THE part of Darwin’s exposition of his theory of the origin of species which has most given me question is that in which he deals with the relation of beauty to the evolution of a more perfectly from a less perfectly organized and individualized life, and denies the reality of beauty independent of individual tastes. Without in the least dissenting from Darwin’s general thesis or questioning his accuracy of observation, I shall venture to point out that, in respect to the relation of beauty and design in creation, his philosophy has not kept pace with his scientific acumen. Some of his most faithful and eminent disciples, as, for instance, Professor Asa Gray and the Duke of Argyll, have recognized an hiatus in the demonstration, which they have been compelled to fill by the hypothesis of creative design, — an hypothesis which Darwin neither supported nor denied, while his expressed approbation of Gray’s teleology shows that it was not repugnant to him or inconsistent with his conclusions.
When, therefore, Darwin says “ the sense of beauty obviously depends on the nature of the mind, irrespective of any real quality in the admired object; and the idea of what is beautiful is not innate or unalterable. We see this, for instance, in the men of different races admiring an entirely different standard of beauty in their women,”1 he states the problem incompletely; for the only logical conclusion of such a statement would be that no one object is more beautiful than another. No person of a taste however perverted will admit this, and the collective experience of the world disproves it. For although one individual taste may differ from another in the priority it may give to one or another element of beauty, there is no man, and (if we may accept the conclusion of Darwin himself as to the effect of beautiful plumage on sexual attraction with birds) there are few animals, on whom the aesthetic sense has not a certain power. The care of the bower bird to decorate the nest shows that to him, at least, the “ idea of what is beautiful is innate,” 2 if not unalterable, and that beauty is to a certain extent the probable basis of sexual attraction. It would seem that he has the consciousness of its force, though in the case of the beauty of his plumage the male bird may be absolutely unconscious of its efficiency.
Now, the question of the actuality of a sense of beauty, or, as it is commonly called at present, with a wider meaning than the visual appeal, the “ aesthetic faculty,” is here shown to be quite separate from that of the existence or nonexistence of an “ ideal ” or special and invariable type of beauty ; 3 but the investigation in either case is one which escapes entirely the scientific faculties, properly speaking, and comes within the exclusive cognizance of the philosophic; and a considerable personal acquaintance with scientists enables me to assert with confidence that the high development of the scientific faculties excludes the development of the aesthetic, as the analytic excludes the synthetic. I never knew a specialist in physical science who possessed in an eminent degree a taste in art or feeling for it, as distinguished from the representation of nature, which is an entirely different thing ; and the expert opinion in the question of the nature and existence of an ideal is not to be expected from the physicist, but from the artist and the art critic. Like evolution, the ideal cannot be demonstrated, but must rest on the basis of the highest probability. In the one case, however, the expert and weighty opinion is that of the physicist; in the other, that of the artist and art student, — Darwin or Ruskin, Aristotle or Plato. Darwin’s position, quoted above, logically leads to the affirmation that no woman is more beautiful than any other woman, no landscape is more beautiful than any other, and that any charm which the eye finds in one or the other is purely the result of the mental constitution of the spectator, — a conclusion which, thus stated, is contrary to the experience of every educated mind, and which Darwin himself would no doubt have rejected if stated as a practical conclusion.
