Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/693

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
675
ORIGIN OF LITERARY FORMS.

æsthetics by blending into an indissoluble trinity mimicry, music, and poetry, or, in short, song and the scenic dance. In fact, as we have often shown, articulate speech begins by being the least important member of that æsthetic trinity; a simple accessory of the song—that is, of rhythmical, cadenced modulations—it defines their sense, but can not separate itself from them, and often gives place to simple modulated cries, to interjections, and to onomatopœias. In fact, with different primitive peoples, we have found species of romances without words, traces of an ancient interjectional poetry which probably preceded spoken poetry. The interjectional refrains, frequent among primitive men and in our popular songs, are evidently survivals of this same æsthetics.

We have seen that in all the earth the object sought by the primitive peoples in their dances and ballets is less the pleasure of rhythmical motion, to which they are, however, very sensitive, than significant, scenic mimicry, reproducing acts and adventures fitted to excite a lively interest in the little social community of which they form a part. What they want most of all is an expressive spectacle, giving the idea of a hunt, a battle, a cannibal feast, and their incidents; but such a dramatic ballet supposes the existence of a close association, of that communal clan which we meet in the origin of all societies, and which has everywhere modeled primitive æsthetics. These choral dances, these opera-ballets of savages, constitute in all races the collective rejoicings or ceremonials of the clans. We have found them among the Tasmanians, the Papuans, the Kafirs, the Polynesians, the American Indians, the Hebrews, the Greeks, and other nations. These scenic diversions always represent events of capital interest for the little social unity; and the nature of the events differs according to the degree of civilization. With the American Indians, they refer to the hunt or to war; with the Chinese, to different incidents in rural life, labor, the harvest, etc.

These beginnings of literary æsthetics explain to us why, among civilized peoples, music excites many persons to movement, to action; it is because the two were long associated in the ancient clans. But it addresses itself to very intelligent persons, with whom the necessity for muscular activity yields to that for mental activity, to the feelings, to the thought, when music, instead of exciting the muscular system, awakens the heart or stimulates the mind. It, for example, inspires in a Stendhal the desire to cooperate in the enfranchisement of Greece; in an Alfieri, plans for tragedy; and in a John Stuart Mill, philosophical speculations. In all these cases, in short, music plays the part of an excitant that determines different reactions according to the various modes of the mental organization.

The taste for measured, rhythmical musical sounds is, as we