$ 50. Objection to the doctrine of original beauty. We stop here to notice one of the objections which may occur to the views which have been given on the subject of beauty. Supposing, as we do, that the mind has originally certain tendencies to emotions of beauty, we readily admit the power of various circumstances in modifying, and, in some cases, of overcoming such original tendencies. Nor, in point of fact, can it be denied, that the character of our feelings of beauty sometimes changes; that is, what is regarded by us as beautiful at one time, is not at another; what is beautiful in the eyes of one age or of one nation, sometimes loses its lustre in the view of another.—The objection is, that such changes of feeling in regard to the beautiful are inconsistent with an original susceptibility of such emotions.

(1.) In answer to this difficulty, we would suggest, in the first place, that we experience analogous variations in other parts of the mind.—Take, for instance, the susceptibility of Belief; that power by which we are led to regard anything as true or false. It will surely be admitted that there is in the mind an original tendency to assent to certain propositions, rather than others of an opposite kind. It cannot be supposed that the characteristic of mind, which leads us to regard one thing as true and another as false, is something which is wholly superinduced; the result merely of accidental circumstances. But that which is felt by us to be true to-day, may be felt by us to be false to-morrow; because we have then new facts before the inind, and new sources of evidence are disclosed.

(2.) It is also well known, that our estimates of subjects in a moral point of view frequently alter. Those objects which appeared just and worthy in youth, have sometimes a different appearance in manhood, and again have a different aspect in old age. This is not because the mind, particularly the moral susceptibility, in its intrinsic nature, alters; but because objects are seen by us under different lights. Changes of opinion, similar to what may be noticed in individuals, may also be clearly noticed in the moral and religious history of different ages and nations.

(3.) Again, we find the same tendency to frequent fluctuations in the feelings of cheerfulness and melancholy, of mere pleasure and pain, of desire and aversion, as well as of beauty, and grandeur, and sublimity. The reason is, we take different views of objects. And this is much the same as to say that truly different objects are presented to the mind from what we had contemplated before; which is a cause amply sufficient for the changes we sometimes notice in these feelings.

It is the same in regard to the objects addressed to the susceptibility under consideration. To-day we regard some work of art as beautiful; and if we find that it appears different to us to-morrow, it is because we have discovered in it some new touches, some new relations, which escaped our notice before, and which justly have the effect to diminish our estimate of the merit of the whole work. These considerations go no little ways in explaining the changes that sometimes take place, so far as intrinsic or original beauty is concerned.

But we are to recollect, furthermore, that a considerable portion of beauty is confessedly built upon association; and for this portion no one ever claimed an absolute permanency or uniformity.

Ø 51. Summary of views in regard to the beautiful. As the subject of emotions of beauty is one of no small difficulty, it may be of advantage to give here a brief summary of some of the prominent views in respect to it

(1. Of emotions of beauty it is difficult to give a definition, but we notice in them two marks or characteristics. They imply, first, a degree of pleasure, and, secondly, are always referred by us to external objects as their cause.

(2.) Every beautiful object has something in itself which discriminates it from other objects that are not beautiful. On this ground we may with propriety speak of beauty in the object. At the same time, a superadded lustre is reflected back upon it from the mind; and this, too, whether the beauty be original or associated.

(3.) The feeling which we term an emotion of beauty is not limited to natural scenery, but may be caused also by the works of art, by the creations of the imagination, and by the various forms of intellectual and moral nature, so far as they can be presented to the mind. All these various objects and others may excite within us feelings of pleasure; and the mind, in its turn, may reflect back upon the objects the lustre of its own emotions, and thus increase the degree of their beauty.

(4.) There is in the mind an original susceptibility of emotions in general, and of those of beauty in particular; and not only this, some objects are found, in the constitution of things, to be followed by these feelings of beauty, while others are not; and such objects are spoken of as being originally beautiful. That is, when the object is presented to the mind, it is of itself followed by emotions of beauty, without being aided by the influence of accessory and contingent circumstances.

