« AnteriorContinuar »
Agreeing as he does with Mr. Alison, and all modern inquirers, that the whole beauty of objects consists, in the far greater number of instances, in the associations to which we have alluded, he still maintains, that some few visible objects affect us with a sense of beauty in consequence of the pleasurable impression they make upon the sense-and that our perception of beauty is, in these instances, a mere organic sensation. Now, we have already stated, that it would be something quite unexampled in the history either of mind or of language, if certain physical and bodily sensations should thus be confounded with moral and social feelings with which they had no connection, and pass familiarly under one and the same name. Beauty consists confessedly, in almost all cases, in the suggestion of moral or social emotions, mixed
This analysis is to us perfectly satisfactory. But, indeed, we cannot conceive any more complete refutation of the notion of an intrinsic and inherent beauty in the proportions of the Grecian architecture, than the fact of the admitted beauty of such very opposite proportions in the Gothic. Opposite as they are, however, the great elements of beauty are the same in this style as in the other-up and modified by a present sensation or the impressions of religious awe and of chi- perception; and it is this suggestion, and this valrous recollections, coming here in place of identification with a present object, that conthe classical associations which constitute so stitutes its essence, and gives a common great a share of the interest of the former. It character to the whole class of feelings it is well observed too by Mr. Alison, that the produces, sufficient to justify their being degreat durability and costliness of the produc- signated by a common appellation. If the tions of this art, have had the effect, in almost word beauty, in short, must mean something, all regions of the world, of rendering their and if this be very clearly what it means, in Fashion permanent, after it had once attained all the remarkable instances of its occurrence, such a degree of perfection as to fulfil its it is difficult to conceive, that it should occa substantial purposes. sionally mean something quite different, and denote a mere sensual or physical gratification, unaccompanied by the suggestion of any moral emotion whatever. According to Mr. Knight, however, and, indeed, to many other writers, this is the case with regard to the beauty of colours; which depends altogether, they say, upon the delight which the eye naturally takes in their contemplation-this delight being just as primitive and sensual as that which the palate receives from the contact of agreeable flavours.
It must be admitted, we think, in the first place, that such an allegation is in itself extremely improbable, and contrary to all analogy, and all experience of the structure of language, or of the laws of thought. It is farther to be considered, too, that if the pleasures of the senses are ever to be considered as beautiful, those pleasures which are the most lively and important would be the most likely to usurp this denomination, and to take rank with the higher gratifications that result from the perception of beauty. Now, it admits of no dispute, that the mere organic pleasures of the eye (if indeed they have any existence) are far inferior to those of the palate, the touch, and indeed almost all the other senses-none of which, however, are in any case confounded with the sense of beauty. In the next place, it should follow, that if what affords organic pleasure to the eye be properly called beautiful, what offends or gives pain to it, should be called ugly. Now, excessive or dazzling light is offensive to the eye-but, considered by itself, it is never called ugly, but only painful or disagreeable. The moderate excitement of light, on the other hand, or the soothing of certain bright but temperate colours, when considered in
still more powerfully serve to command our admiration; for they are the GRECIAN orders; they derive their origin from those times, and were the ornament of those countries which are most hallowed in our imaginations; and it is difficult for us to see them, even in their modem copies, without feeling them operate upon our minds as relics of those polished nations where they first arose, and of that greater people by whom they were afterwards borrowed.
"Buildings," he observes, "may last, and are intended to last for centuries. The life of man is very inadequate to the duration of such productions; and the present period of the world, though old with respect to those arts which are employed upon perishable subjects, is yet young in relation to an art, which is employed upon so durable materials as those of architecture. Instead of a few years, therefore, centuries must probably pass before such productions demand to be renewed; and, long before that period is elapsed, the sacredness of antiquity is acquired by the subject itself, and a new motive given for the preservation of similar forms. In every country, accordingly, the same effect has taken place and the same causes which have thus served to produce among us, for so many years, an uniformity of taste with regard to the style of Grecian architecture, have produced also among the nations of the East, for a much longer course of time, a similar uniformity of taste with regard to their ornamental style of architecture; and have perpetuated among them the same forms which were in use among their forefathers, before the Grecian orders were invented."
