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There are few parts of our nature which have given more trouble to philosophers, or appeared more simple to the unreflectmgj than the perceptions we have of Beauty, ana the circumstances under which these are presented to us. If we ask one of the latter (and laraer) class, what beauty is? we shall most probably be answered, that it is what makes things pleasant to look at; and if we remind him that many other things are called and perceived to be beautiful, besides objects of sight, and ask how, or by what faculty he supposes that we distinguish such objects, we must generally be satisfied with hearing that it has pleased God to make us capable of such a perception. The science of mind may not appear to be much advanced by these responses; and yet, if it could be made out, as some have alleged, that our perception of beauty was a simple sensation, like our perception of colour, and that the faculty of taste was an original and distinct sense, like that of seeing or hearing; this would be truly the only account that could be given, either of the sense or of its object ;—and all that we could do, in investigating the nature of the latter, would be to ascertain and enumerate the circumstances under which it was found to indicate itself to its appropriate organ. All that •we can say of colour, if we consider it very etrictlv, is/that it is that property in objects by wfiich they make themselves known to the faculty of sight; and the faculty of eight can scarcely be defined in any other way than is that by which we are enabled to discover the existence of colour. When we attempt ю proceed farther, and, on being asked to
* The greater part of this paper was first printed m ihe Edinburgh Review for May 1811; but was tfterwarde considerably enlarged, and inserted as a separate article (under the word Bfauty) in the «implement to the Encyclopaedia Brittannica, pub-<ittd in 1324, »nd »ubsequenily incorporated into the new cdnion of that ¡treat work in 1841, from »hieb it is now reprinted in its complete form, by the fiber«! allowance of the proprietors.
define what green or red is, say that green is the colour ol grass, and red of roses or of bloodj it is plain that we do not in any respect explain the nature of those colours, but only give instances of their occurrence; and that one who had never seen the objects referred to could learn nothing whatever from these pretended definitions. Complex ideas, on the other hand, and compound emotions, may always be defined, and explained to a certain extent, by enumerating the parts of which they are made up. or resolving them into the elements of which they are composed: and we may thus acquire, not only a substantial, though limited, knowledge of their nature, but a practical power in their regulation or production.
It becomes of importance, therefore, in the very outset of this inquiry, to consider whether our sense of beauty be really a simple sensation, like some of those we have enumerated, or a compound or derivative feeling, the sources or elements of which may be investigated and ascertained. If it be the former, we have then only to refer it to the peculiar sense or faculty of which it is the object; and to determine, by repeated observation, under what circumstances that sense is called into action: but if it be the latter, we shall have to proceed, by a joint process of observation and reflection, to ascertain what are the primary feelings to which it may be referred; and by what peculiar modification of them it is produced and distinguished. We are not quite prepared, as yet, to exhaust the whole of this important discussion, to which we shall be obliged to return in the sequel of our inquiry; but it is necessary, in order to explain and to set forth, in their natural order, the difficulties with which the subject is surrounded, to state here, in a very few words, one or two of the most obvions, and, as we think, decisive objections against the notion of beauty being a simple sensation, or the object of a separate and peculiar faculty.
The first, and perhaps the most considerable, is the want of agreement as to the presence and existence of beauty in particular objects, among men whose organization is perfect, and who are plainly possessed of the faculty, whatever it may be, by which beauty is discerned. Now, no such thing happens, we imagine, or can be conceived to happen, in the case of any other simple sensation, or the exercise of any other distinct faculty. Where one man sees light, all men who have eyes see light also. All men allow grass to be green, and sugar to be sweet, and ice to be cold; and the unavoidable inference from any apparent disagreement in such matters necessarily is, that the party is insane, or entirely destitute of the sense or organ concerned in the perception. With regard to beauty, however, it is obvious, at first sight, that me case is entirely different. One man sees it perpetually, where to another it is quite invisible, or even where its reverse seems to be conspicuous. Norjs this owing to the insensibility of either of the parties; for the same contrariety exists where both are keenly alive to the influences of the beauty they respectively discern. A Chinese or African lover would probably see nothing at all attractive in a belle of London or Paris; and, undoubtedly, an dedans formarum spectator from either of those cities would discover nothing but deformity in the Venus of the Hottentots. A little distance in time often produces the same effects as distance in place ;—the gardens, the furniture, the dress, which appeared beautiful in the eyes of our grandfathers, are odious and ridiculous in ours. Nay, the difference of rank, education, or employments, gives rise to the same diversity of sensation. The little shop-keeper sees a beauty in his roadside box, and in the staring tile roof, wooden lions, and clipped boxwood, which strike horror into the soul of the student of the picturesque; while he is transported in surveying the fragments of ancient sculpture, which are nothing but ugly masses of mouldering stone, in the judgment of the admirer of neatness. It is needless, however, to multiply instances, since the fact admits of no contradiction. But how can we believe that beauty is the object of a peculiar sense or faculty, when persons undoubtedly possessed of the faculty, and even in an eminent degree, can discover nothing of it in objects where it is distinctly felt and perceived by others with the same use of the faculty?
