THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FEELING FOR NATURE IN THE MIDDLE AGES AND MODERN TIMES
Director of the K. K. Gymnasium at Neuwied
Authorized translation from the German
The encouraging reception of my "Development of the Feeling for Nature among the Greeks and Romans" gradually decided me, after some years, to carry the subject on to modern tunes. Enticing as it was, I did not shut my eyes to the great difficulties of a task whose dimensions have daunted many a savant since the days of Humboldt's clever, terse sketches of the feeling for Nature in different times and peoples. But the subject, once approached, would not let me go. Its solution seemed only possible from the side of historical development, not from that of a priori synthesis. The almost inexhaustible amount of material, especially towards modern times, has often obliged me to limit myself to typical forerunners of the various epochs, although, at the same time, I have tried not to lose the thread of general development. By the addition of the chief phases of landscape, painting, and garden craft, I have aimed at giving completeness to the historical picture; but I hold that literature, especially poetry, as the most intimate medium of a nation's feelings, is the chief source of information in an enquiry which may form a contribution, not only to the history of taste, but also to the comparative history of literature. At a time too when the natural sciences are so highly developed, and the cult of Nature is so widespread, a book of this kind may perhaps claim the interest of that wide circle of educated readers to whom the modern delight in Nature on its many sides makes appeal. And this the more, since books are rare which seek to embrace the whole mental development of the Middle Ages and modern times, and are, at the same time, intended for and intelligible to all people of cultivation.
The book has been a work of love, and I hope it will be read with pleasure, not only by those whose special domain it touches, but by all who care for the eternal beauties of Nature. To those who know my earlier papers in the Preussische Jahrbuecher, the Zeitschrift fuer Vergleichende Litteraturgeschichte, and the Litteraturbeilage des Hamburgischen Correspondents, I trust this fuller and more connected treatment of the theme will prove welcome.
Published Translations of the following Authors have been used:
SANSCRIT.—Jones, Wilson, Arnold, anonymous translator in a publication of the Society for Resuscitation of Ancient Literature.
LATIN AND GREEK.—Lightfoot, Jowett, Farrar, Lodge, Dalrymple, Bigg, Pilkington, Hodgkin, De Montalembert, Gary, Lok, Murray, Gibb, a translator in Bonn's Classics.
ITALIAN.—Gary, Longfellow, Cayley, Robinson, Kelly, Bent, Hoole, Roscoe, Leigh Hunt, Lofft, Astley, Oliphant.
GERMAN.—Horton and Bell, Middlemore, Lytton, Swanwick, Dwight, Boylau, Bowling, Bell, Aytoun, Martin, Oxenford, Morrison, M'Cullum, Winkworth, Howorth, Taylor, Nind, Brooks, Lloyd, Frothingham, Ewing, Noel, Austin, Carlyle, Storr, Weston, Phillips.
SPANISH.—Markham, Major, Bowring, Hasell, M'Carthy, French.
FRENCH.—Anonymous translator of Rousseau.
The Translator's thanks are also due to the author for a few alterations in and additions to the text, and to Miss Edgehill, Miss Tomlinson, and Dr B. Scheifers for translations from Greek and Latin, Italian, and Middle German respectively.
Nature in her ever-constant, ever-changing phases is indispensable to man, his whole existence depends upon her, and she influences him in manifold ways, in mind as well as body.
The physical character of a country is reflected in its inhabitants; the one factor of climate alone gives a very different outlook to northerner and southerner. But whereas primitive man, to whom the darkness of night meant anxiety, either feared Nature or worshipped her with awe, civilised man tries to lift her veil, and through science and art to understand her inner and outer beauty—the scientist in her laws, the man of religion in her relation to his Creator, the artist in reproducing the impressions she makes upon him.
Probably it has always been common to healthy minds to take some pleasure in her; but it needs no slight culture of heart and mind to grasp her meaning and make it clear to others. Her book lies open before us, but the interpretations have been many and dissimilar. A fine statue or a richly-coloured picture appeals to all, but only knowledge can appreciate it at its true value and discover the full meaning of the artist. And as with Art, so with Nature.
For Nature is the greatest artist, though dumb until man, with his inexplicable power of putting himself in her place, transferring to her his bodily and mental self, gives her speech.
Goethe said 'man never understands how anthropomorphic he is.' No study, however comprehensive, enables him to overstep human limits, or conceive a concrete being, even the highest, from a wholly impersonal point of view. His own self always remains an encumbering factor. In a real sense he only understands himself, and his measure for all things is man. To understand the world outside him, he must needs ascribe his own attributes to it, must lend his own being to find it again.
This unexplained faculty, or rather inherent necessity, which implies at once a power and a limit, extends to persons as well as things. The significant word sympathy expresses it. To feel a friend's grief is to put oneself in his place, think from his standpoint and in his mood—that is, suffer with him. The fear and sympathy which condition the action of tragedy depend upon the same mental process; one's own point of view is shifted to that of another, and when the two are in harmony, and only then, the claim of beauty is satisfied, and aesthetic pleasure results.
By the well-known expression of Greek philosophy, 'like is only understood by like,' the Pythagoreans meant that the mathematically trained mind is the organ by which the mathematically constructed cosmos is understood. The expression may also serve as an aesthetic aphorism. The charm of the simplest lyrical song depends upon the hearer's power to put himself in the mood or situation described by the poet, on an interplay between subject and object.
Everything in mental life depends upon this faculty. We observe, ponder, feel, because a kindred vibration in the object sets our own fibres in motion.
'You resemble the mind which you understand.'
It is a magic bridge from our own mind, making access possible to a work of art, an electric current conveying the artist's ideas into our souls.
We know how a drama or a song can thrill us when our feeling vibrates with it; and that thrill, Faust tells us, is the best part of man.
If inventive work in whatever art or science gives the purest kind of pleasure, Nature herself seeming to work through the artist, rousing those impulses which come to him as revelations, there is pleasure also in the passive reception of beauty, especially when we are not content to remain passive, but trace out and rethink the artist's thoughts, remaking his work.
'To invent for oneself is beautiful; but to recognise gladly and treasure up the happy inventions of others is that less thine?' said Goethe in his Jahreszeiten; and in the Aphorisms, confirming what has just been said: 'We know of no world except in relation to man, we desire no art but that which is the expression of this relation.' And, further, 'Look into yourselves and you will find everything, and rejoice if outside yourselves, as you may say, lies a Nature which says yea and amen to all that you have found there.'
Certainly Nature only bestows on man in proportion to his own inner wealth. As Rueckert says, 'the charm of a landscape lies in this, that it seems to reflect back that part of one's inner life, of mind, mood, and feeling, which we have given it.' And Ebers, 'Lay down your best of heart and mind before eternal Nature; she will repay you a thousandfold, with full hands.'
And Vischer remarks, 'Nature at her greatest is not so great that she can work without man's mind.' Every landscape can be beautiful and stimulating if human feeling colours it, and it will be most so to him who brings the richest endowment of heart and mind to bear: Nature only discloses her whole self to a whole man.
But it is under the poet's wand above all, that, like the marble at Pygmalion's breast, she grows warm and breathes and answers to his charm; as in that symbolic saga, the listening woods and waters and the creatures followed Orpheus with his lute. Scientific knowledge, optical, acoustical, meteorological, geological, only widens and deepens love for her and increases and refines the sense of her beauty. In short, deep feeling for Nature always proves considerable culture of heart and mind.
There is a constant analogy between the growth of this feeling and that of general culture.
As each nation and time has its own mode of thought, which is constantly changing, so each period has its 'landscape eye.' The same rule applies to individuals. Nature, as Jean Paul said, is made intelligible to man in being for ever made flesh. We cannot look at her impersonally, we must needs give her form and soul, in order to grasp and describe her.
Vischer says 'it is simply by an act of comparison that we think we see our own life in inanimate objects.' We say that Nature's clearness is like clearness of mind, that her darkness and gloom are like a dark and gloomy mood; then, omitting 'like,' we go on to ascribe our qualities directly to her, and say, this neighbourhood, this air, this general tone of colour, is cheerful, melancholy, and so forth. Here we are prompted by an undeveloped dormant consciousness which really only compares, while it seems to take one thing for another. In this way we come to say that a rock projects boldly, that fire rages furiously over a building, that a summer evening with flocks going home at sunset is peaceful and idyllic; that autumn, dripping with rain, its willows sighing in the wind, is elegiac and melancholy and so forth.
Perhaps Nature would not prove to be this ready symbol of man's inner life were there no secret rapport between the two. It is as if, in some mysterious way, we meet in her another mind, which speaks a language we know, wakening a foretaste of kinship; and whether the soul she expresses is one we have lent her, or her own which we have divined, the relationship is still one of give and take.
Let us take a rapid survey of the course of this feeling in antiquity. Pantheism has always been the home of a special tenderness for Nature, and the poetry of India is full of intimate dealings between man and plants and animals.
They are found in the loftiest flights of religious enthusiasm in the Vedas, where, be it only in reference to the splendour of dawn or the 'golden-handed sun,' Nature is always assumed to be closely connected with man's inner and outer life. Later on, as Brahminism appeared, deepening the contemplative side of Hindoo character, and the drama and historical plays came in, generalities gave way to definite localizing, and in the Epics ornate descriptions of actual landscape took independent place. Nature's sympathy with human joys and griefs was taken for granted, and she played a part of her own in drama.
In the Mahabharata, when Damajanti is wandering in search of her lost Nala and sees the great mountain top, she asks it for her prince.