It is not necessary, we think, to carry these illustrations any farther: as the theory they are intended to explain, is now, we believe, universally adopted, though with some limitations, which we see no reason to retain. Those ggested by Mr. Alison, we have already endeavoured to dispose of in the few remarks we have made upon his publication; and it only remains to say a word or two more upon Mr. Knight's doctrine as to the primitive and independent beauty of colours, upon which we have already hazarded some remarks.
which seem to possess the same power of pleasing, are found, upon examination, to owe it entirely to the principle of association?
this primary aspect, are not called beautiful, but only agreeable or refreshing. So far as the direct offence or comfort of the organ, in short, is referred to, the language which we nse relates strictly to physical or bodily sensation, and is not confounded with that which relates to mental emotion; and we really see no ground for supposing that there is any exception to this rule.
The only reason that can be assigned, or that actually exists for this distinction, is, that it has been supposed more difficult to account for the beauty of colours, upon the principles which have accounted for other beauties, or to specify the particular associations by virtue It is very remarkable, indeed, that the of which they could acquire this quality. sense whose organic gratification is here sup- Now, it appears to us that there is no such posed to constitute the primary feeling of difficulty; and that there is no reason whatbeauty, should be one, in the first place, ever for holding that one colour, or combina whose direct organic gratifications are of very tion of colours, is more pleasing than another, little force or intensity; and, in the next except upon the same grounds of association place, one whose office it is, almost exclu- which recommend particular forms, motions, sively, to make us acquainted with the exist- or proportions. It appears to us, that the orence and properties of those external objects ganic pleasures of the eye are extremely few which are naturally interesting to our inward and insignificant. It is hurt, no doubt, by an feelings and affections. This peculiarity excessive glare of light; and it is in some demakes it (at the very least) extremely proba-gree gratified, perhaps, by a moderate degree ble, that ideas of emotion should be associated of it. But it is only by the quantity or inwith the perceptions of this sense; but ex- tensity of the light, we think, that it is so tremely improbable, that its naked and unas- affected. The colour of it, we take it, is, in sociated sensations should in any case be all cases, absolutely indifferent. But it is the classed with such emotions. If the name of colour only that is called beautiful or otherbeauty were given to what directly gratifies wise; and these qualities we think it very any sense, such as that of tasting or smelling, plainly derives from the common fountain of which does not make us acquainted with the association. nature or relations of outward objects, there would be less room for such an explanation. But when it is the business of a particular sense or organ to introduce to our knowledge those objects which are naturally connected with ideas of emotion, it is easy to understand how its perceptions should be associated with these emotions, and an interest and importance thus extended to them, that belong to the intimations of no other bodily organ. But, for those very reasons, we should be prepared to suspect, that all the interest they possess is derived from this association; and to distrust the accuracy of any observations that might lead us to conclude that its mere organic impulses ever produced any thing akin to those associated emotions, or entitled to pass under their name. This caution will appear still more reasonable, when it is considered, that all the other qualities of visible objects, except only their colours, are now admitted to be perfectly indifferent in themselves, and to possess no other beauty than they may derive from their associations with our ordinary affections. There are no forms, for example, even in Mr. Knight's opinion, that have any intrinsic beauty, or any power of pleasing or affecting us, except through their associations, or affinities to mental affections, either as expressive of fitness and utility, or as types and symbols of certain moral or intellectual qualities, in which the sources of our interest are obvious. Yet the form of an object is as conspicuous an ingredient of its beauty as its colour; and a property, too, which seems at first view to be as intrinsically and independently pleasing. Why, then, should we persist in holding that colours, or combinations of colours, please from being naturally agreeable to the organ of sight, when it is admitted that other visible qualities,
In the first place, we would ask, whether there is any colour that is beautiful in all situations? and, in the next place, whether there is any colour that is not beautiful in some situation? With regard to the first, take the colours that are most commonly referred to as intrinsically beautiful-bright and soft green-clear blue-bright pink, or vermilion. The first is unquestionably beautiful in vernal woods and summer meadows; and, we humbly conceive, is beautiful, because it is the natural sign and concomitant of those scenes and seasons of enjoyment. Blue, again, is beautiful in the vernal sky;-and, as we be lieve, for the sake of the pleasures of which such skies are prolific; and pink is beautiful on the cheeks of a young woman or the leaves of a rose, for reasons too obvious to be stated. We have associations enough, therefore, to recommend all those colours, in the situations in which they are beautiful: But, strong as these associations are, they are unable to make them universally beautiful-or beautiful, indeed, in any other situations. Green would not be beautiful in the sky-nor blue on the cheek-nor vermilion on the grass. It may be said, indeed, that, though they are always recognised as beautiful in themselves, their obvious unfitness in such situations counteracts the effect of their beauty, and make an opposite impression, as of something monstrous and unnatural; and that, accordingly, they are all beautiful in indifferent situations, where there is no such antagonist principlein furniture, dress, and ornaments. Now the fact, in the first place, is not so-these bright colours being but seldom and sparingly admitted in ornaments or works of art; and no man, for example, choosing to have a blue house, or a green ceiling, or a pink coat. But, in the second place, if the facts were admitted
we think it obvious, that the general beauty of | used without reference to the practical diffi
those colours would be sufficiently accounted for by the very interesting and powerful associations under which all of them are so frequently presented by the hand of Nature. The interest we take in female beauty,-in vernal delights,-in unclouded skies,-is far too lively and too constantly recurring, not to stamp a kindred interest upon the colours that are naturally associated with such objects; and to make us regard with some affection and delight those hues that remind us of them, although we should only meet them upon a fan, or a dressing-box, the lining of a curtain, or the back of a screen. Finally, we beg leave to observe, that all bright and clear colours are naturally typical of cheerfulness and purity of mind, and are hailed as emblems of moral qualities, to which no one can be indifferent.