This one consideration, we confess, appears to us conclusive against the supposition of beauty being a real property of objects, addressing itself to the power of taste as a separate sense or faculty; and it seems to point Irresistibly to the conclusion, that our sense' of it is the result of other more elementary feelings, into which it may be analysed or resolved. A second objection, however, if possible of still greater force, is suggested, by considering the prodigious and almost infinite variety of things to which this property of beauty is ascribed; and the impossibility of imagining any one inherent quality which can belong to them all, and yet at the same
time possess so much unity as to pass universally by the same name, and be recognise^ as the peculiar object of a separate sense or faculty. All simple qualities that are perceived in any one object, are immediately recognised to be the same, when they are again perceived in another; and the objects in which they are thus perceived are at once felt so far to resemble each other, and to partake of the same nature. Thus snow is seen to be white, and chalk is seen to be white; but this is no sooner seen, than the two substances, however unlike in other respects, are felt at once to have this quality in common, and to resemble each other completely in all that relates to the quality of colour, and the sense of seeing. But is this felt, or could it even be intelligibly asserted, with regard to the quality of beauty? Take even a limited and specific sort of beauty—for instance, the beauty of form. The form of a fine tree is beautiful, and the form of a fine woman, and the form of a column, and a vase, and a chandelier. Yet how can it be said that the form of a woman hag any thing in common with that of a tree or a temple? or to which of the senses by which forms are distinguished can it be supposed to appear that they have any resemblance or affinity?
The matter, however, becomes still more inextricable when we recollect that beauty does not belong merely to forms or colours, but to sounds, and perhaps to the objects of other senses; nay, that in all languages and in all nations, it is not supposed to reside exclusively in material objects, but to belong also to sentiments and ideas, and intellectual and moral existences. Not only is a tree beautiful, as well as a palace or a waterfall; but a poem is beautiful, and a theorem in mathematics, and a contrivance in mechanics. But if things intellectual and totally segregated from matter may thus possess beauty, how can it possibly be a quality of material objects? or what sense or faculty can that be, whose proper office it is to intimate to us the existence of some property which is common to a flower and a demonstration, a valley and an eloquent discourse?
The only answer which occurs to this is plainly enough a bad one; but the statement of it, and of its insufficiency, will serve better, perhaps, than any thing eise, to develope the actual difficulties of the subject, and the true state of the question with regard to them. It may be said, then, in answer to the questions we have suggested above, that all these objects, however various and dissimilar, agree at least in being agreeable, and that this agrecablencss, which is the only quality they possess in common, may probably be the beauty which is ascribed to them all. Now, to those who are accustomed to such discussions, it would be quite enough to reply, that though the agreeableness of such objects depend plainly enough upon their beauty, it by no means follows, but quite the contrary, that their beauty depends upon their agreeableness; the latter being the more comprehensive or generic term, under which beauty must rank as one of the species. Its nature-, there • fore, is И) more explained, nor is lees absurdity substantially committed, by saying that things are beautiful because they are agreeable, than if we were to give the eame explanation of the sweetness of sugar; for no one, we suppose, will dispute, that though it be тегу true that sugar is agreeable because it is sweet, it would be manifestly preposterous to say that it was sweet because it was agreeable. For the benefit, however, of those who wish or require to be more regularly initiated in these mysteries, we beg leave to add a few observations.
In the first place; then, it seems evident, that agreeableness, in general, cannot be the eame with beauty, because there are very many things in the highest degree agreeable, that can in no sense be called beautiful. Moderate heat, and savoury food, and rest, and exercise, are agreeable to the body; but none of these can be called beautiful; and among objects of a higher class, the love and esteem of others, and fame, and a good conscience, and health, and riches, and wisdom, are all eminently agreeable; but none at all beautiful, according to any intelligible use of the word. It is plainly quite absurd, therefore, to say that beauty consists in agreeableness, without specifying in consequence of what it is agreeable—or to hold that any thing whatever is taught as to its nature, by merely classing it among our pleasurable emotions.
