decorated initial 'N' > ewman's use of earthly things, rather than biblical events, as materials for typological interpretation follows frequent High Church and Roman Catholic practice. [Such applications of types to natural objects also appears frequently in the works of Keble and of Frederick William Faber, an Anglican convert to the Roman Church. G. B. Tennyson, "The Sacramental Imagination" in Nature and the Victorian Imagination, eds U. C. Knoepflmacher and G. B. Tennyson, Berkeley, 1977, 370-90, contains a valuable discussion of such conceptions of natural symbols.] When used specifically as a type of heaven, which exists outside time, these images serve as windows into eternity. Whereas the characteristic type chiefly refers to something which exists at a specific moment of future time, this particular extended version refers instead to something which is essentially atemporal. Furthermore, when Keble, Newman, Faber and other High Anglican and Roman Catholic authors use earthly phenomena as types of something outside human time, they have abandoned most of the defining characteristics of this form of symbolism. In fact, frequently when they use the term "type" they mean little more than 'symbol," though much of the time, it is true, they assume that the symbolical relation is divinely instituted.

Such extension of typology to natural symbols, which comprises an important current of nineteenth-century Romanticism, of course involves far more than situations derived from the Pisgah sight or analogous to it. Such extensions, however, provide a paradigm of what happens to this form of biblical interpretation during the course of the century. One of the first points to note about such modifications and transferences of typology is that they occur in the works of believers from all denominations. For instance, Ruskin, who was raised as an Evangelical Anglican, bases his theory of beauty upon such a conception of type as divinely instituted symbol. According to his reasoning, all phenomena which we find beautiful, such as proportioned curves, symmetry, and pure colors, act as types of divinity. Ruskin, one should add, is not concerned that people habitually use beautiful objects for the element of the divine in them. Rather, in his search for an objective basis for aesthetic emotions, he simply argues -- like Fairbairn explaining the existence of scriptural types -- that this symbolic relation grows forth naturally from the essential laws of the universe: since God is the highest good in the universe, anything that humans perceive as delightful will turn out to echo some aspect of divinity.

A manuscript which Ruskin originally planned to include in the second volume of Modern Painters (1846) reveals the significant fact for us that he derived his conception of beauty as theophany upon an intense experience of Alpine beauty -- upon an experience, moreover, which he casts in the form of a vision of heaven from a mountain height. One dark, still July evening he lay beside a fountain midway between Chamouni and Les Tines under a sky "dark not with night, but with storm. The precipice above me lost itself in the air within fifty feet of my head -- not in cloud -- but in the dark, motionless atmosphere" (2.363). As he lay beneath a sky which was like a "roof or "one level veil, as of God's Holy Place,"

Suddenly, there came in the direction of Dome du Gouter a crash -- of prolonged thunder; and when I looked up, I saw the cloud cloven, as it were by the avalanche itself, whose white stream came bounding down the eastern slope of the mountain, like slow lightning. The vapour parted before its fall, pierced by the whirlwind of its motion; the gap widened, the dark shade melted away on either side; and, like a risen spirit casting off its garments of corruption, and flushed with eternity of life, the Aiguilles of the south broke through the black foam of the storm clouds. One by one, pyramid above pyramid, the mighty range of its companions shot off their shrouds, and took to themselves their glory -- all fire -- no shade -- no dimness. Spire of ice -- dome of snow -- wedge of rock -- all fire in the light of the sunset, sank into the hollows of the crags -- and pierced through the prisms of the glaciers, and dwelt within them -- as it does in clouds. The ponderous storm writhed and moaned beneath them, the forests wailed and waved in the evening wind, the steep river flashed and leaped along the valley; but the mighty pyramids stood calmly -- in the very heart of the high heaven -- a celestial city with walls of amethyst and gates of gold-- filled with the light and clothed with the Peace of God. And then I learned -- what till then I had not known -- the real meaning of the word Beautiful. With all that I had ever seen before -- there had come mingled the associations of humanity -- the exertion of human power- -- the action of human mind. The image of self had not been effaced in that of God . . . it was then that I understood that all which is the type of God's attributes . . . can turn the human soul from gazing upon itself . . . and fix the spirit . . . on the types of that which is to be its food for eternity; -- this and this only is in the pure and right sense of the word BEAUTIFUL . (4.364-5)