Oh mountain lord! Far seen and celebrated hill, that cleav'st The blue o' the sky, refuge of living things, Most noble eminence, I worship thee!... O Mount, whose double ridge stamps on the sky Yon line, by five-score splendid pinnacles Indented; tell me, in this gloomy wood Hast thou seen Nala? Nala, wise and bold! Ah mountain! why consolest thou me not, Answering one word to sorrowful, distressed, Lonely, lost Damajanti?
And when she comes to the tree Asoka, she implores:
Ah, lovely tree! that wavest here Thy crown of countless shining clustering blooms As thou wert woodland king! Asoka tree! Tree called the sorrow-ender, heart's-ease tree! Be what thy name saith; end my sorrow now, Saying, ah, bright Asoka, thou hast seen My Prince, my dauntless Nala—seen that lord Whom Damajanti loves and his foes fear.
In Maghas' epic, The Death of Sisupala, plants and animals lead the same voluptuous life as the 'deep-bosomed, wide-hipped' girls with the ardent men.
'The mountain Raivataka touches the ether with a thousand heads, earth with a thousand feet, the sun and moon are his eyes. When the birds are tired and tremble with delight from the caresses of their mates, he grants them shade from lotos leaves. Who in the world is not astonished when he has climbed, to see the prince of mountains who overshadows the ether and far-reaching regions of earth, standing there with his great projecting crags, while the moon's sickle trembles on his summit?'
In Kalidasa's Urwasi, the deserted King who is searching for his wife asks the peacock:
Oh tell, If, free on the wing as you soar, You have seen the loved nymph I deplore— You will know her, the fairest of damsels fair, By her large soft eye and her graceful air; Bird of the dark blue throat and eye of jet, Oh tell me, have you seen the lovely face Of my fair bride—lost in this dreary wilderness?
and the mountain:
Say mountain, whose expansive slope confines The forest verge, oh, tell me hast thou seen A nymph as beauteous as the bride of love Mounting with slender frame thy steep ascent, Or wearied, resting in thy crowning woods?
As he sits by the side of the stream, he asks whence comes its charm:
Whilst gazing on the stream, whose new swollen waters Yet turbid flow, what strange imaginings Possess my soul and fill it with delight. The rippling wave is like her aching brow; The fluttering line of storks, her timid tongue; The foaming spray, her white loose floating vest; And this meandering course the current tracks Her undulating gait.
Then he sees a creeper without flowers, and a strange attraction impels him to embrace it, for its likeness to his lost love:
Vine of the wilderness, behold A lone heartbroken wretch in me, Who dreams in his embrace to fold His love, as wild he clings to thee.
Thereupon the creeper transforms itself into Urwasi.
In Kalidasa's Sakuntala, too, when the pretty girls are watering the flowers in the garden, Sakuntala says: 'It is not only in obedience to our father that I thus employ myself. I really feel the affection of a sister for these young plants.' Taking it for granted that the mango tree has the same feeling for herself, she cries: 'Yon Amra tree, my friends, points with the fingers of its leaves, which the gale gently agitates, and seems inclined to whisper some secret'; and with maiden shyness, attributing her own thoughts about love to the plants, one of her comrades says: 'See, my Sakuntala, how yon fresh Mallica which you have surnamed Vanadosini or Delight of the Grove, has chosen the sweet Amra for her bridegroom....'
'How charming is the season, when the nuptials even of plants are thus publicly celebrated!'—and elsewhere:
'Here is a plant, Sakuntala, which you have forgotten.' Sakuntala: 'Then I shall forget myself.'
Birds, clouds, and waves are messengers of love; all Nature grieves at the separation of lovers. When Sakuntala is leaving her forest, one of her friends says: 'Mark the affliction of the forest itself when the time of your departure approaches!
'The female antelope browses no more on the collected Cusa grass, and the pea-hen ceases to dance on the lawn; the very plants of the grove, whose pale leaves fall on the ground, lose their strength and their beauty.'
The poems of India, especially those devoted to descriptions of Nature, abound in such bold, picturesque personifications, which are touching, despite their extravagance, through their intense sympathy with Nature. They shew the Hindoo attitude toward Nature in general, as well as his boundless fancy. I select one example from 'The Gathering of the Seasons' in Kalidasa's Ritusanhare: a description of the Rains.
'Pouring rain in torrents at the request of the thirst-stricken Chatakas, and emitting slow mutterings pleasing to the ears, clouds, bent down by the weight of their watery contents, are slowly moving on....
'The rivers being filled up with the muddy water of the rivers, their force is increased. Therefore, felling down the trees on both the banks, they, like unchaste women, are going quickly towards the ocean....
'The heat of the forest has been removed by the sprinkling of new water, and the Ketaka flowers have blossomed. On the branches of trees being shaken by the wind, it appears that the entire forest is dancing in delight. On the blossoming of Ketaka flowers it appears that the forest is smiling. Thinking, "he is our refuge when we are bent down by the weight of water, the clouds are enlivening with torrents the mount Vindhya assailed with fierce heat (of the summer)."'
Charming pictures and comparisons are numerous, though they have the exaggeration common to oriental imagination, 'Love was the cause of my distemper, and love has healed it; as a summer's day, grown black with clouds, relieves all animals from the heat which itself had caused.'
'Should you be removed to the ends of the world, you will be fixed in this heart, as the shade of a lofty tree remains with it even when the day is departed.'
'The tree of my hope which had risen so luxuriantly is broken down.'
'Removed from the bosom of my father, like a young sandal tree rent from the hill of Malaja, how shall I exist in a strange soil?'
This familiar intercourse with Nature stood far as the poles asunder from the monotheistic attitude of the Hebrew. The individual, it is true, was nothing in comparison with Brahma, the All-One; but the divine pervaded and sanctified all things, and so gave them a certain value; whilst before Jehovah, throned above the world, the whole universe was but dust and ashes. The Hindoo, wrapt in the contemplation of Nature, described her at great length and for her own sake, the Hebrew only for the sake of his Creator. She had no independent significance for him; he looked at her only 'sub specie eterni Dei,' in the mirror of the eternal God. Hence he took interest in her phases only as revelations of his God, noting one after another only to group them synthetically under the idea of Godhead. Hence too, despite his profound inwardness—'The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?' (Jeremiah)—human individuality was only expressed in its relation to Jehovah.
'The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.'—Psalm 19.
'Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.
'Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice.'—Psalm 96.
'Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together.'—Psalm 98.
'The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their waves. The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.'—Psalm 93.
'The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back. The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.'—Psalm 114.
'The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee; they were afraid: the depths also were troubled.'—Psalm 77.
All these lofty personifications of inanimate Nature only characterise her in her relation to another, and that not man but God. Nothing had significance by itself, Nature was but a book in which to read of Jehovah; and for this reason the Hebrew could not be wrapt in her, could not seek her for her own sake, she was only a revelation of the Deity.
'Lord, how great are thy works, in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy goodness.'
Yet there is a fiery glow of enthusiasm in the songs in praise of Jehovah's wonders in creation.
'0 Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
'Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment; who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain.
'Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters; who maketh the clouds his chariot; who walketh upon the wings of the wind.
'Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire; who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.
'Thou coveredst the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
'At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.
'They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them.
'Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.
'He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.
'They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst.
'By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches ...
'He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth.
'And wine that maketh glad the heart of man ...
'The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted.
'Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
'The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats, and the rocks for the conies.
'He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
'Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
'The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
'The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
'Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening....
'This great and wide sea, wherein are creeping things innumerable, both small and great beasts....
'He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth; he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
'I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God as long as I have my being.'—Psalm 104.
And what a lofty point of view is shewn by the overpowering words which Job puts into the mouth of Jehovah; 'Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof if thou knowest, or who hath stretched the line upon it?
'Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof?
'When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?...
'Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place?
'That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it?...
'Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea, or hast thou walked in the search of the deep?...
'Declare, if thou knowest it all!...
'Where is the way where light dwelleth, and as for darkness, where is the place thereof?' etc.
Compare with this Isaiah xl. verse 12, etc.
Metaphors too, though poetic and fine, are not individualized.
'Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy water-spouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.'—Psalm 42.
'Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.'—Psalm 69.
There are many pictures from the animal world; and these are more elaborate in Job than elsewhere (see Job xl. and xli.). Personifications, as we have seen, are many, but Nature is only called upon to sympathise with man in isolated cases, as, for instance, in 2 Samuel i.:
'Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as if he had not been anointed with oil.'
The Cosmos unfolded itself to the Hebrew as one great whole, and the glance fixed upon a distant horizon missed the nearer lying detail of phenomena. His imagination ranged the universe with the wings of the wind, and took vivid note of air, sky, sea, and land, but only, so to speak, in passing; it never rested there, but hurried past the boundaries of earth to Jehovah's throne, and from that height looked down upon creation.
The attitude of the Greek was very different. Standing firmly rooted in the world of sense, his open mind and his marvellous eye for beauty appreciated the glorious external world around him down to its finest detail. His was the race of the beautiful, the first in history to train all its powers into harmony to produce a culture of beauty equal in form and contents, and his unique achievement in art and science enriched all after times with lasting standards of the great and beautiful.
The influence of classic literature upon the Middle Ages and modern times has not only endured, but has gone on increasing with the centuries; so that we must know the position reached by Greece and Rome as to feeling for Nature, in order to discover whether the line of advance in the Middle Ages led directly forward or began by a backward movement—a zigzag.
