Page images
PDF
EPUB

Ar Enquiry into the Fine Arts. By Thomas Robertsan, Fellow

of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 410. 11. is. in Boards.

Cadell. THERE is an aukwardness in the title of this work which

prejudices the reader against it; and the prejudice is stronger, as the subject ought to be elegantly treated. The author himself observes, that' useful books may be written in a mode that is minute and abstruse, as well as in one that is general and plain.' He prefers the latter, and thinks that a treatise on the Fine Arts nught to rise with the subject, and fpeak to the audience of all mankind.'

We entirely agree wita him in opinion ; but, if this was his aim, he has not been very successful in attaining it. • To pass by minute objects, but to treat of great ones minutely, is a secret in fine writing in general, which seems to have been known only to a few. To pursue this plan, requires an acute judgment, and an exact discrimination : our future remarks will ascertain how far the author is qualified for the task.

Mr. Robertson profeflies, in the first volume, to enquire into the ancient and modern state of music, as the chief of the • fine arts which apply to the ear.' He chuses to begin with modern mufic, which is the subject of the first chapter ; the fecond is on ancient mufic; the third contains speculations on mufic; and the fourth, fifth, and fixth, the history of the science. These are followed by a postscript on the music of the South Sea islanders'; and the whole is preceded by an introductory discourse.

The author, in his introduction, thinks that the love of ornament, the passion on which the fine arts are founded, precedes the gratification of natural appetites.

• The traveller, arriving in countries where the people were in the rudeft itate, where they hardly knew how to dress food, or keep off the weather, has always remarked a pasion for finery,' The favage is indolent; to look out for his daily nourilhment, seems a force upon his nature : but thew him a toy, and he will use prayers, or fraud, or violence, to obtain it. In the favage ftate, the fady of fine things has always been greater than of things that are necessary,'

He seems to forget that the savage must exist before he can defire; and that he cannot exist without fatisfying hunger. But to go on,

• It is vain to enquire into the order of the arts of necessity and of pleasure; which first, which last, made their appearance. They appeared both upon the same day, the moment men exifted. Fully formed by the hands of God, man ser his foot upon the earth ; but his steps were left to his own guid

ance,

[ocr errors]

ance, and his road to his own direction. While the arts of amusement and of subsistence were thus born together, the former appear to have been sooneft advanced. Nature gave caves to savage men to retire to; and more food, with little cost of time in acquiring it, than they could use. Hence the necessary arts, after making a few steps, foon became stationary for ages ; till, at length, population entreafing the demand for food, men were under the necessity to invent, to migrate, or to starve. It was not so with the other arts. Men had little to do but to practise them, Ages of idleness were bestowed upon them. Rude people learned to dance, before they could hew timber, or shape ftone : they painted their bodies long before they clothed them : while the palate had little choice of meats and drinks, the eye was courted with shining ores, and shells, and feathers: while the hand had yet to learn its cunning, the ear toiled not to relish sweet melody. The arts of pleasure, in such times indeed, are in a mos imperfect state ; yet it is to these arts chiefly, that rude ages are devoted. If there be men bufied about neceffaries more than about any other things, it is the bulk of men in the most refined times : it is the stupid labourer and mechanic: it is the merchant at his books: it is the liberal and learned themselves, amid the talks of ftudy and the fun&ions of office ; their pleasures, properly so called, being snatched at intervals ; for all their other amusement, however gennine, arises merely from their being employed. The favage dresses, dances, and sings.'

In this paffage, the opinion is much limited ; and, if the author had proceeded a little farther in the enquiry, he would have found the result fo obvious, that the whole would probably have been excluded from the work. The amaiements of the favage are certainly the origin of the fine arts; but iç is of little consequence whether they preceded or followed the gratification of hunger. It would have been a more import- . ant subject of engairy, to have examined the savage state in general, and to have observed in what circumstances there amusements are most frequent. Many favages, after satisfying their appetites, fink into the most torpid insensibility, till new calls rouse them into action. In this investigation, fomething might have been found to be owing to climate, not as a cause influencing a particular contexture of the nervous system ; but as inviting its inhabitants into the open air, and inspiring a placid chearfulness. Tbis view would not indeed have explained every particular occurrence, nor is it our pre fent object to supply defects.

Mr. Robertson next examines the commonly received prin ciple, that the fine arts are imitative. He denies that they are fo; and mufie ought, he thinks, to be particularly ex

cepted.

The me

cepted. That music is not an imitative art was, we believe, first asserted by Mr. Jackson, in a preface to one of his early publications. Mr. Robertson observes that we, after Arittotle, continue to fay, that the fine arts imitate, and are ever and anon contradicted by examples, in which there is no imitation.' He asierts that the fine arts, poetry excepted, have never flourished in our island so much as, upon the continent; that, not having fine artifts, we are in danger of not knowing what are fine arts, ' for in architecture, painting, fculpture, and chiefly music, we not only do not execute ourselves, but fcarely know what is executed by others. If this be true, it is so of painting only; architecture, and of the pureit ítyle, is more praetised in England than in any other country; and music, the immediate subject of our author's Enquiry, undoubtedly flou, rishes more in this kingdom than in any other. London is the great centre to which all musicians of eminence tend; and there are, at this time, more capital performers assembled in it than in all Europe befides.

In the chapter on Modern Music, our author begins with enquiring into the nature of sounds, and examines their fym. pathifing effects in inanimate and animated bodies. dical effects of music may, he thinks, be owing to this fympathy, fince the bones and nerves may be the strings of the human machine.' But this doctrine is now exploded ; and we need not infift. on its absurdity. All these, and more supernatural effects, have been attributed to ancient music : the modern art pretends to nothing more than charming the sense.