That Darwin had never given the subject the necessary consideration is shown by the following statement, — a confutation of an hypothetical assumption which I for one am not prepared to maintain : “ If beautiful objects had been created solely for man’s gratification, it ought to be shown that before man appeared there was less beauty on the face of the earth than since he came on the stage.” If any one had put forward such a theory, Darwin’s reply is insufficient. If beautiful objects had “ been created solely for man’s gratification,” as they preceded him in the scheme of creation, they would have been prepared for him before his appearance on the earth, and the hypothetical deliberation of the Creator to create them for him would have comprehended the anticipation of his coming, and therefore all the beauty must have been on the face of the earth before “he came on the stage.” It is like saying that a house could not have been so comfortable before the tenant took possession, because he was not there to enjoy the comfort. Yet a little further on Darwin says : “ On the other hand, I willingly admit that a great number of male animals, as all our most gorgeous birds, some fishes, reptiles, and mammals, and a host of magnificently colored butterflies, have been rendered beautiful for beauty’s sake ; but this has been effected through sexual selection, — that is, by the more beautiful males having been continually preferred by the females, — and not for the delight of man.” But if “ the sense of beauty obviously depends on the nature of the mind, irrespective of any real quality in the admired object, and the idea of what is beautiful is not innate or unalterable,” how can the female, even in the lower orders of creation, have " continually preferred ” the same qualities in the appearance of the males ? Is not this admission tantamount to the further admission that for each species of animal at least the idea of what is beautiful is innate and unalterable? If the idea of beauty be not innate, how do the lower animals, to whom education is impossible, attain to it ? And if it be not unalterable, how shall the same characteristics of beauty continue to augment until they become the dominant and distinguishing marks of the species ? It would seem that each species of animals has its distinct ideal of the beautiful ; otherwise, the male of the goldfinch might be the most attractive to the female of the greenfinch ; and the variations in coloration, instead of being as we see them, always in the direction of the intensification of the same scheme of coloration, might be expected to vary, and add the charms of novelty to those of color. But the assumption by Darwin, that the idea of beauty is not innate or unalterable is proved by the fact of “ the men of different races admiring an entirely different standard of beauty in their women,” is premature. We have no information on which to base any conclusions as to the ideal of beauty in the undeveloped races of mankind, but we have the right to conclude that with a low intellectual and social condition the aesthetic sense could never be so far developed as to constitute a primary and recognizable appeal to the crude mind, irresponsive to any refined emotion. We do not know what motives or conflicting instincts enter into its estimate of attractiveness. The fact that a dark-complexioned man may find his ideal in a brilliant blonde, and vice versa, does not show that there is no ideal, but rather that considerations of temperament (and, it may be added, education, fashion of the day, and other partial influences) often enter into the judgment and influence the formation of the personal ideal, independently of the existence or non-existence of an absolute ideal.
The question to be answered is this : Does the consensus of the varying and individual conceptions of the perfectly beautiful, as seen in actual examples of physical attainment, indicate a tendency toward agreement on an absolute ideal, as, for instance, in the ideal of Greek sculpture ? The consequences of the affirmative resolution of this problem are interesting and important. Darwin himself, in the chapter from which I have quoted, seems to recognize in it a possible negation of his theory of derivation by natural selection. I consider his apprehension to be unfounded, and that there is really no incongruity between the two hypotheses ; for, as should never be forgotten, the theory of evolution by natural selection is yet only a theory, a large hypothesis, resting thus far on no firmer basis than the highest probability and the consensus of scientific opinion, — the same, mutatis mutandis, as that on which must repose the theory of the ideal. If anybody would dispute this, I have only to quote the words of that Darwinian par excellence, Professor Asa Gray : “ Those, if any there be, who regard the derivative hypothesis as satisfactorily proved must have very loose notions as to what proof is.” 4 And again : “ Here proofs, in the proper sense of the word, are not to be had. We are altogether beyond the region of demonstration, and have only probabilities to consider.” 5 Darwin’s absolute and magnificent scientific honesty (which was as rare as were his patience and powers of observation) suggested every objection to, and qualification of, his theory, and their possible weight. The theory of the ideal will not unsettle that of natural selection, but will simply extend the meaning of the word " nature ” to include (as Professor Gray does) the agency of nature’s Designer, and extend our conception of His majesty and perfections.
As the most accessible field for our investigation in view of a demonstration (which can never be “ satisfactorily proved,” to borrow Professor Gray’s words) we may take the question of personal beauty in the human race; not because demonstration there is easier than in the lower fields, but because the general consensus of intelligent and cultivated persons is more easily arrived at. What we should ask such persons is, Of several women brought into comparison, do you consider one more beautiful than the others ? If the number of persons consulted were large, the reply would probably be that they were divided as to the choice between two, or possibly three ; but it would certainly be that the much greater number were excluded from the competition, which would be a qualified affirmation that one woman is more beautiful than another. Even Darwin would hardly have maintained the absolute contrary. If we suppose a jury of one hundred men to be called to decide on the relative beauty of twenty women equally strangers to the jurors, at least ninety of the hundred would agree on five or less of the candidates for the award. Many would decide for a blonde and many for a brunette, and we should then put all the blondes into one class and the brunettes into another, when the decision would in all probability be given for one, or, if divided, it would be on a question of tall or short, beauty of the eyes or mouth;
but the vote would recognize negatively the question of beauty by exclusion of the less beautiful as completely as by the agreement of all on an affirmative verdict. When we have determined by an universal judgment that one woman is more beautiful than another indicated woman, we have determined to the best of our comprehension that beauty is absolute as well as comparative in its incarnations. And it will be the observation of every man of large experience in life that there has appeared from time to time, in society, a woman whose transcendent beauty compelled the admission of everybody. There will be the almost equally frequent appearance of a woman of whom it is said that, in certain expression of character, she has “ what is better than beauty ; ” which is not only an affirmation of the positive nature of beauty, but a declaration that it is not in the expression of the mental qualities that it finds its definition and root. This relation between beauty and “ what is better ” remains for our future investigation ; for the present, all that I desire is the admission that one woman may be more absolutely beautiful than another, and this I think very few, if any, men will dispute.
