This section is from the book "Chromatography; Or, A Treatise On Colours And Pigments, And Of Their Powers In Painting", by George Field. Also available from Amazon: Chromatography, or A Treatise on Colours and Pigments, and of Their Powers in Painting.
In collating the poets for instances of this poetical painting, none appears to our view to have had juster conception of the beauties and powers of colours than our great dramatist, whose genius seems to have been almost universal. Sometimes he harmonises with the primary colours, as thus -
"Thou shalt not lack The flower that's like thy face, pale primrose; nor The azur'd harebell, like thy veins."
Sometimes he employs the secondaries, as in the order of Titania to the Fairies to honour her Love, - so much admired by Dryden for its poetic beauty: -
" Feed him with apricots, and dewberries,
Midsum. Niglius Dream.
In both these instances one of the three colours is kept back, inferred but unexpressed or subdued, as it is generally in nature, particularly in flowers, and even in their species; e. g, we have roses, red, yellow, and compounds only, for nature does not produce a blue rose, but in its place roses inclined to purple, in which blue is subdued by red and black; the same may be observed of the hollyhock and other flowers. Colours nevertheless, it is true, are sometimes given to flowers, etc, in pictures which nature never dared to give; and though the colours may be required in the picture, yet when they are so given, it is an offence to truth, which makes its impression upon the mind of the observer. This adherence to nature and truth - this best policy of honesty in all things, is one of Shakspere's greatest charms, and belongs to excellence in every intellectual art. Mow natural, tender, expressive, beautiful, and true, is the following inquiry concerning an occasion of grief: -
" What's the matter, That this distemper'd messenger of wet, The many-colour'd Iris, rounds thine eye?"
Alls Well that Ends Well.
That Shakspere discriminated nicely in colours is apparent from the following: -
"If you will sec a pageant truly play'd, Between the pale complexion of true love. And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain, Go hence a little."
And again: -
"There was a pretty redness in his lip; A little riper and more lusty red
Than that mix'd in his cheek; 'twas just the difference Betwixt the constant red and mingled damask."
As you Like It.
With what truth and effect he avails himself of the chromatic discord of green and yellow, which he uses metaphorically for freshness and jealousy, by natural feeling or discernment, as if he theorised in colours, in the following hackneyed passage: -
"She never told her love, But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud, Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought; And, with a green and yellow melancholy, She sat like Patience on a monument, Smiling at grief.' - Twelfth Night.
The discord therein resolves itself in "damask," which is the perfect contrast or equivalent of "green and yellow." Of this species of contrast in colouring, Shakspere is a great master; witness the blood of Duncan on the hand of Macbeth, contrasted or opposed by the colour of the ocean: -
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No; this ray hand will rather The multitudinous seas incamaridine, Making the green one red."
LADY MACBETH. My bands are of your colour, but I shame To wear a heart so white."
Numberless instances might be adduced of the correctness of his judgment and feeling, in employing the beautiful and peculiar relations and effects of red and white when mingled or opposed; but the latter and following quotations may suffice: -
"I have mark'd
A thousand blushing apparitions start
Into her face; a thousand innocent shames In angel whiteness bear away those blushes." Much Ado about Nothing. "Go, prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, Thou lily-liver'd boy.!" - Macbeth.
Not to fatigue by multiplying instances, we refer the inquirer to the sections under which each colour is treated of, for examples more particularly in point from the poets, having preferred here a general illustration from a single authority; of which we have found none equal to Shakspere, who often produces these chromatic effects by mere allusion, clothing immaterial things in imaginary colours: -
"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pule cost of thought!" - Hamlet.
* Making the green 'ocean" red?
He does not deem it necessary to tell us that "the native hue of resolution" is hot and fiery red, nor that it is subdued or " sicklied o'er" with the cold, dull, livid "cast of thought;" - the very means the painter would have taken to lower such "native hue." Indeed Shakspere, in the employment of colours, always evinces a refined feeling of our art; but in what feeling or sentiment could he be wanting who drew all his resources from the fountains of nature and truth? -
" And he the Man whom Nature's self had made To mock herself, and truth to imitate With kindly counter under mimic shade, - Our pleasant Willy, - ah! is dead of late."
Spenser: Tears of the Muses.
Milton and other poets abound with fine examples of colouring, but they have not always the natural truth and simplicity of Shakspere's. Byron's palette is principally set with black and red; but in this there is something not less characteristic than is the purple and gold of Homer.
Ere we close this sketch we will subjoin one more illustration, an exception to our intention with regard to the Bard of Avon, from a genuine pupil of Nature - a genius of bright and early promise - in this poetical painting, who, in the following stanzas, has unconsciously, but with just feeling, brought together the entire scale of primary and secondary colours accurately arranged and contrasted, in all the glow of natural imagery:
"'Twas in a glorious eastern isle, - Where the acacias lightly move Their snowy wreaths; where sunbeams smile
Brightly, but scorchingly, like love, - Round which the ocean lies so clear, The deep red coral blushes through The waves that catch its crimson hue,
While the soft roseate tints appear Mix'd with the sky's refected blue! Where, brilliant as the golden rays
That shine when day gives place to night, The shells, that are as rainbows bright. Glow through the waters in a blaze
Of glorious gold and purple light! Where roses blossom through the year, And palms their green-plumed branches rear."
It may be added, that the female eye seems to be particularly receptive and perceptive of the tender, beautiful, and expressive relations of colours; and we have repeatedly heard it remarked by that graceful painter, the late President of the Royal Academy, whose subjects were from the high and refined classes of the sex, that in no instance whatever had he occasion to request or desire any change of the colours in which they presented themselves, so judicious and natural were their taste and feeling as to what best suited their peculiarities of character, complexion, and expression.
From the foregoing, it may be concluded that the sentiments effected in the mind by hues, shades, and colours can, next to nature and painting, be nowhere better studied than among the poets; we shall accordingly, as occasion offers, make free use of their productions.