Mr. Robertson divides the qualities of musical sound into force, polish, and time. Polith is a term of his own inven. tion, and not a very happy one ; we also think that the term

low,' is improperly contrafted to loud ;' because in musical discussions, it is always opposed to 'high.' What he means by saying that' tune is nothing else but time,' exceeds our comprehenfion. Tune is a found of a given pitch, and time the duration of it: in this way it has ever been considered by every writer on the subject. Our author is exceedingly prolix on the first elements of music; and, from thence, takes occasion to speak of modern performances, which it is pretty clear that he is unacquainted with.

* All human guide fails, when the masterly is to be executed. Musicians speak of certain occasions, when the ordinary rules both of time and of tune may be set aside ; and these are the occasions of eloquence and of fire. Here fome poor fidler is left to himself. He murders Corelli : directions mould surely be given to ordinary artists : some few rules should be handed down, guiding them, where they are most apt to err, to the

fpirit spirit of the composer, who may be long ago dead; and whole works, imperfeâly committed to writing, they are presenting, with many innovations of their own, to the public. It is to be doubted, if Corelli could at this day recognize his own compositions in a concert of music: besides other alterations, só many graces, as they are called, being added; and so much : fimple majesty, taken away.'

This juftly characterises the music of seventy or eighty years ago ; but the moderns play precisely the notes set before them. The account of the different intervals and modes is most unreasonably protracted, because there is nothing new in it. We think the fame of his speculations in the third chapter.

In the Hitory of Music, Mr. Bruce is frequently mentioned. As this gentleman has not yet communicated his discoveries to the public, we cannot judge of their importance. The : harp of inexpresible beauty,' as published by Dr. Burney, cannot be like any musical instrument, because there is nothing to relift the tension of the strings. That'same learned The ban' who painted it must, for an ancient, be miserably igno. rant of the make of musical instruments."

It is impoffible to follow our author regularly. Where we agree with him, it is when he takes up the opinions of others; for he advances very little from himself but what is liable to exception. The best part of this volume is, in our opinion, the account of the progress of music in England, and the character of some of our composers. The author has read a great deal on this subject; but does not seem to possess fufficient genius to distinguish what is proper to retain, and what to reject. We shall select, as', a specimen, part of this work where. Mr. Robertfon must have been rather an observer than a copyist'; and consequently where his account is more valut able and original,

The two most general classes into which the Highland music seems to divide itself, are derived from the two different inftruments which that music has chiefly employed : the harp and voice on the one hand; and the bagpipe on the other. String and v cal music being so compatible with one another, and, of consequence, having been lo generally conjoined in practice, have taken the same subjects, and have had the fame character. The bagpipe, from its nature, has stood alone, and its music has been peculiar to itself.

Harp and vocal music, the former of those two classes appears to have been subdivided among the Highlanders into two others : fongs adapted to times of relaxation and ease; and songs that always accompanied labour,

[ocr errors]

The

• The former of those subdivisions, which may be called resto fongs, and probably the more ancient, seem to have been chiefly employed upon subjects of an historical, heroic, and tragic kind; the air grave and melancholy, without a chorus ; and sung by one or more voices throughout. And fuch chiefly are what have been called the ancient lament-fonigs of the Highlanders. Some of the more primitive of these airs appear to be only a short imperfect chaunt, or kind of recitative ; having little regularity in the measure ; and to which, perhaps, they owe their charm ; of a grave, Now, and deeply melancholy caft. The most tender and mournful airs, ic is laid, be. long to this species. 9. The latter subdivision, the labour-fongs, for the purpose of which they are said admirably to be constructed, a purpose now in fingular in Europe, have had in general a lefs deep and ferious subject, though still plaintive for the greatest part, in their nature. Being suited to the exertions of labour, to which they have been applied, they have at all times admitted of a chorus; a chorus, which seems to belong peculiarly to an active music. The airs here, which have been sung at land, have been called luinig, and those which have been fung at sea, iarram ; the luinig the more quick and chearful of the two. The iarrams or rowingsongs Teem, from the unstable and tragical element over which they were performed, to have acquired the character which has been given to them, of graveness and forrow. They are commonly in a flow measure'; the ear performing the rythmus, or bearing of time.

The modulation both of the luinig and iarram is said to be very fimple; there being scarcely any transition from one key to another, unlefs from the original key to that of the sixth, or corresponding minor mode, and the reverse of that, although fome ftrains conclude upon the fifth, yet that key is never regularly introduced and established.

Bagpipe music wears a very different aspect from that of the voice and harp, suitable unto the nature of the instrument, and unto the occasions upon which it is employed. It has gone under various names; but these rather arising from the variety of occafions, than implying different species of music: such as the pibrach, a march or battle-tune; the crainichadh, gathering or beat to arms; the failte, a falutation, or complimentary piece of martial music to the chief. Besides there is mentioned the lament, played still at funerals in the Highlands. The pibrach and cruinichadh, a proper martial music, consist of an air with variations, but in a singular movement. A low air begins the piece ; the variations become quicker and quicker to a degree of violence, rising, if we may say so, to the boiling point; and the now air, at last returning again, forms the conclusion. The melody of the variations is often strange and uncommon.

• What seems to characterize pibrach music, is the great contraft both in modulations and in measures. The air is simple

ia

6

1

« PreviousContinue »