The terms ancient and modern, naive and sentimental, classic and romantic, have been shibboleths of culture from Jean Paul, Schiller, and Hegel, to Vischer. Jean Paul, in his Vorschule zur Aesthetik, compares the ideally simple Greek poetry, with its objectivity, serenity, and moral grace, with the musical poetry of the romantic period, and speaks of one as the sunlight that pervades our waking hours, the other as the moonlight that gleams fitfully on our dreaming ones. Schiller's epoch-making essay On Naive and Sentimental Poetry, with its rough division into the classic-naive depending on a harmony between nature and mind, and the modern-sentimental depending on a longing for a lost paradise, is constantly quoted to shew that the Greeks took no pleasure in Nature. This is misleading. Schiller's Greek was very limited; in the very year (1795) in which the essay appeared in The Hours, he was asking Humboldt's advice as to learning Greek, with special reference to Homer and Xenophon.
To him Homer was the Greek par excellence, and who would not agree with him to-day?
As in Greek mythology, that naive poem of Nature, the product of the artistic impulse of the race to stamp its impressions in a beautiful and harmonious form, so in the clear-cut comparisons in Homer, the feeling for Nature is profound; but the Homeric hero had no personal relations with her, no conscious leaning towards her; the descriptions only served to frame human action, in time or space.
But that cheerful, unreflecting youth of mankind, that naive Homeric time, was short in spite of Schiller, who, in the very essay referred to, included Euripides, Virgil, and Horace among the sentimental, and Shakespeare among the naive, poets—a fact often overlooked.
In line with the general development of culture, Greek feeling for Nature passed through various stages. These can be clearly traced from objective similes and naive, homely comparisons to poetic personifications, and so on to more extended descriptions, in which scenery was brought into harmony or contrast with man's inner life; until finally, in Hellenism, Nature was treated for her own sake, and man reduced to the position of supernumerary both in poetry and also—so approaching the modern—in landscape-painting.
Greece had her sentimental epoch; she did not, as we have said, long remain naive. From Sophist days a steady process of decomposition went on—in other words, a movement towards what we call modern, a movement which to the classic mind led backward; but from the wider standpoint of general development meant advance. For the path of culture is always the same in the nations; it leads first upward and then downward, and all ripening knowledge, while it enriches the mind, brings with it some unforeseen loss. Mankind pays heavily for each new gain; it paid for increased subjectivity and inwardness by a loss in public spirit and patriotism which, once the most valued of national possessions, fell away before the increasing individuality, the germ of the modern spirit. For what is the modern spirit but limitless individuality?
The greater the knowledge of self, the richer the inner life. Man becomes his own chief problem—he begins to watch the lightest flutter of his own feelings, to grasp and reflect upon them, to look upon himself in fact as in a mirror; and it is in this doubling of the ego, so to speak, that sentimentality in the modern sense consists. It leads to love of solitude, the fittest state for the growth of a conscious love of Nature, for, as Rousseau said 'all noble passions are formed in solitude,' 'tis there that one recognizes one's own heart as 'the rarest and most valuable of all possessions.' 'Oh, what a fatal gift of Heaven is a feeling heart!' and elsewhere he said: 'Hearts that are warmed by a divine fire find a pure delight in their own feelings which is independent of fate and of the whole world.' Euripides, too, loved solitude, and avoided the noise of town life by retiring to a grotto at Salamis which he had arranged for himself with a view of the sea; for which reason, his biographer tells us, most of his similes are drawn from the sea. He, rather than Petrarch or Rousseau, was the father of sentimentality. His morbidly sensitive Hippolytos cries 'Alas! would it were possible that I should see myself standing face to face, in which case I should have wept for the sorrows that we suffer'; and in the chorus of The Suppliants we have: 'This insatiate joy of mourning leads me on like as the liquid drop flowing from the sun-trodden rock, ever increasing of groans.' In Euripides we have the first loosening of that ingenuous bond between Nature and the human spirit, as the Sophists laid the axe to the root of the old Hellenic ideas and beliefs. Subjectivity had already gained in strength from the birth of the lyric, that most individual of all expressions of feeling; and since the lyric cannot dispense with the external world, classic song now shewed the tender subjective feeling for Nature which we see in Sappho, Pindar, and Simonides. Yet Euripides (and Aristophanes, whose painful mad laugh, as Doysen says, expresses the same distraction and despair as the deep melancholy of Euripides) only paved the way for that sentimental, idyllic feeling for Nature which dwelt on her quiet charms for their own sake, as in Theocritus, and, like the modern, rose to greater intensity in the presence of the amorous passion, as we see in Kallimachos and the Anthology. It was the outcome of Hellenism, of which sentimental introspection, the freeing of the ego from the bonds of race and position, and the discovery of the individual in all directions of human existence, were marks. And this feeling developing from Homer to Longos, from unreflecting to conscious and then to sentimental pleasure in Nature, was expressed not only in poetry but in painting, although the latter never fully mastered technique.
The common thoughtless statement, so often supported by quotations from Schiller, Gervinus, and others, that Greek antiquity was not alive to the beauty of Nature and her responsiveness to human moods, and neither painted scenery nor felt the melancholy poetic charm of ruins and tombs, is therefore a perversion of the truth; but it must be conceded that the feeling which existed then was but the germ of our modern one. It was fettered by the specific national beliefs concerning the world and deities, by the undeveloped state of the natural sciences, which, except botany, still lay in swaddling-clothes, by the new influence of Christendom, and by that strict feeling for style which, very much to its advantage, imposed a moderation that would have excluded much of our senseless modern rhapsody.
It was not unnatural that Schiller, in distaste for the weak riot of feeling and the passion for describing Nature which obtained in his day, was led to overpraise the Homeric naivete and overblame the sentimentality which he wrongly identified with it.
In all that is called art, the Romans were pupils of the Greek, and their achievements in the region of beauty cannot be compared with his. But they advanced the course of general culture, and their feeling—always more subjective, abstract, self-conscious, and reflective—has a comparatively familiar, because modern, ring in the great poets.
The preference for the practical and social-economic is traceable in their feeling for Nature. Their mythology also lay too much within the bounds of the intelligible; shewed itself too much in forms and ceremonies, in a cult; but it had not lost the sense of awe—it still heard the voices of mysterious powers in the depths of the forest.
The dramatists wove effective metaphors and descriptions of Nature into their plays.
Lucretius laid the foundations of a knowledge of her which refined both his enjoyment and his descriptions; and the elegiac sentimental style, which we see developed in Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid, Virgil, and Horace, first came to light in the great lyrist Catullus. In Imperial times feeling for Nature grew with the growth of culture in general; men turned to her in times of bad cheer, and found comfort in the great sky spaces, the constant stars, and forests that trembled with awe of the divine Numen.
It was so with Seneca, a pantheist through and through. Pliny the younger was quite modern in his choice of rural solitudes, and his appreciation of the views from his villa. With Hadrian and Apuleius the Roman rococo literature began; Apuleius was astonishingly modern, and Ausonius was almost German in the depth and tenderness of his feeling for Nature. Garden-culture and landscape-painting shewed the same movement towards the sympathetic and elegiac-sentimental.
Those who deny the Roman feeling for Nature might learn better from a glance at the ruins of their villas. As H. Nissen says in his Italische Landeskunde:
'It was more than mere fashion which drew the Roman to the sea-side, and attracted so strongly all those great figures, from the elder Scipio Africanus and his noble daughter, Cornelia, down to Augustus and Tiberius and their successors, whenever their powers flagged in the Forum. There were soft breezes to cool the brow, colour and outline to refresh the eye, and wide views that appealed to a race born to extensive lordship.
'In passing along the desolate, fever-stricken coasts of Latium and Campania to-day, one comes upon many traces of former splendour, and one is reminded that the pleasure which the old Romans took in the sea-side was spoilt for those who came after them by the havoc of the time.'
In many points, Roman feeling for Nature was more developed than Greek. For instance, the Romans appreciated landscape as a whole, and distance, light and shade in wood and water, reflections, the charms of hunting and rowing, day-dreams on a mountain side, and so forth.
That antiquity and the Middle Ages had any taste for romantic scenery has been energetically denied; but we can find a trace of it. The landscape which the Roman admired was level, graceful, and gentle; he certainly did not see any beauty in the Alps. Livy's 'Foeditas Alpinum' and the dreadful descriptions of Ammian, with others, are the much-quoted vouchers for this. Nor is it surprising; for modern appreciation, still in its youth, is really due to increased knowledge about Nature, to a change of feeling, and to the conveniences of modern travelling, unknown 2000 years ago.
The dangers and hardships of those days must have put enjoyment out of the question; and only served to heighten the unfavourable contrast between the wildness of the mountain regions and the cultivation of Italy.
Lucretius looked at wild scenery with horror, but later on it became a favourite subject for description; and Seneca notes, as shewing a morbid state of mind, in his essay on tranquillity of mind, that travelling not only attracts men to delightful places, but that some even exclaim: 'Let us go now into Campania; now that delicate soil delighteth us, let us visit the wood countries, let us visit the forest of Calabria, and let us seek some pleasure amidst the deserts, in such sort as these wandering eyes of ours may be relieved in beholding, at our pleasure, the strange solitude of these savage places.'
We have thus briefly surveyed on the one hand, in theory, the conditions under which a conscious feeling for Nature develops, and the forms in which it expresses itself; and, on the other, the course this feeling has followed in antiquity among the Hindoos, Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. The movement toward the modern, toward the subjective and individual, lies clear to view. We will now trace its gradual development along lines which are always strictly analogous to those of culture in general, through the Middle Ages.
CHRISTIANITY AND GERMANISM
When the heathen world had outlived its faculties, and its creative power had failed, it sank into the ocean of the past—a sphinx, with her riddle guessed,—and mediaeval civilization arose, founded upon Christianity and Germanism. There are times in the world's history when change seems to be abrupt, the old to be swept away and all things made new at a stroke, as if by the world-consuming fire of the old Saga. But, in reality, all change is gradual; the old is for ever failing and passing out of sight, to be taken up as a ferment into the ever emerging new, which changes and remodels as it will. It was so with Christianity. It is easy to imagine that it arose suddenly, like a phoenix, from the ashes of heathendom; but, although dependent at heart upon the sublime personality of its Founder, it was none the less a product of its age, and a result of gradual development—a river with sources partly in Judea, partly in Hellas. And mediaeval Christianity never denied the traces of its double origin.