But as I wish to evade none of the difficulties of my task, I will point out such difficulties as I see to the ready acceptance of my theory of the ideal. And a prominent one is in the profound difference between the types of male and female beauty. I once asked Mrs. H. K. Brown — one of the wisest women in all that pertains to this subject that I have ever known, yet intensely feminine — how she was affected by feminine beauty as compared with masculine. She replied, “ The female beauty seems as nothing to me, the other to be almost everything.” I shall have to note this observation in its proper place. As a distinction recognized by a woman of great moral and intellectual insight, it has a high significance, as will presently be shown. The objection that Darwin raises, that of " the men of different races admiring an entirely different standard of beauty in their women,” only proves that there are variations in the type of personal beauty, which appeal to different temperaments and to varied associations without in the least invalidating the claim of the different variations to be included under the common term of “ beautiful,” any more than the difference between a rose and a lily prevents both from an equal right to the qualification. No most tenacious adherent to the theory of the ideal will pretend that it has ever been embodied in a living individual; but when we have made allowance for the differences of temperament and association, we find that occasionally the suffrages of men of widely different nationalities and races do agree in regarding certain women as extraordinarily beautiful. We need not go to mythology and call in evidence Helen of Troy, or even that famous beauty who inflamed the hearts of the Romans so greatly that they besieged her native town to secure possession of her, and when repulsed consented to withdraw from the siege on condition of her appearing on the battlements before their army, that all might at least see her before giving up the siege. Instances of minor flagrance will occur in the experience of every man of the world. Questions of taste are not to be submitted to the judgment of savages or people without culture. Indeed, they depend more than any others upon a certain culture, and it is therefore that we always submit them naturally to artists and people who have made art and beauty in some way or other a special study. As the researches of the physicist are limited to the observance of fact, and truths that are demonstrable to the scientific faculties, he is not qualified for the authoritative exercise of aesthetic judgment. Even Agassiz, the man who, of all scientists I have ever known, had the widest cultivation and most catholic judgment, was incapable of appreciation of the results of art when they transcended nature; and all people who study art know that there are phases of it which have only a relative reference to nature. The new psychology may help us ; the new science certainly will not. Other objections I shall meet when I come to examine the various theories of the beautiful which have been advanced from time to time by those who have made it a study ; but if we examine the question broadly, we shall see that, whatever variation of it the individual may prefer, most men, at one time or another in their lives, have been overpoweringly assailed by the mysterious power we term beauty. I remember that once, during a journey in the mountains of Crete, I saw by chance, in the way, a young girl of such transcendent beauty that, physically, I was impressed so strongly that the sensation of delight did not leave me for two or three days. And the emotion was as far from anything allied to a sensual feeling as that caused by a beautiful statue would have been. It was pure aesthetic delight.
One scientist will say that it is a sensual attraction. Those in whom the cultivation of it has been carried to a high point know that it has nothing to do with sensuality, and I am prepared to say that the intensity of appreciation of it of which the art student is capable is in an inverse proportion to his sensuality. Every man of the world knows that the sensual attraction which a woman may exert on him bears no relation to her personal beauty, the most ideally beautiful women being in most cases the coldest and least stimulating to the passions. That beauty may, and often does, ally itself to sexual attraction in the material sense is true ; but this is due to a feeling of infinitely wider range, — the desire of possession of a beautiful object. But nothing is more certain than that the strength of instinctive sexual attraction bears no relation to beauty in the person, and cannot therefore explain the ideal. That beauty does evoke love, and ultimately intensify sexual attraction, is true, and it thus possibly serves the purpose which Darwin supposes in the birds, — that of stimulating the pairing instinct; but I think the experience of most pureminded men will support me in saying that the beginnings of love are widely separated from animal passion. If Swedenborg had done nothing else of service to psychology, he would have greatly deserved by showing us the mystery of this. If beauty have any relation to sexual attraction, it must be due to something not explained by the instinct of reproduction, and dissevered from the animal economy. We can find this only in a spiritual appeal to something which has been termed “ spiritual affinity,” and which is sufficiently well understood by those to whom it has come.
