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THE SCIENCE OF BEAUTY.
THE METAPHYSICS OF ÆSTHETICS.
ONE remarkable fact in human nature is the difficulty we have in explaining our experiences.
We all, in a greater or less degree, experience admiration for beauty and awe for sublimity; and we know that these feelings—these emotions of awe and sublimity—are simply what they are felt to be, and nothing more; there has never been any dispute about that. But as to what the causes, qualities, or conditions necessary for awakening these emotions are, we are all disagreed. As to what constitutes beauty or sublimity we are not satisfied ourselves, nor can we accept each other's explanation. All explanations differ in a measure vitally or slightly, and it is impossible to accept one theory without rejecting all the others.
Another remarkable fact in our nature is that these difficulties will never be abandoned until they are resolved. We are ever at war with them, and peace will not be proclaimed till reason gets the victory. The fight may rage, and centuries may roll by, inquiry may draw back baffled and breathless, and mystery may gain a temporary victory—a false and delusive victory of might over right. But inquiry, strengthened and reanimated with fresh hopes and new weapons, will to it again to conquer or to fail; and thus from age to age, and from old world to new
world, the hereditary warfare continues and will continue through a million generations, or till the problem is solved, the spell broken, and ignorance hides its head. The moral of persistence is a reassuring feature in human nature.
The science of asthetics—the causes or conditions of beauty and sublimity—seems to be still unsettled. Plato and Leibnitz, Hutcheson and Hogarth, Burke and Reynolds, Diderot and Alison have attacked the subject, theorising and refuting, composing and criticising; and they have done well, for any man who has anything to offer on such an issue is bound to put it forth and let it go for what it is worth. The subject of beauty cannot but interest; it is entertaining and instructive, and nothing is wanting but something new and something true to put the problem on its trial again. In setting out on such an enterprise I desire to observe that destructive criticism is no purpose of this disquisition, and if the explanation hereinafter put forward cannot recommend itself without a detailed refutation of previous opinions, then it cannot recommend itself at all.
What constitutes beauty ?–Utility ? perfection ? sensation ? relation ? smoothness ? association ? The question has often been asked, and often thus been answered. Let us briefly glance at the first two solutions—utility and perfection. That utility does not constitute beauty seems evident from this, that if it did, the beauty must increase with the utility, which—though men have been found bold enough to maintain it—is a doctrine that is repudiated by the vast majority of mankind. It has been taught that a useful thing which serves its purpose well is more beautiful than anything which does not do so, no matter what the things are or how they are made. It has been held that a dung-basket that answered its purpose well would be a more beautiful object than a golden shield not well formed for use; that in fact the former article would possess beauty and the latter none. This may be so, but it is no evidence whatever that utility constitutes beauty