« PreviousContinue »
far too narrow and circumscribed a view of ingenious author that these qualities of uni. the matter, and one which seems almost ex- formity and variety were not of themselves clusively applicable to works of human art; agreeable to any of our known senses or faculit being plain enough, we think, that a beau- ties, except when considered as symbols of tiful landscape, or a beautiful horse, has no utility or design, and therefore could not inmore unity, and no more traces of design, telligibly account for the very lively emotions than one which is not beautiful.
which we often experience from the percepWe do not pretend to know what the tion of beauty, where the notion of design or schoolmen taught upon this subject during the utility is not at all suggested. He was condark ages; but the discussion does not seem strained, therefore, either to abandon this view 10 have been resumed for long after the re- of the nature of beauty altogether, or to imavival of letters. The followers of Leibnitz. 'gine a new sense or faculty, whose only funcwere pleased to maintain that beauty con- tion it should be to receive delight from the sisted in perfection; but what constituted combinations of uniformity and variety; withperfection (in this respect) they did not at- out any consideration of their being significant tempt to define. M. Crouzas wrote a long of things agreeable to our other faculties; and essay, to show that beauty depended on these this being accomplished by the mere force five elements, variety, unity, regularity, order, of the definition, there was no room for farther and proportion; and the Père André, a stilí dispute or difficulty in the matter. longer one to prove, that, admitting these to Some of Hucheson's followers, such as Gebe the true foundations of beauty, it was still rard and others, who were a little startled at most important to consider, that the beauty the notion of a separate faculty, and yet which results from them is either essential, wished to retain the doctrine of beauty deor natural, or artificial—and that it may be pending on variety and uniformity, endeagreater or less, according as the character- voured, accordingly, to show that these qualiistics of each of these classes are combined ties were naturally agreeable to the mind, and or set in opposition.
were recommended by considerations arising Among ourselves, we are not aware of any from its most familiar properties. Uniformity considerable publication on the subject till or simplicity, they observed, renders our conthe appearance of Lord Shaftesbury's Charac- ception of objects easy, and saves the mind teristics ; in which a sort of rapturous Platonic from all fatigue and distraction in the condoctrine is delivered as to the existence of a sideration of them; whilst variety, if circumprimitive and Supreme Good and Beauty, and scribed and limited by an ultimate uniformity, of a certain internal sense, by which both gives it a pleasing exercise and excitement, beauty and moral merit are distinguished. and keeps its energies in a state of pleasurAddison published several ingenious papers able activity. Now, this appears to us to be in The Spectator, on the pleasures of the mere trifling. The varied and lively emotions imagination, and was the first, we believe, which we receive from the perception of who referred them to the specific sources of beauty, obviously have no sort of resemblance beauty, sublimity, and novelty. He did not to the pleasure of moderate intellectual exerenter much, however, into the metaphysical tion: nor can any thing be conceived more discussion of the nature of beauty itself; and utterly dissimilar than the gratification we the first philosophical treatise of note that ap. have in gazing on the form of a lovely woman, peared on the subject
, may be said to have and the satisfaction we receive from working been the Inquiry of Dr. Hucheson, first pub- an easy problem in arithmetic or geometry. lished, we believe, in 1735.
