Графични страници
PDF файл

that beauty and utility are identical conceptions. It merely teaches that beauty can only exist in a useful object, as colour can only exist in a material object. The first theory lays it down that beauty and utility are the same thing, from which it follows that increase of utility is increase of beauty. The common sense of mankind has refused to admit this as an hypothesis or to act upon it as a theory; it has refused to attribute more beauty to a mutton-chop than to a hyacinth, or in general to the foods and necessaries of life-bread, butter, meat, roots, tea, blankets, boots, soap, coal—than to the luxurious accessories—fruit, flowers, shrubs, birds, butterflies, pictures, feathers, jewellery, &c. Now, if utility constituted beauty, then would this last list of objects be much less beautiful than the first list—a doctrine equally ridiculous to advocate or refute. We may therefore dismiss it from our minds.

The other hypothesis has it that beauty consists in perfection ; but this when examined goes to pieces in the same way. A wood-louse may be as perfect of its kind as a tiger-moth, but it is far from being considered as beautiful. Slugs, snails, nettles, thistles may all be as perfect of their kind in colour, shape, motion, organism, and otherwise, as goldfish, bees, birds, eggs, ferns, and grasses, but who will say that they are as beautiful ? Toads, and weeds, and reptiles may be perfect, as far as human account of perfection goes; they may have the “line of beauty,” they may have symmetry of parts, simplicity, variety, uniformity, hue—almost all that is usually found on analysis to belong to beauty, and yet such reasoning no more satisfies men that a dandelion is as beautiful as a primrose than that a mouse is as big as a mountain because both are logically divisible to infinity. That perfection constitutes beauty is therefore an opinion which may be dismissed like the other..

What, then, is beauty? On what does it depend? Has it any definable existence at all? Are there any qualities

which may be called beautiful and others ugly; if so, what are those qualities ? Are they subject to any laws or rules, and where are these to be looked for? In setting out to answer this inquiry, I shall take the liberty of reminding the reader of one of the first and most important principles in metaphysics—one upon which almost all philosophers are agreed, and they are agreed upon extremely few-viz., that we have an immediate and intuitive knowledge of self in its various modes and of self alone, and only a mediate or negative knowledge of the objects external to the mind—that is to say, we know intuitively and immediately that we see shape and colour, i.e., that we feel them through the optic nerve; that we hear music and noise, i.e., that we feel them through the auditory nerve; that we smell musk and ammonia, i.e., that we feel them through the olfactory nerve; that we taste cheese and pine-apple, i.e., that we feel them through the gustatory nerve; that we receive hot sensations from fire and cold from ice, hardness from solidity, softness from fluids, &c., i.e., that we feel them by the sensitive nerve fibres which are coextensive with the epidermis or outer skin of the body. It does not appear, therefore, how we can know anything about the metaphysically innate qualities of objects—supposing such to existsince we only get sensations from those objects, which, sensations being feelings in our own mind, simply means that the objects make us feel ourselves. This is the all but unanimous verdict of modern philosophy, and it appears to admit of no extenuation. This is the great stronghold of Idealism, and though the attacks made upon that doctrine have been many, fierce, and long, they have altogether failed to shake it; and it stands this day as impregnable as when it was first built. Berkeley's argument against the independent existence of matter “admits of no answer," says Hume. “All the ingenuity of a century and a half has failed to see a way out of the contradiction exposed by Berkeley,” says Mr. Bain. A good

way to test that argument—that exposure, would be to apply it to the science of æsthetics, for if it admits of no answer when applied to the existence of matter, it must be doubly incontrovertible when applied to a science which is derived from and dependent on matter. All branches of knowledge must ultimately have the same basis. What is true in metaphysics must be true for science and art; what is agreed on in metaphysics must be agreed on for science and art; and what is untrue or denied in metaphysics must be untrue and denied for science and art, and for everything else. This fact, so far from being embraced by ethical or æsthetical investigators as a primary axiom of their science, does not seem to have been recognised as a difficulty to be reckoned with. The fact, indeed, has not been unnoticed by philosophers, for some of them have stated it with sufficient distinctness. Mr. John Stuart Mill, in his “ Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy,” explicitly warns us 1 “ that a true psychology is the indispensable scientific basis of morals, of politics, of the science and art of education; that the difficulties of metaphysics lie at the root of all science; that those difficulties can only be quieted by being resolved; and that until they are resolved, positively if possible, but at any rate negatively, we are never assured that any human knowledge, even physical, stands on solid foundations.” There may be a score of passages such as this, but however often the fact has been acknowledged it has not been realised as a truth or practically applied in any except purely metaphysical and psychological investigations.

