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lignity—if the blush which expresses delicacy, and the glance that speaks intelligence, vivacity and softness, had always been found united with brutal passion or idiot moodiness ; is it not certain that the whole of their beauty would be extinguished, and that our emotions from the sight of them would be exactly the reverse of what they now are 1"
It is a sufficient reply to all this to say that in considering any subject—in investigating any question, we do so as human beings possessing a certain actual nature, attributes, modes of expressing and communicating our feelings and emotions—it is, therefore, as illogical as impossible to say how we would think or feel on any subject, were that nature and those attributes and modes of expression and communication radically changed. Besides, can it be said, that it is association that makes us see beauty in “the expression of innocence and affection”—of delicacy, intelligence, vivacity and softness? However these may be expressed, our souls realize their intrinsic beauty—and we consider that face beautiful, which we think expresses them, simply because it does express them, and not because these expressions are associated in our past experience with these loveable qualities.
But this theory of association becomes still more forced and fanciful when the commentator and critic goes on to illustrate it in the case of natural scenery. “Take,” says he, “the case of a common English landscape. * * * There is much beauty, as every one will acknowledge, in such a scene. But in what does the beauty consist Not, certainly, in the mere mixture of colors and forms: for colors more pleasing and lines more graceful (according to any theory of grace that may be preferred) might be spread upon a board or a painter's pallet, without engaging the eye to a second glance or raising the least emotion in the mind; but in the picture of human happiness that is presented to our imaginations and affections—in the visible and unequivocal signs of comfort and cheerfulness and peaceful enjoyment,” &c. Now, we ask whether the same scene on a desert island, if it were possible to have it there, would not strike us as just as beautiful? Butlet us follow him in one more illustration. “Instead of this quiet and tame English landscape, let us now take a Welch or a Highland scene. * * * This, too, is beautiful, and to those who can interpret the language it speaks, far more beautiful than the prosperous scene with which we have centrasted
it. * * * The mere forms and colors that compose its visible appearance are no more capable of .# any emotion in the mind than the forms and colors of a Turkey carpet. It is sympathy with the present, or past, or imaginary inhabitants of such a region that alone gives it either interest or beauty,” &c. But again we ask whether such a scene would not strike us as beautiful in a newly discovered and uninhabited country? But then there would be the association with the future, “the imaginary inhabitants.” We confess this theory of association is too subtle and refined, and altogether unsatisfactory, to explain for us the mysterious nature and power of beauty. Besides, we would ask how, on the principle of association, the admitted beauty of such ob. jects as the following can be explained: a hawk or eagle darting upon its prey; the graceful winding of a snake; a tiger in the act of springing; the undulating belts of fire in which lightning so often presents itself; or the strange and fascinating beauty which sometimes lights up, with the most exquisite glow and most spiritual beaming of the eye, the death-devoted victim of consumption. We must, in concluding this hasty examination of the theory of Alison, or rather Jeffrey, be allowed to enter our protest against such sentiments and opinions as the following, which, however, naturally flow from the narrow and superficial idea that all beauty is relative—the chance offspring of custom and association.
“If things are not beautiful in themselves, but only as they serve to suggest interesting conceptions to the mind, then every thing which does in point of fact suggest a conception to any individual is beautiful to that individual; and it is not only quite true that there is no room for disputing about tastes, but that all tastes are equally just and correct, in so far as each individual speaks only of his own emotions.
“For a man, himself, then, there is no taste that is either bad or false, and the only difference worthy of being attended to is that between a great deal and a very little.”
“As all men must have some peculiar associations, all men must have some peculiar notions of beauty, and of course, to a certain extent, a taste that the public would be entitled to consider as false or vitiated.”
The same philosophy, carried out, would remove the eternal barrier that separates right and wrong, virtue and vice. Morality itself would depend upon national custom and social usage, and here, too, “for a man himself there would be no taste either bad or false.” The only real and abiding basis of morality is of course revelation, but revelation has not created the distinctions between good and evil, true and false, but only clearly distinguished them for us—enjoined the practice of the one and the shunning of the other, by the sanction of the Almighty's will.
Having thus hastily glanced at the principal theories of beauty which have been put forth and supported in modern times, we would call the attention of our readers to that of M. Victor Cousin, as unfolded in the treatise which we have taken as the head of this article. It is only necessary to state that it emanates from Cousin to bespeak for it the careful attention of every philosophic mind. In the words of his translator, we may say, “To those who study mental science, it is superfluous either to explain the principle upon which he grounds his remarks concerning the beautiful, or to extol the value of his writings. The words of Sir William Hamilton, spoken in high admiration of his character and jo are becoming the settled opinion of all who, on this subject, are qualified to give one: ‘Take him all in all, in France M. Cousin stands. alone.’”
The volume before us is a translation of a part of a course of lectures on the True, the Beautiful and the Good. In introducing it to our readers it may be well to quote the first part of the translator's introduction, both as giving some idea in advance of the author's general theory and as confirming our own opinions, expressed above (and we may be allowed to add formed and written before receiving M. Cousin's book) as to the narrow and unsatisfactory nature of most of the modern theories which have preceded it.