If a triangle is more beautiful than a regular In this work, the notion of a peculiar in- polygon, as those authors maintain, merely beternal sense, by which we are made sensible cause its figure is more easily comprehended, of the existence of beauty, is very boldly pro- the number four should be more beautiful mulgated, and maintained by many ingenious than the number 327, and the form of a gibbet arguments: Yet nothing, we conceive, can be far more agreeable than that of a branching more extravagant than such a proposition; oak. The radical error, in short, consists in and nothing but the radical faults of the other fixing upon properties that are not interesting parts of his theory could possibly have driven in themselves, and can never be conceived, the learned author to its adoption. Even therefore, to excite any emotion, as the founafter the existence of the sixth sense was as- tain-spring of all our emotions of beauty: and sumed, he felt that it was still necessary that it is an absurdity that must infallibly lead to he should explain what were the qualities by others—whether these take the shape of a which it was gratified; and these, he was violent attempt to disguise the truly different pleased to allege, were nothing but the com- nature of the properties so selected, or of the binations of variety with uniformity; all ob- bolder expedient of creating a peculiar faculty, jects, as he has himself expressed it, which whose office it is to find them interesting. are equally uniform, being beautiful in pro- The next remarkable theory was that proportion to their variety—and all objects 'posed by Edmund Burke, in his Trea'ise of equally various being beautiful in proportion the Sublime and Beautiful. But of this, in to their uniformity. Now, not to insist upon spite of the great name of the author, we canthe obvious and radical objection that this is not persuade ourselves that it is necessary to pot true in fact, as to flowers, landscapes, or say much. His explanation is founded upon indeed of any thing but architecture, if it be a species of materialism-not much to have true of that-it could not fail to strike the been expected from the general character of
his genius, or the strain of his other specula- , therefore, to be just as beautiful, if the sense tions—for it all resolves into this—that all of beauty consisted in the perception of relaobjects appear beautiful, which have the tions. In the next place, it seems to be suffipower of producing a peculiar relaxation of ciently certain, from the experience and comour nerves and fibres, and thus inducing a mon feelings of all men, that the perception of certain degree of bodily languor and sinking. relations among objects is not in itself accomOf all the suppositions that have been at any panied by any pleasure whatever; and in partime hazarded to explain the phenomena of ticular has no conceivable resemblance to the beauty, this, we think, is the most unfortu- emotion we receive from the perception of nately imagined, and the most weakly sup- beauty. When we perceive one ugly old ported. There is no philosophy in the doctrine woman sitting exactly opposite to two other —and the fundamental assumption is in every ugly old women, and observe, at the same way contradicted by the most familiar expe- moment, that the first is as big as the other two rience. There is no relaxation of the fibres taken together, we humbly conceive, that this in the perception of beauty-and there is no clear perception of the relations in which these pleasure in the relaxation of the fibres. If three Graces stand to each other, cannot well ihere were, it would follow, that a warm bath be mistaken for a sense of beauty, and that it would be by far the most beautiful thing in does not in the least abate or interfere with our the world-and that the brilliant lights, and sense of their ugliness. Finally, we may obbracing airs of a fine autumn morning, would serve, that the sense of beauty results instanta. be the very reverse of beautiful. Accordingly, neously from the perception of the object; though the treatise alluded to will always be whereas the discovery of its relations to other valuable on account of the many fine and just objects must necessarily be a work of time and remarks it contains, we are not aware ihat reflection, in the course of which the beauty of there is any accurate inquirer into the subject the object, so far from being created or brought (with the exception, perhaps, of Mr. Price, in into notice, must, in fact, be lost sight of and whose hands, however, the doctrine assumes forgotten. a new character) by whom the fundamental Another more plausible and ingenious theory principle of the theory has not been expli- was suggested by the Père Butlier, and after. citly abandoned.
