Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

triangle is less beautiful than a square : which must be owing to inferiority of order in the position of its parts; the sides of an equilateral triangle incline to each other in the same angle, being the most perfect order they are susceptible of; but this order is obscure, and far from being so perfect as the parallelism of the sides of a square. Thus order contributes to the beauty of visible objects, no less than simplicity, regularity, or proportion.

A parallelogram exceeds an equilateral triangle in the orderly disposition of its parts; but being inferior in uniformity and simplicity it is less beautiful.

Uniformity is singular in one capital circumstance, that it is apt to disgust by excess ; a number of things destined for the same use, such as windows, chairs, spoons, buttons, cannot be too uniform ; for supposing their figure to be good, utility requires uniformity: but a scrupulous uniformity of parts in a large garden or field, is far from being agreeable. Uniformity among connected objects belongs not to the present subject : it is handled in the chapter of uniformity and variety.

In all the works of nature, simplicity makes an illustrious figure. It also makes a figure in works of art : profuse ornament in painting, gardening, or architecture, as well as in dress or in language, shows a mean or corrupted taste :

Poets, like painters, thus unskill'd to trace
The naked nature and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover ev'ry part,
And hide with ornaments their want of art.

Pope's Essay on Criticism.

No single property recommends a machine more than its simplicity; not solely for better answering its purpose, but by appearing in itself more beautiful. Simplicity in behaviour and manners has an enchanting effect, and never fails to gain our affection : very different are the artificial manners of modern times. General theorems, abstracting from their importance, are delightful by their simplicity, and by the easiness of their application to variety of cases. We take equal delight in the laws of motion, which, with the greatest simplicity, are boundless in their operations.

A gradual progress from simplicity to complex forms and profuse ornament, seems to be the fate of all the fine arts : in that progress these arts resemble behaviour, which, from original candour and simplicity, has degenerated into artificial refinements. At present, literary productions are crowded with words, epithets, figures: in music, sentiment is neglected for the luxury of harmony, and for difficult movement: in taste, properly so called, poignant sauces,

with complicated mixtures of different savours, prevail among people of condition : the French, accustomed to artificial red on a female check, think the modest colouring of nature altogether insipid.

The same tendency is discovered in the progress of the fine arts among the ancients. Some vestiges of the old Grecian buildings prove them to be of the Doric order: the Ionic succeeded, and seems to have been the favourite order, while architecture was in the height of glory: the Corinthian came next in vogue ; and in

Greece the buildings of that order appear mostly to have been erected after the Romans got footing there. At last came the Composite, with all its extravagancies, where simplicity is sacrificed to finery and crowded ornament.

But what taste is to prevail next ? for fashion is a continual flux, and taste must vary with it. After rich and profuse ornaments become familiar, simplicity appears lifeless and insipid ; which would be an insurmountable obstruction, should any person of genius and taste endeavour to restore ancient simplicity.*

The distinction between primary and secondary qualities in matter seems now fully established. Heat and cold, smell and taste, though seeming to exist in bodies, are discovered to be effects caused by these bodies in a sensitive being : colour, which appears to the eye as spread upon a substance, has no existence but in the mind of the spectator. Qualities of that kind, which owe their existence to the percipient as much as to the object

, are termed secondary qualities, and are distinguished from figure, extension, solidity, which, in contradistinction to the former, are termed primary qualities, be cause they inhere in subjects whether perceived or not. This distinction suggests à curious inquiry, Whether beauty be a primary or only a secondary quality of objects ? The question is easily determined with respect to the beauty of colour ; for, if colour be a secondary quality, existing no where but in the mind of the spectator, its beauty must exist there also.