In the second place, however, we may remark, that among all the objects that are agreeable, whether they are also beautiful or not. scarcely any two are agreeable on account of the same qualities, or even suggest their agreeablenese to the same faculty or organ. Most certainly there is no resemblance or affinity whatever between the qualities which make a peach agreeable to the palate, and a beautiful statue to the eye; which soothe us in an easy chair by the fire, or delight us in a philosophical discovery. The truth is, that agreeableness is not properly a quality of any object whatsoever, but the effect or result of certain qualities, the nature of which, in every particular instance, we can generally define pretty exactly, or of which we know at least with certainty that they manifest themselves respectively to some one particular sense or faculty, and to no other; and consequently it would be just as obviously ridiculous to suppose a faculty or organ, whose office it was to perceive agreeableness in general¡ as to suppose that agreeablenese was a distinct quality that could thus be perceived.
The class of agreeable objectSj thanks to the bounty of Providence, is exceedingly large. Certain things are agreeable to the palate, and others to the smell and to the touch. Some again are agreeable to our faculty of imagination, or to our understanding, or to our moral feelings; and none of all these we call beautiful. But there are others which we do call beautiful; and those we say are agreeable to oor faculty of taste;—but when we come to isk в hat 10 the faculty of taste, and what are tie qualities which recommend the subjects to that faculty 1—we have no such answer to
give; and find ourselves just wnere we wem at the beginning of the discussion, and embarrassed with all the difficulties arising from the prodigious diversity of objects which seem to possess these qualities.
We know pretty well what is the faculty of seeing or hearing; or, at least, we know that what is agreeable to one of those faculties, has no effect whatever on the other. We know that bright colours afford no delight to the ear, nor sweet tones to the eye; and are therefore perfectly assured that me qualities which make the visible objects agreeable, cannot be the same with those which give pleasure to the ear. But it is by the eye and by the ear that all material beauty 13 perceived; and yet the beauty which discloses itself to these two separate senses, and consequently must depend upon qualities which have no sort of affinity, is supposed to be one distinct quality, and to be perceived by a peculiar sense or faculty! The perplexity becomes still greater when we think of the beauty of poems or theorems, and endeavour to imagine what qualities they can possess ш common with the agreeable modifications of light or of sound.
It is in these considerations undoubtedly that the difficulty of the subject consists. The faculty of taste, plainly, is not a faculty like any of the external senses, the range of whose objects is limited and precise, as well as the qualities by which they are gratified or offended; and beauty, accordingly, is discovered in an infinite variety of objects, among which it seems, at first sight, impossible to discover any other bond of connexion. Yet boundless as their diversity may appear, it is plain that they musí resemble each other in something, and in something more definite and definable than merely in being agreeable; since they are all classed together, in every tongue and nation, under the common appellation of beautiful, and are felt indeed to produce émotions in the mind that have some sort of kindred or affinity. The words beauty and beautiful, in short, do and must mean something; and are universally felt to mean something much more definite than agreeableness or gratification in general: and while it is confessedly by no means easy to describe or define what that something is, the force and clearness of our perception of it is demonstrated by the readiness with which we determine, in any particular instance, whether the object of a given pleasurable emotion is or is not properly described as beauty.
What we have already said, we confess, appears to us conclusive against the idea of this beauty being any fixed or inherent property of the objects to which it is ascribed, or itself the object of any separate and independent faculty; and we wul no longer conceal from the reader what we take to be the true solution of the difficulty. In our opinion, then, our sense of beauty depends entirely on our previous experience of simpler pleasure« or emotions, and consists in the suggestion of agreeable or interesting sensations with which we had formerly been made familiar by the direct and intelligible agency of our common sensibilities; and that vast variety of objects, to which we give the common name of beautiful, become entitled to that appellation, merely because they all possess the power of recalling or reflecting those sensations of which they have been the accompaniments, or with which they have been associated in our imagination by any other more casual bond of connection. According to this view of the matter, therefore, beauty is not an inherent property or quality of objects at all, but the result of the accidental relations in which they may stand to our experience of pleasures or emotions; and does not depend upon any particular configuration of parts, proportions, or colours, in external things, nor upon the unity, coherence, or simplicity of intellectual creations—but merely upon the associations which, in the case of every individual, may enable these inherent, and otherwise indifferent qualities, to suggest or recall to the mind emotions of a pleasurable or interesting description. It follows, therefore, that no object is beautiful in itself, or could appear so antecedent to our experience of direct pleasures or emotions; and that, as an infinite variety of objects may thus reflect interesting ideas, so all of them may acquire the title of beautiful, although utterly diverse and disparate in their nature, and possessing nothing in common but this accidental power of reminding us of other emotions.