As my present object is to show the grounds for assuming that beauty is a real quality, irrespective of the quality of the mind of the observer, I shall now only observe that this appeal, even if its spiritual source be denied, must be instinctive ; for our rational powers do not find any connection between the fact that an object is beautiful and the other fact that it appeals to our sex instincts, there being no discoverable relation between beauty and sex function. As we know nothing of bird psychology, we cannot reason from or assume, as Darwin does, the aesthetic sense in birds, and in this stage of our investigation we must limit ourselves to man. But if in man the appeal of beauty is a sensual appeal, one man would never be aware of the beauty of another man, or of that of a child in whom the sex is not yet apparent; and in no creature is beauty more exquisitely developed than occasionally in a child. And descending to the realm of inanimate nature, from which sexual attraction is so remote as to be undiscoverable, we find the distinction equally clear, if less striking. The commonest experience of art shows that the universal judgment decides that in a comparison between two landscapes one is more beautiful than the other, and when, in selecting the point of view of a particular landscape, we change the foreground, we often succeed in making a beautiful composition and a beautiful picture from a subject which from another point was indifferent, — and this without any regard to truth to nature. The cultivated world has long ago decided this question as far as it has the power to do so, if only by its judgment on Greek art, as being the most beautiful that has existed. But the comparative and superlative imperatively impose a positive standard to which the appeal is made, which is the ideal. Even the bird, under Darwin’s theory, in choosing the more beautiful of two males as its mate, recognizes that one is more beautiful, — a phenomenon impossible if the beauty were subjective purely; and children, to whom sense does not yet appeal, and to whom conscious associations do not exist, but whose intellectual life consists of sensations and instincts, are kindled at the sight of bird or flower as their elders are not, or only exceptionally ; for this childish ecstasy of emotion at the sight of beautiful objects is one of those which
And fade into the light of common day,”
with all the other intimations of immortality. The recognition and enjoyment of the beauty of nature in bird and flower will be, to all minds susceptible to the finer sentiments, among the most delightful associations of childhood ; and I do not remember the time in my childhood when they were not to me a rapture surpassing all other emotions, and far more keenly felt than now.
To most cultivated minds I am knocking at an open door, but the more material sciences have so greatly taken possession of the field of thought that it is necessary to insist to extremes on the evidences of the existence of faculties which are amongst the strongest arguments for that recognition of the presence of the great Designer in our universe, the “ Conscious Mind in creation,” in which lies the assurance of human immortality, — that revelation of the Divine written “ in fleshy tables of the heart,” and so ever legible beyond the danger of becoming lost or corrupted texts.
Darwin makes a remark which indicates that he saw the intricacy of the subject, but he never followed it up to a definite conclusion. He says : “ How the sense of beauty in its simplest form — that is, the reception of a peculiar pleasure from certain colors, forms, and sounds — was first developed in the mind of man and of the lower animals is a very obscure subject. . . . Habit in all these cases appears to have come to a certain extent into play; but there must be some fundamental cause in the constitution of the nervous system in each species.” Undoubtedly, the “ peculiar pleasure from certain colors, forms, and sounds ” is the same in its foundation in the three cases. It must always be an “ obscure subject,” if it be attributed to purely physical causes, for it is intuitive, and therefore, in the constitution of the individual sensibility, universal, and, though variable in individuals, as temperament and intellectual character are variable, the result of the same law; and the determination of that law decides the question of the nature of beauty. Habit, in the sense of cultivation, comes largely into play; but the experience of mankind, prolonged over many generations, shows that it has the effect, as in the case of Greek sculpture, of indicating an universal ideal, superior to all the variations of individual taste or temporary fashion.
I think, therefore, that I am justified in asserting that the unanimous experience of cultivated humanity proves the power of beauty, and, at the same time, of a tendency of individual tastes to a central and definite ideal. As with the instincts, the “ fundamental cause ” is innate; the development and all consequent differences and vagaries, as well as the degree of cultivation, a matter of education. But when Darwin says, “ I willingly admit that a great number of male animals, as all our most gorgeous birds, some fishes, reptiles, and mammals, and a host of magnificently colored butterflies, have been rendered beautiful for beauty’s sake,” he admits that beauty is innate, — that is, instinctive,— as also he does in admitting the fundamental cause ; for, otherwise, why should a bird prefer the more beautiful mate, or how recognize it to be so ? The intuitive preference implies infallibly the coeval existence of a positive quality in beauty.
