« AnteriorContinuar »
stance of the care of Providence to extend social connexions as far as the limited nature of man can admit. That communication is so far hurtful, as to spread the malevolent passions beyond their natural bounds : but let it be remarked, that this unhappy effect regards savages only, who give way to malevolent passions ; for under the discipline of society, these passions being subdued, are in a good measure eradicated ; and in their place succeed the kindly affections, which, meeting with all encouragement, take possession of the mind, and govern all our actions. In that condition, the progress of passion along related objects, by spreading the kindly affections through a multitude of individuals, hath a glorious effect.
Nothing can be more entertaining to a rational mind than the economy of the human passions, of which I have attempted to give some faint notion. It must however be acknowledged, that our passions, when they happen to swell beyond proper limits, take on a less regular appearance : reason may proclaim our duty, but the will, influenced by passion, makes gratification always welcome. Hence the power of passion, which when in excess, cannot be resisted but by the utmost fortitude of mind; it is bent upon gratification; and where proper objects are wanting, it clings to any object at hand without distinction. Thus joy inspired by a fortunate event, is diffused upon every person around by acts of benevolence; and resentment for an atrocious injury done by one out of reach, seizes the first object that occurs to vent itself upon. Those who believe in prophecies, even wish the accomplishment; and a weak mind is disposed voluntarily to fulfil a prophecy, in order to gratify its wish. Shakspeare, whom no particle of human nature hath escaped, however remote from common observation, describes that weakness :
K. Henry. Doth any name particular belong
Warwick. "Tis callid Jerusalem, my Noble Lord.
K. Henry. Laud be to God! e'en there my life must end,
I could not deny myself the amusement of the fore going observation, though it doth not properly come under my plan. The irregularities of passion proceeding from peculiar weaknesses and biasses, I do not undertake to justify; and of these we have had many examples.* It is sufficient that passions common to all are made subservient to beneficent purposes. I shall only observe, that in a polished society, instances of irregular passions are rare, and that their mischief doth not extend far.
* Part 5. of the present chapter.
HAVING discoursed in general of emotions and passions, I proceed to a more narrow inspection of such of them as serve to unfold the principles of the fine arts. It is the province of a writer upon ethics, to give a full enumeration of all the passions ; and of each separately to assign the nature, the cause, the gratification, and the effects. “But a treatise of ethics is not my province: I carry my view no farther than to the elements of criticism ; in order to show, that the fine arts are a subject of reasoning as well as of taste. An extensive work would ill suit a design so limited ; and to confine this work within moderate bounds, the following plan may contribute. The observation made above, that things are the causes of emotions, by means of their properties and attributes,* furnisheth a hint for distribution. Instead of a painful and tedious examination of the several passions and emotions, I purpose to confine my inquiries to such attributes, relations, and circumstances, as in the fine arts are chiefly employed to raise agreeable emotions. Attributes of single objects, as the most simple, shall take the lead : to be followed with particulars, which, depending on relations, are not found in single objects. Despatching next some coincident matters,
proceed to my chief aim : which is, to establish practical rules for the fine arts, derived from principles previously established. This is a general view of the intended method ; reserving however a privilege to vary it in particular instances, where a deviation may be more commodious. I begin with beauty, the most noted of all the qualities that belong to single objects.
The term beauty, in its native signification, is appropriated to objects of sight: objects of the other senses may be agreeable, such as the sounds of musical instruments, the smoothness and softness of some surfaces ; but the agreeableness denominated beauty belongs to objects of sight.
of all the objects of external sense, an object of sight is the most complex : in the very simplest, colour is perceived, figure and length, breadth and thickness. A tree is composed of a trunk, branches, and leaves; it has colour, figure, size, and sometimes motion : by means of each of these particulars, separately considered, it appears beautiful ; how much more so, when they are all united together ? The beauty of the human figure is extraordinary, being a composition of numberless beauties arising from the parts and qualities of the object, various colours, various motions, figures, size, &c. all united in one complex object, and striking the eye with combined force. Hence it is, that beauty, a quality so remarkable in visible objects, lends its name to express every thing that is eminently agreeable : thus, by a figure of speech, we say a beautiful sound, a beautiful thought or expression, a beautiful theorem, a beautiful event, a beautiful discovery in art or in science. But, as figura
* Chap. 2. part. 1. sect. 1. first note.
tive expression is the subject of a following chapter, this chapter is confined to beauty in its proper signification.