Upon this syncretic soil its literature sprang up, moulded as to matter upon Old Testament and specifically Christian models, as to form upon the great writers of antiquity; but matter and form are only separable in the abstract, and the Middle Ages are woven through and through with both Greco-Roman and Jewish elements.
But these elements were unfavourable to the development of feeling for Nature; Judaism admitted no delight in her for her own sake, and Christianity intensified the Judaic opposition between God and the world, Creator and created.
'Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world; if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him': by which John meant, raise your eyes to your Heavenly Father, throned above the clouds.
Christianity in its stringent form was transcendental, despising the world and renouncing its pleasures. It held that Creation, through the entrance of sin, had become a caricature, and that earthly existence had only the very limited value of a thoroughfare to the eternal Kingdom.
While joy in existence characterized the Hellenic world until its downfall, and the Greek took life serenely, delighting in its smooth flow; with Christianity, as Jean Paul put it, 'all the present of earth vanished into the future of Heaven, and the Kingdom of the Infinite arose upon the ruins of the finite.'
The beauty of earth was looked upon as an enchantment of the devil; and sin, the worm in the fruit, lurked in its alluring forms.
Classic mythology created a world of its own, dimly veiled by the visible one; every phase of Nature shewed the presence or action of deities with whom man had intimate relations; every form of life, animated by them, held something familiar to him, even sacred—his landscape was absorbed by the gods.
To Judaism and Christianity, Nature was a fallen angel, separated as far as possible from her God. They only recognized one world—that of spirit; and one sphere of the spiritual, religion—the relation between God and man. Material things were a delusion of Satan's; the heaven on which their eyes were fixed was a very distant one.
The Hellenic belief in deities was pandemonistic and cosmic; Christianity, in its original tendency, anti-cosmic and hostile to Nature. And Nature, like the world at large, only existed for it in relation to its Creator, and was no longer 'the great mother of all things,' but merely an instrument in the hands of Providence.
The Greek looked at phenomena in detail, in their inexhaustible variety, rarely at things as a whole; the Christian considered Nature as a work of God, full of wonderful order, in which detail had only the importance of a link in a chain.
As Lotze says, 'The creative artistic impulse could be of no use to a conception of life in which nothing retained independent significance, but everything referred to or symbolized something else.' But yet, the idea of individuality, of the importance of the ego, gained ground as never before through this introspection and merging of material in spiritual, this giving spirit the exclusive sway; and Christianity, while it broke down the barriers of nation, race, and position, and widened the cleft between Nature and spirit, discovered at the same time the worth of the individual.
And this individuality was one of the chief steps towards an artistic, that is, individual point of view about Nature, for it was not possible to consider her freely and for her own sake alone, until the unlimited independence of mind had been recognized.
But the full development of Christianity was only reached when it blended with the Germanic spirit, with the German Gemueth (for which no other language has a word), and intensified, by so doing, the innately subjective temperament of the race.
The northern climate gives pause for the development of the inner life; its long bleak winter, with the heavy atmosphere and slow coming of spring, wake a craving for light and warmth, and throw man back on himself. This inward inclination, which made itself felt very early in the German race, by bringing out the contemplative and independent sides of his character, and so disinclining him for combined action with his fellows, forwarded the growth of the over-ripe seeds of classic culture and vital Christianity.
The Romanic nations, with their brilliant, sharply-defined landscape and serene skies, always retained something of the objective delight in life which belonged to antiquity; they never felt that mysterious impulse towards dreams and enthusiastic longing which the Northerner draws from his lowering skies and dark woods, his mists on level and height, the grey in grey of his atmosphere, and his ever varying landscape. A raw climate drives man indoors in mind as well as body, and prompts that craving for spring and delight in its coming which have been the chief notes in northern feeling for Nature from earliest times.
Vischer has shewn in his Aesthetik, that German feeling was early influenced by the different forms of plant life around it. Rigid pine, delicate birch, stalwart oak, each had its effect; and the wildness and roughness of land, sea, and animal life in the North combined with the cold of the climate to create the taste for domestic comfort, for fireside dreams, and thought-weaving by the hearth.
Nature schooled the race to hard work and scanty pleasure, and yet its relationship to her was deep and heartfelt from the first. Devoutly religious, it gazed at her with mingled love and fear; and the deposit of its ideas about her was its mythology.
Its gods dwelt in mountain tops, holes in the rocks, and rivers, and especially in dark forests and in the leafy boughs of sacred trees; and the howling of wind, the rustle of leaves, the soughing in the tree tops, were sounds of their presence. The worship of woods lasted far into Christian times, especially among the Saxons and Frisians.
Wodan was the all-powerful father of gods and men—the highest god, who, as among all the Aryan nations, represented Heaven. Light was his shining helmet, clouds were the dark cap he put on when he spread rain over the earth, or crashed through the air as a wild hunter with his raging pack. His son Donar shewed himself in thunder and lightning, as he rode with swinging axe on his goat-spanned car. Mountains were sacred to both, as plants to Ziu. Freyr and Freya were goddesses of fertility, love, and spring; a ram was sacred to them, whose golden fleece illuminated night as well as day, and who drew their car with a horse's speed. As with Freya, an image of the goddess Nerthus was drawn through the land in spring, to announce peace and fertility to mortals.
The suggestive myth of Baldur, god of light and spring, killed by blind Hoedur, was the expression of general grief at the passing of beauty.
The Edda has a touching picture of the sorrow of Nature, of her trees and plants, when the one beloved of all living things fell, pierced by an arrow. Holda was first the mild and gracious goddess, then a divine being, encompassing the earth. She might be seen in morning hours by her favourite haunts of lake and spring, a beautiful white woman, who bathed and vanished. When snow fell, she was making her bed, and the feathers flew. Agriculture and domestic order were under her care.
Ostara was goddess of bright dawn, of rising light, and awakening spring, as Hel of subterranean night, the darkness of the underworld. Frigg, wife of the highest god, knew the story of existence, and protected marriage. She was the Northern Juno or Hera.
Ravines and hollows in the mountains were the dwelling-places of the dwarfs (Erdmaennlein), sometimes friendly, sometimes unfriendly to man; now peaceful and helpful, now impish spirits of mischief in cloud caps and grey coats, thievish and jolly.
They were visible by moonlight, dancing in the fields; and when their track was found in the dew, a good harvest was expected. Popular belief took the floating autumn cobwebs for the work of elves and fairies. The spirits of mountain and wood were related to the water-spirits, nixies who sat combing their long hair in the sun, or stretched up lovely arms out of the water. The elves belonged to the more spiritual side of Nature, the giants to the grosser. Rocks and stones were the weapons of the giants; they removed mountains and hills, and boulders were pebbles shaken out of their shoes.
Among animals the horse was sacred to many deities, and gods and goddesses readily transformed themselves into birds. Two ravens, Hugin and Munin, whose names signify thought and memory, were Odin's constant companions. The gift of prophecy was ascribed to the cuckoo, as its monotonous voice heralded the spring:
Kukuk vam haven, wo lange sail ik leven?
There were many legends of men and snakes who exchanged shapes, and whom it was unlucky to kill.
The sun and moon, too, were familiar figures in legends.
Their movement across the sky was a flight from two pursuing wolves, of which one, the Fenris wolf, was fated one day to catch and devour the moon. The German, like the Greek, dreaded nothing more than the eclipse of sun or moon, and connected it with the destruction of all things and the end of the world. In the moon spots he saw a human form carrying a hare or a stick or an axe on his shoulder.
The Solstices impressed him most of all, with their almost constant day in summer, almost constant night in winter. Sun, moon, and stars were the eyes of heaven; there was a pious custom to greet the stars before going to bed. Still earlier, they were sparks of fire from Muspilli, to light the gods home. Night, day, and the sun had their cars—night and day with one horse, the sun with two: sunrise brought sounds sweeter than the song of birds or strings; the rising sun, it was said, rings for joy, murmuring daybreak laughs.
Day brought joy, night sorrow; the first was good and friendly, the second bad and hostile. The birds greeted daytime and summer with songs of delight, but grieved in silence through night and winter: the first swallow and stork were hailed as spring's messengers. May with greening woods led in beloved summer, frost and snow the winter.
So myth, fable, and legend were interlaced in confusion; who can separate the threads?
At any rate, the point of view which they indicate remained the common one even far into the Middle Ages, and shewed simple familiar intercourse with Nature. Even legal formulae were full of pictures from Nature. In the customary oath to render a contract binding, the promise is to hold, so it runs, 'so long as the sun shines and rivers flow, so long as the wind blows and birds sing, so far off as earth is green and fir trees grow, so far as the vault of heaven reaches.' As Schnaase says, though with some exaggeration, such formulae, in their summary survey of earth and sky, often give a complete landscape poem in a few words. He points out that in northern, as opposed to classic mythology, Nature was considered, not in the cursory Hebrew way, that hurried over or missed detail, but as a whole, and in her relation to man's inner life.
'The collective picture of heaven and earth, of cloud movement, of the mute life of plants—that side of Nature which had almost escaped the eye of antiquity—occupied the Northerner most of all.
'The Edda even represents all Nature together in one colossal form—the form of the giant Ymir, whom the sons of Boer slew, in order to make the mountains from his bones, the earth from his flesh, the skies from his skull.'