What is the secret of the power of beauty ? Beauty being real, innate, and having a fundamental cause, what is it ? That is what we have to understand.
Victor Cousin, in his elaborate and thoughtful study, states his conclusions as follows: “ Thus, on all sides, — on that of metaphysics, on that of æsthetics, especially on that of ethics, — we elevate ourselves to the same principle, the common centre, the last foundation of all truth, all beauty, all goodness. The true, the beautiful, and the good are only different revelations of the same Being.” But the trinity of Cousin is an illusion. Goodness cannot be predicated of the Supreme Being, for that is a matter of conduct, not of attributes of absolute being. It depends on havingsomething to be “ good ” to, obedience to conditions. It is a consequence of certain relations which are not to be included in the final analysis of Being. Truth likewise is relative, something to be told or believed, and it implies something beyond. Beauty, again, is a matter of form, and it is only confusion of language to talk of moral beauty, the beauty of a mathematical problem or of a demonstration. As we have no conception of form in relation to Supreme Being, we can have no notion of its beauty, for beauty is in the form of something. Therefore there is no trinity of the absolute, as Cousin supposes, each of his elements in it being secondary qualities. But we may thank him for pointing the way to the solution in the spiritual cause of beauty.
Ruskin, in the second volume of Modern Painters, was the first writer on æstlietics who indicated the solution of the problem. His distinction between the two forms of beauty is, like that between moral and physical beauty, inadmissible, and confounds the perception of the true solution. He says: “ By the term Beauty, then, properly are signified two things : first, that external quality of bodies already so often spoken of, and which, whether it occur in a stone, flower, beast, or in man, is absolutely identical, which, as I have already asserted, may be shown to be in some sort typical of the Divine attributes, and which therefore I shall, for distinction’s sake, call typical Beauty ; and, secondarily, the appearance of felicitous fulfillment of function in living things, more especially of the joyful and right exertion of perfect life in man. And this kind of Beauty I shall call vital Beauty.” Here, again, he complicates the subject by the introduction of an utterly extraneous matter which he calls “ vital Beauty.” This is neither more nor less than the evidence of vitality, which is not, as we may see by supposing a concrete example, in the most indirect or shadowy manner to be confounded with beauty. The plainest and most ill-favored of milkmaids that ever was seen may exhibit an unique vitality, and be accepted as the type of this form of what Ruskin calls beauty; but the least refined boor of her surroundings would throw Ruskin’s theory to the winds, and give his heart’s devotion to a far weaklier and more fragile rival, in defiance of his obligation to vitality. The first social assembly of men and women will give the démenti to this ascription. Like association or novelty, vitality has a charm, and when associated in the same object with beauty will heighten its effect ; but to confound the two is to lose sight of the object of our quest. One of Ruskin’s concrete examples may be adduced, the better to show his manner of confounding the pleasure one may derive from a perception of function or a fallacy of the imagination with the perception of beauty. “ The bending trunk, waving to and fro in the wind above the waterfall, is beautiful, because it is happy,” contains the union of all the “ pathetic fallacies ” which he has condemned in another part of his work. We do not know that the trunk is happy, and we may with equal authority say that it is unhappy, at being waved to and fro in the wind, or at being hung over a waterfall instead of being planted in a tranquil meadow, out of the tumult of elements; and, in fact, we have no reason to say of it that it is happy or the reverse, but have every reason to suppose that it is neither one nor the other, for we have no knowledge of its emotions, or if it have any.
