« ПредишнаНапред »
yards, and large masses of powdered horse-hair majestic because we see them on the heads of judges and bishops.
24. Next to those curious instances of arbitrary or limited associations that are exemplified in the diversities of national taste are those that are produced by the differences of instruction or education. If external objects were sublime and beautiful in themselves, it is plain that they would appear equally so to those who were acquainted with their origin and to those to whom it was unknown. Yet it is not easy, perhaps, to calculate the degree to which our notions of beauty and sublimity are now influenced, over all Europe, by the study of classical literature; or the number of impressions of this sort which the well-educated consequently receive from objects that are utterly indifferent to uninstructed persons of the same natural sensibility.
25. The influences of the same studies may be traced, indeed, through almost all our impressions of beauty, and especially in the feelings which we receive from the contemplation of rural scenery, where the images and recollections which have been associated with such objects in the enchanting strains of the poets are perpetually recalled by their appearance, and give an interest and a beauty to the prospect of which the uninstructed can not have the slightest perception. Upon this subject, also, Mr. Alison has expressed himself with his usual warmth and elegance. After observing, that, in childhood, the beauties of Nature have scarcely any existence for those who have as yet but little general sympathy with mankind, he proceeds to state that they are usually first recommended to notice by the poets, to whom we are introduced in the course of education, and who, in a manner, create them for us by the associations which they enable us to form with their visible appearance.*
26. Before entirely leaving this branch of the subject, however, let us pause for a moment on the familiar but very striking and decisive instance of our varying and contradictory judgments as to the beauty of the successive fashions of dress that have existed within our own remembrance. All persons who still continue to find amusement in society, and are not old enough to enjoy only the recollections of their youth, think the prevailing fashions becoming and graceful, and the fashions of twenty or twenty-five years old intolerably ugly and ridiculous. The younger they are, and the more they mix in society, the stronger is this impression : and the fact is worth noticing; because there is really no one thing as to which persons judging merely from their feelings, and therefore less likely to be misled by any systems or theories, are so very positive and decided, as that established fashions are
* See Alison on Taste.
beautiful in themselves, and that exploded fashions are intrinsically and beyond all question preposterous and ugly. We have never yet met a young lady or gentleman, who spoke from their hearts and without reserve, who had the least doubt on the subject, or could conceive how any person could be so stupid as not to see the intrinsic elegance of the reigning mode, or not to be struck with the ludicrous awkwardness of the habits in which their mothers were disguised.
27. In all the cases we have hitherto considered, the external object is supposed to have acquired its beauty by being actually connected with the causes of our natural emotions, either as a constant sign of their existence, or as being casually present on the ordinary occasions of their excitement. There is a relation, however, of another kind, to which also it is necessary to attend, both to elucidate the general grounds of the theory, and to explain several appearances that might otherwise expose it to objections. This is the relation which external objects may bear to our internal feelings, and the power they may consequently acquire of suggesting them, in consequence of a sort of resemblance or analogy which they seem to have to their natural and appropriate objects. The language of poetry is founded, in a great degree, upon this analogy; and all language, indeed, is full of it, and attests, by its structure, both the extent to which it is spontaneously pursued, and the effects that are produced by its suggestion.
28. The great charm indeed, and the great secret, of poetical diction, consists in thus lending life and emotion to all the objects it embraces; and the enchanting beauty which we sometimes recognize in descriptions of very ordinary phenomena will be found to arise from the force of imagination, by which the poet has connected with human emotions a variety of objects to which common minds could not discover such a relation. What the poet does for his readers, however, by his original similes and metaphors, in these higher cases, even the dullest of those readers do, in some degree, every day, for themselves; and the beauty which is perceived, when natural objects are unexpectedly vivified by the glowing fancy of the former, is precisely of the same kind that is felt when the closeness of the analogy enables them to force human feelings upon the recollection of all mankind. As the poet sees more of beauty in Nature than ordinary mortals, just because he perceives more of those analogies and relations to social emotion in which all beauty consists; so other men see more or less of this beauty exactly as they happen to possess that fancy, or those habits, which enable them readily to trace out these relations.
29. Poems, and other compositions in words, are beautiful in pro
portion as they are conversant with beautiful objects, or as they suggest to us, in a more direct way, the moral and social emotions on which the beauty of all objects depends. Theorems and demonstrations, again, are beautiful according as they excite in us emotions of admiration for the genius and intellectual power of their inventors, and images of the magnificent and beneficial ends to which such discoveries may be applied; and mechanical contrivances are beautiful when they remind us of similar talents and ingenuity, and at the same time impress us with a more direct sense of their vast utility to mankind, and of the great additional conveniences with which life is consequently adorned. In all cases, therefore, there is the suggestion of some interesting conception or emotion associated with a present perception, in which it is apparently confounded and embodied; and this, according to the whole of the preceding deduction, is the distinguishing characteristic of beauty.