It is natural to suppose that a perception so various as that of beauty, comprehending sometimes many particulars, sometimes few, should occasion emotions equally various ; and yet all the various emotions of beauty maintain one common character, that of sweetness and gaiety.
Considering attentively the beauty of visible objects, we discover two kinds. The first may be termed intrinsic beauty, because it is discovered in a single object viewed apart without relation to any other ; the examples above given are of that kind. The other may be termed relative beauty, being founded on the relation of objects. The purposed distribution would lead me to handle these beauties separately, but they are frequently so intimately connected, that, for the sake of connexion, I am forced in this instance to vary from the plan, and to bring them both into the same chapter. Intrinsic beauty is an object of sense merely : to perceive the beauty of a spreading oak, or of a flowing river, no more is required but singly an act of vision. The perception of relative beauty is accompanied with an act of understanding and reflection ; for of a fine instrument or engine, we perceive not the relative beauty, until we be made acquainted with its use and destination. In a word, intrinsic beauty is ultimate : relative beauty is that of means relating to some good end or purpose. These different beauties agree in one capital circumstance, that both are equally perceived as belonging to the object. This is evident with respect to intrinsic beauty ; but it will not be so readily admitted with respect to the other : the utility of the plough, for example, may make it an object of admiration or of desire; but why should utility make it appear beautiful ? A natural propensity mentioned above* will explain that doubt : the beauty of the effect, by an easy transition of ideas, is transferred to the cause; and is perceived as one of the qualities of the cause. Thus a subject void of intrinsic beauty appears beautiful from its utility; an old Gothic tower, that has no beauty in itself, appears beautiful considered as proper to defend against an enemy; a dwelling-house void of all regularity, is however beautiful in the view of convenience; and the want of form or symmetry in a tree, will not prevent its appearing beautiful, if it be known to produce good fruit.
When these two beauties coincide in any object, it appears delightful : every member of the human body possesses both in a high degree: the fine proportions and slender make of a horse destined for running, please every eye; partly from symmetry, and partly from utility.
The beauty of utility, being proportioned accurately to the degree of utility, requires no illustration ; but intrinsic beauty, so complex as I have said, cannot be handled distinctly without being analysed into its constituent parts. If a tree be beautiful by means of its colour, its figure, its size, its motion, it is in reality possessed of so many different beauties, which ought be examined separately, in order to have a clear notion of them when combined. The
beauty of colour is too familiar to need explanation. Do not the bright and cheerful colours of gold and silver contribute to preserve these metals in high estimation ? The beauty of figure, arising from various circumstances and different views, is more complex : for example, viewing any body as a whole, the beauty of its figure arises from regularity and simplicity; viewing the parts with relation to each other, uniformity, proportion, and order, contribute to its beauty. The beauty of motion deserves a chapter by itself ; and another chapter is destined for grandeur, being distinguishable from beauty in its proper sense. For a description of regularity, uniformity, proportion, and order, if thought necessary, I remit my reader to the appendix at the end of the book. Upon simplicity I must make a few cursory observations, such as may be of use in examining the beauty of single objects.