A still grander mythical synthesis was the representation of the whole world under the form of the sacred ash tree Yggdrasil. This was the world tree which united heaven, earth, and hell. Its branches stretched across the world and reached up to the skies, and its roots spread in different directions—one toward the race of Asa in heaven, another toward the Hrimthursen, the third toward the underworld; and on both roots and branches creatures lived and played—eagle, squirrel, stag, and snake; while by the murmuring Urdhar stream, which rippled over one root, the Nones sat in judgment with the race of Asa.
Not less significant was the conception of the end of the world, the twilight of the gods (Goetterdaemmerung), according to which all the wicked powers broke loose and fought against the gods; the sun and moon were devoured by wolves, the stars fell and earth quaked, the monster world-serpent Joermungande, in giant rage, reared himself out of the water and came to land: Loki led the Hrimthursen and the retinue of hell, and Surt, with his shining hair, rode away from the flaming earth across Bifroest, the rainbow, which broke beneath him.
After the world conflagration a new and better earth arose, with rejuvenated gods.
German mediaeval poetry, as a whole, epic and lyric, was interwoven with a hazy network of suggestive myth and legend; and moral elements, which in mythology were hidden by the prominence of Nature, stood out clear to view in the fate and character of the heroes. The germ of many of our fairy tales is a bit of purest poetry of Nature—a genuine Nature myth transferred to human affairs, which lay nearer to the child-like popular mind, and were therefore more readily understood by it.
So, for instance, from the Maiden of the Shield, Sigrdrifa, who was pierced by Odin's sleep thorn, and who originally represented the earth, frozen in winter, kissed awake by the sun-god, came Brunhild, whose mail Siegfried's sword penetrated as the sun rays penetrate the frost, and lastly the King's daughter, who pricked herself with the fateful spindle, and sank into deep sleep. And as Sigrdrifa was surrounded by walls of flame, so now we have a thorny hedge of wild briar round the beautiful maiden (hence named Dornroeschen) when the lucky prince comes to waken her with a kiss.
Not all fairy tales have preserved the myth into Christian times in so poetic and transparent a form as this. Its poetic germ arose from hidden depths of myth and legend, and, like heathen superstitions in the first centuries of Christianity, found its most fruitful soil among the people. It has often been disguised beyond recognition by legends, and by the worship of the Madonna and saints, but it has never been destroyed, and it keeps its magic to the present day.
We see then that the inborn German feeling for Nature, conditioned by climate and landscape, and pronounced in his mythology, found both an obstacle and a support in Christianity—an obstacle in its transcendentalism, and a support in its inwardness.
THE THEOLOGICAL CHRISTIAN AND THE SYMPATHETIC HEATHEN FEELING OF THE FIRST TEN CENTURIES A.D.
The Middle Ages employed its best intellectual power in solving the problems of man's relation to God and the Redeemer, his moral vocation, and his claim to the Kingdom of the blessed. Mind and heart were almost entirely engrossed by the dogmas of the new faith, such as the incarnation, original sin, and free-will, and by doubts which the Old Testament had raised and not solved. Life was looked upon as a test-place, a thoroughfare to the heavenly Kingdom; earth, with its beauty and its appeal to the senses, as a temptress.
To flee the world and to lack artistic feeling were therefore marks of the period. We have no trace of scientific knowledge applied to Nature, and she was treated with increasing contempt, as the influence of antiquity died out. In spite of this, the attitude of the Apostolic Fathers was very far from hostile. Their fundamental idea was the Psalmist's 'Lord, how great are Thy works; in wisdom hast Thou made them all!' and yet they turned to Nature—at any rate, the noblest Grecians among them—not only for proof of divine wisdom and goodness, but with a degree of personal inclination, an enthusiasm, to which antiquity was a stranger.
Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthians:
'Let us note how free from anger He is towards all His creatures. The heavens are moved by His direction and obey Him in peace. Day and night accomplish the course assigned to them by Him, without hindrance one to another. The sun and the moon and the dancing stars, according to His appointment, circle in harmony within the bounds assigned to them, without any swerving aside. The earth, bearing fruit in fulfilment of His will at her proper seasons, putteth forth the food that supplieth abundantly both men and beasts and all living things which are thereupon, making no dissension, neither altering anything which He hath decreed. Moreover, the inscrutable depths of the abysses and unutterable statutes of the nether regions are constrained by the same ordinances. The basin of the boundless sea, gathered together by His workmanship into its reservoirs, passeth not the barriers wherewith it is surrounded; but even as He ordered it, so it doeth. For He said, "so far shalt thou come, and thy waves shall be broken within thee." The ocean which is impassable for men, and the worlds beyond it, are directed by the same ordinances of the Master. The seasons of spring and summer and autumn and winter give way in succession one to another in peace. The winds in their several quarters at their proper seasons fulfil their ministry without disturbance, and the overflowing fountains, created for enjoyment and health, without fail give their breasts which sustain the life for men. Yea, the smallest of living things come together in concord and peace.'
The three great Cappadocians, the most representative of the Greek Fathers and leaders of the fourth century, wrote about the scenery round them in a tone of sentimentality not less astonishing, in view of the prejudice which denies all feeling for Nature to the Middle Ages, than their broad humanity and free handling of dogma.
It was no ascetic renouncing the world and solitude; but rather a sensitive man, thoughtful and dreamy at once, who wrote as follows (Basil the Great to Gregory Nazianzen):
It is a lofty mountain overshadowed with a deep wood, irrigated on the north by cold and transparent streams. At its foot is spread a low plain, enriched perpetually with the streams from the mountains. The wood, a virgin forest of trees of various kinds and foliage which grows around it, almost serves it as a rampart; so that even the Isle of Calypso, which Homer evidently admired as a paragon of loveliness, is nothing in comparison with this. For indeed it is very nearly an island, from its being enclosed on all sides with rocky boundaries. On two sides of it are deep and precipitous ravines, and on another side the river flowing from the steep is itself a continuous and almost impassable barrier. The mountain range, with its moon-shaped windings, walls off the accessible parts of the plain. There is but one entrance, of which we are the masters. My hut is built on another point, which uplifts a lofty pinnacle on the summit, so that this plain is outspread before the gaze, and from the height I can catch a glimpse of the river flowing round, which to my fancy affords no less delight than the view of the Strymore as you look from Amphipolis. For the Strymore broadens into lakes with its more tranquil stream, and is so sluggish as almost to forfeit the character of a river. The Iris, on the other hand, flowing with a swifter course than any river I know, for a short space billows along the adjacent rock, and then, plunging over it, rolls into a deep whirlpool, affording a most delightful view to me and to every spectator, and abundantly supplying the needs of the inhabitants, for it nurtures an incredible number of fishes in its eddies.
Why need I tell you of the sweet exhalations from the earth or the breezes from the river? Other persons might admire the multitude of the flowers, or of the lyric birds, but I have no time to attend to them. But my highest eulogy of the spot is, that, prolific as it is of all kinds of fruits from its happy situation, it bears for me the sweetest of all fruits, tranquillity; not only because it is free from the noises of cities, but because it is not traversed by a single visitor except the hunters, who occasionally join us. For, besides its other advantages, it also produces animals—not bears and wolves, like yours—heaven forbid! But it feeds herds of stags, and of wild goats and hares, and creatures of that kind. Do you not then observe what a narrow risk I ran, fool that I was, to change such a spot for Tiberine, the depth of the habitable world? I am now hastening to it, pardon me. For even Alcmaeon, when he discovered the Echinades, no longer endured his wanderings.
This highly-cultured prince of the Church clearly valued the place quite as much for its repose, its idyllic solitude, for what we moderns would call its romantic surroundings, sylvan and rugged at once, as for its fertility and practical uses. But it is too much to say, with Humboldt:
In this simple description of scenery and forest life, feelings are expressed which are more intimately in unison with those of modern tunes, than anything which has been transmitted to us from Greek or Roman antiquity. From the lonely Alpine hut to which Basil withdrew, the eye wanders over the humid and leafy roof of the forest below.... The poetic and mythical allusion at the close of the letter falls on the Christian ear like an echo from another and earlier world.
The Hellenic poets of the Anthology, and the younger Pliny in Imperial days, held the same tone, elegiac and idyllic; as Villemain says, 'These pleasant pictures, these poetic allusions, do not shew the austerity of the cloister.' The specifically Christian and monastic was hidden by the purely human.
Other writings of Basil's express still more strongly the mild dejection which longs for solitude. For instance, when Gregory had been dwelling upon the emptiness of all earthly things, he said in reply, that peace of soul must be man's chief aim, and could only be attained by separation from the world, by solitude; 'for the contemplation of Nature abates the fever of the soul, and banishes all insincerity and presumption.' Therefore he loved the quiet corner where he was undisturbed by human intercourse.
He drew melancholy comparisons from Nature: men were compared to wandering clouds that dissolve into nothing, to wavering shadows, and shipwrecked beings, etc.
His homilies on the Hexameron, too, shew thought of Nature. There is a fine sense for the play of colour on the sea here: 'A pleasant sight is the glistening sea when a settled calm doth hold it; but pleasant too it is to behold its surface ruffled by gentle breezes, and its colour now purple, now white, now dark; when it dasheth not with violence against the neighbouring coast, but holdeth it in tranquil embrace.'
There is enthusiastic admiration for Nature mixed with his profound religious feeling in the whole description of the stars, the seasons, etc. The expression of Ptolymaeos, that when he gazed at the stars he felt himself raised to the table of Zeus, is weak in comparison with Basil's words, 'If, on a clear night, you have fixed your gaze upon the beauty of the stars, and then suddenly turned to thoughts of the artist of the universe, whoever he be, who has adorned the sky so wonderfully with these undying flowers, and has so planned it that the beauty of the spectacle is not less than its conformity to law....if the finite and perishable world is so beautiful, what must the infinite and invisible be?'