This conclusion equally holds with respect to the beauty of utility, which is plainly a conception of the mind, arising not from sight, but from reflecting that the thing is fitted for some good end or purpose. The question is more intricate with respect to the beauty of regularity ; for if regularity be a primary quality, why not also its beauty? That this is not a good inference, will appear fiom considering, that beauty, in its very conception, refers to a percipient; for an object is said to be beautiful, for no other reason but that it appears so to a spectator : the same piece of matter that to a man appears beautiful, may possibly appear ugly to a being of a different species. Beauty, therefore, which, for its existence, depends on the percipient as much as on the object perceived, cannot be an inherent property in either. And hence it is withily observed by the poet, that beauty is not in the person beloved, but in the lover's eye. This reasoning is solid ; and the only cause of doubt or hesitation is, that we are taught a different lesson by sense : a singular determination of nature makes us perceive both beauty and colour as belonging to the object, and, like figure or extension, as inherent properties. This mechanism is uncommon; and when nature, to fulfil her intention, prefers any singular method of operation, we may be certain of some final cause that cannot be reached by ordinary means. For the beauty of some objects we are indebted entirely to nature; but, with respect to the endless variety of objects that owe their beauty

* A sprightly writer observes, “ that the noble simplicity of the Augustan age was driven out by false taste: that the gigantic, the puerile, the quaint, and at last the barbarous and the monkish, bad each their successive admirers: that music has become a science of tricks and slight of hand,'' &c.

to art and culture, the perception of beauty greatly promotes industry; being to us a strong additional incitement to enrich our fields, and improve our manufactures. These, however, are but slight effects, compared with the connexions that are formed among individuals in society by means of this singular mechanism : the qualifications of the head and heart form undoubtedly the most solid and most permanent connexions; but external beauty, which lies more in view, has a more extensive influence in forming these connexions : at any rate, it concurs in an eminent degree with mental qualifications to produce social intercourse, mutual good-will, and consequently mutual aid and support, which are the life of society.

It must not, however, be overlooked, that the perception of beauty doth not, when immoderate, tend to advance the interests of society. Love in particular, arising from a perception of beauty, loses, when excessive, its sociable character: the appetite for gratification prerailing over affection for the beloved object, is ungovernable; and tends violently to its end, regardless of the misery that must follow. Love, in that state, is no longer a sweet agreeable passion : it becomes painful, like hunger or thirst; and produceth no happiness but in the instant of fruition. This discovery suggests a most important lesson, That moderation in our desires and appetites, which fits us for doing our duty, contributes at the same time the most to happiness : even social passions, when moderate, are more pleasant than when they swell beyond proper bounds.

CHAP. IV.

GRANDEUR AND SUBLIMITY.

NATURE hath not more remarkably distinguished us from other animals by an erect posture, than by a capacious and aspiring mind, attaching us to things great and elevated. The ocean, the sky, seize the attention, and make a deep impression :* robes of state are made large and full

, to draw respect: we admire an elephant for its magni. tude, notwithstanding its unwieldiness.

The elevation of an object affects us no less than its magnitude : a high place is chosen for the statue of a deity or hero: a tree growing on the brink of a precipice looks charming when viewed from the plain below: a throne is erected for the chief magistrate ; and a chair with a high seat for the president of a court. Among all na. tions, heaven is placed far above us, hell far below us.

In some objects, greatness and elevation concur to make a complicated impression : the Alps and the Peak of Teneriffe are proper examples; with the following difference, that in the former greatness seems to prevail, elevation in the latter.

Longinus observes, that nature inclines us to admire, not a small rivulet, however clear and transparent, but the Nile, the Ister, tbe Rhiae, or still more the ocean.

The sight of a small fire produceth no emotion; but we are struck with the boiling furnaces of Ætna, pouring out whole rivers of liquid flame. Treatise of the Sublime, chap. 29.

The emotions raised by great and by elevated objects, are clearly distinguishable, not only in internal feeling, but even in their external expressions. A great object makes the spectator endeavour to enlarge his bulk ; which is remarkable in plain people who give way to nature without reserve; in describing a great object, they naturally expand themselves by drawing in air with all their force. An elevated object produces a different expression : it makes the spectator stretch upward, and stand a tip-toe.

Great and elevated objects considered with relation to the emotions produced by them, are termed grand and sublime. Grandeur and sublimity have a double signification: they commonly signify the quality or circumstance in objects by which the emotions of grandeur and sublimity are produced; sometimes the emotions themselves.

