most eloquent music," are discordant to our ears. It is no answer to this objection to say that “the taste," or love of the beautiful, of the savage is uncultivated. Because, the moment it is admitted that cultivation is requisite in order to discern and appreciate the beautiful, that moment it is confessed that it is not the mere intrinsic, material qualities of an object which constitute its beauty, but that there is something also requisite, pre-requisite in the mind of the observer. In other words, there must already be formed some standard of beauty in the mind, which we must apply before we can say whether a thing is beautiful or not or proceed to determine in what its beauty consists.

But we have dwelt perhaps, too long on these sensational theories of beauty, which, for the most part have been long since abandoned.

More subtle, ingenious and plausible theories, however, than these have from time to time been put forth, and supported with all the force of logic and eloquence. Yet none, we must confess, which have ever been satisfactory to our minds. We propose, as briefly as we can, to consider some of the most celebrated of these and state the grounds of our objection to them. Nor do we consider than any apology is necessary for going at some length into this investigation; for the beautiful is the province of the arts; the arts are our purest sources of enjoyment, and it is impossible to perceive their connexion and relations without having endeavored to form some idea of the nature of that common foundation upon which they all rest-that, one root from which they all spring and of which they are all but so many expressions.

The first theory which we shall consider is that of Dr. Hucheson, at one time, in England, very fashionable and popular. He attributes our perception of beauty to an internal sense, a separate faculty, and considers it, in kind, as original and comparative. By original beauty, however, he does not mean the existence of any quality in the object which of itself renders it beautiful without relation to any perceiving mind, for beauty, he says, like the names of other sensible ideas, denotes the perception of some mindbut that beauty which objects possess which are not imitations of anything else, such as that in the works of nature, in arbitrary forms, &c. By comparative beauty he merely understands an exact imitation of something else—though

[ocr errors]

the original of which it is a copy may be entireiy devoid of beauty. So far, his theory is only a classification or division of the subject, and although not disposed to agree with his distribution as either sufficiently just or comprehensive, we will pass on to his inquiry into the nature of beauty. This, he says, consists in uniformity amidst variety. These qualities are always in such a ratio in beautiful objects, that if they (the objects) are equal in uniformity their beauty will be as their variety-conversely, if equal in variety their beauty will be as their uniformity. Now we do not believe in the first place that this theory is sufficiently explicit and distinct, even if true, to be of any practical utility in enabling us to analyse and understand (in a philophical sense) our perceptions of beauty. Would it be any explanation of the beauty of a tree, or a cloud, or a circle, or a triangle, to say that it was owing to uniformity amid variety? Do we feel satisfied with such an explanation ? Does it give us any clearer idea of the nature of beauty than we had before? But the theory is not true in its own sense as being universally applicable. The clear, deep blue of a cloudless sky is admitted by all to be beautiful. It may be said to have Dr. Hucheson's “uniformity” but where is the equally essential element of “ variety ?" A single tone on an instrument--with reference to the mere quality of the tone, as its softness or mellowness-may be beautiful. Where is the variety? A column of smoke with its graceful undulations, changing outline, shifting direction and varying volume is frequently referred to as one of the most pleasing things in nature. Now here is variety enough, but where is the uniformity? But it is needless to multiply instances.

Dr. Hucheson then it seems after stating that we perceive beauty by a distinct, internal sense, when he attempts to define in what it consists, resolves it merely into qualities which address themselves to our ordinary senses. And even in the few familiar examples which we have adduced it does not appear that the co-existence of these qualities is requisite to give rise to the emotion of beauty. Gerard and others, followers of Hucheson, while they reject his notion of a separate faculty, adhere to the theory that beauty consists in uniformity and variety, but endeavor to explain why these are agreeable to the mind. The first, because it renders an object simple and saves the mind all

trouble and effort in taking it in the second, because it gives the mind some little effort and exercise—and thus occasions a pleasing activity and excitement! An explanation at once contradictory and unsatisfactory.

A still more fanciful doctrine was promulgated by Diderot. He maintained that all objects are beautiful which excite in the mind the idea of relation--and their beauty is “in proportion to the number and clearness of the relations thus suggested and perceived.” But it has been well objected by Jeffrey that disagreeable objects have as many relations as those which are agreeable, and ought, therefore, to be as beautiful, if beauty consisted in relation.

"When, says he, "we perceive one ugly old woman sitting exactly opposite to two other ugly old women, and observe, at the same time, that the first is as big as the other two taken together, we humbly conceive, that this clear perception of the relations in which these three graces stand to each other, cannot well be mistaken for a sense of beauty, and that it does not in the least abate or interfere with our sense of their ugliness."