For him, as for modern minds, starlight brought thoughts of eternity: 'If the greatness of the sky is beyond human comprehension, what mind, what understanding could fathom eternal things?'
Gregory Nazianzen's feeling for Nature was intensely melancholy. His poem On Human Nature says:
For yesterday, worn out with my grief alone, I sat apart in a shady grove, gnawing my heart out. For somehow I love this remedy in time of grief, to talk with mine own heart in silence. And the breezes whispered to the note of the songster birds, and from the branches brought to me sweet slumber, though my heart was well-nigh broken. And the cicadas, friends of the sun, chirped with the shrill note that issues from their breasts, and filled the whole grove with sound. A cold spring hard by bedewed my feet as it flowed gently through the glen; but I was held in the strong grip of grief, nor did I seek aught of these things, for the mind, when it is burdened with sorrow, is not fain to take part in pleasure.
The classic writers had also contrasted Nature with mind, as, for example, Ibykos in his famous Spring Song; but not with Gregory's brooding melancholy and self-tormenting introspection. The poem goes on to compare him to a cloud that wanders hither and thither in darkness, without even a visible outline of that for which he longed; without peace:
I am a stream of troubled water: ever onward I move, nor hath any part of me rest; thou wilt not a second time pass over that stream thou didst before pass over, nor wilt thou see a second time the man thou sawest before.
In his dreamy enthusiasm he likes nothing better than solitude: 'Happy he who leads a lonely life, happy he who with the mighty force of a pure mind seeth the glory of the lights of heaven.'
The same tone constantly recurs in his writings. Human life is but dust, blown by the wind; a stormy voyage, faded grass; kingdoms and powers are waves of the sea, which suck under and drown; a charming girl is a rose with thorns, etc.
Gregory of Nyssa again praises the order and splendour of Nature and her Creator in Old Testament style: 'Seeing the harmony of the whole, of wonders in heaven and in earth, and how the elements of things, though mutually opposed, are all by Nature welded together, and make for one aim through a certain indefinable intercommunion.'
With the pathos of Job he cries:
Who has spread out the ground at my feet? Who has made the sky firm over me as a dome? Who carries the sun as a torch before me? Who sends springs into the ravines? Who prepares the path of the waters?
And who gives my spirit the wing for that high flight in which I leave earth behind and hasten through the wide ocean of air, know the beauty of the ether, and lift myself to the stars and observe all their splendour, and, not staying there, but passing beyond the limits of mutable things, comprehend unchangeable Nature—the immutable Power which is based upon itself, and leads and supports all that exists?
This, with its markedly poetic swing, is surprisingly like the passage in Plato's Phaedo, where Socrates says: 'If any man could arrive at the exterior limit or take the wings of a bird and come to the top, then, like a fish who puts his head out of the water and sees this world, he would see a world beyond; and if the nature of man could sustain the sight, he would acknowledge that this other world was the place of the true heaven and the true light and the true earth.' But even the thought, that the order and splendour of Nature witnessed to the eternal powers which had created her, was not strange to the Greek, as Aristotle proves in the remarks which Cicero preserved to us in his treatise On the Nature of the Gods.
Well then did Aristotle observe: 'If there were men whose habitations had been always underground, in great and commodious houses, adorned with statues and pictures, finished with everything which they who are reputed happy abound with, and if, without stirring from thence, they should be informed of a certain divine power and majesty, and after some time the earth should open, and they should quit their dark abode to come to us, where they should immediately behold the earth, the seas, the heavens, should consider the vast extent of the clouds and force of the winds, should see the sun, and observe his grandeur and beauty, and also his generative power, inasmuch as day is occasioned by the diffusion of his light through the sky, and when night has obscured the earth, they should contemplate the heavens bespangled and adorned with stars, the surprising variety of the moon in her increase and wane, the rising and setting of all the stars and the inviolable regularity of all their courses; when,' says he, 'they should see these things, they would undoubtedly conclude that there are gods, and that these are their mighty works.'
Thus unconsciously the Greek Fathers of the Church took over the thoughts of the great classic philosophers, only substituting a unity for a plurality of godhead. To soar upon the wings of bird, wind, or cloud, a motif which we find here in Gregory of Nyssa, and which reached its finest expression in Ganymede and the evening scene in Faust, had reached a very modern degree of development in antiquity.
Gregory of Nyssa was still more sentimental and plaintive than Basil and Gregory Nazianzen:
When I see every ledge of rock, every valley and plain, covered with new-born verdure, the varied beauty of the trees, and the lilies at my feet decked by Nature with the double charms of perfume and of colour, when in the distance I see the ocean, towards which the clouds are onward borne, my spirit is overpowered by a sadness not wholly devoid of enjoyment. When in autumn the fruits have passed away, the leaves have fallen, and the branches of the trees, dried and shrivelled, are robbed of their leafy adornments, we are instinctively led, amid the everlasting and regular change in Nature, to feel the harmony of the wondrous powers pervading all things. He who contemplates them with the eye of the soul, feels the littleness of man amid the greatness of the universe.
Are not these thoughts, which Humboldt rightly strings together, highly significant and modern? Especially in view of the opinion which Du Bois Reymond, for example, expresses: 'In antiquity, mediaeval times, and in later literature up to the last century, one seeks in vain for the expression of what we call a feeling for Nature.'
Might not Werther have written them? They have all his sentimental melancholy, coupled with that 'delight of sorrow' which owes its name (Wonne der Wehmuth) to Goethe, although its meaning was known to Euripides.
Yet it was only in rare cases, such as Seneca and Aristotle, that classic writers combined such appreciation of Nature's individual traits with that lofty view of the universe which elevates and humbles at once.
Gregory shewed the blending of Christian with classic feeling; and the deepening of the inner life through the new faith is quite as clear in patristic writings as their close relationship to the classic.
But the thinkers and poets of the Middle Ages did not always see Nature under the brilliant light of Hellenic influence; there were wide spaces of time in which monkish asceticism held sway, and she was treated with most unscientific contempt. For the development of feeling did not proceed in one unswerving line, but was subject to backward movements. The rosy afterglow of the classic world was upon these Greek Fathers; but at the same time they suffered from the sorrowfulness of the new religion, which held so many sad and pessimistic elements.
The classic spirit seemed to shudder before the eternity of the individual, before the unfathomable depths which opened up for mankind with this religion of the soul, which can find no rest in itself, no peace in the world, unless it be at one with God in self-forgetting devotion and surrender.
Solitude, to which all the deeper minds at this time paid homage, became the mother of new and great thoughts, and of a view of the world little behind the modern in sentimentality.
What Villemain says of the quotation from Gregory Nazianzen just given, applies with equal force to the others:
No doubt there is a singular charm in this mixture of abstract thoughts and emotions, this contrast between the beauties of Nature and the unrest of a heart tormented by the enigma of existence and seeking to find rest in faith.... It was not the poetry of Homer, it was another poetry.... It was in the new form of contemplative poetry, in this sadness of man about himself, in these impulses towards God and the future, in this idealism so little known by the poets of antiquity, that the Christian imagination could compete without disadvantage. It was there that that poetry arose which modern satiety seeks for, the poetry of reverie and reflection, which penetrates man's heart and deciphers his most intimate thoughts and vaguest wishes.
Contempt for art was a characteristic of the Fathers of the Church, and to that end they extolled Nature; man's handiwork, however dazzling, was but vanity in their eyes, whereas Nature was the handiwork of the Creator. Culture and Nature were purposely set in opposition to each other. St Chrysostom wrote:
If the aspect of the colonnades of sumptuous buildings would lead thy spirit astray, look upwards to the vault of heaven, and around thee on the open fields, in which herds graze by the water's side. Who does not despise all the creations of art, when in the stillness of his soul he watches with admiration the rising of the sun, as it pours its golden light over the face of the earth; when resting on the thick grass beside the murmuring spring, or beneath the sombre shade of a thick and leafy tree, the eye rests on the far receding and hazy distance?
The visible to them was but a mirror of the invisible; as Paul says (13th of the 1st Corinthians): 'Here we see in a glass darkly,' and Goethe: 'Everything transitory is but a similitude.'
God (says St Chrysostom again) has placed man in the world as in a royal palace gleaming with gold and precious stones; but the wonderful thing about this palace is, that it is not made of stone, but of far costlier material; he has not lighted up a golden candelabra, but given lights their fixed course in the roof of the palace, where they are not only useful to us, but an object of great delight.
The Roman secular writers of the first Christian centuries had not this depth of thought and sadness; but from them too we have notable descriptions of Nature in which personal pleasure and sympathy are evident motives as well as religious feeling.
In the little Octavius of Minucius Felix, a writing full of genuine human feeling of the time of Commodus, the mixture of the heathen culture and opinions of antiquity with the Christian way of thinking has a very modern ring. The scenery is finely sketched.
