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ESSA Y S.
ON THE BEAUTIFUL IN THE HUMAN FORM, ETC.
In order to judge whether the Grecian imitations, or any other imitations, of the Human Form be the most beautiful, it appears necessary that some standard, some general law or rule, should be admitted, in conformity to or in deviation from which the sentence of beauty or deformity may be safely passed. That this standard has an existence in nature can hardly be doubted; for, if man be the work of a designing artist, he must have been formed according to some model; and this model in the contemplation of the artist must be the standard of
what is the most perfect of the species, and, as far as the form is concerned, of what is the most beautiful in the form. The mind of the artist may then be investigated in his work, and it might seem to be no very
difficult thing to collect a tolerably accurate idea of what answers to the more perfect idea of the artist, by omitting what is incidental and peculiar to every individual of the species, and retaining what is universal. And perhaps by a standard thus collected, though insensibly, and without
purpose, every one does judge of what he deems to be beautiful in the form of his own kind, and in every form whatever. We find therefore that, in the estimation of the beautiful in the human form, there is a general agreement as to the contour or outline of the whole and of the parts, the comparative magnitude of each part, the proportion that each bears to each other and to the whole; and the order and degree in which each swells and falls. Whatever is remarkably excessive or defective, whatever strikingly
offends against the general character and proportion of the parts, whatever beyond the general rule is abrupt and extravagant in the swell or fall, is almost universally rejected as not beautiful; because not answering to that medium standard which every one has erected in his own mind, and which he has collected from the exhibition of his species. There is therefore in the imagination of every one a standard, collected from observation, but insensibly and without design, to which he refers every form that attracts his attention, and agreeably to which he pronounces that it is beautiful or otherwise, and in what degree it pleases or of fends. It is an ideal figure, which the eye of the mind can contemplate, and does contemplate, and does refer to, though the rational mind cannot describe this figure; because the figure has been imperceptibly formed, corrected, improved through life, in which the senses, and not reason, have been altogether employed. The ultimate figure, as a picture of the imagination, is
the abstract of all the impressions which have been received from a multitude of original forms; preserving what is characteristic of all, and rejetting whatever is incidental, excessive or defective, superinduced by violence or art, or in any respect offending against the general character of the form.
This perhaps is the secret foundation of what we call taste, or the perception of the beautiful, whether as referred to the human or to any other form whatever. I do not say that this is the only foundation, and that there is no other rule or principle, by which our estimation of the beautiful is influenced ; but I think it to be the principal foundation : and the remarkable consentaneity of taste and decision of the beautiful, especially of the human figure, proves that our rule is derived from nature, from our constant observation of the originals, as they have issued from the forming hand of the great artist; and that, thus acquiring an abstract idea of the whole, we enter as it were, whether intending it or no, into the mind of
the artist himself, and erect a standard of what he designed as the most perfect, and therefore the most beautiful, in the form which he has given to man.
In this investigation of the standard of taste and the decision of the beautiful, although a general consent be acknowledged, yet
it is manifest that the rule or standard will be more or less perfect, as the field of observation has been more or less extensive, and as successive comparisons with the standard already attained, and the introduction to more perfect forms, with fewer deviations from the medium character, have chastened in the imagination the picture of the beautiful. Every step
progress towards this perfect image is the selection of a few from the general mass; from continued observation rejecting some from this few; admitting others ; till the field of observation is exhausted, and we rest in the image which is the result of the whole.
But as the originals which are the subject of observation will in some respects vary, B 3