According to Dr. Reid (Essay on the Intellectual Powers of Man, c. iv.) all the objects we call beautiful agree in two things. First, when perceived they cause a certain agreeable emotion in the mind; secondly, this emotion is accompanied with a belief of their possessing some perfection or excellence naturally adapted to its production. Now really this seems to us very much like saying, beautiful objects are those which, on beholding, we consider beautiful, and we consider them beautiful, because we believe there is something about them calculated to make us think them so! Again, according to Dr. Reid, our determinations with regard to beauty are of two sorts, instinctive and rational. In the first case objects strike us at first sight as beautiful, without reflection and without our being able to specify any perfection which justifies us in so regarding them—in the latter, objects appear beautiful because possessing some agreeable quality which is clearly conceived and may be distinctly stated. That is in some cases we positively cannot—in others we think we cansay why we regard a thing as beautiful. Such a theory as this will, evidently not, assist as much as arriving at the object of our inquiry--viz: In what does the true nature of beauty consist?


Sir Joshua Reynolds in his Discourses makes beauty to consist in a certain happy medium between extremesapproximation to that central point, from which things of the same kind, devoid of beauty, may be considered as deviations in some one or other direction. Now there is certainly a germ of truth in this. So far as the human figure is concerned, there is, we believe, what might be called an archetype or standard form which nature seems ever to aim at more or less closely, yet ever to vary from, and which it is just the province of the artist, unimpeded by the accidents which render nature's handy-work more or less imperfect, to seize upon and pourtray. But when Sir Joshua goes so far as to say,

" That if we were more used to deformity than beauty, deformity would then lose the idea that is now annexed to it, and take that of beauty ;just as we approve and admire fashions in dress, for no other reason than that we are used to them,”. -we are compelled to differ from him toto cælo. Besides, what medium is there in natural scenery ? The more bold, unusual and wild it is the more striking and beautiful we pronounce it. The more it departs from common and ordinary featureseven to ruggedness and savageness—the more capable it is of inspiring admiration.

But it is needless to expose further the fallacy of a theory which would make beauty consist in a sort of well-proportioned and justly balanced mediocrity.

The theory which in England, and perhaps in this country, (though we have scarcely had time as yet to speculate upon abstract theories) has been most readily received is that laid down by Alison, in his essay on the Nature and Principles of Taste, and most ably advocated and enforced by one of the first of British critics, Jeffrey. We shall state the theory in the language of the latter. "Mr. Alison maintains that all beauty, or at least that all the beauty of material objects, depends on the associations that may have

connected them with the ordinary affections or emotions of our nature.' That is, Beauty has no real and absolute existence, but merely a relative one in our minds, dependent upon custom, habit or association. Jeffrey more fully and explicitly lays down the theory in the following words: « The basis of it is, that the beauty which we impute to outward objects, is nothing more than the reflection of our own inward emotions, and is made up entirely of certain 11

VOL. XVI.-NO. 31.


little portions of love, pity or other affections, which have been connected with these objects, and still adhere as it were to them, and move us anew whenever they are presented to our observation.” This certainly seems fanciful and far-fetched enough. While we are willing to admit that association may have a modifying effect upon beautymay diminish or enhance it in our eyes—we are not willing to believe that it, and it alone, can create or constitute it. Our limits forbid us to follow step by step either Alison or his critic. Without joining issue with the latter (whom we are inclined to think the better exponent of the two of the theory in question) on all of his illustrations, which would be both useless and tedious, we must say that his application of the theory to the case of female beauty and natural scenery, seems to us particularly strained and unphilosophical. Let us hear what he says:

“Laying aside the emotions arising from difference of sex, and supposing female beauty to be contemplated by the pure and unenvying eye of female, it seems quite obvious that among its ingredients we should trace the signs of two different sets of qualities that are neither of them the object of sight, but of a far higher faculty ;—in the first place of youth and health ; and in the second place of innocence, gaiety, sensibility, intelligence, delicacy or vivacity. Now without enlarging upon the natural effect of these suggestions, we shall just suppose, that the appearances, which must be admitted at all events to be actually significant of the qualities we have enumerated, had been by the law of nature attached to the very opposite qualities; that the smooth forehead, the firm cheek, and the full lip which are now so distinctly expressive to us of the gay and vigorous periods of youthand the clear and blooming complexion which indicates health and activity, had been in fact the forms and colors by which old age and sickness were characterized; and that instead of being found united to those sources and seasons of enjoyment, they had been the badges by wbich nature pointed out that state of suffering and decay which is now signified to us by the livid and emaciated face of sickness, or the wrinkled front, the quivering lip and hollow cheek of age. If this were the familiar law of our nature, can it be doubted that we should look upon these appearances, not with rapture but with aversion-and consider it as absolutely ludicrous or disgusting to speak of the beauty of what was interpreted by every one as the lamented sign of pain and decrepitude ?"

Again he says

“If the smile which now enchants us, as the expression of innocence and affection, were the sign attached by nature to guilt and ma

« ElőzőTovább »