This theory, which, we believe, is now very generally adopted, though under many needlees qualifications, shall be farther developed and illustrated in the sequel. But at present we shall only remark, that it serves, at least, to solve the great problem involved in the discussion, by rendering it easily conceivable how objects which have no inherent resemblance, nor, indeed, any one quality in common, should yet be united in one common relation, and consequently acquire one common name; just as all the things that belonged to a beloved individual may serve to remind us of him. and thus to awake a kindred class of emotions, though just as unlike each other as any of the objects that are classed under the general name of beautiful. His poetry, for instance, or his slippers—his acts of bounty or his saddle-horse—may lead to the same chain of interesting remembrances, and thus agree in possessing a power of excitement, for the sources of which we should look in vain through all the variety of their physical or metaphysical qualities.
By the help of the same consideration, we get rid of all the mystery of a peculiar sense or faculty, imagined for the express purpose of perceiving beauty; and discover that the power of taste is nothing more than the labit of tracing those associations, by which almost all objects may be connected with interesting emotions. It is easy to understand, that the recollection of any scene of delight or emotion must produce a certain agreeable sensation, and that the objects which introduce these recollections should not appear altogether indifferent to us: nor is it, perhaps, very difficult
| to imagine, that recollections thus strikingly suggested by some real and present existence, should present themselves under a different aspect, and move the mind somewhat differently from those which arise spontaneously in the ordinary course of our reflections, and do
I not thus grow out of a direct, present, and peculiar impression.
The whole of thie doctrine, however, we shall endeavour by and bye to establish upon
1 more direct evidence. But having now explained, in a general way, both the difficulties of the subject, and our suggestion as to theii true solution, it is proper that we should take a short review of the more considerable theories
i that have been proposed for the elucidation of this curious question; which is one of the most delicate as well as the most popular in the science of metaphysics—was one of the earliest which exercised the speculative ingenuity of philosophers—and has at last, we
i think, been more successfully treated than
'any other of a similar description.
1 In most of these spéculations we shall find rather imperfect truth than fundamental error; or, at all events, such errors only as arise naturally from that peculiar difficulty which we have already endeavoured to explain, as consisting in the prodigious multitude and di
1 versity of the objects in which the common quality of beauty was to be accounted for.
I Those who have not been sufficiently aware
lof the difficulty have generally dogmatised from a small number of instances, and have rather given examples of the occurrence of beauty in some few classes of object», than afforded any light as to that upon which it essentially depended in all; while those who felt its full force have very often found no other resource, than to represent beauty as consisting in properties so extremely vague and general, (such, for example, as the power
¡of exciting ideas of relation,) as almost to
¡ elude our comprehension, and, at the same time, of so abstract and metaphysical a de
. scription, as not to be very intelligibly stated, as the elements of a strong, familiar, and pleasurable emotion.
This last observation leads us to make one other remark upon the general character of these theories; and this is, that some of them, though not openly professing that doctrine, seem necessarily to imply the existence of a peculiar sense or faculty for the perception of beauty; as they resolve it into properties that are not in any way interesting or agreeable to any of our known faculties. Such are all those which make it consist in proportion—or in variety, combined with regularity—or in waving lines—or in unity—or in the perception of relations—without explaining, or attempting to explain, how any of these things should, in any circumstances, affect us with delight or emotion. Others, again, do not require the supposition of any such separate faculty; because in them tbe sense of beauty is considered as arising from other more simple and familiar emotions, which are in themselves and beyond all dispute agreeable. Such are those which teach that Deaaty depends on the perception of utility, or of design, or titness, or in tracing associations between its objects and the common joys or emotions of our nature. Which of mese two classes of speculation, to one or oilier ol which, we believe, all theories of beauty may be reduced, is the most philotjplucal in itself, \ve imagine can admit of no question; and we hope in the sequel to leave it as little doubtful, which is to be considered as most consistent with the fact. In the mean time, we must give a short account ol some of the theories themselves.