A multitude of objects crowding into the mind at once, disturb the attention, and pass without making any impression, or any distinct impression; in a group, no single object makes the figure it would do apart, when it occupies the whole attention.* For the same reason, the impression made by an object that divides the attention by the multiplicity of its parts, equals not that of a more simple object comprehended in a single view ; parts extremely complex must be considered in portions successively; and a number of impressions in succession, which cannot unite because not simultaneous, never touch the mind like one entire impression made, as it were, at one stroke. This justifies simplicity in works of art," as opposed to complicated circumstances and crowded ornaments. There is an additional reason for simplicity in works of dignity or elevation; which is, that the mind attached to beauties of a high rank, cannot descend to inferior beauties. The best artists accordingly have in all ages been governed by a taste for simplicity. How comes it then that we find profuse decoration prevailing in works of art ? The reason plainly is, that authors and architects who cannot reach the higher beauties, endeavour to supply want of genius by multiplying those that are inferior.
These things premised, I proceed to examine the beauty of figure as arising from the above-mentioned particulars, namely, regularity, uniformity, proportion, order, and simplicity. To exhaust this subject would require a volume, and I have not even a whole chapter to spare. To inquire why an object, by means of the particulars mentioned, appears beautiful, would I am afraid be a vain attempt : it seems the most probable opinion, that the nature of man was originally framed with a relish for them, in order to answer wise and good purposes. To explain these purposes or final causes, though a subject of great importance, has scarce been attempted by any writer. One thing is evident, that our relish for the particulars mentioned, adds much beauty to the objects that surround us ; which of course tends to ourhappiness; and the Author of our nature has given many signal proofs that this final cause is not below his care. We may
be confirmed in this thought upon reflecting that our taste * See the Appendix, containing definitions and explanation of terms, sect 33.
for these particulars is not accidental, but uniform and universal, making a branch of our nature. At the same time it ought not to be overlooked, that regularity, uniformity, order, and simplicity, contribute each of them to readiness of apprehension ; enabling us to form more distinct images of objects, than can be done with the utmost attention where these particulars are not found. With respect to proportion, it is in some instances connected with a usefal end, as in animals, where the best proportioned are the strongest and most active; but instances are still more mumerous, where the proportions we relish have no connexion with utility. Writers on architecture insist much on the proportions of a column, and assign different proportions to the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian: but no architect will maintain, that the most accurate proportions contribute more to use than several that are less accurate and less agreeable; neither will it be mamtained that the length, breadth, and height of rooms, assigned as the most beautiful proportions, tend also to make them the more commodious. With respect then to the final cause of proportion, I see not more to be made of it but to rest upon the final cause first mentioned, namely, its contributing to our happiness, by increasing the beauty of visible objects.
And now with respect to the beauty of figure, as far as it depends on the other circumstances mentioned: as to which, having room only for a slight specimen, I confine myself to the simplest figures. A circle and a square are each of them perfectly regular, being equally confined to a precise form, which admits not the slightest variation: a square, however, is less beautiful than a circle. And the reason seems to be, that the attention is divided among the sides and angles of a square : whereas the circumference of a circle, being a single object, makes one entire impression. And this simplicity contributes to beauty: which may be illustrated by another exam. ple; a square, though not more regular than a hexagon or octagon, is more beautiful than either; for what other reason, but that a square is more simple, and the attention less divided ? This reasoning will appear still more conclusive, when we consider any regular polygon of very many sides; for of this figure the mind can never have any distinct perception.
A square is more regular than a parallelogram, and its parts more uniform; and for these reasons it is more beautiful. But that holds with respect to intrinsic beauty only; for in many instances utility turns the scale on the side of the parallelogram; this figure for the doors and windows of a dwelling-house is preferred, because of utility; and here we find the beauty of utility prevailing over that of regularity and uniformity.
A parallelogram again depends, for its beauty, on the proportion of its sides : a great inequality of sides annihilates its beauty: approximation towards equality hath the same effect; for proportion there degenerates into imperfect uniformity, and the figure appears an unsuccessful attempt towards a square. And thus proportion contributes to beauty.
An equilateral triangle yields not to a square in regularity, nor in uniformity of parts, and it is more simple. But an equilateral