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picturesque and the sublime as “ways of seeing” - theories of seeing reflected changing theories of Mind/self and of nature (the eye creates and perceives) Picturesque (“from a picture”) :.
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- theories of seeing reflected changing theories of Mind/self and of nature (the eye creates and perceives)
Picturesque (“from a picture”):
- an ideal of beauty (18th and 19th centuries; typified in William Gilpin’s On Picturesque Beauty)
- departed from neoclassicism by admiring apparent decay, disorder, and the “natural”
- but the “irregular” was prized only to a point – it was studied irregularity (it appealed to the intellect as much as to the spirit)
- full of variety, curious details, interesting textures, and roughness and irregularity
- “Claude” glass as frame
- travel to discover landscape as “object” (cf. Dorothy’s journals)
“Pastoral Landscape” (1638) by Claude Lorraine
Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey
Henry Tilney lectures on the picturesque to Catherine: she “was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath, as unworthy to make part of a landscape.”
The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque, the joint work of Rowlandson and Combe was published in The Poetical Magazine in 1809
I’ll make a TOUR—and then I’ll WRITE IT.
You well know what my pen can do,
And I’ll employ my pencil too:—
I’ll ride and write, and sketch and print,
And thus create a real mint;
I’ll prose it here, I’ll verse it there,
And picturesque it ev’ry where.
I’ll do what all have done before;
I think I shall—and somewhat more.
The Passage of the St. Gothard 1804
For, to say truth, I don’t inherit
This self-same picturesquish spirit,
That looks to nought but what is rough,
And ne’er thinks Nature coarse enough.
Their system does my genius shock,
Who see such graces in a dock;
Whose eye the picturesque admires
In straggling brambles, and in briers;
Nay, can a real beauty see
In a decay’d and rotten tree.
- Longinus (Greek) - On the Sublime
- Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757)
- ability to evoke intense emotion through “terror” - vastness, infinitude; a quality that inspires awe (cf. Milton’s descriptions of Satanic spaces)
- intensity, power, ruggedness, terror, and vastness; Man relative to an imposing Nature
smallness, smoothness, absence of angularity
vast, overpowering, awe inspiring
irregular, variety, proportion, balance of parts
- note horizon....uh....tality
The Bard - 1817
a poetic revolution?
- set in context of French Revolution; gives voice/story tootherwise neglected poetical subjects: the very old, the very young, the “mad,” and other social outcasts
- nature as a source of spiritual restoration and moral education
- “common” language (“the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation” 1436; the poet is a “man speaking to men” 1443; )
- deconstructing hierarchy (i.e. rules of poetic decorum)
- “he [the poet] will feel that there is no necessity to trick out or elevate nature” (1443)
- “poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” – but – “it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility
- “in order entirely to enjoy the poetry which I am recommending, it would be necessary to give up much of what is ordinarily enjoyed [...] I might have removed many obstacles, and assisted my reader in perceiving that the powers of language are not so limited as he may suppose; and that it is possible that poetry may give other enjoyments, of a purer, more lasting, and more exquisite nature” (1448)
artifice satisfies the intellect – nature/emotion satisfies the soul
Here hills and vales, the woodland and the plain,Here earth and water, seem to strive again;
name the author of these lines
Not Chaos like together crush'd and bruis'd,But as the world, harmoniously confus'd:Where order in variety we see, And where, tho' all things differ, all agree....
There, interspers'd in lawns and opening glades,Thin trees arise that shun each other's shades.Here in full light the russet plains extend;There wrapt in clouds the blueish hills ascend...
Not proud Olympus yields a nobler sight,Tho' Gods assembled grace his tow'ring height,Than what more humble mountains offer here, Where, in their blessings, all those Gods appear.See Pan with flocks, with fruits Pomona crown'd,Here blushing Flora paints th' enamel'd ground,Here Ceres' gifts in waving prospect stand,...
Rich Industry sits smiling on the plains,And peace and plenty tell, a Stuart reigns.
Windsor Forest (1713)
Wordsworth and Coleridge have declared a poetic revolution but Wordsworth in particular is still clearly part of the picturesque mode of seeing; elements of the sublime, however, are evident throughout his work:
...And I have feltA presence that disturbs me with the joyOf elevated thoughts; a sense sublimeOf something far more deeply interfused,Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,And the round ocean and the living air,And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:A motion and a spirit, that impelsAll thinking things, all objects of all thought,And rolls through all things.
“looking” is internalized as a creative act (later Romantics, like Keats, would criticize Wordsworth – particularly the later Wordsworth - for internalizing the sublime to such an extent that it became the egotistical sublime (excessively self-centered); contrast to Keats’ belief in the self-less receptivity required of the poetic mind negative capability)
“at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.”
- Keats in a letter to his brothers, 1817
consider Wordsworth’s way of seeing in “Tintern Abbey”
Tintern Abbey – description from Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye
From Monmouth we reached, by a late breakfast-hour, the noble ruin of Tintern-abbey, which belongs to the Duke of Beaufort; and is esteemed, with its appendages, the most beautiful and picturesque view on the river.
But if Tintern-abbey be less striking as a distant object, it exhibits, on a nearer view (when the whole together cannot be seen) a very enchanting piece of ruin. The eye settles upon some of its nobler parts. Nature has now made it her own.Time has worn off all traces of the chisel: it has blunted the sharp edges of the rule and compass, and broken the regularity of opposing parts. The figured ornaments of the east-window are gone; those of the west-window are left. Most of the other windows, with their principal ornaments, remain.
To these were superadded the ornaments of time. Ivy, in masses uncommonly large, had taken possession of many parts of the wall; and given a happy contrast to the grey-coloured stone of which the building is composed: nor was this undecorated. Mosses of various hues, with lichens, maiden-hair, penny-leaf, and other humble plants, had over-spread the surface, or hung from every joint and crevice. Some of them were in flower, others only in leaf; but all together gave those full-blown tints which add the richest finishing to a ruin.
interior of Tintern Abbey, 1794
Among other things in this scene of desolation, the poverty and wretchedness of the inhabitants were remarkable. They occupy little huts, raised among the ruins of the monastery, and seem to have no employment but begging; as if a place once devoted to indolence could never again become the seat of industry. As we left the abbey, we found the whole hamlet at the gate, either openly soliciting alms, or covertly, under the pretence of carrying us to some part of the ruins, which each could shew; and which was far superior to anything which could be shewn by anyone else...
One poor woman we followed, who had engaged to shew us the monks' library. She could scarcely crawl; shuffling along her palsied limbs and meagre contracted body by the help of two sticks. She led us through an old gate into a place overspread with nettles and briars; and pointing to the remnant of a shattered cloister, told us that was the place. It was her own mansion. All indeed she meant to tell us was the story of her own wretchedness; and all she had to shew us was her own miserable habitation. We did not expect to be interested as we were. I never saw so loathsome a human dwelling. It was a cavern loftily vaulted between two ruined walls, which streamed with various coloured stains of unwholesome dews. The floor was earth, yielding through moisture to the tread. Not the merest utensil or furniture of any kind appeared, but a wretched bedstead, spread with a few rags, and drawn into the middle of the cell to prevent its receiving the damp which trickled down the walls. At one end was an aperture, which served just to let in light enough to discover the wretchedness within. — When we stood in the midst of this cell of misery, and felt the chilling damps which struck us in every direction, we were rather surprised that the wretched inhabitant was still alive, than that she had only lost the use of her limbs.
William Gilpin, A Picturesque View of Tintern Abbey. From Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, &c. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; Made in the Summer of the Year 1770 (London, 1782).
Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of Five long winters! and again I hear