30. In the first place, then, we conceive that this theory establishes the substantial identity of the Sublime, the Beautiful, and the Picturesque; and, consequently, puts an end to all controversy that is not purely verbal as to the difference of those several qualities. Every material object that interests us, without actually hurting or gratifying our bodily feelings, must do so, according to this theory, in one and the same manner; that is, by suggesting or recalling some emotion or affection of ourselves or some other sentient being, and presenting, to our imagination at least, some natural object of love, pity, admiration, or awe. The interest of material objects, therefore, is always the same, and arises in every case, not from any physical qualities they may possess, but from their association with some idea of emotion. But, though material objects have but one means of exciting emotion, the emotions they do excite are infinite. They are mirrors that may reflect all shades and all colors; and, in point of fact, do sellom reflect the same hues twice. No two interesting objects, perhaps
- whether known by the name of Beautiful, Sublime, or Picturesque, — ever produced exactly the same emotion in the beholder; and no one object, it is most probable, ever moved any two persons to the very same conceptions.
31. The only other advantage which we shall specify as likely to result from the general adoption of the theory we have been endeavoring to illustrate is, that it seems calculated to put an end to all those perplexing and vexatious questions about the standard of taste which have given occasion to so much impertinent and so much elaborate discussion. 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 such 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.
All tastes, then, are equally just and true in so far as concerns the individual whose taste is in question; and what a man feels distinctly to be beautiful is beautiful to him, whatever other people may think of it. All this follows clearly from the theory now in question; but it does not follow from it that all tastes are equally good or desirable, or that there is any difficulty in describing that which is really the best, and the most to be envied. The only use of the faculty of taste is to afford an innocent delight, and to assist in the cultivation of a finer morality; and that man certainly will have the most delight from this faculty who has the most numerous and the most powerful perceptions of beauty. But if beauty consist in the reflection of our affections and sympathies, it is plain that he will always see the most beauty whose affections are the warmest and most exercised, whose imagination is the most powerful, and who has most accustomed himself to attend to the objects by which he is surrounded. In so far as mere feeling and enjoyment are concerned, therefore, it seems evident that the best taste must be that which belongs to the best affections, the most active fancy, and the most attentive habits of observation. It will follow pretty exactly, too, that all men's perceptions of beauty will be nearly in proportion to the degree of their sensibility and social sympathies; and that those who have no affections towards sentient beings will be as certainly insensible to beauty in external objects as he who can not hear the sound of his friend's voice must be deaf to its echo.
In so far as the sense of beauty is regarded as a mere source of enjoyment, this seems to be the only distinction that deserves to be attended to; and the only cultivation that taste should ever receive, with a view to the gratification of the individual, should be through the indirect channel of cultivating the affections, and powers of observation. If we aspire, however, to be creators as well as observers of beauty, and place any part of our happiness in ministering to the gratification of others, as artists, or poets, or authors of any sort, -then, indeed, a new distinction of tastes, and a far more laborious system of cultivation, will be necessary. A man who pursues only his own delight will be as much charmed with objects that suggest powerful emotions in consequence of personal and accidental associations as with those that
introduce similar emotions by means of associations that are universal and indestructible. To him, all objects of the former class are really as beautiful as those of the latter; and, for his own gratification, the creation of that sort of beauty is just as important an occupation. But, if he conceive the ambition of creating beauties for the adıniration of others, he must be cautious to employ only such objects as are the natural signs or the inseparable concomitants of emotions of which the greater part of mankind are susceptible; and his taste will then deserve to be called bad and false if he obtrude upon the public, as beautiful, objects that are not likely to be associated in common minds with any interesting impressions.
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. Some, who have cold affections, sluggish imaginations, and no habits of observation, can with difficulty discern beauty in any thing; while others, who are full of kindness and sensibility, and who have been accustomed to attend to all the objects around them, feel it almost in every thing. It is no matter what other people may think of the objects of their admiration ; nor ought it to be any concern of theirs that the public would be astonished or offended if they were called upon to join in that admiration. So long as no such call is made, this anticipated discrepancy of feeling need give them no uneasiness; and the suspicion of it should produce no contempt in any other persons. It is a strange aberration, indeed, of vanity, that makes us despise persons for being happy, for having sources of enjoyment in which we can not share; and yet this is the true source of the ridicule which is so generally poured upon individuals who seek only to enjoy their peculiar tastes unmolested. For, if there be any truth in the theory we have been expounding, no taste is bad for any other reason than because it is peculiar; as the objects in which it delights must actually serve to suggest to the individual those common emotions and universal affections upon which the sense of beauty is everywhere founded.
NOTE. — [Whether he accept the foregoing views of Beauty or not, the critical study of them can not fail to improve the pupil. The same may be said of the next selection, —“ The Philosophy of Style."]