« AnteriorContinuar »
these, to satisfy my readers, how little support they derive from the hypothetical disquisitions premised to them, in order to prepare the way for their more easy admission. As for the physiological discussion itself, I am inclined to think that few, even of Mr Burke's most partial admirers, will now be disposed to estimate its merits very highly. By some others, I would willingly believe, that it may be valued chiefly as an illustration of the absurdities in which men of the most exalted genius are sure to involve themselves, the moment they lose sight, in their inquiries concerning the Human Mind, of the sober rules of experimental science.
CONTINUATION OF THE CRITICAL STRICTURES ON MR BURKE's FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLEs concerNING BEAUTY.-INFLUENCE OF THESE PRINCIPLES ON THE SPECULATIONs of MR PRICE.
IN enumerating the qualities constantly observable in beautiful objects, Mr Burke lays a peculiar stress on that of smoothness ; “a quality,” he observes, “so essential to beauty, that he cannot recollect any“thing beautiful that is not smooth. In trees and “flowers, smooth leaves are beautiful; smooth “slopes of earth in gardens; smooth streams in “landscapes; smooth coats of birds and beasts in “animal beauty; in fine women, smooth skins; and, “in several sorts of ornamental furniture, smooth “and polished surfaces. A very considerable part “of the effect of beauty is owing to this quality; “indeed the most considerable. For, take any “beautiful object, and give it a broken and rugged “surface, and however well formed it may be in “other respects, it pleases no longer. Whereas, “let it want ever so many of the other constituents, “if it wants not this, it becomes more pleasing than “almost all the others without it. This seems to “me,” continues Mr Burke, “ so evident, that I “am a good deal surprised that none who have “handled the subject have made any mention of “the quality of smoothness, in the enumeration of “those that go to the forming of beauty. For, in“deed, any rugged, any sudden projection, any “sharp angle, is, in the highest degree, contrary to “that idea.” These observations contain the whole of Mr Burke's doctrine on this essential constituent of beauty; and, I confess, I cannot recollect any philosophical conclusion whatever, more erroneous in itself, or more feebly supported. That the smoothness of many objects is one constituent of their beauty, cannot be disputed. In consequence of that intimate association which is formed in the mind between the perceptions of sight and those of touch, it is reasonable to expect that those qualities which give pleasure to the latter sense, should also be agreeable to the former, Hence the agreeable impression which the eye receives from all those smooth objects about which the sense of touch is habitually conversant; and hence, in such instances, the unpleasant appearance of ruggedness or of asperity. The agreeable effect, too, of smoothness is often heightened by its reflecting so copiously the rays of light; as in the surface of water, in polished mirrors, and in the fine kinds of wood employed in ornamental furniture. In some instances, besides, as in the last now mention
tion from its being considered as a mark of finished work, and of a skilful artist." To all this we may add, that the ideas of beauty formed by our sex are warped, not a little, by the motions we are led to entertain concerning the charms of the other. That in female beauty a smooth skin is an essential ingredient, must be granted in favour of Mr Burke's theory: Nor is it at all difficult to conceive how this association may influence our taste in various other instances. f
* In general, we consider roughness as characterizing the productions of nature; smoothness as the effect of human industry. I speak of those natural productions which were intended to furnish the materials of our various arts. In other cases, as in the plumage of birds, the glossy skins of many quadrupeds, &c. &c. Nature has given to her own work a finished perfection, which no art can rival.
By an easy metaphor, we transfer these words to human character. We speak of rough good sense as familiarly as of a rough diamond; while to the artificial manners formed by the intercourse of the world, we apply the epithets smooth, polished, polite.
t The idea of female beauty was evidently uppermost in Mr Burke's mind when he wrote his book; and it is from an induction, confined almost exclusively to the qualities which enter into its composition, that he draws the whole of his inferences with respect to beauty in general. Even in treating of the beauty of Nature, his imagination always delights to repose on her softest and most feminine features; or, to use his own language, on “such qualities as induce in us a sense of tenderness and affec“tion, or some other passion the most nearly resembling these.” So far as this particular application of the word is concerned, the induction appears to me just and comprehensive ; and I readily subscribe to the opinion of Mr Price, when he assumes it “as perfectly clear, that Mr Burke's general principles of beauty “-smoothness, gradual variation, delicacy of make, tender co
Still, however, Mr Burke's general proposition is very far from holding universally. In objects which have little or no relation to the sense of touch, it fails in numberless instances. What more beautiful objects in nature than the stalk and buds of the moss-rose! To the sense of touch they are positively disagreeable; but we think of them only with a reference to the sense of smelling and sight; and the effect is, on the whole, delightful. *
“lours, and such as insensibly melt into each other, are strictly “applicable to female beauty; so much so, that not one of them “can be changed or diminished without manifest diminution “of beauty.”—Essay on Beauty, prefixed to Mr Price's Dialogue, p. 22. In speculating on the idea of the beautiful in general, it seems evident that we ought to begin with selecting our instances from objects intended to produce their effect on the eye alone; and afterwards proceed to examine the various modifications of this idea, produced by associations arising from the perceptions of the other senses;–by associations of a moral nature;—by considerations of utility, &c. &c. &c. By following the opposite plan, and fixing (unconsciously perhaps) on female beauty as his standard, Burke has fallen into the very mistake against which he has so judiciously cautioned his readers; that of “cir“cumscribing nature within the bounds of a partial definition “ or description.”—See the Essay on Taste, prefixed to the Inquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful. * Mr Price has not only acknowledged the beauty of the mossrose, but has connected with this fact some others, all of them equally inconsistent, in my opinion, with the peculiar notions which he has adopted from Mr Burke. “Flowers are the most “delicate and beautiful of inanimate objects; but their queen, “the rose, grows on a rough bush, whose leaves are serrated, “and which is full of thorns. The moss-rose has the addition “of a rough hairy fringe, that almost makes a part of the flower