Let us turn to another familiar human interest, that of the fine arts. There exists a vague idea, sometimes defended by the connoisseur, but more often ignored or repudiated by him, that the greatest works of art must express the general or the universal. Thus we feel that Greek sculpture is great because it portrays man, whereas most contemporary sculpture portrays persons; and that Italian painting of the Renaissance, expressing, as it does, the Christian interpretation of life, is superior to the impressionistic landscape which seizes on some momentary play of light and color. Now I do not for a moment wish to contend that such considerations as these are decisive in determining the merit of art. It may even be that they should not affect our purely æsthetic judgments at all. But it is clear that they signify an important fact about the mind of the artist, and also about the mind of the observer. The Greek sculptor and the Italian painter evidently have ideas of a certain sort. They may, it is true, have come by them quite unconsciously. But somehow the Greek sculptor must have had an idea not of his model merely, but of human nature and of the sort of perfection that befits it. And the Italian, over and above his sense of beauty, must have shared with his times an idea of the comparative values of things, perhaps of the superiority of the inner to the bodily life, or of heaven to this mundane sphere. And the observer as well must have a capacity for such ideas, or he will have lost something which the artist has to communicate. The case of poetry is perhaps clearer. Historical or narrative poems, love poems to a mistress’s eyes or lips, evidently dwell on some concrete situation or on some rare and evanescent quality that for a moment narrows the mind and shuts out the world. On the other hand, there are poems like Tennyson’s “Higher Pantheism,” and “Maud,” Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” or Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,”〖See H. C., xlii, 1004, 1015, 1103, 1137; xli, 635.〗 in which the poet is striving to express through his peculiar medium some generalization of life. He has had some wider vision, revealing man in his true place in the whole scheme of things. Such a vision is rarely clear, perhaps never entirely articulate; but it betokens a mind struggling for light, dissatisfied with any ready-made plan and striving to emancipate itself from vulgar standards.

And one who reads such poetry must respond to its mood, and stretch the mind to its dimensions.

It is not necessary for our purpose to argue that the merit of poetry is proportional to the breadth of its ideas; but only to see that breadth of ideas is an actual feature of most poetry that is with general consent called great. The great poets have been men whose imagination has dared to leave the ground and ascend high enough to enable them to take the world-wide view of things. Now such imagination is philosophical; it arises from the same impulse as that which generates philosophy, requires the same break with common sense, and fundamentally it makes the same contribution to life. There is this difference, that while the poetic imagination either boldly anticipates the results of future arguments, or unconsciously employs the results of arguments already made, philosophy is an argument. Poetry, because it is a fine art, must present a finished thing in sensuous form; philosophy, because it is theory, must present definitions of what it is talking about, and reasons for what it says. And there is need of both poets and philosophers since for every argument there is a vision and for every vision an argument.

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