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The intimate combination which, in this and various other cases, exists between the immediate objects of sight, and the moral ideas they suggest, led, in ancient times, Plato, as well as his master Socrates, and many later philosophers of the same school, to conclude, that the word Beauty, in its literal acceptation, denotes a quality, not of matter, but of mind; and that, as the light we admire on the discs of the moon and planets is, when traced to its original source, the light of the sun, so what is commonly called the beauty of the material world is but a reflection from those primitive and underived beauties, which the intellectual eye can alone perceive.
I have already said, that, in my opinion, the chief effect of Female Beauty depends on Expression.— A similar remark may be applied (though perhaps not altogether in the same extent) to the Material Universe in general ; the Beauty of which, it cannot be denied, is wonderfully heightened to those who are able to read in it the expressive characters of a Governing Intelligence. But still I think that
The je ne scais quoi of the French, and the fortunate phrase in an English song (“the provoking charm of Caelia altogether”), have been suggested by the same feeling with respect to the problematical essence of female beauty. The very word charm, when its different meanings are attentively considered, will be found an additional confirmation of this remark. “Amoret, my lovely soe, “Tell me where thy strength does lie; “Where the power that charms us so;
“In thy soul, or in thine eye?”
Beauty, in its literal sense, denotes what is presented to the organ of Sight; and that it is afterwards transferred to moral qualities by an associating process, similar to that which combines the smell of a rose with its beautiful form and colour; or which embellishes our native spot with the charms which it borrows from the pleasures of memory. The chief difference between the cases here mentioned, consists in the intimate and inseparable union, which, in the human face, connects soul and body with each other; a union to which nothing completely analogous occurs in any other association whatsoever. “Her pure and eloquent blood
“Spoke in her cheek, and so distinctly wrought,
To the peculiar intimacy of this connection (which, as long as the beautiful object is under our survey, blends the qualities of Matter and those of Mind in one common perception) it seems to be owing, that the word Beauty comes, in process of time, to be applied to certain moral qualities considered abstractly." The qualities which are thus characterized in ordinary discourse are, in truth, exactly those which it gives us the greatest delight to see expressed in the countenance; * or such as have a tendency (which is the case with various af. fections of the mind) to improve the visible beauty which the features exhibit. Is it surprising, that, to a person who has been accustomed to apply the epithet Beautiful to the smile of complacency and kindness, the same epithet should naturally occur as expressively characteristical of the disposition and temper, which it is the study of Beauty to display, when solicitous to assume her most winning form 2 Such transitions in the use of words are daily exemplified in all the various subjects about which language is employed: And, in the present instance, the transition is so easy and obvious, that we are at a loss to say which is the literal and which the metaphorical meaning.
* Such, too, seems to have been the opinion of Cicero, from the following passage, which coincides remarkably, in more respects than one, with the doctrine maintained in the text:
“Itaque eorum ipsorum, qua adspectu sentiuntur, nullum aliud “animal pulchritudinem, venustatem, convenientiam partium “sentit; quam similitudinem natura ratioque ab oculis ad ani“mum transferens, multo etiam magis pulchritudinem, constan“tiam, ordinem in consiliis factisque conservandum putat, &c. “&c. Formam quidem ipsam, Marce fili, et tanquam faciem “Honesti vides; quae, si oculis cerneretur, mirabiles amores (ut “ait Plato) excitaret sapientiae.”—De Offic. Ijb. i.
In the cases which have been hitherto under our consideration, the visible object, if it is not the physical cause, furnishes, at least, the occasion of the pleasure we feel ; and it is on the eye alone that any organic impression is supposed to be made. Our other senses, indeed, frequently contribute to the effect; but they do so only through the medium of the associating principle, when, by its means, the pleasures originally derived from them are blended and identified with those peculiar to viS1011.
The same observation is applicable to all the various moral and intellectual enjoyments, which, by combining themselves with the effects of colours and of forms, may embellish the original beauties of those material objects, which, while they please the eye, exercise the understanding, awaken the fancy, or touch the heart. Hence, to a botanist, the luxury of a garden, where everything is arranged with a view to his favourite study; hence, to the poet, the charms of a romantic retreat ; hence, to every mind alive to the common sympathies of nature, the inspiring influence of scenes consecrated to the memory of worth, of valour, or of genius.
There is, however, nothing which places, in so strong a light, the truth of the preceding remarks, as the consent of all mankind in applying the word Beautiful to Order, to Fitness, to Utility, to Symmetry; above all, to that skill and comprehensivemess, and unity of design, which, combining a multitude of parts into one agreeable whole, blend the charms of variety with that of simplicity. All of these circumstances are calculated to give pleasure to the understanding ; but as this pleasure is eenveyed through the medium of the eye, they are universally confounded with the pleasing qualities which form the direct objects of its physical perceptions. *
The only other external sense, to the objects of which the epithet Beautiful is directly and imme
* I shall have occasion, in another Essay, to make some additional remarks on Utility, Fitness, &c. considered in their relation to the idea of Beauty.
diately applied, is that of hearing. But this use of the word appears to me to be plainly transitive, arising, in part, from the general disposition we have to apply to one class of our perceptions, the epithets strictly appropriated to the agreeable qualities perceived by another.” It is thus we speak of the soft verdure of the fields, and of the sweet song of the nightingale; t and that we sometimes heap, one upon another, these heterogeneous epithets, in the same description. o
“Softly-sweet in Lydian measures.”
The poverty of language is partly the cause of this; but the substitution is, at the same time, pleasingly expressive to the fancy; and its incongruity is never more likely to escape the severe examination of the judgment, than when the thing we wish to describe has any tendency to excite rapture, to rouse enthusiasm, or even to inspire gaiety.
“Dulce ridentem Lalagen amabo,
“Still drink delicious poison from thy eye.”
* A very curious transition of this sort is remarked by Dr Gillies, in a note upon his version of Aristotle's Politics. (Evopézxzow axeda). “The expression,” says Dr Gillies, “is remarkable; the “first word, denoting what is pleasing to the eye, had come to “denote what is agreeable in general; and thence, joined with “axacau, what is pleasing to hear.”—Vol. II. p. 115, 2d ed.
+ “It is remarkable that, in some languages, soft and sweet “have but one name. Dour, in French, signifies soft as well as “sweet. The Latin dulcis and the Italian dolce have, in many “cases, the same double signification.”—Burke, Part iv. sect. 22.