wards adopted and illustrated with great talent A yet more extravagant doctrine was soon in the Discourses of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Acafterwards inculcated, and in a tone of great cording to this doctrine, beauty consists, as authority, in a long article from the brilliant Aristotle held virtue to do, in mediocrity, or pen of Diderot, in the French Encyclopédie; conformity to that which is most usual. Thus and one which'exemplifies, in a very striking a beautiful nose, to make use of Dr. Smith's manner, the nature of the difficulties with very apt, though homely, illustration of this which the discussion is embarrassed. This doctrine, is one that is neither very long nor ingenious person, perceiving at once, that the very short-very straight nor very much beauty which we ascribe to a particular class bent—but of an ordinary form and proportion, of objects, could not be referred to any pecu- compared with all the extremes. It is the liar and inherent quality in the objects them- form, in short, which nature seems to have selves, but depended upon their power of aimed at in all cases, though she has more exciting certain sentiments in our minds; and frequently deviated from it than hit it; but being, at the same time, at a loss to discover deviating from it in all directions, all her dewhat common power could belong to so vast viations come nearer to it than they ever do a variety of objects as pass under the general to each other. Thus the most beautiful in appellation of beautiful, or by what tie all the every species of creatures bears the greatest various emotions which are excited by the resemblance to the whole species, while monperception of beauty could be united, was at sters are so denominated because they bear last driven, by the necessity of keeping his the least; and thus the beautiful, though in definition sufficiently wide and comprehen- one sense the rarest, as the exact medium is sive, to hazard the strange assertion, that all but seldom hit, is invariably the most common, objects were beautiful which excite in us the because it is the central point from which all idea of relation ; that our sense of beauty con- the deviations are the least remote. This sisted in tracing out the relations which the view of the matter is adopted by Sir Joshua in object possessing it might have to other ob- its full extent, and is even carried so far by jects; and that its actual beauty was in pro- this great artist, that he does not scruple to portion to the number and clearness of the conclude, "That if we were more used to derelations thus suggested and perceived. It is formity than beauty, deformity would then scarcely necessary, we presume, to expose by lose the idea that is now annexed to it, and any arguments the manifest fallacy, or rather take that of beauty ;-just as we approve and the palpable absurdity, of such a theory as admire fashions in dress, for no other reason this. In the first place, we conceive it to be than that we are used to them." obvious, that all objects whatever have an Now, not to dwell upon the very startling infinite, and consequently, an equal number conclusion to which these principles must of relations, and are equally likely to suggest lead, viz. that things are beautiful in proporthem to those to whom they are presented ; tion as they are ordinary, and that it is or, at all events, it is certain, that ugly and merely their familiarity which constitutes disagreeable objects have just as many rela- their beauty, we would observe, in the first tions as those that are agreeable, and ought, I place, that ihe whole theory seems to have been suggested by a consideration of animal, quence of the fallacy which lurks in the vague forms, or perhaps of the human figure exclu- and general proposition of those things being sively. In these forms, it is quite true that beautiful which are neither too big nor too lit. great and monstrous deviations from the usual tle, too massive nor too slender, &c.; from proportions are extremely disagreeable. But which it was concluded, that beauty must conthis, we have no doubt, arises entirely from sist in mediocrity :—not considering that the some idea of pain or disaster attached to their particle too merely denotes those degrees existence; or from their obvious unfitness for which are exclusive of beauty, without in any the functions they have to perform. In vege- way fixing what those degrees are,
For the table forms, accordingly, these irregularities, plain meaning of these phrases is, that the reexcite no such disgust; it being, in fact, jected objects are too massive or too slender the great object of culture, in almost all the to be beautiful ; and, therefore, to say that an more beautiful kinds, to produce what may object is beautiful which is neither too big nor be called monstrosities. And, in mineral sub- too little, &c. is really saying nothing more stances, where the idea of suffering is still than that beautiful objects are such as are not more completely excluded, it is notorious that, in any degree ugly or disagreeable. The ilso far from the more ordinary configurations lustration as to the effects of use or custom in being thought the most beautiful, this epithet the article of dress is singularly inaccurate is scarcely ever employed but to denote some and delusive; the fact being, that we never rare and unusual combination of veins, colours, admire the dress which we are most accusor dimensions. As to landscapes, again, and tomed to see —which is that of the common almost all the works of art, without exception, people--but the dress of the few who are disthe theory is plainly altogether incapable of tinguished by rank or opulence; and that we application. In what sense, for example, can require no more custom or habit to make us it be said that the beauty of natural scenery admire this dress, whatever it may be, than is consists in mediocrity; or that those landscapes necessary to associate it in our thoughts with are the most beautiful that are the most com- the wealth, and dignity, and graceful manners mon? or what meaning can we attach to the of those who wear it. proposition, that the most beautiful building, We need say nothing in this place of the or picture, or poem, is that which bears the opinions expressed on the subject of beauty by nearest resemblance to all the individuals of Dr. Gerard, Dr. Blair, and a whole herd of The. its class, and is, upon the whole, the most toricians; because none of them pretend to ordinary and common?
