who had been three times a conqueror^. 
Portraits of the moderately successful were not 
allowed to abound among works of Art, for although 
even the portrait approached to the ideal, never- 
theless the likeness w^as the dominant circumstance ; 
it is the ideal of a certain man, not the ideal of a 
man generally. 

We smile when we hear that with the Ancients 
even the Arts were subjected to civil laws ; but we 
are not always right when we smile. Unquestion- 
ably laws should exercise no power over sciences, 
for the end of science is truth. Truth is necessary 
for the soul, and it would be tyranny to exercise the 




I slightest compulsion with respect to the satisfaction 
: of this essential need. 

f The end of Art, on the other hand, is pleasure, 
1 and pleasure can be dispensed with ; therefore, it 
' may always depend upon the law-giver what kind of 
; pleasure he will allow, and what amount of each 
i kind. 

The plastic Arts especially, over and above the 
certain influence which they exercise upon the char- 
acter of a nation, are capable of an effect which 
requires the vigilant supervision of the law. If 
beautiful men are tlie cause of beautiful statues, the 
latter, on the other hand, have reacted upon the 
former, and the state has to thank beautiful statues 
for beautiful men. 

With us the tender imagination of the mother 
appears to express itself only in monsters. From 
this point of view I believe that in certain ancient 
legends, which are generally thrown aside as untrue, 
there is some truth to be found. The mother of 
Aristomenes, Aristodaemos, Alexander the Great, 
Scipio, Augustus, Galerius, all dre^imt during their 
pregnancy that their husband was a snake. The 
snake was the sign of godhead^, and tlie beautiful 
statues of a Bacchus, an Apollo, a Mercury, a Her- 
cules, were seldom without snakes. These honour- 
able wives had in the day-time fed their eyes on the 
god, and the bewildering dream awakenea the form 
of the wild beast. This is how I read the dream, 
and despise the explanation wliich was given by the 
pride of sires and the siiamelessness of flatterers : 
for certainly there must have been one cause why 
the adulterous fancy always took the form of a 

But I return to my path. My only wish has been 
to lay down flrmly the principle tliat with the 
ancients beauty was the liighest^law of Ihfiiinitativfi 

This principle being firmly established, it neces- 
sarily follows that everything else by_ which the 




imita ti^ie Art can at the same time extend its ' 
influence must, if it does not harmonise with beauty, 
entirely give place to it, and if it does harmonise, at 
least be subordinate to it. Let me dwell on the 
consideration of Expression. 

There are passions and degrees of passion which 
express themselves in the countenance by the most 
hideous distortions, and which place the whole body 
in such attitudes of violence that all the fine lines 
which mark it in a position of repose are lost. The 
ancient artists either abstained from these altogether 
and entirely, or used them in a subordinate degree, 
in which they were susceptible of some measure 
of beauty. Rage and despair do not disgrace any 
of their works. I dare aver that they have never 
created a Fury ''°. 

Wrath is diminished into severity. The Jupiter \ 
of the poet who hurls the thunderbolt is wrathful ; I 
the Jupiter of the artist is severe. f 

Lamentation is softened into sorrow ; and when 
this mitigation cannot take place — if the lamenta- 
tion should be equally degrading and disfiguring, 
what did Timanthes do % Hjs picture of the Sacrifice 
fiUphigenia, in which he distributed to all the by- 
standers their proper share of grief, but veiled the 
countenance of the father, which ought to manifest 
a grief surpassing that of all the others, is well 
known, and many clever things have been said about 
it. He had^\ said one critic, so exhausted himself 
in the physiognomy of sorrow that he despaired of 
being able to give an expression of greater sorrow 
to the father. He thereby confessed ^■'^, said another 
critic, that the grief of a father in such a catastrophe 
was beyond all expression. I, for my part, see 
neither the incapacity of the artist nor the incapacity 
of the Art. As the degree of the affection becomes 
stronger, so do the corresponding features of the 
countenance ; the highest degree has the most 
decided features, and nothing is easier for Art than 
to express them. But Timanthes knew the limits 



wliich the Graces had fixed to his Art. He knew 
that the grief which overcame Agamemnon as a 
father found expression in distortions, which are 
always hideous. So far as beauty and dignity could 
be combined with this expression he went. He 
might easily have passed over or have softened what 
was hideous : but inasmuch as his composition did 
not permit him to do either, what resource re- 
mained but to veil it ? What he might not paint 
he left to conjecture. In a word, this veiling is a 
sacrifice v/hich the artist made to beauty. It is an 

