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and the wide, vibrant illumination shows all things in ghostly half-concealment, fresh floods of lightning every moment rend the dim curtain and leap forth ; the glare of day falls upon the swaying wood, the reeling, bowing, tossing willows, the seething waters, the whirling rain, and in the midst the small form of the distressed steamer, her revolving paddle-wheels toiling behind to lighten the strain upon her anchor chains ; then all are dim ghosts again, while a peal, as if the heavens were rent, rolls off around the sky, comes back in shocks and throbs, and sinks in a long roar that before it can die is swallowed up in the next flash and peal. George W. Cable, in Bonaventure (Au Large, chapter xviii.).
It was a warm autumn afternoon, and there had been a heavy rain. The sun burst suddenly from among the clouds; and the old battle-ground, sparkling brilliantly and cheerfully at sight of it in one green place, flashed a responsive welcome there, which spread along the country side as if a joyful beacon had been lighted up, and answered from a thousand stations.
How beautiful the landscape kindling in the light, and that luxuriant influence passing on like a celestial presence, brightening everything! The wood, a sombre mass before, revealed its varied tints of yellow, green, brown, red : its different forms of trees, with rain-drops glittering on their leaves and twinkling as they fell. The verdant meadow-land, bright and glowing, seemed as if it had been blind a minute since, and now had found a sense of light wherewith to look up at the shining sky. Cornfields, hedge-rows, fences, homesteads, the clustered roofs, the steeple of the church, the stream, the watermill, all sprang out of the gloomy darkness, smiling. Birds sang sweetly, flowers raised their drooping heads, fresh scents arose from the invigorated ground; the blue expanse above extended and diffused itself : already the sun's slanting rays pierced mortally the sullen bank of cloud that lingered in its flight; and a rainbow, spirit of all the colors that adorned the earth and sky, spanned the whole arch with its triumphant glory. — Charles Dickens, in Christmas Books (The Battle of Life, part iii.).
The following descriptions may be read with profit :
The Flood. The Mill on the Floss, book vii, chapter v. George Eliot.
Storm off the Coast of Scotland. Macleod of Dare, last chapter. William Black.
WORKS OF ART.
A Seaside Villa.
An Etruscan Vase.
The difficulties of these descriptions will be greater of course in proportion as the object represents a higher stage of development in its own field of art. There is a vast difference between a Kafir hut and a Gothic cathedral, between an Indian stone image and a Praxitelean statue. The Kafir hut may be picturesque enough in its way, but it is not a work of art and is not intended to be ; it is built for its utility. On the other hand a cathedral is useful in its way, but it is preëminently a work of art. In form and color, in light and shade, in mass and perspective, it is designed throughout to appeal to the æsthetic sense and to work on the emotions of the human heart. work of art therefore it must be described. We have
already described buildings from another point of view. But even an ordinary dwelling-house may be constructed so as to attract the eye of the passer-by as well as to contribute to the comfort of those who live in it. Thus we have two radically different points of view. In the present exercise the point of view is that of a person who has an eye for artistic effects.
Note that the point of view is not said to be that of the student of the beautiful or the connoisseur in art. The work before you is still description and not criticism, which latter involves comparisons and the passing of individual judgment. Try to tell what you can plainly see, and not all that your imagination may read into the object, nor all that you think should be there and is not. Have the object before you if possible. It is not safe to trust to memory.
Few painters or sculptors will venture far without their models. You are a word-painter now.
There are other fields of art in which the artist appeals to other senses than the sight. But description here becomes so extremely difficult that it is deemed best to omit it. It would indeed be rash, unless one were exceptionally well equipped, to attempt to describe an organ fugue or an orchestral symphony
DESCRIPTION OF PERSONS.
Take as a subject one of your friends, or perhaps better some one whom you have seen only once or twice, and describe him (or her) as he would appear to
a person who met him for the first time. of course, that the description shall be one almost entirely of externals, -- of those qualities, essential or adventitious, which manifest themselves at once to the
Character will not play any part in this except so far as it can be inferred from such features as eyes, complexion, gait, and even manner of dress. If the description is of some one who is well known to your readers or hearers, try to make it so accurate and lifelike that they will recognize the subject at once.
Here again let us insist upon the necessity of observing a due proportion and relation of parts. Do not continually leap from one detail to another without any apparent connection between the two, whether that connection be expressed or understood. Now and then it may be necessary to do this. In any composition of length there must be some gaps in the train of thought wider than others; and paragraph division is the external sign of this. But such gaps must not occur at every sentence, and even where they do occur let them be as narrow as possible.
The following description is taken from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, Part I, Book II, Chapter I. The point of view is that of a chance observer. Notice how the general appearance of wretchedness is heightened by dwelling on the details of clothing.
One day early in the month of October, 1815, about an hour before sunset, a man traveling afoot entered the town of DThe few inhabitants who at this moment chanced to be at their windows or on the doorsteps of their houses, looked at this traveler with a vague sense of uneasiness. One would not often meet a wayfarer more wretched in appearance. He was a man of medium height, thickset and sturdy, and in the full vigor of life. He might
be forty-six or forty-eight years of age. A cap with a leather tip well pulled down partly concealed his face which was bronzed by the sun and was dripping with sweat. His shirt, of some coarse yellow stuff, fastened at the throat by a little silver anchor, fell open sufficiently to give a glimpse of a shaggy breast. He wore a twisted cravat, shabby breeches of blue ticking, white at one knee, worn through at the other, and an old tattered gray blouse, pieced at one of the elbows with a patch of green cloth sewed on with pack-thread. On his back he carried a well filled knapsack, tightly buckled and quite new ; in his hand an enormous knotted stick. His stockingless feet were encased in shoes shod with iron. His head was shaved, his beard long. The perspiration, the heat, the journey on foot, the dust, gave to his whole person an inexpressible air of misery and squalor.
Compare with the above the following from Balzac's Père Goriot, and note that here more essential attributes are dwelt upon as indicative of the girl's spiritual environment.
Though Mademoiselle Victorine Taillefer was of a sickly paleness like a girl in feeble health, and though this paleness, joined to an habitual expression of sadness and self-restraint, linked her with the general misery which formed the background of the life about her, yet her face was not an old face, and her movements and her voice were young and sprightly. She seemed like a sickly shrub transplanted into uncongenial soil. Her fair complexion, her auburn hair, her too-slender figure, gave her the grace that modern critics find in the art of the Middle Ages. Her eyes, which were gray with a radiation of dark streaks, expressed the sweetness and resignation of a Christian. Her dress was simple and cheap, but it revealed a youthful form. She was pretty by juxtaposition. Had she been happy she might have been lovely; for happiness lends poetic charm to women, and dress adorns them like a delicate tint of rouge. If the pleasures of a ball had called out the rose-tints on her pallid face; if the comforts and elegancies of life had filled out and remodeled her cheeks, already, alas, too hollow ; if love had ever brightened her sad eyes ; — then