any new or original notions with regard To a doctrine which is liable to these obvi- to it, and, in general, have been at no pains to ous and radical objections, it is not perhaps reconcile or render consistent the various acnecessary to make any other; but we must counts of the matter, which they have conremark farther, first, that it necessarily sup- tented themselves with assembling and laying poses that our sense of beauty is, in all cases, before their readers all together, as affording preceded by such a large comparison between among them the best explanation that could various individuals of the same species, as be offered of the question. Thus they do not may enable us to ascertain that average or scruple to say, that the sense of beauty is mean form in which beauty is supposed to sometimes produced by the mere organic afconsist; and, consequently, that we could fection of the senses of sight or hearing; at never discover any object to be beautiful an- other times, by a perception of a kind of retecedent to such a comparison ; and, secondly, gular variety; and in other instances by the that, even if we were to allow that this theory association of interesting conceptions ;-thus afforded some explanation of the superior abandoning altogether any attempt to answer beauty of any one object, compared with the radical question--how the feeling of others of the same class, it plainly furnishes beauty should be excited by such opposite no explanation whatever of the superior causes--and confounding together, without any beauty of one class of objects compared with attempt at discrimination, those theories which another. We may believe, if we please, that imply the existence of a separate sense-or one peacock is handsomer than another, be- faculty, and those which resolve our se ise cause it approaches more nearly to the ave- of beauty into other more simple or familiar rage or mean form of peacocks in general; emotions. but this reason will avail us nothing whatever Of late years, however, we have had three in explaining why any peacock is handsomer publications on the subject of a far higher than any pelican or penguin. We may say, character—we mean, Mr. Alison's Essays on without manifest absurdity, that the most the Nature and Principles of Taste—Mr. Payne beautiful pig is that which has least of the Knight's Analytical Inquiry into the saque subextreme qualities that sometimes occur in the jects—and Mr. Dugal Stewart's Dissertations tribe; but it would be palpably absurd to give on the Beautiful and on Taste, in his volume this reason, or any thing like it, for the superior of Philosophical Essays. All these works posbeauty of the tribe of antelopes or spaniels. sess an infinite deal of merit, and have amorg
The notion, in short, seems to have been them disclosed almost all the truth that is to be hastily adopted by the ingenious persons who known on the subject ; though, as it seems 10 have maintained it, partly upon the narrow us, with some little admixture of error, from ground of the disgust produced by monsters which it will not, however, be difficult to sepa in the animal creation, which has been already rate it. sufficiently explained-and partly in conse- Mr. Alison maintains, that all beauty, or at least that ..ll the beauty of material objects, the beauty of the object which first suggestdepends on the associations that may have ed them depended on its having produced a connected them with the ordinary affections series of ideas of emotion, or even of agreeaor emotions of our nature; and in this, which ble emotions, there seems to be no good reais the fundamental point of his theory, we son for doubting, that ugly objects may thus conceive him to be no less clearly right, than be as beautiful as any other, and that beauty he is convincing and judicious in the copious and ugliness may be one and the same thing. and beautiful illustrations by which he has Such is the danger, as it appears to us, of desought to establish its truth. When he pro- serting the object itself, or going beyond its ceeds, however, to assert, that our sense of immediate effect and impression, in order to beauty consists not merely in the suggestion discover the sources of its beauty. Our view of ideas of emotion, but in the contemplation of the matter is safer, we think, and far more of a connected series or train of such ideas, and simple. We conceive the object to be assoindicates a state of mind in which the facul- ciated either in our past experience, or by ties, half active and half passive, are given up some universal analogy, with pleasures, or to a sort of reverie or musing, in which they emotions that upon the whole are pleasant; may wander, though among kindred impres- and that these associated pleasures are instansions, far enough from the immediate object taneously suggested, as soon as the object is of perception, we will confess that he not only presented, and by the first glimpse of its physeems to us to advance a very questionable sical properties, with which, indeed, they are proposition, but very essentially to endanger consubstantiated and confounded in our sen. the evidence, as well as the consistency, of sations. his general