The heats of summer being over, autumn began to be temperate ... we (two friends, a heathen and a Christian) agreed to go to the delightful city of Ostia.... As, at break of day, we were proceeding along the banks of the Tiber towards the sea, that the soft breeze might invigorate our limbs, and that we might enjoy the pleasure of feeling the beach gently subside under our footsteps, Caecilius observed an image of Serapis, and having raised his hands to his lips, after the wont of the superstitious vulgar, he kissed it.... Then Octavius said: 'It is not the part of a good man, brother Marcus, thus to leave an intimate companion and friend amidst blind popular ignorance, and to suffer him, in such open daylight, to stumble against stones,' etc.... Discoursing after this sort, we traversed the space between Ostia and the sea, and arrived at the open coast. There the gentle surges had smoothed the outermost sands like a pleasure walk, and as the sea, although the winds blow not, is ever unquiet, it came forward to the shore, not hoary and foaming, but with waves gently swelling and curled. On this occasion we were agreeably amused by the varieties of its appearance, for, as we stood on the margin and dipped the soles of our feet in the water, the wave alternately struck at us, and then receding, and sliding away, seemed to swallow up itself. We saw some boys eagerly engaged in the game of throwing shells in the sea.... Caecilius said: 'All things ebb into the fountain from which they spring, and return back to their original without contriver, author, or supreme arbiter ... showers fall, winds blow, thunder bellows, and lightnings flash ... but they have no aim.' Octavius answers: 'Behold the heaven itself, how wide it is stretched out, and with what rapidity its revolutions are performed, whether in the night when studded with stars, or in the daytime when the sun ranges over it, and then you will learn with what a wonderful and divine hand the balance is held by the Supreme Moderator of all things; see how the circuit made by the sun produces the year, and how the moon, in her increase, wanes and changes, drives the months around.... Observe the sea, it is bound by a law that the shore imposes; the variety of trees, how each of them is enlivened from the bowels of the earth! Behold the ocean, it ebbs and flows alternately. Look at the springs, they trickle with a perpetual flow; at rivers, they hold on their course in quick and continued motion. Why should I speak of the ridges of mountains, aptly disposed? of the gentle slope of hills, or of plains widely extended?... In this mansion of the world, when you fully consider the heaven and the earth, and that providence, order, and government visible in them, assure yourself that there is indeed a Lord and Parent of the whole ... do not enquire for the name of God—God is his name.... If I should call Him Father, you would imagine Him earthly; if King, carnal; and if Lord, mortal. Remove all epithets, and then you will be sensible of His glory....'
How like Faust's confession of faith to Gretchen:
Him who dare name And yet proclaim, Yes! I believe... The All-embracer, All-sustainer, Doth he not embrace, sustain, Thee, me, Himself? Lifts not the Heaven its dome above? Doth not the firm-set earth beneath us rise?... And beaming tenderly with looks of love Climb not the everlasting stars on high?... Fill thence thy heart, how large so e'er it be, And in the feeling when thou'rt wholly blest, Then call it what thou wilt—Bliss! Heart! Love! God! I have no name for it—'tis feeling all Name is but sound and smoke Shrouding the glow of Heaven.
Such statements of belief were not rare in the Apologists; but Nature at this time was losing independent importance in men's minds, like life itself, which after Cyprian was counted as nothing but a fight with the devil.
There is deep reverence for Nature in the lyrics, the hymns of the first centuries A.D., as a work of God and an emblem of moral ideas. Ebert observes
In comparison with the old Roman, one can easily see the peculiarities and perfect originality of these Christian lyrics. I do not mean merely in that dominance of the soul life in which man appeared to be quite merged, and which makes them such profound expressions of feeling; but in man's relationship to Nature, which, one might say, supplies the colour to the painter's brush. Nature appears here in the service of ideal moral powers and robbed of her independence; the servant of her Creator, whose direct command she obeys. She is his instrument for man's welfare, and also at times, under the temporary mastery of the devil, for his destruction. Thus Nature easily symbolizes the moral world.
'Bountiful Giver of light, through whose calm brightness, when the time of night is past and gone, the daylight is suffused abroad, Thou, the world's true morning star, clearer than the full glorious sun, Thou very dayspring, very light in all its fulness, that dost illumine the innermost recesses of the heart,' sings St Hilary in his Morning Hymn; and in another hymn, declaring himself unworthy to lift his sinful eyes to the clear stars, he urges all the creatures, and heaven, earth, sea and river, hill and wood, rose, lily, and star to weep with him and lament the sinfulness of man.
In the Morning Hymn of St Ambrose dawn is used symbolically; dark night pales, the light of the world is born again, and the new birth of the soul raises to new energy; Christ is called the true sun, the source of light; 'let modesty be as the dawn, faith as the noonday, let the mind know no twilight.'
And Prudentius sings in a Morning Hymn : 'Night and mist and darkness fade, light dawns, the globe brightens, Christ is coming!' and again: 'The herald bird of dawn announces day, Christ the awaker calls us to life.' And in the ninth hymn: 'Let flowing rivers, waves, the seashore's thundering, showers, heat, snow, frost, forest and breeze, night, day, praise Thee throughout the ages.'
He speaks of Christ as the sun that never sets, never is obscured by clouds, the flower of David, of the root of Jesse; of the eternal Fatherland where the whole ground is fragrant with beds of purple roses, violets, and crocuses, and slender twigs drop balsam.
St Jerome united Christian genius, as Ebert says, with classic culture to such a degree that his writings, especially his letters, often shew a distinctly modern tone, and go to prove that asceticism so deepened and intensified character that even literary style took individual stamp. But the most perfect representative, the most modern man, of his day was Augustine.
As Rousseau's Confessions revealed the revolutionary genius of the eighteenth century, Augustine's opened out a powerful character, fully conscious of its own importance, striving with the problems of the time, and throwing search-lights into every corner of its own passionate heart. He had attained, after much struggling, to a glowing faith, and he described the process in characteristic and drastic similes from Nature, which are scarcely suitable for translation. He said on one occasion:
For I burned at times in my youth to satiate myself with deeds of hell, and dared to run wild in many a dark love passage.... In the time of my youth I took my fill passionately among the wild beasts, and I dared to roam the woods and pursue my vagrant loves beneath the shade; and my beauty consumed away and I was loathsome in Thy sight, pleasing myself and desiring to please the eyes of men.... The seething waves of my youth flowed up to the shores of matrimony....
Comfortless at the death of his friend:
I burned, I sighed, I wept, I was distraught, for I bore within me a soul rent and bloodstained, that would no longer brook my carrying; yet I found no place where I could lay it down, neither in pleasant groves nor in sport was it at rest. All things, even the light itself, were filled with shuddering.
Augustine, like Rousseau, understood 'que c'est un fatal present du ciel qu'une ame sensible.'
He looked upon his own heart as a sick child, and sought healing for it in Nature and solitude, though in vain.
The pantheistic belief of the Manicheans that all things, fire, air, water, etc., were alive, that figs wept when they were picked and the mother tree shed milky tears for the loss of them, that everything in heaven and earth was a part of godhead, gave him no comfort; it was rather the personal God of the Psalms whom he saw in the ordering of Nature.
The cosmological element in theism has never been more beautifully expressed than in his words:
I asked the earth, and she said: 'I am not He,' and all things that are in her did confess the same. I asked the sea and the depths and creeping things, and they answered: 'We are not thy God, seek higher.' I asked the blowing breezes, and the whole expanse of air with its inhabitants made answer: 'Anaxagoras was at fault, I am not God.' I asked the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, and with a loud voice did they exclaim: 'He made us.' My question was the enquiry of my spirit, their answer was the beauty of their form.
In another place:
Not with uncertain but with sure consciousness, Lord, I love Thee. But behold, sea and sky and all things in them from all sides tell me that I must love Thee, nor do they cease to give all men this message, so that they are without excuse. Sky and earth speak to the deaf Thy praises: when I love Thee, I love not beauty of form, nor radiancy of light; but when I love my God, I love the light, the voice, the sweetness, the food, the embrace of my innermost soul. That is what I love when I love my God.
Augustine's interest in Nature was thus religious. At the same time, the soothing influence of quiet woods was not unknown to him.
The likeness and unlikeness between the Christian and heathen points of view are very clear in the correspondence between Ausonius, the poet of the Moselle, and Paulinus, Bishop of Nola; and the deep friendship expressed in it raises their dilettante verses to the level of true poetry.
Ausonius, thoroughly heathen as he was, carries us far forward into Christian-Germanic times by his sentimentality and his artistic descriptions of the scenery of the Moselle.
It is characteristic of the decline of heathendom, that the lack of original national material to serve as inspiration, as the AEneas Saga had once served, led the best men of the time to muse on Nature, and describe scenery and travels. Nothing in classic Roman poetry attests such an acute grasp of Nature's little secret charms as the small poem about the sunny banks of the Moselle, vine-clad and crowned by villas, and reflected in the crystal water below. It seemed as if the Roman, with the German climate, had imbibed the German love of Nature; as if its scenery had bewitched him like the German maiden whom he compared to roses and lilies in his song.
Many parts of his poetical epistles are in the same tone, and we learn incidentally from them that a lengthy preamble about weather and place belonged to letter-writing even then.
Feeling for Nature and love of his friend are interwoven into a truly poetic appeal in No. 64, in which Ausonius complains that Paulinus does not answer his letters:
Rocks give answer to the speech of man, and his words striking against the caves resound, and from the groves cometh the echo of his voice. The cliffs of the coast cry out, the rivers murmur, the hedge hums with the bees that feed upon it, the reedy banks have their own harmonious notes, the foliage of the pine talks in trembling whispers to the winds: what time the light south-east falls on the pointed leaves, songs of Dindymus give answer in the Gargaric grove. Nature has made nothing dumb; the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth are not silent, the snake has its hiss, the fishes of the sea as they breathe give forth their note.... Have the Basque mountains and the snowy haunts of the Pyrenees taken away thy urbanity?... May he, who advises thee to keep silence, never enjoy the singing of sweet songs nor the voices of Nature ... sad and in need may he live in desolate regions, and wander silent in the rounded heights of the Alpine range.
The sounds of Nature are detailed with great delicacy in this appeal, and we see that the Alps are referred to as desolate regions.