The degree of beauty in an object (for we may suppose all beauty to be far removed from the absolute ideal, and comparative) is absolutely independent of our impression of it or association with it. We do not make a thing beautiful by admiring it, or the contrary; it is beautiful or not, whether we see it or not. Function, which is the concise definition of Ruskin’s “ vital Beauty,” is a matter of scientific knowledge, and Ruskin’s attribution of happiness in it is a question of association, which we have seen has nothing to do with beauty. In the conception of “ typical Beauty,” however, the great critic touches the root of the matter, and approaches Darwin’s fundamental cause. Typical beauty, which remains as the synonym of ideal or positive beauty, he has defined as “ in some sort typical of the Divine attributes.” It remains for us to follow up the indication to its full significance; but it is first necessary to clear the subject of a possible cause of confusion which he introduces as a branch of “vital Beauty,” namely, the evidence of beauty in mankind as resulting from moral growth, — that is, the perfecting of character. “ But the sweetness which that higher serenity (of happiness), and the dignity which that higher authority (of Divine law, and not of human reason), can and must stamp on the features it would be futile to speak of here at length, for I suppose that both are acknowledged on all hands, and there is not any beauty but theirs to which men pay long obedience ; at all events, if not by sympathy discovered, it is not in words explicable with what Divine lines and lights the exercise of godliness and charity will mould and gild the hardest and coldest countenance, neither to what darkness their departure will consign the loveliest. For there is not any virtue the exercise of which even momentarily will not impress a new fairness upon the features ; neither on them only, but on the whole body, both the intelligence and the moral faculties have operation, for even all the movements and gestures, however slight, are different in their modes according to the mind that governs them, and on the gentleness and decision of just feeling there follows a grace of action, and through this a grace of form, which by no discipline may be taught or attained.”
Here Ruskin, as in so many details of his exposition, and to a certain extent in his perception of truth, is influenced by his personal preferences and education so far as to substitute his way of seeing things for a general truth ; confounding the standard of beauty, the ideal beauty, with the charm which has been called “ something better than beauty,” and
which is due to sympathy alone. But the expression “ moral beauty ” applied to it betrays an analogy which will help us on the way to the desired solution. What we are in search of, and not finding which our quest is fruitless, is the secret of physical beauty as seen in a statue or a landscape as well as in a human face or form. We want to know what is the fundamental cause of the “ peculiar pleasure from certain colors, forms, and sounds,” composing in their union or singly what we call the beauty of a given object. Why, for instance, do we feel the aesthetic emotions which all cultivated tastes have come to recognize as fitting the sight of the Venus of Melos ? Here is no question of moral beauty or mental qualities. The statue is beautiful, if beautiful, by purely physical quality; for it conveys no trace of a mental quality, much less moral, in the original. To confuse, in the search for the reason of this, the question of how moral qualities may affect the human race or form is simply diversion from the essential issue. Such an investigation may have, and no doubt has, its grave importance, but the true solution of the problem is lost sight of in the confusion. One question is that of beauty made; the other, probably, of beauty in the making ; and the analogy that binds them is too fine for use in determining the solution we seek. The answer to the former may indeed help confirm that to the latter, but it would be unsafe to trust to it for the leading.
The reply to our question is necessarily given a priori, being universally applicable, and the analysis of the concrete example being impossible until we have an idea of the law.6 Having accepted the definition of Ruskin, that beauty is “ in some sort typical of the Divine attributes,” we must, to arrive at a definition of philosophical (I do not say practical) utility, determine “ in some sort ” what attribute it signifies to us. Cousin suggests the Divine Goodness. But goodness in the superior Being is only another word for benevolence; in the inferior, for duty, which latter we may dismiss at once. And benevolence is, in fact, only a manifestation of love; and in our ultimate analysis of the conceivable attributes of Deity we arrive at that of Swedenborg as the, to our comprehension, final definition, — God is love and wisdom. To which of these two shall we assign beauty as effect? Primarily not to wisdom, to feel the quality of which an appeal to the purely intellectual qualities is necessary. On the other hand, the recognition of love, coming to the emotional nature, appeals to the faculties which we have to recognize as the basis of all a priori judgments.7 As any adequate conception of God must be intuitive, and as the sensorium of all our recognitions of beauty is intuitive, the cause we seek and the effect we recognize belong to the same faculties as subject of thought. And so we reach finally the definition of Swedenborg : “ Because all beauty is from good 8 which is in innocence ; essential good, when it flows in from the internal man into the external, constitutes what is beautiful, and hence is all human beautifulness.” 9 “ Hence it is that the angels of heaven are of ineffable beauty, being, as it were, loves and charities inform.” 10 The definition I seek for I will put in the simplest form : Beauty is the form of love. And Swedenborg, not being a metaphysician, and having quite another object in view, has confounded, as Buskin did, two objects in one definition, — the ultimate and final beauty, and the proximate and resultant beauty in the
process of development. But we have the recognition of the cardinal truth that beauty has its root in love; for charity, which he, like the early Bible translators, erroneously made a different thing from love, is, in the original, love in a sense higher than the agape which the timid theologians were afraid to employ. The new translation of the New Testament corrects the error.