doctrine. We are far from dény- The work of Mr. Knight is more lively, vaing, that, in minds of sensibility and of reflect- rious, and discursive, than Mr. Alison's—but ng habits, the contemplation of beautiful ob- not so systematic or conclusive. It is the jects will be apt, especially in moments of cleverer book of the two—but not the most leisure, and when the mind is vacant, to give philosophical discussion of the subject. He rise to such trains of thought, and to such pro- agrees with Mr. Alison in holding the most tracted meditations; but we cannot possibly important, and, indeed, the only considerable admit that their existence is necessary to the part of beauty, to depend upon association; perception of beauty, or that it is in this state and has illustrated this opinion with a great of mind exclusively that the sense of beauty variety of just and original observations. But exists. The perception of beauty, on the con- he maintains, and maintains stoutly, that there trary, we hold to be, in most cases, quite in- is a beauty independent of association-prior stantaneous, and altogether as immediate as to it, and more original and fundamental—the the perception of the external qualities of the primitive and natural beauty of colours and object to which it is ascribed. Indeed, it seems sounds. Now, this we look upon to be a only necessary to recollect, that it is to a pre- heresy; and a heresy inconsistent with the Bent material object that we actually ascribe very first principles of Catholic philosophy. and refer this beauty, and that the only thing We shall not stop at present to give our rea. to be explained is, how this object comes to sons for this opinion, which we shall illustrate appear beautiful. In the long train of inter- j at large before we bring this article to a close; esting meditations, however, to which Mr. —but we beg leave merely to suggest at preAlison refers—in the delightful reveries in sent, that if our sense of beauty be confesswhich he would make the sense of beauty edly, in most cases, the mere image or reflecconsist—it is obvious that we must soon lose tion of pleasures or emotions that have been sight of the external object which gave the associated with objects in themselves indifferfirst impulse to our thoughts; and though we ent, it cannot fail to appear strange that it may afterwards reflect upon it, with increased should also on some few occasions be a mere interest and gratitude, as the parent of so organic or sensual gratification of these parmany charming images, it is impossible, we ticular organs. Language, it is believed, conceive, that the perception of its beauty can affords no other example of so whimsical á ever depend upon a long series of various and combination of different objects under one apshifting emotions.
pellation; or of the confounding of a direct It likewise occurs to us to observe, that if physical sensation with the suggestion of a every thing was beautiful, which was the oc- social or sympathetic moral feeling. We casion of a train of ideas of emotion, it is not would observe also, that while Mr. Knight easy to see why objects that are called ugly stickles so violently for this alloy of the senses should not be entitled to that appellation. If in the constitution of beauty, he admits, unthey are sufficiently ugly not to be viewed equivocally, that sublimity is, in every inwith indifference, they too will give rise to stance, and in all cases, the effect of associaideas of emotion, and those ideas are just as tion alone. Yet sublimity and beauty, in any likely to run into trains and series, as those of just or large sense, and with a view to the a more agreeable description. Nay, as con- philosophy of either, are manifestly one and trast itself is one of the principles of associa- the same; nor is it conceivable to us, that, if tion, it is not at all unlikely, that, in the train sublimity be always the result of an associaoj impressive ideas which the sight of ugly tion with ideas of power or danger, beauty objects may excite, a transition may be ulti- can possibly be, in any case, the result of a mately made to such as are connected with mere pleasurable impulse on the nerves of the pleasure; and, therefore, if the perception of leye or the ear. We shall return, however, to this discussion hereafter. Of Mr. Knight we | just as much as a fine composition of music. have only further to observe, that we think | These things, however, are never called beauhe is not less heretical in maintaining, that tiful, and are felt, indeed, to afford a gratificawe have no pleasure in sympathising with tion of quite a different nature. It is no doubt distress or suffering, but only with mental true, as Mr. Stewart has observed, that beauty energy; and that, in contemplating the sub- is not one thing, but many—and does not lime, we are moved only with a sense of produce one uniform emotion, but an infinite power and grandeur, and never with any feel- variety of emotions. But this, we conceive, ing of terror or awe.—These errors, however, is not merely because many pleasant things are less intimately connected with the subject may be intimated to us by the same sense, of our present discussion.
