[Part four of "Ruskin and Baudelaire on Art and Artist," which originally appeared in the University of Toronto Quarterly, 37 (1968): 295-308. indicates linked materials not in the original print version. The initial "J" below based on an image from by Edmund J. Sullivan's illustrated edition of Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, London: George Bell, 1898.]]
ohn Ruskin and Charles Baudelaire were the first to create this ideal of the serene yet paradoxically emotional artist-poet, and they were the first to attempt to solve the problems created by emotion in a romantic theory of art by creating such an ideal. But if we look at some of the earlier writers and theorists whom we know that Ruskin and Baudelaire read, we can observe an interesting blend of French, English, and American hints, partial anticipations, and possible influences. Diderot, who stresses the artist's need for sang-froid, would seem to provide the earliest anticipation of Baudelaire's conception of the artist. In his "Essai sur la Peinture" Diderot states that the artist must maintain within himself a strict and rigorous balance between the forces of reason and emotion: "Sans cette balance rigoureuse, selon que l'enthousiasme ou la raison prédomine, l'artiste est extravagant ou froid" (1154). Diderot's "Paradoxe sur le Comedien" further emphasizes that to create great acting, painting, or poetry, one must control one's emotions: "C'est au sang-froid à tempérer le délire de l'enthousiasme. Ce n'est pas l'homme violent qui est hors de lui-meme qui dispose de nous; c'est un avantage réservé à l'homme qui se possède" (1008). Although Diderot, like Baudelaire, does see a need for balance and coolness, his conception of the artist and of the creative process is really quite different, since unlike Baudelaire, who emphasizes the emotions, Diderot assumes that "La sensibilité n'est" guère la qualité d'un grand génie" (1009). In other words, like Boileau, Dryden, Reynolds, and other French and English neoclassical theorists, Diderot believes that conscious reason, the intelligence, and not the emotions create art; and were it not for Diderot's praise in his "Éloge de Richardson," of the novelist's "coeur très sensible" (1059), one could take the statements in "Paradoxe sur le Comédien" as a typical neoclassical warning against the dangers of enthusiastic emotion. Diderot's critical theory is, in fact, mid-way between neoclassical views of the artist, based on a hierarchical psychology of reason, will, and passions, and romantic views of art, centred on theories of emotional perception and a sympathetic imagination. Thus, whereas earlier writers on painting (and many of those contemporary with Diderot, as well) believe that reason is the faculty that creates art, and whereas romantic theorists, among whom we number Baudelaire and Ruskin, hold, in contrast, that the emotions and imagination are responsible, Diderot appears to believe that the artist [302/303] first perceives by sympathy and feeling, and thent in a separate step or process, creates with his judgment.
Coleridge's notion of the ideal romantic poet who combines "judgement ever awake and steady self-possession, with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement" (II, 12)> also partially anticipates Ruskin and Baudelaire; but it is unlikely that this statement from the Biographia Literaria influenced either critic, since there is no evidence to suggest that they had read that work.
Lemaitre comments that the similarities between Baudelaire and Coleridge are primarily due to the influence of Poe and Mrs. Crowe, The Night Side of Nature (London, 1848), from both of whom Baudelaire indirectly derives the Coleridgean distinction between fancy and imagination (324-5n). Ruskin's similar distinction may have come from Wordsworth's prefaces, or from Leigh Hunt's Imagination and Fancy (1844). In his chapters on the imagination Ruskin borrows examples from Hunt's work, which he deems an "admirable piece of criticism" (4.254n). In December 1843 Ruskin wrote to the Rev. W. L. Brown, remarking, "I never heard of the Coleridge and Wordsworth dispute" (4.391); and Ruskin's failure to cite" the Biographia, particularly when, as a young man, he had the habit of displaying his knowledge, suggests he never, in fact, read the work.
Carlyle, who influenced Ruskin directly and Baudelaire indirectly, would seem to have been the first to contribute importantly to both wnters' conception of the ideal artist-poet. Carlyle never concerns himself with the psychology of creation and is, indeed, suspicious of any attempts to describe parts or faculties of the mind, for as he states in On Heroes and Hero-Worship:
Divisions are at bottom but names . . . man's spiritual nature, the vital Force which dwells in him, is essentially one and indivisible . . . what we call imagination, fancy, understanding, and so forth, are but different figures of the same Power of Insight" .
