★ The Sense of Posession In Art; The Appearance of Inspiration
We are of nature, in nature, by nature, and for nature. Talent, will, genius, are natural phenomena like the lake, the volcano, the mountain, the wind, the star, the cloud. —George Sand
Below is a portion of a book I'm reading, titled An Anatomy of Inspiration, by Rosamond Harding. I believe in the below greatly, and wanted to share it with you. But if I was to summarize it in my own words, it is as follows: 1) Fine Art stems from Nature. 2) The Artist is a vessel/tool used by Nature to speak forth what It has to say, at certain intervals of time. 3) The Artist is chosen and innately gifted by Nature, to do so—it's not of his/her own will, or choosing.
The state of inspiration is often accompanied by two distinct and vivid impressions; the sense of possession and the sense of compulsion. The sense of being possessed and used as a mouthpiece is, of course, a frequent experience of saints and mystics who from the very nature of their vocation would expect to be the channels of divine light. Thus St. Catherine of Sienna, speaking of the power of writing she had received miraculously from God, says: ‘In a wondrous way, He set it for me in my mind, even as the master does to the child when he gives him the copy.’ The great German mystic Jakob Boehme, speaking of the inspired writing which followed after his seven years of silence, tells us that ‘Art has not wrote here . . . but all was ordered according to the Direction of the Spirit. . . .’ And to take one more instance, Madame Guyon confesses ‘Before writing I did not know what I was going to write; while writing I saw that I was writing things I had never known. . .” In fact, writers of automatic script, whether religious or secular in character, are certain that they are being operated by some other power. It does not appear, however, to be so widely recognized and known that the great creative thinkers who are not professed religious: musicians, novelists as well as poets, and scientists also, are often surprised to astonishment at the results of their work which seems to have been in some way ‘given’ to them. Fantastic as this statement may at first appear, there is ample testimony to support it.
Blake, referring to his poem Milton, in a letter to Thomas Butts, says, ‘I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without premeditation, and even against my will." Goethe looked upon his genius as a mysterious power; his poems came to him of themselves and at times even against his will. ‘The songs made me,’ he said, ‘not I them; the songs had me in their power.' The description of Apollo in the third book of Hyperion seemed to Keats to have come ‘by chance or magic—to be as it were something given to him.’ He said also that he had often ‘not been aware of the beauty of some thought or expression until after he had composed and written‘ it down. It has then struck him with astonishment and seemed rather the production of another person than his own.’ Sidney Dobell, the poet, in a letter to George Gilﬁllan, says ‘whenever I write the feeling of being a receiver, an instrument, a mouthpiece, has always been so strong on me that I should as soon have accompanied a drought from our hill streams with the chip of the rock it ran through as have associated—when offering you a poem—the thought with a portrait of the thinker...’ George Eliot told J. W. Cross ‘that, in all that she considered her best writing, there was a “not herself” which took possession of her, and that she felt her own personality to be merely the instrument through which this spirit, as it were, was acting.’ This was the case especially in Middle-march in the scene when Dorothea is in Rosamond’s drawing-room,when she felt herself entirely possessed by the feelings of the two women.“ George Sand declares: ‘My being is essentially a passive being, and I am not quite responsible for my productions, good or bad. They are, probably, the result of previous reﬂections or impressions; but they are not the immediate outcome of 'my will.’ In a letter to Flaubert she says: ‘the wind plays my old harp as it lists. It has its high notes, its low notes, its heavy notes—and its faltering notes, in the end it is all the same to me provided the emotion comes, but I can find nothing in myself. It is the other who sings as he likes, well or ill, and when I try to think about it, I am afraid and tell myself that I am nothing, nothing at all.’
‘But a great wisdom saves us; we know how to say to ourselves, “Well, even if we are absolutely nothing but instruments, it is still a charming state and like no other, this feeling oneself vibrate”.
Dickens declared that when he sat down to his book ‘some beneﬁcent power’ showed it all to him. Thackeray says in The Round-about Papers ‘I have been surprised at the observations made by some of my characters. It seems as if an occult Power was moving the pen. The personage does or says something, and I ask, how the dickens did he come to think of that?’ And after referring to the unforeseen and strange utterances of the personages met with in dreams he says: ‘In like manner, the imagination foretells things. We spake anon of the inﬂated style of some writers. What also if there is an afflated style,—when a writer is like a Pythoness on her oracle tripod and mighty words, words he cannot help, come blowing, and bellowing, and whistling, and moaning through the speaking pipes of his bodily organ?’ Tchaikovsky tells us how he sketched the whole of the Tempest overture as if he were possessed by some super-natural force. Parry refers to ‘exaltation [that] is so great that the vitality becomes almost supernatural.” Elgar looked upon himself as the ‘all but unconscious medium ’ by which his works had come into being.“ Reference will be made in due course to the extraordinary powers of intuition of Lord Kelvin, of Einstein, and of the inventor Edison. ‘I have long since come to see,’ declared Alfred Russel Wallace, ‘ that no one deserves either praise or blame for the ideas that come to but only for the actions resulting therefrom. Ideas and beliefs are certainly not voluntary acts. They come to us—we hardly know how or whence...