I example not how an artist can force expression 
beyond the limits of Art, but how an artist should 
subject it to the first law of Art — the law of beauty ^^ 
I Apply this observation to the Laocoon and the 
(reason which I seek is clear. The master strove to 
attain the highest beauty in given circumstances of 
bodily anguish. It was impossible to combine the 
latter in all its disfiguring vehemence with the 
former. It was therefore necessary to diminish it ; 
he must soften screams into sighs, not because the 
screaming betrayed an ignoble soul, but because it 
disfigured the countenance in a hideous manner. 
Let any one only in thought force wide open the 
mouth of Laocoon and judge. Let any one make 
him scream and then look. It was a creation whicli 
inspired sympathy, because it exhibited beauty and 
suffering at the same time ; now it has become a 
hideous horrible creation from which we gladly turn 
away our face, because the aspect of it excites what 
is unpleasant in pain witliout tlie beauty in the 
; suffering object which can change this unpleasant- 
'jiess into the secret feeling of sympathy. 

The mere wide-opening of tlie mouth — putting 
out of consideration how violent and disgusting the 
otlier portions of the face distorted and displaced 
by it would become — is in painting a blot, and in 
statuary a cavity, which produces the worst effect 
possible. Montfaucon sliowed little taste when he 
declared an old bearded head with an open moutli 


to be Jupiter " instructing an Oracle. Must a god 
scream when he reveals the future? Would a 
pleasing curve of the mouth make his speech sus- 
picious 1 Neither do I believe Valerius that Ajax, 
in the picture by Timanthes already mentioned, 
must have been represented as screaming i^. Far 
worse masters in the time of decayed Art do not 
allow the wildest barbarians, when suffering terror 
and agony of death under the sword of the conqueror, 
to open their mouths so as to scream ^^, 

It is certain that this reduction of the most 
extreme bodily anguish to a lower scale of feeling 
was visible in many of the ancient works of Art. 
The suffering Hercules in the poisoned garment, by 
the hand of an unknown ancient master, was not the 
Hercules of Sophocles, who yelled so dreadfully 
that the Locrian cliffs and the Eubean promontories 
re-echoed with it. He was rather melanclioly than 
mad^^. The Philoctetes of Pythagoras Leontinus 
appeared to impart his pain to the observer, an 
effect which the slightest feature of ugliness would 
have prevented. It may be asked how I know that 
this master had made a statue of Philoctetes ? — from 
a passage in Pliny, wliich ought not to have waited 
for my correction, so palpably is it corrupted or 
mutilated ^^. 

But, as has been already remarked, Art has in 
these modern times greatly widened its boundaries. 
Its imitative power, it is said, extends over all 
visible nature, of which the beautiful forms but a 
small part. Truth and expression are its first law ; 
and as nature herself always sacrifices beauty to 
higher views, so must the artist also subordinate it 
I to his general design and pursue it further than 
-L truth and expression allow. It suffices that througli 
truth and expression the most hideous thing in 
nature is changed into the beautiful of Art. 
~ Suppose we allow this idea to pass unchallenged, 
; as to its merit or demerit ; are there not other 
considerations independent of it which, neverthe- 
less, oblige the Artist to observe moderation in his 
expression, and not to choose for representation the 
imost extreme point of action ? I believe that the 
fsingle moment to which tlie material limits of Art 
[confine all her imitations will lead us to such 
~ If the Artist out of ever changing nature cannot 
use more than a single moment, and the Painter 
especially can only use this single moment with 
reference to a single point of view ; if their woFks, 
ITowever, are made not only to be seen but to be 
considered, and considered for a long time and re- 
peatedly ; then is it certain that tliis single moment, 
and the single point of view of tliis single moment, 