Nonetheless, his portrait of the hero-poet implicitly contains the opposing elements that appear in both critics' notion of the artist. On Heroes and Hero-Worship states that the great man, be he poet or prophet, necessarily perceives emotionally — by sympathy, by the love he has for the things on which he fixes his gaze: The artist "could not have discerned the object at all, or seen the vital type of it, unless he had, what we may call, sympathised with it, — had sympathy in him to bestow on objects" (326). "To know a thing, what we call knowing, a man must first love the thing, sympathise with it" (339). At the same time Carlyle continually emphasizes that the hero-poet possesses the "calmly seeing eye" (336) "the clear deep-seeing eye" (312). However central to his idea of the hero, Carlyle's opposition of sympathy and impassivity remains implicit and undefined. Nonetheless it is possible, and even likely, that Carlyle's hero-poet provided hints Ruskin used: when Ruskin states in Carlylean terms that "The true Seer always feels as intensely as anyone else; but he does not much describe his feelings" (5.334), his choice of "Seer" would suggest indebtedness to the man whom, in later years, he came to accept as his master.
Baudelaire became acquainted with the idea of the hero, not from Carlyle, but from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Carlyle's American friend and disciple; and it is with a modification of Emerson's notion of the hero that Baudelaire describes Delacroix as the ideal artist:
Ce qui marque le plus visiblelnent le style de Delacroix, c'est la concision et une espèce d'intensité sans ostentation, résultat habituel de la concentration de toutes les forces spirituelles vers un point donné. 'The hero is he who is immovably centred,' dit le moraliste d'outre-mer Emerson.... 'Le héros est celui-là qui est immuablement concentré' — La maxime que le chef du Trancendantalisme[sic] américain applique à la conduite de la vie et au domaine des affaires peut également s'appliquer au domaine de la poésie et de l'art. On pourrait dire aussi bien: 'Le héros littéraire, c'est-à-dire le véritable écrivain, est celui qui est immuablement concentré.'
In adapting Emerson's passing remark from The Conduct of Life (1860), Baudelaire returns, in effect, to the Carlylean conception of the hero-poet. But although Baudelaire drew upon Emerson's conception of the hero when he created his own ideal artist, it is difficult to ascertain the degree to which Emerson was a source of an idea new to Baudelaire, or merely served to confirm notions the French critic already possessed. In his essay "Théophile Gautier," published a year before the appearance of The Conduct of Life, Baudelaire already mentions as the centre of greatness that concentration which controls the hero-artist's strong emotions. In the essay on Gautier, he states that Balzac's characters, like the novelist himself, have this concentration characteristic of greatness: "Bref, chacun, chez Balzac, même les portières, a du génie. Toutes les âmes sont des âmes chargées de volonté jusqu'à la gueule. C'est bien Balzac lui-même" (679). In this comment about Balzac we seem to have the same conception of will that, three years later, is said to control the great artist's passion; so it would seem that even though Baudelaire did use Emerson's idea of the hero when he created his notion of an ideal artist, before he read the American author he had already developed many of the same points independently.
Baudelaire's perception of ideal cencentration and will in Balzac is interesting, because Ruskin, too, appears to have drawn upon the French novelist when he formed his notion of the artist-poet. In 1854, two years before he drew his portrait of the perfect artist in the third volume of Modern Painters, Ruskin copied a passage about the relation between passion and art from Balzac's Maximes et Pensées (1852) into his notebooks, typescripts of which the editors of the Library Edition made and then deposited in the Bodleian Library, Oxford:
Un artiste qui a la malheur d'être plein de la passion qu'[i]l veut exprimer ne sauraut la pei[n]dre[,] car il est la chose même, au lieu d'en être l'image. art procède [du] cerveau et non du coeur[.] [Q]uand votre sujet vous ne[,] vous en etres [êtes] l'esclave et non le maître[ ... ]. Sentir trop vivement au moment où il s'agit d'executer, c'est insurrection des sens contre la faculté. [Bodleian Eng. misc. c. 220]
I have not been able to locate tbe original manuscript. The typescript omits all French accents except tbose on maître and faculté. Ruskin found this discussion of passion and art in Balzac's Maximes et Pensées (Paris: Plon, 1852), p. 190. The volume should not be confused with a later Pensées et Maximes (Paris: Lemerre, 1909). On the facing page in his notebook, next to this passage, Ruskin made a comment that is the first version of his conception of the ideal artist:
Consider with reference to this, the perfect serenity and absence of feeling — in Dante as a relater — The poetry does not profess to be written under influence of feeling — All poetry which does is humbug. Mean poets are influenced by feeling as they write — Dante looks quietly about for images to paint feelings which he had, not which he has.
[304/305] These notes towards a definition of the artist, which appear coloured by the Wordsworthian notion that poetry originates from emotion recollected in tranquillity, already emphasize "serenity" and "absence of feeling," and use Dante as the central example. The portrait is not yet complete, since the accent on the paradoxial nature of the artist is missing, for Ruskin has not yet taken into account his belief that the poet must be a passionate, intense observer.
Carlyle, Thomas. On Heroes and Hero-Worship. London and New York, 1908.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Works. ed. J. Shawcross, 2 vols. London 1967.
Diderot, Denis de. Oeuvres. ed. André Paris: Billy, 1951.
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