In another letter (25) he reminded his friend of their mutual love, their home at Burdigala, his country-house with its vine-slopes, fields, woods, etc., and went on:
Yet without thee no year advanceth with grateful change of season; the rainy spring passeth without flower, the dog-star burns with blazing heat, Pomona bringeth not the changing scents of autumn, Aquarius pours forth his waters and saddens winter. Pontius, dear heart, seest thou what thou hast done?
Closing in the same tender strain with a picture of his hope fulfilled:
Now he leaves the snowy towns of the Iberians, now he holds the fields of the Tarbellians, now passeth he beneath the halls of Ebromagus, now he is gliding down the stream, and now he knocketh at thy door! Can we believe it? Or do they who love, fashion themselves dreams?
The greater inwardness of feeling here, as contrasted with classic times, is undeniable; the tone verges on the sentimentality of the correspondences between 'beautiful souls' in the eighteenth century.
Paulinus was touchingly devoted to his former teacher Ausonius, and in every way a man of fine and tender feeling. He gave himself with zeal to Christianity, and became an ascetic and bishop.
It was a bitter grief to him that his Ausonius remained a heathen when he himself had sworn allegiance to Christ and said adieu to Apollo. There is a fine urbanity and humanity in his writings, but he did not, like Ausonius, love Nature for her own sake. The one took the Christian ascetic point of view, the other the classic heathen, with sympathy and sentiment in addition.
Paulinus recognized the difference, and contrasted their ideas of solitude. 'They are not crazed, nor is it their savage fierceness that makes men choose to live in lonely spots; rather, turning their eyes to the lofty stars, they contemplate God, and set the leisure that is free from empty cares, to fathom the depths of truth they love.'
In answer to his friend's praise of home, he praised Spain, in which he was living, and many copious descriptions of time and place run through his other writings; but while he yielded nothing to Ausonius in the matter of friendship, 'sooner shall life disappear from my body than thy image from my heart,' he was without his quiet musing delight in Nature. For her the heathen had the clearer eye and warmer heart; the Christian bishop only acknowledged her existence in relation to his Creator, declaring with pride that no power had been given to us over the elements, nor to them over us, and that not from the stars but from our own hearts come the hindrances to virtue.
Lives of the saints and paraphrases of the story of creation were the principal themes of the Christian poets of the fourth and fifth centuries. In some of these the hermit was extolled with a dash of Robinson Crusoe romance, and the descriptions of natural phenomena in connection with Genesis often showed a feeling for the beauty of Nature in poetic language. Dracontius drew a detailed picture of Paradise with much self-satisfaction.
Then in flight the joyous feathered throng passed through the heavens, beating the air with sounding wings, various notes do they pour forth in soothing harmony, and, methinks, together praise for that they were accounted worthy to be created.
For the charming legend of Paradise was to many Christian minds of this time what the long-lost bliss of Elysium and the Golden Age had been to the Hellenic poets and the Roman elegist—the theme of much vivid imagery and highly-coloured word-painting.
Eternal spring softens the air, a healing flame floods the world with light, all the elements glow in healing warmth; as the shades of night fade, day rises.... Then the feathered flocks fly joyfully through the air, beating it with their wings in the rush of their passage, and with flattering satisfaction their voices are heard, and I think they praise God that they were found worthy to be created; some shine in snowy white, some in purple, some in saffron, some in yellow gold; others have white feathers round the eyes, while neck and breast are of the bright tint of the hyacinth ... and upon the branches, the birds are moved to and fro with them by the wind.
This shews careful observation of detail; but, for the most part, such idyllic feeling was checked by lofty religious thoughts.
'Man,' he cries, 'should rule over Nature, over all that it contains, over all earth offers in fruit, flowers, and verdure that tree and vine, sea and spring, can give.' He summons all creation to praise the Creator—stars and seasons, hail-storm and lightning, earth, sea, river and spring, cloud and night, plants, animals, and light; and he describes the flood in bold flights of fancy.
In the three books of Avitus we have 'a complete poem of the lost Paradise, far removed from a mere paraphrase or versification of the Bible,' which shews artistic leanings and sympathetic feeling here and there. As Catullus pictures the stars looking down upon the quiet love of mortals by night, and Theocritus makes the cypresses their only witnesses, the Christian poet surrounds the marriage of our first parents with the sympathy of Nature:
And angel voices joined in harmony and sang to the chaste and pure; Paradise was their wedding-chamber, earth their dowry, and the stars of heaven rejoiced with gladsome radiance.... The kindness of heaven maintains eternal spring there; the tumultuous south wind does not penetrate, the clouds forsake an air which is always pure.... The soil has no need of rains to refresh it, and the plants prosper by virtue of their own dew. The earth is always verdant, and its surface animated by a sweet warmth resplendent with beauty. Herbs never abandon the hills, the trees never lose their leaves, etc.
And when Adam and Eve leave it, they find all the rest of the beautiful world ugly and narrow in comparison. 'Day is dark to their eyes, and under the clear sun they complain that the light has disappeared.'
It was the reflection of their own condition in Nature. Among heathen writers who were influenced, without being entirely swayed, by Christian teaching, and imitated the rhetorical Roman style in describing Nature, Apollonius Sidonius takes a prominent place. In spite of many empty phrases and a stilted style, difficult to understand as well as to translate, his poems, and still more his letters, give many interesting pictures of the culture of his part of the fifth century. In Carm. 2 he draws a highly—coloured picture of the home of Pontius Leontas, a fine country property, and paints the charms of the villa with all the art of his rhetoric and some real appreciation. The meeting of the two rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne, in the introduction is poetically rendered, and he goes on to describe the cool hall and grottos, state-rooms, pillars—above all, the splendid view: 'There on the top of the fortress I sit down and lean back and gaze at the mountains covered by olives, so dear to the Muse and the goats. I shall wander in their shade, and believe that coward Daphne grants me her love.' He delighted in unspoilt Nature, and describes:
My fountain, which, as it flows from the mountain-side, is overshadowed by a many-covered grotto with its wide circle. It needs not Art; Nature has given it grace. That no artist's hand has touched it is its charm; it is no masterpiece of skill, no hammer with resounding blow will adorn the rocks, nor marble fill up the place where the tufa is worn away.
He lays stress upon the contrast between culture and Nature, town luxury and country solitude, in his second letter to Domidius, and describes the beauties of his own modest estate with sentimental delight:
You reproach me for loitering in the country; I might complain with more reason that you stay in the town when the earth shines in the light of spring, the ice is melting from the Alps, and the soil is marked by the dry fissures of tortuous furrows ... the stones in the stream, and the mud on the banks are dried up ... here neither nude statues, comic actors, nor Hippodrome are to be found ... the noise of the waters is so great that it drowns conversation. From the dining-room, if you have time to spare at meals, you can occupy it with the delight of looking at the scenery, and watch the fishing ... here you can find a hidden recess, cool even in summer heat, a place to sleep in. Here what joy it is to listen to the cicadas chirping at noonday, and to the frogs croaking when the twilight is coming on, and to the swans and geese giving note at the early hours of the night, and at midnight to the cocks crowing together, and to the boding crows with three-fold note greeting the ruddy torch of the rising dawn; and in the half light of the morning to hear the nightingale warbling in the bushes, and the swallow twittering among the beams.... Between whiles, the shepherds play in their rustic fashion. Not far off is a wood where the branches of two huge limes interlace, though their trunks are apart (in their shade we play ball), and a lake that rises to such fury in a storm that the trees that border it are wetted by the spray.
In another letter to Domidius he described a visit to the country-seat of two of his friends:
We were torn from one pleasure to another—games, feastings, chatting, rowing, bathing, fishing.
As a true adherent even as a bishop of classic culture and humanity, Sidonius is thus an interesting figure in these wild times, with his Pliny-like enthusiasm for country rather than city, and his susceptibility to woodland and pastoral life.
The limit of extravagance in the bombastic rhetoric of the period was reached in the travels of Ennodius, who was scarcely more than a fantastic prattler. The purest, noblest, and most important figure of the sixth century was undoubtedly Boetius; but it is Cassiodorus, a statesman of the first rank under Theodoric, who in his Variorium libris gives the most interesting view of the attitude of his day towards Nature. He revelled in her and in describing her. After praising Baja for its beauty and Lactarius for its healthiness, he said of Scyllacium:
The city of Scyllacium hangs upon the hills like a cluster of grapes, not that it may pride itself upon their difficult ascent, but that it may voluptuously gaze on verdant plains and the blue back of the sea. The city beholds the rising sun from its very cradle, when the day that is about to be born sends forward no heralding Aurora; but as soon as it begins to rise, the quivering brightness displays its torch. It beholds Phoebus in his joy; it is bathed in the brightness of that luminary so that it might be thought to be itself the native land of the sun, the claims of Rhodes to that honour being outdone.... It enjoys a translucent air, but withal so temperate, that its winters are sunny and its summers cool, and life passes there without sorrow, since hostile seasons are feared by none. Hence, too, man himself is here freer of soul than elsewhere, for this temperateness of the climate prevails in all things.... Assuredly for the body to imbibe muddy waters is a different thing from sucking in the transparency of a sweet fountain. Even so the vigour of the mind is repressed when it is clogged by a heavy atmosphere. Nature itself hath made us subject to these influences.... clouds make us feel sad, and again a bright day fills us with joy.... At the foot of the Moscian Mount we hollowed out the bowels of the rock, and tastefully introduced therein the eddying waves of Nereus. Here a troop of fishes sporting in free captivity refreshes all minds with delight, and charms all eyes with admiration. They run greedily to the hand of man, and, before they become his food, seek dainties from him.