(5.) Without pretending to certainty in fixing upon those objects, to which what is termed original or intrinsic beauty may be ascribed, there appears to be no small reason in attributing it to certain forms, to sounds of a particular character, to bright colours, to some varieties of motion, and to intellectual and moral excellence in general, whenever it can be made a distinct object of perception.

(6.) Many objects, which cannot be considered beautiful of themselves, become such by being associated with a variety of foriner pleasing and enlivening recollections; and such as possess beauty of themselves may augment the pleasing emotions from the same cause. Also, much of the difference of opinion which exists as to what objects are beautiful and what are not, is to be ascribed to differences of association. These are some of the prominent views resulting from inquiries into this subject.

$ 52. Of picturesque beauty. We apply the term PICTURESQUE to whatever objects cause in us emotions of beauty, in which the beauty does not consist in a single circumstance by itself, but in a considerable number in a happy state of combination. The meaning of the term is analogous to the signification of some others of a like termination, which are derived

to us from the Italian through the medium of the French. Mr. Stewart remarks of the word arabesque, that it expresses something in the style of the Arabians; moresque, something in the style of the Moors; and grotesque, something which bears a resemblance to certain whimsical delineations in a grotto or subterranean apartment at Rome. In like manner, picturesque originally implies what is done in the style and spirit of a painter, who ordinarily places before us an object made up of a number of circumstances, in such a state of combination as to give pleasure.

The epithet may be applied to natural scenery, and also to paintings and to poetical descriptions. The following description from Thomson, which assembles together some of the circumstances attending the cold, frosty nights of winter, is highly picturesque.

“Loud rings the frozen earth and hard reflects
A double noise ; while, at his evening watch,
The village dog deters the nightly thief;
The heifer lows; the distant waterfall
Swells in the breeze ; and, with the hasty tread
Of traveller, the hollow-sounding plain
Shakes from afar."



$ 53. Connexion between beauty and sublimity. THOSE emotions which, by way of distinction, we designate as SUBLIME, are a class of feelings which have much in common with emotions of beauty; they do not appear to differ so much in nature or kind as in degree. When we examine the feelings which are embraced under these two designations, we readily perceive that they have a progression; that there are numerous degrees in point of intensity ; but the emotion, although more vivid in one case than the other, and mingled with some foreign elements, is, for the most part, essentially the same. So that it is by no means impossible to trace, in a multitude of cases, a connexion even between the fainter feelings of beauty, and the most overwhelming emotions of the sublime.

This progression of our feelings from one that is gentle and pleasant to one that is powerful and even painful, has been illustrated in the case of a person who is supposed to behold a river at its first rise in the mountains, and to follow it as it winds and enlarges in the subjacent plains, and to behold it at last losing itself in the expanse of the ocean. For a time, the feelings which are excited within him, as he gazes on the prospect, are what are termed emotions of beauty. As the small stream, which had hitherto played in the uplands and amid foliage that almost bid it from his view, increases its waters, separates its banks to a great distance from each other, and becomes the majestic river, his feelings are of a more powerful kind. We often, by way of distinction, speak of the feelings existing under such circumstances as emotions of grandeur. At last it expands and disappears in the immensity of the ocean: the vast, illimitable world of billows flashes in his sight. Then the emotion, widening and strengthening with the magnitude and energy of the objects which accompany it, becomes sublime.—Emotions of sublimity, therefore, chiefly differ, at least in most instances, from those of beauty in being more vivid.

$ 54. The occasions of the emotions of sublimity various. As the emotions of sublimity are simple, they are consequently undefinable. Nevertheless, as they are the direct subjects of our consciousness, we cannot be supposed to be ignorant of their nature. It may aid, however, in rendering our comprehension of them more distinct and clear in some respects if we mention some of the occasions on which they arise.—But, before proceeding to this, it is proper to recur a moment to a subject more fully insisted on in the chapter on Beauty, but which also properly has a place here. We have reference to the unquestionable fact, that the occasions of sublime emotions are not exclusively one; in other words, are not found in a single element merely, as some persons may

« ElőzőTovább »