Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

power. Few things could be more contemptible than the painting or carving of artificial flowers.

Suppose we were in a position to contemplate a vast cliff rising sheer from the edge of a gloomy lake to the height of a thousand feet; and suppose that while impressed by its strength, its age, its height, its majesty, its danger-in other words, by its suggested power-we should suddenly discover that the whole scene was painted, how contemptible it would instantly become; and some time must elapse after the shock before we could afford to admire it as a painting, or else wonder at its workmanship. For beauty and sublimity cannot coalesce, that is, they cannot be appreciated together. We cannot be awed by a majestic mountain and at the same time be filled with admiration for a sprig of heather growing upon it; we must be led gradually from the contemplation of the one to that of the other; we cannot jump the interval without a shock. This is the secret of a good, and the explanation of a bad climax. When Hamlet says to the ghost, “I'll call thee Hamlet, king, father, royal Dane," he gives us a false climax; for, having begun with Hamlet, the title of friendship, and brought us up to king, the title of sublimity, to bring us down suddenly to the endearing relationship of father, and then to fling us back again upon the cold and stately royal Dane, is to tamper with our feelings.

It behoves us, moreover, to distinguish carefully between the two qualities—beauty and sublimity—when, in a state of co-existence, either of them predominates, for we frequently confound admiration with awe, and call a thing sublime when we mean that it is beautiful, and beautiful when we mean sublime. A story is somewhere told of Coleridge standing with some persons before a roaring cataract: while the former was rapt in awe and silence at the fury of the torrent, one of the bystanders exclaimed, “How beautiful !” an expression which so filled the poet with contempt at the thoughtlessness of

[ocr errors]

the speaker, that he turned away, unable to enjoy the scene any longer.

Suppose that, somehow or other, we were to find ourselves examining an ivy-clad ruin in some ancient demesne, and that while deeply impressed with its antiquity, and labouring to deliver ourselves of some of the suggestions which caused our awe, we were suddenly to be told that the whole structure was artificial-an imitation ruin; would we not forthwith be filled with the utmost contempt ? So likewise all modern things are, ceteris paribus, less sublime than ancient things.

Bad music is contemptible because it suggests want of power — poverty of design ; bad performance is contemptible because it discloses want of power—inability to execute. Bad acting, bad painting, bad sculpture, bad poetry are all contemptible on the same principle—want of power, the want of power to imitate nature faithfully, or to fulfil the design which the occasion dictates, or which the performer proclaims as his aim. All enterprises which have an unsuccessful termination are more or less contemptible. Certain buildings begun with great promise and ambition, and abandoned from lack of means or miscalculation of site, become contemptible, and are called the builder’s “ Folly."

The face of a murderer, of a villain, of a savage, &c., is not, as was before observed, mean or ugly; it is hideous, horrible, odious. We do not despise or contemn it; we dislike and hate and fear it. The face of a fool, an idiot, or an imbecile, on the other hand, is most contemptible. We expect at first to find in every man and woman an average amount at least of intellectual power, according to the position in which we encounter them; the very fact that the persons we contemplate are human beings suggests this much—suggests a fair amount of reflection, and memory, and reason, and imagination, such as we have abundant experience of every day. If, therefore, any one disappoints us by exhibiting abilities far below

[graphic]

the average, or by betraying the absence of all ability, such a person becomes thereby partially or thoroughly contemptible.

The essence of meanness has been largely explained in the induction of sublimity, as was ugliness in that of beauty. Men, however, dislike to dwell on this side of the science; they are unwilling to lend their attention to what is confessedly disagreeable. They desire to get rid of such influences with all possible celerity, and fly to the investigation of their antitheses. From reflections upon ugliness and meanness they desire to be free; in reflections upon beauty and sublimity they love to revel and remain. It is no wonder, therefore, that ugliness and meanness should be much confused, that disgust and contempt should be commonly undiscriminated.

In bringing this brief inquiry to a close, the writer may be permitted to observe that a detailed refutation of previous hypotheses in the subject of æsthetics forms no part of the purpose of these pages; nor is any pretension made of having reduced the matter to its ultimate elements. The speculations of former writers—Hogarth, Burke, Alison, and others—so far from being at variance with the theory herein put forward, seem to take their places naturally and necessarily under one or other of the laws adopted, and are only incorrect when made to embrace and account for the whole of the phenomena in question. On the other hand, too many warnings stare out upon us from the past to allow of any such futile claim being made as that of having reduced the problem to its ultimate elements. Who shall prescribe a boundary to investigation, or limit the excursions of human reason ? Who shall place a barrier before advancing inquiry, or say to his brother in science, “ thus far shalt thou go, and no farther"? We may trace the thread of knowledge a little way, and fancy we have found its end, and glory, and boast, and prophecy. Fond and foolish expectation ! It behoves us much to undeceive ourselves, to submit to human nature, and confess, when we have done all we can, that we are unprofitable servants. Posterity will take up the thread where we have left it, and tracking it to lengths we dreamt not of, will leave it to future generations to carry on the exploration through unfathomed oceans, over dark continents, and onwards toward the great horizon of Truth, which still recedes, and will continue to recede forever.

[graphic]

CAPITULAR SUMMARY.

CHAPTER 1. BEAUTY.—The metaphysics of æsthetics—Moral of persistenceWhat

constitutes beauty ?-Neither utility nor perfection-First principle of metaphysics-Cognisant of self alone—This truth must underlie all others, and is stronghold of idealism-Idealism applied to æsthetics proves beauty and sublimity to be subjective and reflex-Objective bent of mind-Objective element of beauty ; subjective elementTwo kinds of feelings in the mind : 1. sensations ; 2. emotionsAdmiration is an emotion-Emotion implies an operation of the intellect, i.e., an interpretation of sensations-Quality of beauty consists in suggestiveness. Laws of Beauty : 1. Subjective element of beauty consists in emotion of admira

tion. 2. Objective element of beauty consists in quality of sugges

tiveness. 3. Beauty attaches only to utility. 4. The appearance of beauty varies inversely with the appear

ance of utility.

CHAPTER II. Law 1.-Difference between sensation and emotion in a recognition of

beauty-Colour a sensation, therefore cannot be beautiful per seInverse gradation of sense and intelligence-Meaning of phrase “ beautiful colour”—Experiments in colour-Sound a sensation, therefore not beautiful per seShape a sensation, therefore not beautiful per se-Analysis of shape—Why some shapes are more pleasant than others : capable of scientific explanation Experiments in shape : sphere, cylinder, cube, cone-Motion a sensation, therefore not beautiful per se-Experiments in motion-Complementary motions analogous to complementary colours—We never look at objects im. partially, i.e., we never take optical sensations for what they are

« ПредишнаНапред »