« ZurückWeiter »
2. A second objection, however, if possible of still greater force, is suggested by considering the prodigious and almost infinite variety of things to which this property of beauty is ascribed, and the impossibility of imagining any one inherent quality which can belong to them all, and yet at the same time possess so much unity as to pass universally by the same name, and be recognized as the peculiar object of a separate sense or faculty. The form of a fine tree is beautiful, and the form of a fine woman, and the form of a column, and a vase, and a chandelier. Yet how can it be said that the form of a woman has any thing in common with that of a tree or a temple ? or to which of the senses by which forms are distinguished can it be supposed to appear that they have any resemblance or affinity ?
3. The matter, however, becomes still more inextricable when we recollect that beauty does not belong merely to forms or colors, but to sounds, and perhaps to the objects of other senses ; nay, that, in all languages and in all nations, it is not supposed to reside exclusively in material objects, but to belong also to sentiments and ideas, and intellectual and moral existences. Not only is a tree beautiful, as well as a palace or a waterfall; but a poem is beautiful, and a theorem in mathematics, and a contrivance in mechanics. But, if things intellectual and totally segregated from inatter may thus possess beauty, how can it possibly be a quality of material objects ? or what sense or faculty can that be whose proper office it is to intimate to us the existence of some property which is common to a flower and a demonstration, a valley and an eloquent discourse ?
4. It may be said, then, in answer to the questions we have suggested above, that all these objects, however various and dissimilar, agree at least in being agreeable; and that this agreeableness, which is the only quality they possess in common, may probably be the beauty which is ascribed to them all. Now, to those who are accustomed to such discussions, it would be quite enough to reply, that, though the agreeableness of such objects depends plainly enough upon their beauty, it by no means follows, but quite the contrary, that their beauty depends upon their agreeableness; the latter being the inore comprehensive or generic term, under which beauty must rank as one of the species. Its nature, therefore, is no more explained, nor is less absurdity substantially committed, by saying that things are beautiful because they are agreeable, than if we were to give the same explanation of the sweetness of sugar; for no one, we suppose, will dispute, that, though it be very true that sugar is agreeable because it is sweet, it would be manifestly preposterous to say that it was sweet because it was agreeable.
5. In the first place, then, it seems evident that agreeableness in general can not be the same with beauty, because there are very many things in the highest degree agreeable that can in no sense be called beautiful. Moderate heat, and savory food, and rest and exercise, are agreeable to the body; but none of these can be called beautiful: and, among objects of a higher class, the love and esteem of others, and fame, and a good conscience, and health and riches and wisdom, are all eminently agreeable, but none at all beautiful according to any intelligible use of the word. It is plainly quite absurd, therefore, to say that beauty consists in agreeableness, without specifying in consequence of what it is agreeable; or to hold that any thing whatever is taught as to its nature by merely classing it among our pleasurable emotions.
6. In the second place, however, we may remark, that among all the objects that are agreeable, whether they are also beautiful or not, scarcely any two are agreeable on account of the same qualities, or even suggest their agreeableness to the same faculty or organ. Most certainly there is no resemblance or affinity whatever between the qualities which make a peach agreeable to the palate, and a beautiful statue to the eye; which soothe us in an easy-chair by the fire, or delight us in a philosophical discovery. The truth is, that agreeableness is not properly a quality of any object whatsoever, but the effect or result of certain qualities, the nature of which, in every particular instance, we can generally define pretty exactly, or of which we know at least with certainty that they manifest themselves respectively to some one particular sense or faculty, and to no other; and, consequently, it would be just as obviously ridiculous to suppose a faculty or organ whose office it was to perceive agreeableness in general, as to suppose that agreeableness was a distinct quality that could thus be perceived.
7. The words “beauty” and “beautiful,” in short, do and must mean something, and are universally felt to mean something, much more definite than agreeableness or gratification in general; and, while it is confessedly by no means easy to describe or define what that something is, the force and clearness of our perception of it is demonstrated by the readiness with which we determine, in any particular instance, whether the object of a given pleasurable emotion is or is not properly described as beauty
8. In our opinion, our sense of beauty depends entirely on our previous experience of simpler pleasures or emotions, and consists in the suggestion of agreeable or interesting sensations with which we had formerly been made familiar by the direct and intelligible agency of our common sensibilities; and that vast variety of objects to which we give the common name of beautiful become entitled to that appellation merely because they all
possess the power of recalling or reflecting those sensations of which they have been the accompaniments, or with which they have been associated in our imagination by any other more casual bond of connection. According to this view of the matter, therefore, beauty is not an inherent property or quality of objects at all, but the result of the accidental relations in which they may stand to our experience of pleasures or emotions; and does not depend upon any particular configuration of parts, proportions, or colors, in external things, nor upon the unity, coherence, or simplicity of intellectual creations, but merely upon the associations, which, in the case of every individual, may enable these inherent and otherwise indifferent qualities to suggest or recall to the mind emotions of a pleasurable or interesting description. It follows, therefore, that no object is beautiful in itself, or could appear so antecedent to our experience of direct pleasures or emotions; and that, as an infinite variety of objects may thus reflect interesting ideas, so all of them may acquire the title of beautiful, although utterly diverse and disparate in their nature, and possessing nothing in common but this accidental power of reminding us of other emotions.