but because the things that are called beautiWith Mr. Stewart we have less occasion for ful may be associated with an infinite variety quarrel: chiefly, perhaps, because he has of agreeable emotions of the specific character made fewer positive assertions, and entered of which their beauty will consequently parless into the matter of controversy. His Essay take. Nor does it follow, from the fact of this on the Beautiful is rather philological than great variety, that there can be no other prinmetaphysical. The object of it is to show by ciple of union among these agreeable emowhat gradual and successive extensions of tions, but that of a name, extended to them all meaning the word, though at first appropri- upon the very slight ground of their coming ated to denote the pleasing effect of colours through the same organ; since, upon our thealone, might naturally come to signify all the ory, and indeed upon Mr. Stewart's, in a vast other pleasing things to which it is now ap- majority of instances, there is the remarkable plied. In this investigation he makes many circumstance of their being all suggested by admirable remarks, and touches, with the association with some present sensation, and hand of a master, upon many of the disputa- all modified and confounded, to our feelings, ble parts of the question ; but he evades the by an actual and direct perception. particular point at issue between us and Mr. It is unnecessary, however, to pursue these Knight, by stating, that it is quite immaterial criticisms, or, indeed, this hasty review of the to his purpose, whether the beauty of colours speculation of other writers, any farther. The be supposed to depend on their organic effect few observations we have already made, will on the eye, or on some association between enable the intelligent reader, both to underthem and other agreeable emotions—it being stand in a general way what has been already enough for his purpose that this was probably done on the subject, and in some degree prethe first sort of beauty that was observed, and pare him to appreciate the merits of that that to which the name was at first exclusively theory, substantially the same with Mr. Ali. applied. It is evident to us, however, that he son's, which we shall now proceed to illusleans to the opinion of Mr. Knight, as to this trate somewhat more in detail. beauty being truly sensual or organic. In ob- The basis of it is, that the beauty which serving, too, that beauty is not now the name we impute to outward objects, is nothing of any one thing or quality, but of very many more than the reflection of our own inward different qualities—and that it is applied to emotions, and is made up entirely of certain them all, merely because they are often united little portions of love, pity, or other affections, in the same objects, or perceived at the same which have been connected with these obtime and by the same organs-it appears to usjects, and still adhere as it were to them, and that he carries his philology a little too far, move us anew whenever they are presented and disregards other principles of reasoning of our observation. Before proceeding to bring far higher authority. To give the name of any proof of the truth of this proposition, beauty, for example, to every thing that in there are two things that it may be proper to terests or pleases us through the channel of explain a little more distinctly. First, What sight, including in this category the mere im- are the primary affections, by the suggestion pulse of light that is pleasant to the organ, of which we ihink the sense of beauty is and the presentment of objects whose whole produced? And, secondly, What is the nacharm consists in awakening the memory of ture of the connection by which we suppose social emotions, seems to us to be confound that the objects we call beautiful are enabled ing things together that must always be sepa- to suggest ihese affections? rate in our feelings, and giving a far greater With regard to the first of these points, it forimportance to the mere identity of the organ tunately is not necessary either to enter into any by which they are perceived, than is warrant- tedious details, or to have recourse to any nice ed either by the ordinary language or ordinary distinctions. All sensations that are not abexperience of men. Upon the same principle solutely indifferent, and are, at the same time, we should give this name of beautiful, and no either agreeable, when experienced by ourother, to all acts of kindness or magnanimity, selves, or attractive when contemplated in and, indeed, to every interesting occurrence others, may form the foundation of the emowhich took place in our sight, or came to our tions of sublimity or beauty. The love of knowledge by means of the eye:-nay, as the sensation seems to be the ruling appetite of ear is also allowed to be a channel for impres- human nature; and many sensations, in which sions of beauty, the same name should be the painful may be thought to predominate, given to any interesting or pleasant thing that are consequently sought for with avidity, and we hear—and good news read to us from the recollected with interest, even in our own gazette should be denominated beautiful, persons. In the persons of others emotions