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The Language of Vision and the Sister Arts

  • Tom Jones

Abstract

In this chapter I shall begin to indicate the role Berkeley’s philosophy can play in a reading of Pope’s work by placing Pope’s poems on the sister arts of poetry and painting in the context of Berkeley’s work on vision. I will begin with Pope’s presentation of the sister arts in the ‘Epistle to Mr Jervas’. The linguistic background to the sister arts comparison is often presented as dependent on a pseudo-Lockean view that describes words as signs for ideas, with ideas being pictures in the mind of things in the world. From this position, eighteenth- and twentieth-century critics and theorists of painting and poetry talk about painting as a universal language, and say that poetry, in the hands of an exceptional practitioner such as Pope, attains the universality of pictorial signs by including imitative sonic and syntactic effects in its descriptions of the world. These imitative and iconic effects in Pope, however, do not often have reference to things in the world. Most of the iconic descriptions in Pope are descriptions of artificial images, images created by humans through poetry or painting, or both. The iconic passages of An Essay on Criticism and the description of Achilles’ shield in Iliad XVIII are not pictures of things in the world but pictures of pictures of things that may never have been in the world. The extreme artificiality of Pope’s iconic poetry pushes the picture theory of language to something of a crux.

Keywords

Visual World Mental Picture Universal Language Visual Phenomenon Pictorial Effect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Winifried Nöth’s distinction between exophoric and endophoric iconicity, between verbal forms miming their meaning, and verbal forms miming other verbal forms, provides a linguistic parallel to the poetic phenomenon I am trying to describe. See ‘Semiotic Foundations of Iconicity in Language and Literature’, in The Motivated Sign: Iconicity in Language and Literature 2, ed. Olga Fischer and Max Nänny (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2001), pp. 17–28, pp. 21–4.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Maynard Mack, Alexander Pope: A Life (New Haven and London: Yale University Press; New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1985), pp. 226–30.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. P.H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), II.viii.7, p. 134.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Carol Gibson-Wood, Jonathan Richardson: Art Theorist of the English Enlightenment (New Haven and London: Yale University Press for The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2000), p. 194. The note to Locke contains a misprint, referring to II.xxviii.2–8, when II.xxix.2–8 was intended. My thanks to Professor Gibson-Wood for pointing this out. William McGowan, ‘Berkeley’s Doctrine of Signs’, in George Berkeley: Critical Assessments, ed. Walter Creery, 3 vols (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), I, 111–25, I, 114, also attributes to Locke the theory that ideas are copies of things in a manner that is very pertinent to my argument: In Locke’s epistemological dualism, as traditionally understood, ideas are only representations or copies, however inadequate, of what we should know. The defectiveness of the argument lies not in a failure to show that ideas can be pictures, images, representations, self-portraits, or the like of original corporeal qualities … but in its failure to show the pos-sibility of the understanding using its own ideas as signs in this or any other way.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Morris R. Brownell, Alexander Pope and the Arts of Georgian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. 45, 93.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ralph Cohen, The Art of Discrimination: Thomson’s The Seasons and the Language of Criticism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964), p. 136.Google Scholar
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    Stephen K. Land, From Signs to Propositions: The Concept of Form in Eighteenth-Century Semantic Thought (London: Longman, 1974), p. 22.Google Scholar