culties of the art, which must go for nothing in the present question, really mean little more than the true and natural appearance of coloured objects, seen through the same tinted or partially obscure medium that commonly constitutes the atmosphere: and for the actual optical effects of which but few artists know how to make the proper allowance. In nature, we know of no discordant or offensive colouring, except what may be referred to some accident or disaster that spoils the moral or sentimental expression of the scene, and disturbs the associations upon which all its beauty, whether of forms or of hues, seems to us very plainly dependent. We are perfectly aware, that ingenious persons have been disposed to dogmatize and to speculate very confidently upon these subjects; and have had the benefit of seeing various learned treatises upon the natural gamut of colours, and the inherent congruity of those that are called complementary, with reference to the prismatic spectrum. But we confess we have no faith in any of those fancies; and believe, that, if all these colours were fairly arranged on a plain board, according to the most rigid rules of this supposed harmony, nobody, but the author of the theory, would perceive the smallest beauty in the exhibition, or be the least offended by reversing their collocation.
With regard to ugly colours again, we really are not aware of any to which that epithet can be safely applied. Dull and dingy hues are usually mentioned as in themselves the least pleasing. Yet these are the prevailing tints in many beautiful landscapes, and many admired pictures. They are also the most common colours that are chosen for dress (male dress at least),-for building,-for furniture, where the consideration of beauty is the only motive for the choice. In fact, the shaded parts of all coloured objects pass into We do not mean, however, to dispute, that tints of this description:-nor can we at pre- the laws of colouring, insisted on by learned sent recollect any one colour, which we could artists, will produce a more pleasing effect specify as in itself disagreeable, without run- upon trained judges of the art, than a neglect ning counter to the feelings and the practice of of these laws; because we have little doubt the great mass of mankind. If the fact, how-that these combinations of colour are recomever, were otherwise, and if certain muddy mended by certain associations, which render and dull colours were universally allowed to them generally pleasing to persons so trained be disagreeable, we should think there could and educated;-all that we maintain is, that be no difficulty in referring these, too, to na- there are no combinations that are originally tural associations. Darkness, and all that ap- and universally pleasing or displeasing to the proaches it, is naturally associated with ideas eye, independent of such associations; and it of melancholy,-of helplessness, and danger; seems to us an irresistible proof of this, that --and the gloomy hues that remind us of it, these laws of harmonious colouring are peror seem to draw upon it, must share in the petually and deliberately violated by great same associations. Lurid skies, too, it should multitudes of persons, who not only have the be observed, and turbid waters, and unfruitful perfect use of their sight, but are actually beswamps, and dreary morasses, are the natural stowing great pains and expense in providing and most common wearers of these dismal for its gratification, in the very act of this violiveries. It is from these that we first become lation. The Dutch trader, who paints over the acquainted with them; and it is needless, outside of his country-house with as many therefore, to say, that such objects are neces- bright colours as are to be found in his tulipsarily associated with ideas of discomfort, and bed, and garnishes his green shutters with sadness, and danger; and that the colours that blue facings, and his purple roof with lilac remind us of them, can scarcely fail to recal ridges, not only sees as well as the studied cosome of the same disagreeable sensations. lourist, who shudders at the exhibition, but actually receives as much pleasure, and as strong an impression of beauty, from the finished lusthaus, as the artist does from one of his best pictures. It is impossible, then, that these combinations of colours can be naturally or intrinsically offensive to the organ of sight; and their beauty or ugliness must depend upon the associations which different individuals may have happened to form with regard to them. We contend, however, for nothing more; and are quite willing to allow that the associations which recommend his staring tawdriness to the burgomaster, are such as
Enough, however, and more than enough, has been said about the supposed primitive and independant beauty of separate colours. It is chiefly upon the intrinsic beauty of their mixture or combinations that Mr. Knight and his adherents have insisted; -and it is no doubt quite true, that, among painters and connoisseurs, we hear a great deal about the harmony and composition of tints, and the charms and difficulties of a judicious colouring. In all this, however, we cannot help suspecting that there is no little pedantry, and no little jargon; and that these phrases, when