9. This theory, which, we believe, is now very generally adopted, though under many needless qualifications, shall be further developed and illustrated in the sequel: but at present we shall only remark, that it serves, at least, to solve the great problem involved in the discussion, by rendering it easily conceivable how objects which have no inherent resemblance, nor, indeed, any one quality in common, should yet be united in one common relation, and consequently acquire one common name; just as all the things that belonged to a beloved individual may serve to remind us of him, and thus to awake a kindred class of emotions, though just as unlike each other as any of the objects that are classed under the general name of Beautiful.
By the help of the same consideration, we get rid of all the mystery of a peculiar sense or faculty, imagined for the express purpose of perceiving beauty; and discover that the power of taste is nothing more than the habit of tracing those associations by which almost all objects may be connected with interesting emotions.
10. The beauty which we impute to outward objects is nothing more than the reflection of our own inward emotions, and is made up entirely of certain little portions of love, pity, or other affections, which have been connected with these objects, and still adhere, as it were, to them, and move us anew whenever they are presented to our observation. Before proceeding to bring any proof of the truth of this proposition, there are two things that it may be proper to explain a little more distinctly: First, what are the primary affections, by the suggestion of which we think the sense of beauty is produced ? and, secondly, What is the nature of the connection by which we suppose that the objects we call beautiful are enabled to suggest these affections ?
11. With regard to the first of these points, it fortunately is not necessary either to enter into any tedious details, or to have recourse to any nice distinctions. All sensations that are not absolutely indifferent, and are, at the same time, either agreeable when experienced by ourselves, or attractive when contemplated in others, may form the foundation of the emotions of sublimity or beauty.
The sum of the whole is, that every feeling which it is agreeable to experience, to recall, or to witness, may become the source of beauty in external objects when it is so connected with them as that their appearance reminds us of that feeling.
12. Our proposition, then, is, that these emotions are not original emotions, nor produced directly by any material qualities in the objects which excite them, but are reflections, or images, of the more radical and familiar emotions to which we have already alluded ; and are occasioned, not by any inherent virtue in the objects before us, but by the accidents, if we may so express ourselves, by which these may have been enabled to suggest or recall to us our own past sensations or sympathies.
13. We might almost venture, indeed, to lay it down as an axiom, that, except in the plain and palpable case of bodily pain or pleasure, we can never be interested in any thing but the fortunes of sentient beings; and that every thing partaking of the nature of mental emotion must have for its object the feelings, past, present, or possible, of something capable of sensation. Independent, therefore, of all evidence, and without the help of any explanation, we should have been apt to conclude that the emotions of beauty and sublimity must have for their objects the sufferings or enjoyments of sentient beings; and to reject as intrinsically absurd and incredible the supposition that material objects, which obviously do neither hurt nor delight the body, should yet excite, by their mere physical qualities, the very powerful emotions which are sometimes excited by the spectacle of beauty.
II. 14. It appears to us, then, that objects are sublime or beautiful, first, when they are the natural signs and perpetual concomitants of pleasurable sensations, or, at any rate, of some lively feeling or emotion in ourselves or in some other sentient beings; or, secondly, when they are the arbitrary or accidental concomitants of such feelings; or, thirdly, when they bear some analogy or fanciful
resemblance to things with which these emotions are necessarily connected.
15. The most obvious and the strongest association that can be established between inward feelings and external objects is where the object is necessarily and universally connected with the feeling by the law of Nature, so that it is always presented to the senses when the feeling is impressed upon the mind: as the sight or the sound of laughter with the feeling of gayety; of weeping, with distress; of the sound of thunder, with ideas of danger and power. Let us dwell for a moment on the last instance. Nothing, perhaps, in the whole range of Nature, is more strikingly and universally sublime than the sound we have just mentioned; yet it seems obvious that the sense of sublimity is produced, not by any quality that is perceived by the ear, but altogether by the impression of power and of danger that is necessarily made upon the mind whenever that sound is heard. That it is not produced by any peculiarity in the sound itself is certain, from the mistakes that are frequently made with regard to it. The noise of a cart rattling over the stones is often mistaken for thunder; and, as long as the mistake lasts, this very vulgar and insignificant noise is actually felt to be prodigiously sublime. It is so felt, however, it is perfectly plain, merely because it is then associated with ideas of prodigious power and undefined danger; and the sublimity is accordingly destroyed the moment the association is dissolved, though the sound itself, and its effect on the organ, continue exactly the same. This, therefore, is an instance in which sublimity is distinctly proved to consist, not in any physical quality
of the object to which it is ascribed, but in its necessary connec- tion with that vast and uncontrolled Power which is the natural object of awe and veneration.
16. We may now take an example a little less plain and elementary. The most beautiful object in Nature, perhaps, is the countenance of a young and beautiful woman; and we are apt at first to imagine, that, independent of all associations, the form and colors which it displays are in themselves lovely and engaging, and would appear charming to all beholders, with whatever other qualities or impressions they might happen to be connected. A very little reflection, however, will probably be sufficient to convince us of the fallacy of this impression, and to satisfy us that what we admire is not a combination of forms and colors (which could never excite any mental emotion), but a collection of signs and tokens of certain mental feelings and affections, which are universally recognized as the proper objects of love and sympathy. Laying aside the emotions arising from difference of sex, and supposing female beauty to be contemplated by the pure and unenvying eye of a female, it seems quite obvious, that, among its