The most ancient of which it seems necessary to take any notice, is that which may be traced in the Dialogues of Plato—though we are тегу far from pretending that it is possible to give any intelligible or consistent account of its tenor. It should never be forgotten, however, that it is to this subtle and ingenious spirit that we owe the suggestion, that it is nuitd alone that is beautiful; and that, in perceivinp beauty, it only contemplates the shadow of its own affections;—a doctrine which, however mystically unfolded in his writings, or however combined with extravagant or absurd speculations, unquestionably carries in it the the germ of all the truth that has since been revealed on the subject. By far the largest dissertation, however, that this great philosopher has left upon the nature of beauty, is to be found in the dialogue entitled The Greater Hippias, which is entirely devote.l to that inquiry. We do not learn a great deal of the author's own opinion, indeed, from this performance; for it is one of the dialogues which have been termed Anatnplic. or confuting—in which nothing is concluded in the affirmative, but a series of *oph stieal suggestions or hypotheses are sucOisfively exposed. The plan of it is to lead 0:1 Hippias, a shallow and confident sophist. lo make a variety of dogmatical assertions as to the nature of beauty, and then to make him retract and abandon them, upon the etatement of some obvious objections. Socrates and he agree at first in the notable proposition, "that beauty is that by which ull beautiful things are beautiful;" and then. after a great number of suggestions, by far too childish and absurd to be worthy of any notice—such as, that the beautiful may peradventure be gold, or a fine woman, or a handsome mare—they at last get to some suppositions, which »how that almost all the theories that have since been propounded on | this interesting subject had occurred thus early to the active and original mind of this Vt-en and curious inquirer. Thus, Socrates first suggests that beauty may consist in the d'.uess or suitableness of any object to the; j:'acrt it occupies: and afterwards, more gen-. erally and directly, that it may consist in' utility—a notion which is ultimately rejecte i. however, upon the subtle consideration! that the useful is that which produces good. | and that the producer and the product being' necessarily different, it would follow, upon . that supposition, that beauty could not be food nor good beautiful. Finally, h .• äug-1
geste that beauty may be the mere organic delight of the eye or the oar; to which, at'tet stating very slightly the objection, that it would be impossible to account upon this ground for the beauty of poetry or eloquence, he proceeds to rear up a more reiined and elaborate refutation, upon such grounds as these :—If beauty be the proper name of that which is naturally agreeable to the sight and hearing, it is plain, that the objects to which it is ascribed must possess some common and distinguishable property, besides lhat of being agreeable, in consequence of which they are separated and set apart from objects that are agreeable to our other senses and faculties, and, at the same time, classed together under the common appellation of beautiful. Now, we are not only quite unable to discover what this property is, but it is manifest, that objects which make themselves known to the ear, con have no property as such, in common with objects that make themselves known to the eye; it being impossible that an object which is beautiful by its colour, can be beautiful, from the same quality, with another which is beautiful by its sound. From all which it is inferred, that as beauty is admitted to be something real, it cannot be merely what is agreeable to the organs of sight or hearing.
There is no practical wisdom, we admit, in those fine-drawn speculations; nor any of that spirit of patient observation by which alone any sound view of such objects can ever be attained. There are also many marks of that singular incapacity to distinguish between what is absolutely puerile and foolish, and what is plausible, at least, and ingenious, which may be reckoned among the characteristics of "the divine philosopher." and in some degree of all the philosophers of antiquity: but they show clearly enough the subtle and abstract character of Greek speculation, and prove at how early a period, and to now great an extent, the inherent difficulties of the subject were felt, and produced their appropriate effects.
There are some hints on these subjects in the works of Xenophon; and some scattered observations in those of Cicero; who was the first, we believe, to observe, that the sense of beauty is peculiar to man; but nothing else, we believe, in classical antiquity, which requires to be analysed or explained. It appears that St. Augustin composed a large treatise on beauty; and it is to be lamented, that the speculations of that acute and ardent genius on such a subject have been lost. We discover, from incidental notices in other parle of his writings, that he conceived the beauty of all objects to depend en their unity, or OT> the perception of lhat principle or design which fixed the relations of their various parts, and presented them to the intellect or imagination as one harmonious whole. It would not be fair to deal very strictly with a theory with which we are so imperfectly acquainted: but it may be observed, that, while the author is so far in the right as to make beauty consist in a relation to mind, and not in any physical quality, he has takeu