Ruskin's mountain vantage point, his isolation, and his description of the mountain glory unveiling itself before him in terms of the heavenly city all suggest that he cast his experience in forms learned from Evangelical hymns, sermons, and scriptural meditation. He describes the mountains standing calmly "in the very heart of the high heaven," and it is not clear if, at this moment, Ruskin means they exist in the midst of the earthly sky, in heaven itself -- or if he distinguishes between these states. He describes "the mighty pyramids" as a "celestial city with walls of amethyst and gates of gold" much in the manner of countless Evangelical hymns, and his description of the mountains first appearing "like a risen spirit casting off its garments of corruption, and flushed with eternity of life" similarly enforces his elaborate parallel between his mountain experience and Evangelical visions of heaven. Ruskin's comments upon his experience at the end of the quoted passage make clear that in calmer, more analytic moments he understood the mountain glory to be a type of heaven and not a vision of heaven itself. But in narrating his experience, Ruskin essentially collapses the type into the antitype, the earthly into the celestial, to convey how the beautiful in fact serves as a window into eternity. Like Milton's extension of the Pisgah sight in the last two books of Paradise Lost, Ruskin's manipulation of this type has the viewer -- here Ruskin himself- receive religious knowledge essential to his earthly enterprise. Moreover, like Adam who is instructed in the meaning of types by Michael Ruskin learns that they adumbrate a God whom we shall encounter only at a later time.

Ruskin's use of the Pisgah-sight structure as a form to present a natural type that is also a metaphorical Pisgah sight has important precedents in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge. For instance, Wordsworth's "The Simplon Pass," which he wrote in 1799 but did not first publish until 1845, makes a similar use of the tumult and peace of a mountain landscape; for after describing it with powerful word painting the poet concludes that its elements were "The types and symbols of Eternity,/ Of first, and last, and midst, and without end." [Richard E. Brantley, Wordsworth's "Natural Methodism" (New Haven, 1975), 156-70, offers an important discussion of Wordsworthian applications of typology to natural fact.] Coleridge's "Hymn before Sun-Rise, in the Vale of Chamouni" (1802) parallels even more closely Ruskin's description of his experience in a nearby Alpine location. Coleridge contrasts tumult and a calm, silent mountain, the sight of which leads to an experience of heaven. He moves from an initial struggle to find adequate perceptions of the scene before him to a combined perceptual and spiritual state that subsumes what he sees into a vision of something out of space and time. He thus begins his address to "sovran Blanc" with the perception that "thou, most awful Form!/ Risest from forth thy silent sea of pines" silently as if an alien force were piercing the "dark, black, substantial" air surrounding its peak. But when he looks at Mont Blanc with higher vision, Coleridge recognizes that it belongs in this setting, and this sight in turn brings him beyond vision:

But when I look again It is thine own calm home, the crystal shrine, Thy habitation from eternity! O dread and silent Mount! I gazed upon thee, Till thou, still present to the bodily sense, Didst vanish from my thought: entranced in prayer I worshipped the invisible alone.

Coleridge, who believed that "we receive but what we give,/ And in our life alone does Nature live" ("Dejection: An Ode," 1802), appropriately concerns himself with the reciprocal relation of perceiver and perceived object. He therefore addresses the mountain with the claim that it has blended with his own thought and 'secret joy,"

Till the dilating Soul, enrapt, transfused,
Into the mighty vision passing -- there
As in her natural form, swelled vast to Heaven!

Although Ruskin's experience of Alpine beauty and sublimity may have been just as subjective as Coleridge's earlier fictional "experience" of Mont Blanc, he still claims that the scene before him comprised an objectively existing type of God. Coleridge, whose experience of a sublime mountain landscape also brings him an experience of heaven, does not state any such precise symbolic equivalence between landscape and eternity. Rather, the natural scene -- his version of the Pisgah sight itself -- acts as a stimulus for a spiritual change which occurs in him, for by some mysterious process of imaginative empathy he and the mountain interpenetrate until his soul passes into "the mighty vision" and there "As in her natural form, swelled vast to Heaven!" Coleridge's phrasing does not make it easy to ascertain if his soul passed into the form of the mountain and, like it, rose up to heaven, or if it entered the entire vision of mountain and sky and swelled vast, and in this form entered heaven. Part of the difference between the two accounts of a mountain vision as a window into eternity lies in the sensibilities of the two men. Whereas Ruskin, who accepted an entirely visual epistemology and psychology, presents his spiritual experience in terms of the landscape, Coleridge tries to demonstrate that experience in the inadequate terms of what happened to him.


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Print version published 1980; web version 1998; last modified 7 March 2001