Idealism, it may be, is but the moiety of a more comprehensive truth, but since it is absolutely unanswerable as far as reason has yet gone, let us even accept it for what it is worth, and endeavour in a disquisition on artistic phenomena — while retaining, of course, the ordinary phraseology- to submit our principles to its requirements and bend our logic to its laws. Applied to beauty, Idealism would show that beautiful qualities are mental creations; that they have no more existence in the objects themselves than heat in the fire or sweetness in sugar. Those who have never lent themselves to metaphysical inquiries will call it a monstrous contradiction to deny that there is heat in the fire or sweetness in sugar. A little explanation, however, will convince them that it is merely a question of phraseology, and that they themselves have always held with philosophers instead of the contrary; for when we ask them, Does the fire feel itself to be hot? or does the sugar perceive itself to be sweet ? they will at once answer, "No." Well, does the poker or the grate, or the fender, or the rug, perceive the heat ? or does the sugar-basin or the sugar-tongs, or the tea or the milk, perceive the sweetness? “No.” What then ? “A sentient creature only.” From which it follows that where there is no sensibility there can be no heat or sweetness. There is no sensibility in the fire or in sugar; therefore there is no heat in the fire and no sweetness in sugar. The matter is excessively palpable, for heat is only a name for a particular kind of sensation, and sweetness is only another name for another particular kind of sensation—in other words, heat means the feeling of heat, and sweetness the feeling of sweetness. The cause is in the external object, and that is all we know about it. Ethical problems are beside our inquiry, and we shall now address ourselves to the psychology of æsthetic phenomena.

1 P. 2.

There is no beauty inherent in an object, because, granted that there were, how could we ever find it out? We know that an object is the cause of sensations in us; beyond this we know nothing. We do not cause the sensations ourselves, neither have we the power to refuse them; they are caused in us whether we like it or not, therefore they must be caused by something which is not ourself; but when we assert that this something, this object, is matter, substance, or an instrument, having an

absolute existence and independent qualities, we get out of our depth, and begin to imagine,“ we know not what, and we know not why.” The only factor of beauty, then, which exists in an object is the cause. This negation of inherent beauty is now only sought to be established logically, but I shall subsequently proceed analytically and adduce individual examples of the truth of the position. I shall, of course, continue to employ the customary terms and phrases, any deviation from which would be mischievous affectation. It may be well to premise, however, that in the following pages the word pleasure is always used to denote sense-pleasure, and never to signify emotional gladness; while agreeable is employed as the adjective of the latter feeling. The division of the mind's feelings into the two great classes of emotions and sensations renders some such arrangement necessary in order to avoid confusion and mistake.

Let us now distinguish carefully between the two factors in a recognition of beauty, for, by hypothesis, there appear to be two; and unless they are accurately discriminated

-whatever be their metaphysical value—it is impossible to arrive at a true analysis of the subject. One of these factors is attributed to the object; the other is contributed by the mind. The former is called a beautiful quality, or shortly beauty; the latter is termed admiration. These terms are, no doubt, correlative, and imply each other, but it is essential to examine their relationship, and ascertain upon what it is based. We think and talk a great deal more about the first, that is beauty, than about our admiration for it—in other words, we attend much more to the objective than to the subjective element. The same rule holds good in other codes. Sublimity is attributed to the object, awe is contributed by the mind; virtue is attributed to conduct, approbation is contributed by the mind. All these terms are relative, and imply their correlatives. Sublimity implies awe, and virtue implies approbation; yet we dwell much more on sublimity and virtue than on

« ПредишнаНапред »