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    Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, ed. J.E. Spingarn, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908–1909), I, 44.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    George Sherburn, The Correspondence of Alexander Pope, 5 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), II, 106n1, suggests that there were working parties on Shakespeare of which Pope and the Richardsons were part.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Correspondence, II, 231, Pope to Richardson, 3 October 1731. See also Morris R. Brownell, p. 29, and James Sambrook, ‘Pope and the Visual Arts’, in Writers and their Background: Alexander Pope, ed. Peter Dixon (London: G. Bell, 1972), pp. 143–71, p. 148.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Rensselaer W. Lee, Ut Pictura Poesis: The Humanistic Theory of Painting (New York: Norton, 1967), pp. 58–9, records Leonardo, Addison, de Piles and Dryden stating that painting is a universal language, and du Bos distinguishing between the natural signs of painting and the arbitrary signs of language. In addition to these one might add Hildebrand Jacob, Of the Sister Arts: An Essay (London: William Lewis, 1734/University College Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1974), The Augustan Reprint Society Publications 165, intro. Nicklaus R. Schweitzer, p. 6, who calls painting a universal language, and Charles Lamotte, An Essay Upon Poetry and Painting (London: F. Fayram and T. Hatchett, 1731, 2nd edn), p. 32, who says that painting ‘speaks a Language that is understood by all Men’ and, p. 37, calls it a universal language.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    The Spectator, ed. Donald F. Bond, 5 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), III, 558–9, Friday 27 June 1712. Addison’s theory of the secondary pleasures of imagination, those of the arts, is based on a comparison of the image of the thing in poetry, painting and so on, with the thing itself, and so still requires one to have seen the real thing in the world: ‘this Secondary Pleasure of the Imagination proceeds from that Action of the Mind, which compares the Ideas arising from the Original Objects, with the Ideas we receive from the Statue, Picture, Description, or Sound that represents them’ (III, 559–60).Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    The centaur is a stock example of the combinatorial power of the imagination, used, amongst others, by Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), I.ii, p. 16.Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), argues that many of the images people regard as representations represent things that do not exist, p. 21. He also suggests that habits and conventions of depiction, not resemblance, are the criteria for an image being a representation: Realistic representation, in brief, depends not upon imitation or illusion or information but upon inculcation. Almost any picture may represent almost anything; that is, given picture and object there is usually a system of representation, a plan of correlation, under which the picture represents the object…. Representational customs, which govern realism, also tend to generate resemblance. (pp. 38–9)Google Scholar
  15. 24.
    Harte imitates 11. 360–1: ‘And praise the Easie Vigor of a Line,/Where Denham’s Strength, and Waller’s Sweetness join.’ He also, in the penultimate line quoted, alludes to Denham’s Coopers Hill, a famous couplet of which describing the Thames (‘Though deep, yet clear, though gentle, yet not dull,/Strong without rage, without ore-flowing full.’ [11. 191–2], The Poetical Works of Sir John Denham, ed. Theodore Howard Banks (New Haven: Yale University Press; London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1928, p. 77)) is taken as a model of imitative versification by other Restoration and Augustan poets, even to the point where Swift describes Apollo saying he can not bear to hear ‘The mimicry of “deep yet clear”.’ ‘Apollo’s Edict’, 1.49, in Jonathan Swift, The Complete Poems, ed. Pat Rogers (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983), p. 231.Google Scholar
  16. 25.
    See Samuel Johnson, The Lives of the Poets, ed. Arthur Waugh, 3 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1906), ‘Life of Pope’, II, 314; Selected Prose Works of G.E. Lessing, ed. Edward Bell, trans. E.C. Beasley and Helen Zimmern (London: George Bell, 1905), Laokoon, pp. 90–1.Google Scholar
  17. 27.
    There is a long tradition of commentary on the painterly aspects of Pope’s Homer. See Robert J. Allen, ‘Pope and the Sister Arts’, in Pope and his Contemporaries: Essays Presented to George Sherburn, ed. James L. Clifford and Louis A. Landa (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), pp. 78–88, p. 85; Austin Warren, Alexander Pope as Critic and Humanist (Princeton: Princeton University Press; London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1929), Princeton Studies in English 1, pp. 109–12; Reuben Brower, Alexander Pope: Poetry of Allusion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), pp. 134–5; Douglas Knight, Pope and the Heroic Tradition: A Critical Study of his Iliad (New Haven: Yale University Press; London: Geoffrey Cumberlege, Oxford University Press, 1951), Yale Studies in English 117, p. 17; David Ridgely