Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

appetite for fame or esteem: for as the whole conveniences of life are derived from mutual aid and support in society, it ought to be a capital aim to secure these conveniences, by gaining the esteem and affection of others. Reason, indeed, dictates that lesson: but reason alone is not sufficient in a matter of such importance; and the appe. tite mentioned is a motive more powerful than reason, to be active in gaining esteem and affection. That appetite, at the same time, is finely adjusted to the moral branch of our constitution, by promoting all the moral virtues: for what means are there to attract love and esteem so effectual as a virtuous course of life? if a man be just and beneficent, if he be temperate, modest, and prudent, he will infallibly gain the esteem and love of all who know him.

Communication of passion to related objects, is an illustrious instance of the care of Providence to extend social connections 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, has 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, assume 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, can only be resisted 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 upon which to vent itself. 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 has escaped, however remote from common observation, describes that weakness :

K. Henry. Doth any name particular belong
Unto that lodging where I first did swoon?

Warwick. 'Tis callid Jerusalem, my noble lord.
K. Henry. Laud be to God! ev'n there my life must end,
It hath been prophesy'd to me many years,
I should not die but in Jerusalem,
Which vainly I suppos'd the Holy Land.
But bear me to that chamber, there I'll lie:
In that Jerusalem shall Henry die.

Second Part Henry IV. Act IV. Sc. last.

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 subser: vient 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.

CHAPTER III.

BEAUTY.

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 chi-faim; 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 lengti, 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 expres. sion 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 limate: 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 will not be so readily admitted with respect to the other: the utility of the plough, for example, may make ii an object of admiration or of desire: but why should utiliiy 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 per ceived as one of the qualities of the cause. Thus a subjeci 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-bouse, 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 appear. ing beautiful, if it be known to produce good fruit.

* Chap. 2. part 1. sect. 5.

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 uttlity.

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, iis 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 circumstan. ces 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 interior 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 terins, 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 io spare. To inquire why an object, by means of the particulars mentioned, appears beautiful, would, I am afraid, be a vain attempl: 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 particulars 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 «qually 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

« AnteriorContinuar »