Imust^be chosen wliicli are most fruitful of ejlect. 
Tliat alone is fruitful of effect which leaves free 
^lay to tlie x>ower of imagination. The more we 
see, the more must we aid our sight by thought; 
the more we aid our sight by thought, the more 

must we'^believe that we see. But in all the grada- 1 
tions of a passion, there is no moment which Has | 
less this advantage than the moment of the highest^ ^j -x 
i^egree of the passion. Beyond this there is nothing, (' / 
and to show tne eye the extremest point is to bind 

^e wings of Fancy, and to compel her, inasmuch 

as her power cannot go b(?yond the impression on 
the senses, to busy herself with feeble and sub- 
ordinate images, beyond which is that visible fulness 
of expression which she shuns as her boundary .__ 
When Laocoon sighs the imagination may hear him 
scream ; but when he screams, then it can neither 
advance a step higher in this representation, j:ior; 
descend a step lower without beholding him in a; 
more tolerable and therefore in a less interesting , 
condition : you either hear him groan for the first"^ 
time, or you see him already dead. 

Moreover, if this single moment obtains through-T 
Art an unchangeable duration, then it ought to i . ; ' 

"1^2QI!6SS nothing which in our conception is transi- | ; \ 
tQiy ^ All phenomena, the character of which we ) '-' ' 
consider to be that they suddenly appear and 
suddenly disappear — that they can only be what ■ 
they are for a moment — all such phenomena, be I 
they agreeable or shocking, obtain, when prolonged j 
by Art, so unnatural an appearance, that their im- 1 
pression becomes weaker with each repeated in- ! 
spection, and ends in our feeling disgust or fear at 
the whole object. La Mettrie who allowed himself -^ 
to be painted and engraved as a second Democritus, 
smiles only the first time you see him. Look at 
him oftener, and instead of a philosopher, there is 
a fool ; the smile has become a grin. So it is with 
the screaming. Tlie grievous pain which forces out 
the scream, either soon ceases or destroys the 
sufferer. The most enduring man screams, but does 
not scream incessantly ; and it is only this apparent 
unceasingness in the material imitation of Art 
which reduces his scream to a womanish incapacity, 
and a childish intolerance of pain. This, at least. 


the Artist of Laocoon had to avoid, even if the 
screaming would not have injured beauty, and even 
if it were permitted to his Art to express sufiFering 
without beauty. 

] Among the old Painters Timo maclius appears to 
[ have adopted by choice subjects m wTiTch emotion 
j is carried to an extreme ; his raging Ajax^ his child; 
• murdering^ Medea, were famous pictures ] SiitTrom 
tTieliccounts which we have of them it is clear that 
he perfectly understood and knew how to combine 
that point at which the observer not so much sees 
as surmises the crisis, with that phenomenon witli 
which, we do not so necessarily connect the idea of 
the transitory, as to render the prolongation of it 
displeasing in a work of Art. He has not painted 
the Medea at the moment in which she actually 
murders her children ; but some minutes before, 
1 while maternal love was still struggling with 
[jealousy. We foresee the end of the struggle. We 
shudder by anticipation at the mere sight of the 
savage Medea, and our imagination goes far beyond 
jwhat the Painter has been able to draw in this 
Jterrible moment. But for this very reason the 
prolonged indecision of Medea represented by Art, 
so little distresses us, that we rather wish that in 
nature it had so remained, that the strife of passion 
had not ended, or, at least, had lasted long enough 
to allow time and reflection to disarm rage, and to 
secure the triumph of maternal feeling. This 
wisdom on the part of Timomaclius has procured 
for him great and frequent praise, and raised him 
far above other obscure painters who were so un- 
intelligent as to paint Medea at the moment of her 
greatest fury, and to give a perpetuity to that 
transitory and fleeting degree of the extremest 
raving which revolts everybody's nature. The poet -^ 
who blames them for this says, very sensibly, while 
he addresses the picture itself, — 'Dost tl)ou con- 
tinually thirst for the blood of tliy children? Is 
there for ever a new Jason, for ever a new Creusa, 


those who unceasingly exasperate you ? to the 
Devil with you even in your picture ! ', he adds, 
full of disgust. 