Clark, ‘Landscape Effects in Pope’s Homer’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 22 (1963–64), 25–8, p. 25; Brownell, Pope and the Arts of Georgian England, pp. 39–50; Rebecca Gould Gibson, ‘In Praise of Homer: Painting and Pope’s Criticism’, Notes and Queries, n.s. 27 (1980), 395–7, p. 396; and lastly, and most directly, Peter J. Connelly, ‘Pope’s Iliad: Ut Pictura Translatio’, Studies in English Literature 1500–1900, 21:3 (1981), 439–55, p. 449, who argues that the vividness of particular additions to Homer in Pope’s translation is only indirectly related to the parallel of poetry and painting: ‘Their vividness, like the moral attributes he borrowed from Dryden, is only a device to help the reader to evaluate the action.’Google Scholar
  18. 30.
    Pope makes comparative annotations on two books on the geography of Rome. See Maynard Mack, Collected in Himself: Essays Critical, Biographical, and Bibliographical on Pope and Some of His Contemporaries (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Press, 1982), p. 440.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    For a more sceptical approach to Berkeley’s introduction of the analogy with language see Jules David Law, The Rhetoric of Empiricism: Language and Perception from Locke to I.A. Richards (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 99–100, where he states that the analogies with language ‘simply reproduce rather than clarify those relationships that the language model is introduced to explain’.Google Scholar
  20. 33.
    See Benjamin Rand, Berkeley and Percival: The Correspondence of George Berkeley, afterwards Bishop of Cloyne, and Sir John Percival, afterwards Earl of Egmont (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914), p. 110, Berkeley to Percival, 7 March 1712/3; The Guardian, ed. John Calhoun Stephens (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1982), ‘Introduction’, pp. 26, 28, for the attribution of numbers to Pope and Berkeley; David Berman, George Berkeley: Idealism and the Man (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 77, reassesses Berkeley’s contributions to the journal.Google Scholar
  21. 34.
    The Prose Works of Alexander Pope, ed. Norman Ault and Rosemary Cowler, 2 vols (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1936–86), I, 141–3. See I, lxx–lxxi for Ault’s attribution of the piece to Pope.Google Scholar
  22. 36.
    A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, ed. Jonathan Dancy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), I.8, p. 105.Google Scholar
  23. 39.
    Arthur Williams, ‘Pope’s Epistle to Mr. Jervas: The Relevance of its Contexts’, British Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies 8 (1985), 51–7, suggests Pope argues that Rome can be reconstructed by writers cultivating personal and social virtues, p. 52. He contrasts this epistle with that addressed to Addison.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 41.
    Joseph Addison, Dialogues Upon the Usefulness of Ancient Medals, ed. Stephen Orgel (N.P. [London?]: 1726/London and New York: Garland, 1976), The Renaissance and the Gods 53, p. 147.Google Scholar
  25. 42.
    Pat Rogers, ‘Time and Space in Windsor Forest’, in The Art of Alexander Pope, ed. Howard Erskine-Hill and Anne Smith (London: Vision, 1979), pp. 40–51, notes that early eighteenth-century poems often claim to describe the physical appearance of a landscape whilst actually describing the history of a landscape.Google Scholar
  26. 43.
    Pliny, Natural History, ed. and trans. H. Rackham, 10 vols (London: Heinemann, 1952), IX, 260–3.Google Scholar
  27. 46.
    Colen Campbell, The Third Volume of Vitruvius Britannicus; Or, The British Architect (London: The Author and Joseph Smith, 1725), p. 7.Google Scholar
  28. 48.
    See Nigel Everett, The Tory View of Landscape (New Haven and London: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 1994), pp. 11–26, for a balanced assessment of Pope’s presentation of benevolent land ownership and improvement. Everett also discusses Berkeley’s works on vision in relation to landscape, pp. 17–18.Google Scholar
  29. 49.
    Julian Ferraro, ‘From Text to Work: The Presentation and Representation of Epistles to Several Persons’, in Alexander Pope: World and Word, ed. Howard Erskine-Hill (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1998), Proceedings of the British Academy 91, pp. 113–34, pp. 119–25, points out the various negative descriptions of Burlington, noting the fact that in a draft of the poem it was Burlington’s vanity that made good the effects of the false management of Timon’s villa.Google Scholar

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© Tom Jones 2005

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  • Tom Jones

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