“It will be conceded as generally true, that the English writers have advocated no theory which allows the beautiful to be absolute and universal; nor have they professedly founded their views on original and ultimate principles. The conclusion to be arrived at from the works of Hume, Burke, Alison and other eminent writers on this subject might be stated in the language of Hume. “Beauty is no quality in things themselves; it exists merely in the mind which con- . templates them ; and each mind perceives a different beauty: one.
mind perceives deformity where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment without pretending to regulate those of others.' That beauty is mutable and special, has, for the most part been the doctrine of the English school, and the inference which has been drawn from this teaching is, that all tastes are equally just, provided that each man speaks of what he feels, that in the vast range of nature there is not anything endowed with any quality which at once makes it appear beautiful to every person; so that every person may be permitted to exalt whatsoever is pleasing in his own eyes, to the rank of beauty. The German and some of the French writers have thought far differently; with them the beautiful is simple, immutable, absolute, though its forms are manifold; they hold. that he who enters the domain of beauty, and says— This is beautiful—utters a judgment not personal, but universal, not the prompting of prejudice or custom or education, but the voice of humanity; reason, the revelation of God in.man, has pronounced the object to be beautiful. Victor Cousin is an earnest adherent to such views as these, and in the work of which the following pages are a translation, he illustrates and establishes them with the learning and philosophical acumen which so eminently distinguish him.” (Introduction.)
And a little further on—
“God, the Infinite Being and cause of all things manifests himself under three forms, the true, the good, the beautiful. ‘God hath not left himself without a witness;' for every aspect of nature, whether tender and pleasing, or severe and awful; life in its widest sense; the insect, the animal and man, illustrate and proclaim Him. The beautiful, the true and the good are ever entwined together, nor must they be disengaged from each other's embrace ; the true and the good are expressed in the beautiful, which is beautiful because it incloses a moral idea. Thus all beauty is moral, and therefore points to the nature of the Divine Being.”
But it is time to turn to the language of M. Cousin himself.
“If the idea of the beautiful is not absolute like the idea of the true; if it is nothing more than the expression of individual sentiment, the rebound of a changing sensation, or the result of each person's fancy, then the discussions on the fine arts waver without support and will never have an end. For a theory of the fine arts to be possible, there must be something absolute in beauty, just as there must be something absolute in the idea of goodness, to render morals a possible science.” (p. 3.)
He considers beauty as of two sorts—natural (or real) and ideal.
“Natural beauty cannot be essentially opposed to ideal beauty, nor ideal to real beauty. Without doubt, between these two orders of beauty there are dissimilarities which we must observe, but which ought not to hide from us their primary resemblances. * * * First, we shall search out the relation of the ideal to nature, or the last term of the finite; then its relation to God, or the last term of the infinite. Nature will probably appear to us the starting point of the ideal, and God the being to whom it tends.” (Page 19.)
He first proceeds to examine natural beauty—its marks, and the intellectual operations by which we arrive at it. And here he draws, very properly, a distinction between things which previous writers, we think, have for the most part confounded–objects which are agreeable, and those which are beautiful. Agreeable objects fall within the sphere of sensation—beauty within that of the reason."
“If you are asked why it” (an object which produces an agreeable sensation) “pleases you, you cannot give a reason; if you are told that it displeases others, you are not surprised, because you know that sensibility is not constant, and that it is not necessary to dispute about sensations. * * * But when we are asked why we call this form beautiful, we appeal to an authority which is not our own, which is imposed on all men—the authority of reason. * * * Pain and pleasure have no reality, except in the breast of him who feels them; and when we say, ‘That pleases me—that displeases me,' we judge as individua's, and exhaust at once all degrees of jurisdiction; but the truth, and that part of it which is called the beautiful, is not shut up in each of us—it is the common country of humanity, where no man is a sovereign disposer; and when we say, ‘That is true—that is beautiful,’ it
* “M. Cousin, with many others, considers reason to be not the personal property of any man, but a divine light, strictly impersonal—a light ‘which lighteth every man that cometh into the world; the seat and source of truths above sense; absolute truth, God, the just, the good, the true, &c., are within its province, and cognizable by it. Reason is the inward eye of man, by o he contemplates and becomes conversant with necessary, eternal truth. * * * Cóleridge has clearly shown that the power of reason to transcend the sphere of the phenominal, or, rather, its independence of it, and relation solely to the supersensuous and ultimate, is a doctrine of our elder English writers, the ‘lumen siccum’ of Lord Bacon, and the ‘direct aspect of truth, the inward beholding,’ of Hooker, being equivalent to that definition of reason which declares it to be 'conscious self-knowledge,’ and ‘in all its decisions to appeal to itself as the ground and substance of their truth; and to be the power of universal and necessary convictions.' The difference between reason and understanding is one of kind; the latter can exist without the former, as in the case of animals— but the former can neither exist without, nor manifest itself but by the latter. See Coleridge, Friend, vol. I.; Landing Place, Essay W.; Aids to Reflection, vol. I., pp. 158–177; vol. II., Appendix A, &c. Cousin's Theory of Reason is set forth, perhaps, the most clearly in the preface to the first editoin of his Fragmens Philosophiques.”—(Note by Translator, p. 25.)