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TURAVER'S DRAGOAV. 323
conventional dragon beyond the fiery character that is blended with the serpent character. Nor do the descriptions of Behemoth and Leviathan comport with the dragonform. The serpent as an animal is a consummate development. Its feet, so far from having been amputated, as the fables say, in punishment of its sin, have been withdrawn beneath the skin as crutches used in a feebler period. It is found as a tertiary fossil. Since, therefore, the dragon form ear hypothesi is a reminiscence of the huge, now fossil, Saurians which preceded the serpent in time, the early mythologies could hardly have so regularly described great serpents instead of dragons. If the realistic theory we are discussing were true, the earliest combats—those of Indra, for instance—ought to have been with dragons, and the serpent enemies would have multiplied as time went on; but the reverse is the case—the (alleged) extinct forms being comparatively modern in heroic legend. Mr. John Ruskin once remarked upon Turner's picture of the Dragon guarding the Hesperides, that this conception so early as 1806, when no Saurian skeleton was within the artist's reach, presented a singular instance of the scientific imagination. As a coincidence with such extinct forms Turner's dragon is surpassed by the monster on which a witch rides in one of the engravings of
1637. In that year, on the Fig. 22.-A Witch Mounted
- - (Della Bella). occasion of the marriage of the grand duke Ferdinand II. in Florence, there was a masque d'Informo, whose representations were engraved by
324 THE CONVEAVTIONAL DRAGOA.
Della Bella, of which this is one, so that it may be rather to some scenic artist than to the distinguished imitator of Callot that we owe this grotesque form, which the late Mr. Wright said “might have been borrowed from some distant geological period.' If so, the fact would present a curious coincidence with the true history of Turner's Dragon; for after Mr. Ruskin had published his remark about the scientific imagination represented in it, an old friend of the artist declared that Turner himself had told him that he copied that dragon from a Christmas spectacle in Drury Lane theatre. But Turner had shown the truest scientific instinct in repairing to the fossil-beds of human imagination, and drawing thence the conventional form which never had existence save as the structure of cumulative tradition.
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The beauty of the Serpent—Emerson on ideal forms—Michelet's thoughts on the viper's head—Unique characters of the Serpent— The monkey's horror of Snakes—The Serpent protected by superstition—Human defencelessness against its subtle powers— Dubufe's picture of the Fall of Man.
IN the accompanying picture, a medal of the ancient city of Tyre, two of the most beautiful forms of nature are brought together, the Serpent and the Egg. Mr. D. R. Hay has shown the end
less extent to which the
oval arches have been
reproduced in the cera- *s, mic arts of antiquity; Qand the same sense of symmetry which made the Greek vase a combination of Eggs prevails in the charm which the same graceful outline possesses wherever suggested,—as in curves of the swan, crescent of the moon, the elongated shell,—on which Aphrodite may well be poised, since the same contours find their con
summate expression in the flowing lines attaining their repose in the perfect form of woman. The Serpent—
326 PEAUTY OF THE SERPEAVT.
model of the ‘line of grace and beauty'—has had an even larger fascination for the eye of the artist and the poet. It is the one active form in nature which cannot be ungraceful, and to estimate the extent of its use in decoration is impossible, because all undulating and coiling lines are necessarily serpent forms. But in addition to the perfections of this form—which fulfil all the ascent of forms in Swedenborg's mystical morphology, circular, spiral, perpetual-circular, vortical, celestial—the Serpent bears on it, as it were, gems of the underworld that seem to find their counterpart in galaxies. One must conclude that Serpent-worship is mainly founded in fear. The sacrifices offered to that animal are alone sufficient to prove this. But as it is certain that the Serpent appears in symbolism and poetry in many ways which have little or no relation to its terrors, we may well doubt whether it may not have had a career in the human imagination previous to either of the results of its reign of terror, worship and execration. It is the theory of Pestalozzi that every child is born an artist, and through its pictorial sense must be led on its first steps of education. The infant world displayed also in its selection of sacred trees and animals a profound appreciation of beauty. The myths in which the Serpent is represented as kakodemon refer rather to its natural history than to its appearance; and even when its natural history came to be observed, there was—there now is—such a wide discrepancy between its physiology and its functions, also between its intrinsic characters and their relation to man, that we can only accept its various aspects in mythology without attempting to trace their relative precedence in time. The past may in this case be best interpreted by the present. How different now to wise and observant men are the suggestions of this exceptional form in nature'
EMERSOAV OM /DEAL FORMS. 327
Let us read a passage concerning it from Ralph Waldo Emerson:—
“In the old aphorism, nature is always self-similar. In the plant, the eye or germinative point opens to a leaf, then to another leaf, with a power of transforming the leaf into radicle, stamen, pistil, petal, bract, sepal, or seed. The whole art of the plant is still to repeat leaf on leaf without end, the more or less of heat, light, moisture, and food, determining the form it shall assume. In the animal, nature makes a vertebra, or a spine of vertebrae, and helps herself still by a new spine, with a limited power of modifying its form, spine on spine, to the end of the world. A poetic anatomist, in our own day, teaches that a snake being a horizontal line, and man being an erect line, constitute a right angle; and between the lines of this mystical quadrant, all animated beings find their place: and he assumes the hair-worm, the span-worm, or the snake, as the type or prediction of the spine. Manifestly, at the end of the spine, nature puts out smaller spines, as arms; at the end of the arms, new spines, as hands; at the other end she repeats the process, as legs and feet. At the top of the column she puts out another spine, which doubles or loops itself over, as a span-worm, into a ball, and forms the skull, with extremities again : the hands being now the upper jaw, the feet the lower jaw, the fingers and toes being represented this time by upper and lower teeth. This new spine is destined to high uses. It is a new man on the shoulders of the last.’”
As one reads this it might be asked, How could its idealism be more profoundly pictured for the eye than in the Serpent coiled round the egg-the seed out of which all these spines must branch out for their protean variations? What refrains of ancient themes subtly sound between the
* “Representative Men, American edition of 1850, p. 108.