could not easily have been formed in the mind of a diligent and extensive observer of nature, and that they would probably be reversed by habits of reflection and study. But the same thing, it is obvious, may be said of the notions of beauty of any other description that prevail among the rude, the inexperienced, and uninstructed; though, in all other instances, we take it for granted, that the beauty which is perceived depends altogether upon association, and in no degree on its power of giving a pleasurable impulse to the organ to which it addresses itself. If any considerable number of persons, with the perfect use of sight, actually take pleasure in certain combinations of colours-that is complete proof that such combinations are not naturally offensive to the organ of sight, and that the pleasure of such persons, exactly like that of those who disagree with them, is derived not from the sense, but from associations with its perceptions.
in a picture; because, considered as mere objects of sight, they may often present beautiful effects of colouring and shadow; and these are preserved or heightened in the imitation, disjointed from all their offensive accompaniments. Now, if the tints and shades were the exclusive sources of our gratification, and if this gratification was diminished, instead of being heightened, by the suggestion which, however transiently, must still intrude itself, that they appeared in an imitation of disgusting objects, it must certainly follow, that the pleasure and the beauty would be much enhanced if there was no imitation of any thing whatever, and if the canvas merely presented the tints and shades, unaccompanied with the representation of any particular object. It is perfectly obvious, however, that it would be absurd to call such a collection of coloured spots a beautiful picture; and that a man would be laughed at who should hang up such a piece of stained canvas among the works of the great artists. Again, if it were really possible for any one, but a student of art, to confine the attention to the mere colouring and shadowing of any picture, there is nothing so disgusting but what might form the subject of a beautiful imitation. A piece of putrid veal, or a cancerous ulcer, or the rags that are taken from it, may display the most brilliant tints, and the finest distribution of light and shadow. Does Mr. Knight, however, seriously think, that either of these experiments would succeed? Or are there, in reality, no other qualities in the pictures in question, to which their beauty can be ascribed, but the organic effect of their colours? We humbly conceive that there are; and that far less ingenuity than his might have been able to detect them.
With regard, again, to the effect of broken masses of light and shadow, it is proper, in the first place, to remember, that by the eye we see colour only; and that lights and shadows, as far as the mere organ is concerned, mean nothing but variations of tint. It is very true, no doubt, that we soon learn to refer many of those variations to light and shade, and that they thus become signs to us of depth, and distance, and relief. But, is not this, of itself, sufficient to refute the idea of their affording any primitive or organic pleasure? In so far as they are mere variations of tints, they may be imitated by unmeaning daubs of paint on a pallet;-in so far as they are signs, it is to the mind that they address themselves, and not to the organ. They are signs, too, it should be recollected, and the only signs we have, by which we can receive any correct knowledge of the existence and There is, in the first place, the pleasing ascondition of all external objects at a distance sociation of the skill and power of the artist from us, whether interesting or not interest--a skill and power which we know may be ing. Without the assistance of variety of tint, employed to produce unmingled delight; and of lights and shadows, we could never whatever may be the character of the partidistinguish one object from another, except by cular effort before us: and with the pride of the touch. These appearances, therefore, are whose possessors we sympathise. But, in the the perpetual vehicles of almost all our inter- second place, we do humbly conceive that esting perceptions; and are consequently as- there are many interesting associations consociated with all the emotions we receive from nected with the subjects which have been revisible objects. It is pleasant to see many presented as purely disgusting. The aspect things in one prospect, because some of them of human wretchedness and decay is not, at are probably agreeable; and it is pleasant to all events, an indifferent spectacle; and, if know the relations of those things, because presented to us without actual offence to our the qualities or associations, by means of senses, or any call on our active beneficence, which they interest us, generally depend upon may excite a sympathetic emotion, which is that knowledge. The mixture of colours and known to be far from undelightful. Many an shades, however, is necessary to this enjoy- attractive poem has been written on the mise ment, and consequently is a sign of it, and a ries of beggars; and why should painting be source of associated interest or beauty. supposed more fastidious? Besides, it will be observed, that the beggars of the painter are generally among the most interesting of that interesting order—either young and lovely children, whose health and gaiety, and sweet expression, form an affecting contrast with their squalid garments, and the neglect and misery to which they seem to be destin ed-or old and venerable persons, mingling something of the dignity and reverence of age with the broken spirit of their condition, anu