In handling the present subject, it is necessary that the impression made on the mind by the magnitude of an object, abstracting from its other qualities, should be ascertained. And because abstraction is a mental operation of some difficulty, the safest method for judg. ing is, to choose a plain object that is neither beautiful nor deformed, if such a one can be found. The plainest that occurs, is a huge mass of rubbish, the ruins, perhaps of some extensive building, or a large heap of stones, such as are collected together for keeping in memory a battle or other remarkable event. Such an object, which in miniature would be perfectly indifferent, makes an impression by its magnitude, and appears agreeable. And supposing it so large as to fill the eye, and to prevent the attention from wandering upon other objects, the impression it makes will be so much the deeper.*

But though a plain object of that kind be agreeable, it is not termed grand : it is not entitled to that character, unless, together with its size, it be possessed of other qualities that contribute to beauty, such as regularity, proportion, order, or colour; and according to the number of such qualities combined with magnitude, it is more or less grand. Thus St. Peter's church at Rome, the great pyramid of Egypt, the Alps towering above the clouds, a great arm of the sea, and above all, a clear and serene sky, are grand, because, beside their size, they are beautiful in an eminent degree. On the other hand, an over-grown whale, having a disagreeable appearance, is not grand. A large building, agreeable by its regularity and proportion, is grand, and yet a much larger building, destitute of regularity, has not the least tincture of grandeur. A single regiment in battle-array, makes a grand appearance; which the surrounding crowd does not, though perhaps ten for one in number. And a regiment where the men are all in one livery, and the horses of one colour, makes a grander appearance, and consequently strikes more terror, than where there is confusion of colours and of dress. Thus greatness or magnitude is the circumstance that distinguishes grandeur from beauty: agreeableness is the genus, of which beauty and grandeur are species.

The emotion of grandeur, duly examined, will be found an addi.

* See Appendix, Terms defined, sect. 33.

tional proof of the foregoing doctrine. That this emotion is pleasant in a high degree, requires no other evidence but once to have seen a grand object; and if an emotion of grandeur be pleasant, its cause or object, as observed above, must infallibly be agreeable in proportion.

The qualities of grandeur and beauty are not more distinct, than the emotions are which these qualities produce in a spectator. It is observed in the chapter immediately foregoing, that all the various emotions of beauty have one common character, that of sweetness and gaiety. The emotion of grandeur has a different character : a large object that is agreeable, occupies the whole attention, and swells the heart into a vivid emotion, which though extremely pleasant, is rather serious than gay. And this affords a good reason for distinguishing in language these different emotions. The emotions raised by colour, by regularity, by proportion, and by order, have such a resemblance to each other, as readily to come under one general term, viz. the emotion of beauty; but the emotion of grandeur is so different from these mentioned, as to merit a peculiar name.

Though regularity, proportion, order, and colour, contribute to grandeur as well as to beauty, yet these qualities are not by far so essential to the former as to the latter. To make out that proposition, some preliminaries are requisite. In the first place, the mind, not being totally occupied with a small object, can give its attention at the same time to every minute part ; but in a great or extensive object, the mind being totally occupied with the capital and striking parts, has no attention left for those that are little or indifferent. In the next place, two similar objects appear not similar when viewed at different distances; the similar parts of a very large object cannot be seen but at different distances ; and for that reason, its regularity, and the proportion of its parts, are in some measure lost to the eye; neither are the irregularities of a very large object so very conspicuous as of one that is small. Hence it is, that a large object is not so agreeable by its regularity as a small object ; nor so disagreeable by its irregularities.

These considerations make it evident, that grandeur is satisfied with a less degree of regularity and of the other qualities mentioned, than is requisite for beauty ; which may be illustrated by the fol. lowing experiment. Approaching to a small conical hill, we take an accurate survey of every part, and are sensible of the slightest deviation from regularity and proportion. Supposing the hill to be considerably enlarged, so as to make us less sensible of its regularity, it will, upon that account, appear less beautiful. It will not, however, appear less agreeable, because some slight emotion of grandeur comes in place of what is lost in beauty. And at last, when the hill is enlarged to a great mountain, the small degree of beauty that is left, is sunk in its grandeur. Hence it is, that a towering hill is delightful, if it have but the slightest resemblance of a cone ; and a chain of mountains no less so, though deficient in the accuracy of order and proportion. We require a small surface to be smooth ; but in an extensive plain, considerable inequalities are overlooked. In a word, regularity, proportion, order, and colour,

« AnteriorContinuar »