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tically, and to show, (what I believe to be true) that any surprising adaptation of means to ends, immediately excites the feeling of the beautiful, except where association intervenes to prevent it. Forms which excite the notion of swiftness, are commonly beautiful; or of a mixture of swiftness and strength. The greater part of our associations respecting beautiful forms, are taken from our own species. We find magnitude and strength of form, united with good qualities, which excite respect rather than affection; and with bad ones, which excite fear rather than pity: with courage, perseverance and intrepidity; with violence, harshness and oppression. Experience, on the contrary, teaches us that delicacy of form is united with gentleness and benevolence, which are the objects of affection; and with indecision, timidity, and fluctuation, which are the objects of compassion. This, if I mistake not, is the origin of that association in favour of delicacy of form, and of the application to it of the term beautiful; and of course, when the association is once established, it is extended to those inanimate objects from whence it would never have originated; for I cannot conceive that the delicacy of a flower, by which is principally meant its fragility, the facility with which any exterior violence can destroy it, can of itself be any cause of our deeming it beautiful,—unless our experience of moral beings had previously taught us to associate with the emblem of outward weakness, a thousand beautiful feelings of pity, gratitude, kindness, and other the best and fairest emotions of the mind.
“ALL the objects which are exhibited to our view by “Nature,” says Sir Joshua Reynolds, “upon close ex“amination will be found to have their blemishes and “defects. The most beautiful forms have something “about them like weakness, minuteness, or imperfection. “But it is not every eye that perceives these blemishes; “it must be an eye long used to the contemplation and “comparison of these forms, and which, by a long habit “of observing what any set of objects of the same kind “have in common, has acquired the power of discerning “what each wants in particular. This long, laborious “comparison, should be the first study of the painter “who aims at the greatest style. By this means he “acquires a just idea of beautiful forms; he corrects “Nature by herself, her imperfect state by her more “perfect. His eye being enabled to distinguish the ac“cidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of “things, from their general figures, he makes out an “abstract idea of their forms, more perfect than any one “original; and, what may seem a paradox, he learns to “design naturally, by drawing his figures unlike to any “one object. This idea of the perfect state of nature, “which the artist calls the ideal beauty, is the great “leading principle by which works of genius are con," ducted. By this, Phidias acquired his fame; he wrought “upon a sober principle what has so much excited the “enthusiasm of the world; and by this method you, “who have courage to tread the same path, may acquire “equal reputation. “This is the idea which has acquired, and which “seems to have a right to, the epithet of divine; as it “may be said to preside, like a supreme judge, over all “the productions of nature, appearing to be possessed “of the will and intention of the Creator, as far as they “regard the external form of living beings. When a “man once possesses this idea in its perfection, there is “no danger but that he will be sufficiently warmed by “it himself, and be able to warm and ravish every one “else. “Thus it is from a reiterated experience, and a close “comparison of the objects of nature, that an artist “becomes possessed of the idea of that central form, if I “may so express it, from which every deviation is de“formity. But the investigation of this form, I grant, “is painful; and I know but of one method of shorten“ing the road;—that is, by a careful study of the works “of the ancient sculptors, who, being indefatigable in “the school of nature, have left models of that perfect “form behind them, which an artist would prefer as “supremely beautiful, who had spent his whole life in “that single contemplation. But if industry carried “them thus far, may not you also hope for the same “reward from the same labour? We have the same “school opened to us that was opened to them, for “Nature denies her instructions to none who desire to “become her pupils.” Everybody must perceive that in this opinion of Sir Joshua's there is a great deal of ingenuity as well as justice: and, in order to ascertain the effect of custom on the beauty of forms, I begin with stating, that where the customary figure of animals is very materially deviated from, there we have always a sense of deformity and disgust. I carefully avoid mentioning those parts of animals where a deviation from the customary figure would imply disease and weakness, and prevent the animal from acting as Nature intended it should. A crooked spine gives us the very opposite notions to the beautiful, not merely because it is contrary to the customary figure of the animal, but because experience has taught us to associate it with the notions of disease and imbecility of body. But, in order to show the effect of custom upon the beautiful, take a chin, which is of no use at all. A chin ending in a very sharp angle would be perfect deformity. A man whose chin terminated in a point, would be under the immediate necessity of retiring to America; he would be a perfect horror; and for no 5ther reason that I can possibly see, but that Nature has shown no intention of making such a chin, – we have hever been accustomed to see such chins. Nature, we ure quite certain, did not intend that the chin should be orought to a perfect angle, nor that it should be persectly circular, and therefore either of these extremes is a deformity. Now, something considerably removed from the perfect circle and the perfect angle, is the chin we have been most accustomed to see, and which, for that reason, we most approve of. Within certain limits, one chin is as common as another, and as handsome as: another: there are degrees of tendency to the circle and the angle, which we can at once pronounce to be ugly; but there is a middle region of some extent, where all approximations to these two figures are equally common and equally handsome. The only objection to this doctrine of the central form, is, that it has been pushed too far; it has been urged that there is an exact middle point between the two extremes, which is the perfection of beauty, and to which nature is perpetually tending. This attempt at such very precise and minute discovery in the subject of beauty, appears to me to give a fanciful air to the whole doctrine, and to do injustice to the real
truth it contains. In the construction of every form,