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to these infringements on justice and good sense. The breath of living acclamation cannot reach the ages which are to come: the judges and the judged are no more; passion is extinguished; party is forgotten; and the mild . yet inflexible decisions of taste, will receive nothing, as the price of praise, but the solid exertions of superior talent. Justice is pleasant, even when she destroys. It is a grateful homage to common sense, to see those productions hastening to that oblivion, in their progress to which they should never have been retarded. But it is much more pleasant to witness the power of taste in the work of preservation and lasting praise;— to think that, in these fleeting and evanescent feelings of the beautiful and the sublime, men have discovered something as fixt and as positive, as if they were measuring the flow of the tides, or weighing the stones on which they tread;— to think that there lives not, in the civilised world, a being who knows he has a mind, and who knows not that Virgil and Homer have written, that Raffaelle has painted, and that Tully has spoken. Intrenched in these everlasting bulwarks against barbarism, Taste points out to the races of men, as they spring up in the order of time, on what path they shall guide the labours of the human spirit. Here she is safe; hence she never can be driven, while one atom of matter clings to another, and till man, with all his wonderful system of feeling and thought, is called away to Him who is the great Author of all that is beautiful, and all that is sublime, and all that is good |
ON THE BEAUTIFUL.
The three next lectures which I propose to deliver in this place, will be on the same subject as that with which I am at present engaged (the Beautiful). I have found it quite impossible to compress this very ample subject into a less space; and even with such limits I have been compelled to pass over many topics of discussion with a brevity very ill suited to their importance, and little favourable to perspicuity. I mention the length to which I intend to carry this discussion, lest any one should conceive, after I had finished this lecture, that I had done with the subject, and consequently had treated it very jejunely and imperfectly: that I shall treat it imperfectly enough at last, I can easily believe; but still I prefer to be judged after I am heard, rather than before.
The best evidence we can procure of the resemblance of our feelings, is by language. When men give one common name to very dissimilar objects, it is most probable that they give it because these objects, though apparently dissimilar, produce effects upon the mind which materially resemble each other: therefore, the mode in which I propose to examine the nature of the beautiful, is, first, to state the fact with respect to language, the various classes of objects and occasions where a person understanding his own language thoroughly, and applying it properly, would use the expression of beautiful.
In the first place, it is applied to the simplest sensations of sight, as colour, figure, and so forth; it is applied to sounds, either simple or compound; but, I believe, neither to touch, taste, nor smell. We should not say that the feeling of velvet, or the taste of sugar, or the smell of a rose, was beautiful: the latter instance, however, is rather doubtful; if the expression be not already legitimated, I think we may say it will be so very soon. We apply the expression to the face of nature, to landscape, to personal appearance, to animals, to poetry, painting, sculpture, and all the fine arts which are called mimetic, and represent animate or inanimate nature. We apply it to several moral feelings of the mind, to architecture, and to invention in machinery. These are, I fancy, the principal subjects which justify the application of the word.
There is one usage of the word to which I shall not refer in the subsequent discussion, because it is evidently used in a figurative sense; as when we say that anything which is good, is beautiful; and in this sense we should say that Milton's description of the falling angels was beautiful, though in strictness it is sublime, and not beautiful: —
“Him the Almighty Power
At once, as far as angels ken, he views
But the word beautiful, as a general word for excellence, is a part of that practice in language, which, where there are many qualities, or many things, puts one of the most conspicuous, to stand for the whole. Thus, virtue, which originally signifies personal courage, has become a general name for all good qualities. England is the general name for all the three branches of the empire; and the beautiful has become a general term for all the various excellences in poetry. Having, then, ascertained the facts respecting the application of the term beauty, there are two things which remain to be done,—to ascertain the causes, in each respective instance, which excite the feeling of the beautiful in my mind; and next, to discover whether these various examples of this feeling, which are called by a common name, do, in fact, possess a common nature: for if I can point out the cause or causes of this emotion, or class of emotions, and ascertain its nature, or their natures, I see nothing else which I have to do. A very great ambiguity has arisen in all language, from the confusion which has been made between the causes which act upon the mind, and the affections of the mind itself. In hardness or softness, there ought to be one word to signify that cause, which impresses the mind in that particular manner, and another for the impression itself. So in beauty, the same word expresses the emotion of the mind, and the cause of that emotion: it is absolutely necessary, in order to arrive at any definite opinions on this subject, to specify to ourselves and others, in which of these two senses we are making use of the term; and, to follow my own advice, I use the term beauty always as a feeling of the mind. When I say that such an object is beautiful, I mean that it has in itself the power of exciting in my mind that particular feeling. It does all very well in popular language, where no great precision is wanted, to say that a landscape is beautiful; or the expression may stand where men know how to translate it into common sense; but in strictness the feeling only can be in my mind;— the causes which excite that feeling, whatever they be, are in the landscape; all the effects which these causes can produce, are in me. Emotion cannot reside upon the banks of rivers, or be green with the grass, flexible with the boughs, and pearly with the dew: the causes of this particular emotion may be in matter; the thing itself cannot. I hear some men contend that beauty, in strictness, only means personal beauty, or beauty of landscape; and that when applied to such objects as an ox, or an invention, as in a steam-engine, it is merely a metaphor. Now a metaphor is nothing but a short simile, and a simile is a resemblance; and why, I should be glad to know, is one feeling of the mind, by general consent, said to resemble another feeling of the mind, if, in fact, there is no resemblance between them? If it be used metaphorically, it is the clearest proof that mankind have felt a resemblance, which has guided them in the application of the metaphor. When you compare an object of sense, to a feeling of mind, as pity to a balsam, or the feeling of anger to a storm, it is very obvious that such metaphors are derived from those faint analogies which are convenient enough for poetry, but utterly unsuitable to philosophy. But where mankind, or great numbers of mankind, have agreed to call two mere feelings by the same name, or, as other persons would