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from the influence which climate, occupation, manners, and even the cultivation of mind, have on the human form, it will follow that a variation in the idea of the beautiful is to be expected, and that different circumstances may be so favourable to some, as to render their conception of the beautiful more approximate to the faultless truth and standard of nature.
This secret and imperceptible progress towards an ideal standard of beauty may be illustrated by the supposition of an experiment, easily to be conceived, though not easily to be carried into execution. If impressions from the faces of all the women in this kingdom at the age
twenty-one, were taken on any plastic substance, as suppose plaster of Paris ; excluding however those who come into the world with obvious excess or defect, who have been maimed by injury, or blemished by any superinduced cause, as excess of labour or rest, intempérance, deficiency of sustenance, or any excess or defect of the passions of the mind;
and an artist were to form a face that was the mean of all these ; it would surely be admitted that this face would be the perfect model of our national beauty. If the same experiment were made in other nations, excluding those in whom the extremes of climate necessarily induce a depravation of the form, the model of beauty in the female face would be equally obtained in these nations as their appropriate standard. And if from these several national standards the mean of them should also be taken, this last image must be admitted to be as perfect a representative of the beauty of face, of the whole female race, as is possible to be obtained.
This judgment is founded on the supposition that the design of the Creator is evidenced in his productions, and that the mean character of his productions of any species must approach the nearest to the perfect model contemplated in the Creator's mind. Our sense of beauty, our delight therein, can find its object only in the production of the
Creator ; our taste conforms itself to what is done, and the mean 'character must be the highest standard, the utmost conception of beauty that we can form. Either our ideal standard or image of beauty is born with us, or it is thus 'acquired : the former would be a mere arbitrary supposition; the latter accords with experience, is confirmed by reflection on our daily experience; it is the necessary consequence of every moment's impression from the objects presented to our view: and if our minds were not insensibly led to this result by being committed to the field around us, yet, as the means to the end, it might in this very way be accomplished by our deliberate act, by experiments similar to what I have supposed, in collecting the standard of national female beauty at the age of twenty-one.
It might be expected, therefore, that the standard of beauty would be one and the same to all; and so it is, as far as one and the same rule and judgment on any subject can be expected in the vast range and diver
sity of human beings. It has already been observed, that the greater is the variety and number of the objects that have been viewed, and attencively viewed, by any individual, the nearer will the standard of beauty in his mind conform to the mean character of the species which has been submitted to his view, and probably therefore to the truth of nature.
To a perfect uniformity in the judgment of beauty, it is requisite that the field of observation be equal to every one, that the mind of each observer be equally directed and equally attentive to the subject, that the circumstances which are favourable or unfavourable to beauty should be equal in the objects observed. But this equality has no existence, and therefore smaller variations in the estimation of beauty are certainly found : but withal, there is so much of consentaneity in the opinion of all mankind, as proves that the standard in every mind is derived from a common source, and has much of a common character. I can have no doubt that a Grecian beauty among the
Greeks, a Circassian beauty honoured by the admiration of the Asiatics, would be acknowledged as a beauty of high distinction by the western European, and that the European female whom the European taste has selected would be in no small degree applauded by the Greek and Asiatic. Perhaps, even a first rate African in the estimation of her fellow Africans would be allowed by the European, the Greek and Asiatic, excepting colour, to possess the essential characters of beauty.
It is probable therefore that the idea of beauty, though acquired by observation only of the examples presented to our view, goes beyond the limit of the materials from which it is derived, and is more perfect than the mean character of the objects observed. In acquiring the idea of this mean character we reject all obvious excess or defect; we obtain thereby an abstract idea of excess or defect; we admit this as still in some degree adhering even to the most perfect originals that we have seen; we conceive that still