As to the raging Ajax of Timomachus, we can 
form an opinion from the account of Philostratus ^. 
Ajax did not appear as he vented his fury on the 
herds, and bound and slew oxen and goats. But v 
the master painted him as he was sitting exhausted 
with these mad acts of heroism, and taking the 
resolution to slay himself : and this is really the 
mad Ajax, not because he is at the moment mad, 
but because we see that he has been mad ; because 
the intensity of his madness is most vividly appa- 
rent from the shame and despair under which he is 
now suflering. We see the storm in the wreck, and 
the corpses which are thrown upon the beach. 


I EXAMINE tlifijirominent reasons why the. master 
artist of the Laocoon was obliged to observe mo.dera- 
I tion in the expression of bodily pain; I find that 
: they are altogether derived from the peculiar nature 
of Art, and from the necessary limits and require- 
ments of Art. It would be difficult to apply any of 
i these reasons to Poetry. 

Without stopping here to enquire how far the poet 
can be successful in describing corporeal beauty, thus 
much is indisputable, that the whole unbounded 
realm of perfection lies open to his imitation, this 
visible veil, under which perfection becomes beauty, 
can be only one of the subordinate means by which 
lie knows how to interest us on behalf of his per- 
sons. These means lie often entirely neglects, assured 
that, if his hero has won our favour, we sliall either 
be so much occupied with his nobler qualities as not 
to think about his bodily form ; or, if we do think 
about it, to be so prepossessed in his favour as to 
bestow on him, if not one absolutely beautiful, yet 
one which is not unpleasing : least of all will he refer 
to the sense of sight any poetical trait not intended 
expressly for the eye. 

iWhen Virgil's Laocoon screams, wlio does not 
know that a wide mouth is necessary for screaming, 
i and that this wide mouth is hideous ? Enougli that 
i clamores horrendos ad sidera tollit produces a sublime 
effect on the sense of Iiearing, whatever it may 
ij^roduce on the sense of seeing. 

If there be any one who desiderates an image of 

beauty, he lias entirely failed to appreciate the 

general effect which the poet intended to convey. 

Nothing, in the next place, constrains tlie poet to 


k^t4^^^ WSaPTER IV 75 ^ 

concentrate his picture upon a single moment. He 
takes up each of his actions as he likes from their 
very beginning and carries them through all pos- 
sible changes up to the very end ; each of these 
clianges which would have cost the painter a whole 
work specially devoted to it, costs the poet only a 
single trait, and even if this trait, considered by 
itself, might jar on the imagination of the hearer, 
either such preparation has been made for it by 
wliat has gone before, or it has been so softened 
and compensated for by what has followed as to 
lose its particular impression, and in this combina- 
tion produces the best possible effect ; and, if it 
were really unbecoming a man to scream in the 
bitterness of his anguish, how could this slight and 
transitory impropriety derogate from the esteem 
whicli his virtues in other respects have already 
won from us ? 

Virgil's Laocoon screams, but this screaming 
Laocoon is the very same whom we have already 
known and loved as the wisest of patriots and the 
kindest of fathers. We attribute his scream not to 
his character but to his intolerable suffering. This, 
alone we hear in his scream ; and it is only by this 
scream that the poet can make us sensible of his 
suffering. Moreover, who blames him ? Who does 
not rather acknowledge that if the sculptor did 
well in not allowing Laocoon to scream, the poet 
did as well in allowing him to do so? 

But Virgil is here only a narrating poet. In this 
justification is the dramatic poet to be also included ? 
The narrative of a scream makes one kind of impres- 
sion ; the scream itself makes another. The Drama, ) 
which is destined to be a living painting through ; 
the representation of the actor, ought perhaps on i 
that very account to adhere the closer to the laws \ 
of material painting. In the actor we not only 
believe that we see and hear a screaming Philoc- 
tetes : we actually do see and hear him scream. 
The nearer the actor approaches to nature, the