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From the combination of these three elements (of colours, of forms, and of motion) what a variety of complicated results may be conceived ' And in any one of these results, who can ascertain the respective share of each element in its production ? Is it wonderful, then, that the word Beauty, supposing it at first to have been applied to colours alone, should gradually and insensibly acquire a more extensive meaning? In this enlargement, too, of the signification of the word, it is particularly worthy of remark, that it is not in consequence of the discovery of any quality belonging in common to colours, to forms, and to motion, considered abstractly, that the same word is mow applied to them indiscriminately. They all, indeed, agree in this, that they give pleasure to the spectator; but there cannot, I think, be a doubt, that they please on principles essentially different; and that the transference of the word Beauty, from the first to the last, arises solely from their undistinguishable co-operation in producing the same agreeable effect, in consequence of their being all perceived by the same organ, and at the same instant. It is not necessary for any of the purposes which I have at present in view, that I should attempt to investigate the principles on which Colours, Forms, or Motion, give pleasure to the eye. With the greater part of Mr Alison's remarks on these qualities, I perfectly agree; although, in the case of the first, I am disposed to ascribe more to the mere organic impression, independently of any association or expression whatever, than he seems willing to allow. * The opinion, however, we may adopt on this point, is of little importance to the following argument, provided it be granted that each of these classes (comprehended under the generic term Beautiful) ought, in a philosophical inquiry into the nature of Beauty, to form the object of a separate investigation; and that the sources of these pleasing effects should be traced in analytical detail, before we presume to decide how far they are all susceptible of explanation from one general theory. In this respect, Mr Alison's work seems to me to be peculiarly valuable. It is eminently calculated to awaken and to direct the observation of his readers to particular phenomena, and to the state of their own feelings; and whoever peruses it with due attention, cannot fail to be satisfied, that the metaphysical generalizations which have been so often attempted on this subject, are not more unsuccessful in their execution, than they are unphilosophical in their design. Mr Hogarth and Mr Burke are also entitled to much praise, for a variety of original and just remarks, with which they have enriched this part of the Philosophy of the Human Mind. But although they appear to have aimed at a plan of inquiry founded on the rules of a sound logic; and although their good sense has kept them at a distance from that vague and mysterious phraseology concerning Beauty in general, in which so many of their predecessors
• See Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste, by the Reverend Archibald Alison, F. R. SS. Lond, and Edin.
delighted, they have, nevertheless, been frequently misled by the spirit of system; attempting to erect the critical inferences which their good taste had formed in some particular departments of the fine arts, into established maxims of universal application. The justness of this criticism, so far as it refers to Hogarth, has been shewn in a very satisfactory manner by Mr Alison; and it will appear, in the course of our present speculations, that Mr Burke falls, at least in an equal degree, under the same censure. Before, however, I proceed to any comments on the conclusions of this eminent writer, it is necessary, in the first place, to follow out, a few steps farther, the natural progress or history of the mind, in its conceptions of the Beautiful. I have already taken notice of the pleasure which children very early manifest at the sight of regular forms, and uniform arrangements. The principles on which these produce their effects, and which render one regular form more pleasing than another, have engaged the attention of various authors; but it is sufficient for my purpose if the general fact be admitted; and about this there cannot possibly be any room for dispute. With respect to the theories which profess to acccount for the phenomena in question, I must own, that they appear to me more fanciful than solid; although I am far from being disposed to insinuate, that they are totally destitute of foundation. The same love of regular forms, and of uniform arrangements, continues to influence powerfully, in the maturity of reason and experience, the judgments we pronounce on all works of human art, where regularity and uniformity do not interfere with purposes of utility. In recommending these forms and arrangements, in the particular circumstances just mentioned, there is one principle which seems to have no inconsiderable influence; and which I shall take this opportunity of hinting at slightly, as I do not recollect to have seen it anywhere applied to questions of criticism. The principle I allude to is that of the sufficient reason, of which so much use is made (and in my opinion sometimes very erroneously made) in the philosophy of Leibnitz. What is it that, in anything which is merely ornamental, and which, at the same time, does not profess to be an imitation of nature, renders irregular forms displeasing 2 Is it not, at least in part, that irregularities are infinite; and that no circumstance can be imagined which should have decided the choice of the artist in favour of that particular figure which he has selected 2 The variety of regular figures (it must be acknowledged) is infinite also ; but supposing the choice to be once fixed about the number of sides, no apparent caprice of the artist, in adjusting their relative proportions, presents a disagreeable and inexplicable puzzle to the spectator. Is it not also owing, in part, to this, that in things merely ornamental, where no use, even the most trifling, is intended, the circular form possesses a superiority over all others? In a house, which is completely detached from all other buildings, and which stands on a perfectly level foundation, why are we offended when the door is not placed exactly in the middle; or when there is a window on one side of the door, and none corresponding to it on the other? Is it not that we are at a loss to conceive how the choice of the architect could be thus determined, where all circumstances appear to be so exactly alike 2 This disagreeable ef. fect is, in a great measure, removed, the moment any purpose of utility is discovered; or even when the contiguity of other houses, or some peculiarity in the shape of ground, allows us to imagine, that some reasonable motive may have existed in the artist’s mind, though we may be unable to trace it. An irregular castellated edifice, set down on a dead flat, conveys an idea of whim or of folly in the designer; and it would convey this idea still more strongly than it does, were it not that the imitation of something else, which we have previously seen with pleasure, makes the absurdity less revolting. The same, or yet greater irregularity, would not only satisfy, but delight the eye, in an ancient citadel, whose groundwork and elevations followed the rugged surface and fantastic projections of the rock on which it is built. The oblique position of a window in a house would be intolerable; but utility, or rather necessity, reconciles the eye to it at once in the cabin of a ship. In hanging up against the wall of an apartment a number of pictures, of different forms and sizes, the same consideration will be found to determine the propriety of the arrangement. A picture placed near one extremity of the wall will require a companion at the same distance from the other extremity, and in the same horizontal line ; and if there