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ingredients, we should trace the signs of two different sets of qualities, that are neither of them the object of sight, but of a far higher faculty, - in the first place, of youth and health; and, in the second place, of innocence, gayety, sensibility, intelligence, delicacy, or vivacity.
17. That the beauty of a living and sentient creature should depend, in a great degree, upon qualities peculiar to such a creature, rather than upon the mere physical attributes which it may possess in common with the inert matter around it, can not, indeed, appear a very improbable supposition to any one. But it
be more difficult for some persons to understand how the beauty of mere dead matter should be derived from the feelings and sympathies of sentient beings. It is absolutely necessary, therefore, that we should give an instance or two of this derivation also.
18. It is easy enough to understand how the sight of a picture or statue should affect us nearly in the same way as the sight of the original; nor is it much more difficult to conceive how the sight of a cottage should give us something of the same feeling as the sight of a peasant's family, and the aspect of a town raise many of the same ideas as the appearance of a multitude of persons. We may begin, therefore, with an example a little more complicated. Take, for instance, the case of a common English landscape, - green meadows, with grazing and ruminating cattle; canals or navigable rivers; well-fenced, well-cultivated fields; neat, clean, scattered cottages; humble antique churches, with churchyard elms and crossing hedgerows, — all seen under bright skies and in good weather. There is much beauty, as every one will acknowledge, in such a scene. But in what does the beauty consist ? Not certainly in the mere mixture of colors and forms,
for colors more pleasing, and lines more graceful (according to any theory of grace that may be preferred), might be spread upon a board or a painter's palette, without engaging the eye to a second glance, or raising the least emotion in the mind, — but in the picture of human happiness that is presented to our imaginations and affections; in the visible and unequivocal signs of comfort, and cheerful and peaceful enjoyment, and of that secure and successful industry that insures its continuance; and of the piety by which it is exalted; and of the simplicity by which it is contrasted with the guilt and the fever of a city life; in the images of health and temperance and plenty which it exhibits to every eye; and in the glimpses which it affords, to warmer imaginations, of those primitive or fabulous times when man was uncorrupted by luxury and ambition; and of those humble retreats in which we still delight to imagine that love and philosophy may find an unpolluted asylum. At all events, however, it is human feeling that excites our sympathy, and forms the true object of our emo
tions. It is man, and man alone, that we see in the beauties of the earth which he inhabits; or, if a more sensitive and extended sympathy connect us with the lower families of animated nature, and make us rejoice with the lambs that bleat on the uplands, or the cattle that repose in the valley, or even with the living plants that drink the bright sun and the balmy air beside them, it is still the idea of enjoyment — of feelings that animate the existence of sentient beings - that calls forth all our emotions, and is the parent of all the beauty with which we proceed to invest the inanimate creation around us.
19. Instead of this quiet and tame English landscape, let us now take a Welsh or a Highland scene, and see whether its beauties will admit of being explained on the same principle. Here we shall have lofty mountains, and rocky and lonely recesses; tufted woods hung over precipices; lakes intersected with castled promontories ; ample solitudes of unplowed and untrodden valleys ; nameless and gigantic ruins; and mountain-echoes repeating the scream of the eagle and the roar of the cataract. This, too, is beautiful; and, to those who can interpret the language it speaks, far more beautiful than the prosperous scene with which we have contrasted it. Yet, lonely as it is, it is to the recollection of man and the suggestion of human feelings that its beauty also is owing. The mere forms and colors that compose its visible appearance are no more capable of exciting any emotion in the mind than the forms and colors of a Turkey carpet. It is sympathy with the present or the past, or the imaginary inhabitants of such a region, that alone gives it either interest or beauty; and the delight of those who behold it will always be found to be in exact proportion to the force of their imaginations and the warmth of their social affections. The leading impressions here are those of romantic seclusion and primeval simplicity, — lovers sequestered in these blissful solitudes, “from towns and toils remote;" and rustic poets and philosophers communing with Nature, and at a distance from the low pursuits and selfish malignity of ordinary mortals. Then there is the sublime impression of the mighty Power which piled the massive cliffs upon each other, and rent the mountains asunder, and scattered their giant fragments at their base; and all the images connected with the monuments of ancient magnificence and extinguished hostility, the feuds and the combats and the triumphs of its wild and primitive inhabitants, contrasted with the stillness and desolation of the scenes where they lie interred; and the romantic ideas attached to their ancient traditions, and the peculiarities of the actual life of their descendants, - their wild and enthusiastic poetry, their gloomy superstitions, their attachment to their chiefs, the dangers and the hardships and enjoyments of their lonely huntings and fishings, their pastoral shielings on the mountains in summer, and the tales and the sports that amuse the little groups that are frozen into their vast and trackless valleys in the winter.
20. Kindred conceptions constitute all the beauty of childhood. The forms and colors that are peculiar to that age are not necessarily or absolutely beautiful in themselves; for, in a grown person, the same forms and colors would be either ludicrous or disgusting. It is their indestructible connection with the engaging ideas of innocence, of careless gayety, of unsuspecting confidence; made still more tender and attractive by the recollection of helplessness and blameless and happy ignorance, of the anxious affection that watches over all their ways, and of the hopes and fears that seek to pierce futurity for those who have neither fears nor cares nor anxieties for themselves.
