Imágenes de páginas

I could not deny myself the amusement of the foregoing observation, though it does 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 does not extend far.



The term beauty appropriated to objects of sight-Objects of sight complex

Constituents of the beauty of the human species—Intrinsic and relative beauty -The effect when both are united—Simplicity essential to beauty-Regularity and order please because they increase our happiness-A curve líne more beautiful than a square; a square, than a parallelogram, or an equilateral triangle Uniformity disgusts by excess—Difference between primary and secondary qualities—Primary exist in the object; secondary in the percipient-Final cause of beauty: It prompts to industry-It secures social intercourse.

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,f furnishes '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. Dispatching next some coincident matters, I shall 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

* Part 5. of the present chapter. + Chap. 2. part 1. sect 1. first note.

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, color is perceived, figure, and length, breadth, and thickness. A tree is composed of a trunk, branches, and leaves; it has color, 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 colors, 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 science. But, as figurative 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 connection, 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 than simply 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 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 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 effeet by an easy transition of ideas, is transferred to the


and is perChap. 2. part 1. sect. 5.

ceived 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 analyzed into its constituent parts. If a tree be beautiful by means of its color, its figure, its size, its motion, it is in reality possessed of so many different beauties, which ought to be examined separately, in order to have a clear notion of them when combined. The beauty of color is too familiar to need explanation. Do not the bright and cheerful colors 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 refer 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

* See the Appendix, containing definitions, and explanation of terms, sect.. 33.

is, that authors and architects who cannot reach the higher beauties, endeavor 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 scarcely been attempted by any writer. One thing is evident, that our relish for the particu. lars mentioned adds much beauty to the objects that surround us : which of course tends to our happiness: 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 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 useful end, as in animals, where the best proportioned are the strongest and most active; but instances are still more numerous, where the

proportions we relish have no connection 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 maintained, 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 example: 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 has the same effect; for proportion there degenerates into imperfect uniformity, and the figure appears an unsuccessful attempt toward 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 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 of which they are susceptible; 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 unskilled 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 behavior and manners has an enchanting effect, and never fails to gain our affection : very differ

« AnteriorContinuar »