Mr. Knight, however, goes much farther than this; and maintains, that the beauty which is so distinctly felt in many pictures of objects in themselves disagreeable, is to be ascribed entirely to the effect of the brilliant and harmonious tints, and the masses of light and shadow that may be employed in the representation. The filthy and tattered rags of a beggar, he observes, and the putrifying contents of a dunghill, may form beautiful objects
seeming to reproach mankind for exposing whatever may be thought of the proper name neads so old and white to the pelting of the of this singular gratification, of a musical ear, pitiless storm. While such pictures suggest it seems to be quite certain, that all that rises images so pathetic, it looks almost like a wil- to the dignity of an emotion in the pleasure we ful perversity, to ascribe their beauty entirely receive from sounds, is as clearly the gift of to the mixture of colours which they display, association, as in the case of visible beauty,and to the forgetfulness of these images. of association with the passionate tones and Even for the dunghill, we think it is possible modulations of the human voice,-with the to say something,-though, we confess, we scenes to which the interesting sounds are have never happened to see any picture, of native,-with the poetry to which they have which that useful compound formed the pe- been married,-or even with the skill and culiar subject. There is the display of the genius of the artist by whom they have been painter's art and power here also; and the arranged. dunghill is not only useful, but is associated Hitherto we have spoken of the beauty of with many pleasing images of rustic toil and external objects only. But the whole diffi occupation, and of the simplicity, and comfort, culty of the theory consists in its application and innocence of agricultural life. We do not to them. If that be once adjusted, the beauty know that a dunghill is at all a disagreeable of immaterial objects can occasion no perobject to look at, even in plain reality-pro- plexity. Poems and other compositions in vided it be so far off as not to annoy us with words, are beautiful in proportion as they are its odour, or to soil us with its effusions. In conversant with beautiful objects-or as they a picture, however, we are safe from any of suggest to us, in a more direct way, the moral these disasters; and, considering that it is and social emotions on which the beauty of usually combined, in such delineations, with all objects depends. Theorems and demonother more pleasing and touching remem- strations again are beautiful, according as they brancers of humble happiness and content-excite in us emotions of admiration for the ment, we really do not see that it was at all genius and intellectual power of their inventnecessary to impute any mysterious or intrin- ors, and images of the magnificent and benesic beauty to its complexion, in order to ac- ficial ends to which such discoveries may be count for the satisfaction with which we can applied;-and mechanical contrivances are then bear to behold it. 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.
Having said so much with a view to reduce to its just value, as an ingredient of beauty, the mere organical delight which the eye is supposed to derive from colours, we really have not patience to apply the same considerations to the alleged beauty of Sounds that are supposed to be insignificant. Beautiful sounds, in general, we think, are beautiful from association only,-from their resembling the natural tones of various passions and affections, or from their being originally and most frequently presented to us in scenes or on occasions of natural interest or emotion. With regard, again, to successive or coexistent sounds, we do not, of course, mean to dispute, that there are such things as melody and harmony; and that most men are offended or gratified by the violation or observance of those laws upon which they depend. This, however, it should be observed, is a faculty quite unique, and unlike anything else in our constitution; by no means universal, as the sense of beauty is, even in cultivated societies; and apparently withheld from whole communities of quick-eared savages and barbarians. Whether the kind of gratification, which results from the mere musical arrangement of sounds, would be felt to be beautiful, or would pass under that name, if it could be presented entirely detached from any associated emotions, appears to us to be exceedingly doubtful. Even with the benefit of such combinations, we do not find, that every arrangement which merely preserves inviolate the rules of composition, is considered as beautiful; and we do not think that it would be consonant, either with the common feeling or common language of mankind, to bestow this epithet upon pieces that had no other merit. At all events, and
Having now explained, as fully as we think necessary, the grounds of that opinion as to the nature of beauty which appears to be most conformable to the truth-we have only to add a word or two as to the necessary consequences of its adoption upon several other controversies of a kindred description.
In the first place, then, we conceive that it 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 D