21. The general theory must be very greatly confirmed by the slightest consideration of the second class of cases, or those in which the external object is not the natural and necessary, but only the occasional or accidental, concomitant of the emotion which it recalls. In the former instances, some conception of beauty seems to be inseparable from the appearance of the objects; and being impressed, in some degree, upon all persons to whom they are presented, there is evidently room for insinuating that it is an independent and intrinsic quality of their nature, and does not arise from association with any thing else. In the instances, however, to which we are now to allude, this perception of beauty is not universal, but entirely dependent upon the opportunities which each individual has had to associate ideas of emotion with the object to which it is ascribed; the same thing appearing beautiful to those who have been exposed to the influence of such associations, and indifferent to those who have not. Such instances, therefore, really afford an experimentum crucis * as to the truth of the theory in question; nor is it easy
to conceive any more complete evidence, both that there is no such thing as absolute or intrinsic beauty, and that it depends altogether on those associations with which it is thus found to come and to disappear.
22. The accidental or arbitrary relations that may thus be established between natural sympathies or emotions and external objects may be either such as occur to whole classes of men, or are confined to particular individuals. Among the former, those that apply to different nations or races of men are the most important and remarkable, and constitute the basis of those peculiarities by which national tastes are distinguished. Take again, for example, the instance of female beauty, and think what different and inconsistent standards would be fixed for it in the different regions of the world, - in Africa, in Asia, and in Europe; in Tartary and in Greece; in Lapland, Patagonia, and Circassia. If there was any thing absolutely or intrinsically beautiful in any of the forms thus distinguished, it is inconceivable that men should differ so outrageously in their conceptions of it. If beauty were a real and independent quality, it seems impossible that it should be distinctly and clearly felt by one set of persons, where another set, altogether as sensitive, could see nothing but its opposite; and if it were actually and inseparably attached to certain forms, colors, or proportions, it must appear utterly inexplicable that it should be felt and perceived in the most opposite forms and proportion in objects of the same description. On the other hand, if all beauty consist in reminding us of certain natural sympathies and objects of emotion with which they have been habitually connected, it is easy to perceive how the most different forms should be felt to be equally beautiful. If female beauty, for instance, consist in the visible signs and expressions of youth and health, and of gentleness, vivacity, and kindness, then it will necessarily happen that the forms and colors and proportions which Nature may have connected with those qualities, in the different climates or regions of the world, will all appear equally beautiful to those who have been accustomed to recognize thein as the signs of such qualities; while they will be respectively indifferent to those who have not learned to interpret them in this sense, and displeasing to those whom experience has led to consider them as the signs of opposite qualities.
*“A decisive experiment.”
23. The case is the same, though perhaps to a smaller degree, as to the peculiarity of national taste in other particulars. The style of dress and architecture in every nation, if not adopted from mere want of skill, or penury of materials, always appears beautiful to the natives, and somewhat monstrous and absurd to foreigners; and the general character and aspect of their landscape, in like manner, if not associated with substantial evils and inconveniences, always appears more beautiful and enchanting than the scenery of any other region. The fact is still more striking, perhaps, in the case of music, - in the effects of those national airs with which even the most uncultivated imaginations have connected so many interesting recollections, and in the delight with which all persons of sensibility catch the strains of their native melodies in strange or in distant lands. It is owing chiefly to the same sort of arbitrary and national association that white is thought a gay color in Europe, where it is used at weddings, and a dismal color in China, where it is used for mourning; that we think yew-trees gloomy because they are planted in churchyards, and large masses of powdered horse-hair majestic because we see them on the heads of judges and bishops.
24. Next to those curious instances of arbitrary or limited associations that are exemplified in the diversities of national taste are those that are produced by the differences of instruction or education. If external objects were sublime and beautiful in themselves, it is plain that they would appear equally so to those who were acquainted with their origin and to those to whom it was unknown. Yet it is not easy, perhaps, to calculate the degree to which our notions of beauty and sublimity are now influenced, over all Europe, by the study of classical literature; or the number of impressions of this sort which the well-educated consequently receive from objects that are utterly indifferent to uninstructed persons of the same natural sensibility.
25. The influences of the same studies may be traced, indeed, through almost all our impressions of beauty, and especially in the feelings which we receive from the contemplation of rural scenery, where the images and recollections which have been associated with such objects in the enchanting strains of the poets are perpetually recalled by their appearance, and give an interest and a beauty to the prospect of which the uninstructed can not have the slightest perception. Upon this subject, also, Mr. Alison has expressed himself with his usual warmth and elegance. After observing, that, in childhood, the beauties of Nature have scarcely any existence for those who have as yet but little general sympathy with mankind, he proceeds to state that they are usually first recommended to notice by the poets, to whom we are introduced in the course of education, and who, in a manner, create them for us by the associations which they enable us to form with their visible appearance.*
26. Before entirely leaving this branch of the subject, however, let us pause for a moment on the familiar but very striking and decisive instance of our varying and contradictory judgments as to the beauty of the successive fashions of dress that have existed within our own remembrance. All persons who still continue to find amusement in society, and are not old enough to enjoy only the recollections of their youth, think the prevailing fashions becoming and graceful, and the fashions of twenty or twenty-five years old intolerably ugly and ridiculous. The younger they are, and the more they mix in society, the stronger is this impression : and the fact is worth noticing; because there is really no one thing as to which persons judging merely from their feelings, and therefore less likely to be misled by any systems or theories, are so very positive and decided, as that established fashions are
* See Alison on Taste.