The fundamental cause which Darwin indicated is the intuitive recognition of the Divine Love in creation, the human soul organically responding in this way to the message of its Creator, being made in His image.11 This recognition must not be confounded with the intellectual determination which is the subject of our quest, for this must be derived from experience and is a deduction. Rather is it one of the fundamental intuitions (intuition being the spiritual form of instinct) of the spiritual man. But as God is Wisdom as well as Love, I may be asked, Why distinguish the one from the other, and why should not the intuition find in the form of things the former as well as the latter ? The reply was given by one who was always, in the theological days of thought, regarded as a severe rationalist, Edmund Burke, who was the first to recognize the fundamental distinction between the sublime and the beautiful. He bases his antithesis on what I must consider an erroneous estimate of the sensation of the sublime, assigning love as the emotion of beauty, and fear as that of sublimity. Fear does not enter into, except to paralyze, the emotion which we derive from the sublime. That which in the sublime corresponds to the instinct of the Divine Love in the beautiful is the intuition of organization, the root of the intuition of causality. And here I would recall that memorable distinction of Mrs. H. K. Brown, that “ the female beauty seems as nothing to me, the other to be almost everything; ” for, in effect, the ideal of masculine perfection tends to the sublime, that of feminine to the beautiful, and we come to the conclusion that the beautiful and the sublime are two types of coordinate attributes of creation, as love and wisdom are coordinate attributes of the one God, and masculine and feminine are one Humanity.1 Made in His image as we are (I take this as absolute and granted, and they who refuse this premise will not go a step with me), every cause in Him has its correspondence in effect in us, and the sensation of beauty which is at the root of all our emotions before the external creation is the seal of the Creator on His creature, and the final signature of the great Artist on His perfected work.
We might follow indefinitely the analysis of the beautiful - sublime, but we cannot here do more than glance at the characters of it, and the distinction between the wedded elements. Leaving apart humanity, in which the problem is too complicated for a ready solution, let us analyze landscape, in which we shall find that the elements which appeal the most strongly to the emotions of beauty are those which tend to repose : the sweet lines of scenes in which Nature has finished her work, the wayside flowers, the varying tree forms, and the modulated tints of the foreground, the gradations of distance and the proportions of the curves which are indispensable to any degree of beauty; in the distance the graduated sweep of the hillsides into the valleys, and in the valleys the recognition of the harmony of the lines, the obedience to an organic impulse of Nature, but over all the sense of repose. We find the sublime in the mountain, with its lift and its grand system of crystallization, the long straight lines of geological structure, evidence of organization and power ; and as the one melts into the other, or rises from the bed of repose to the majesty of arrested action, we recognize in the combination the ideal landscape. If the philosophers with whom we have dealt had been women, we might have had the sublime as the type and the beautiful as the satellite, as with Mrs. Brown. Nature has wedded them into one, as in the completed work of Him who is neither male nor female, but both, in the human soul, in its ultimate perfection become, of two, one.
It cannot be too clearly understood or stated that the sense of the beautiful, the “ peculiar pleasure from certain colors and forms ” (setting aside, for the convenience of simplicity in our discussion, the “ sounds ”), is in no sense an act of the rational faculties ; for, in truth, the attempt to analyze those emotions we receive from the beautiful, and render to ourselves an account of their modus operandi, results in instant dissipation of the pleasure. It is as purely instinctive as the animal’s delight in the sunshine or the little child’s delight over a pretty flower, and is as essential a portion of our spiritual natures as the joy in sunshine and the green fields is of our physical. The “ eye for form,” the “ sense of color,” and the “ear for harmony and melody ” are endowments of the temperament, given in our inmost natures ; and the fundamental cause of them is the instinctively recognized expression of the divine attributes, — a recognition so deeply founded in our spiritual and mental natures that we can by no intellectual effort seize it, and by no study develop it, where it is not in the original nature. It has nothing to do with morality in the individual. Some of the best men have no sense of the beautiful, and some of the most indifferent to morality have it in great strength. It was probably once the universal endowment of humanity, now obscured in various ways and in various degrees, from various causes, to us absolutely undiscoverable. Few healthfully active minds are entirely destitute of it. The causes of its diminution, or the possibility of its restoration and the methods thereof, are questions with which we have nothing to do. At the risk of being considered mystical (which does not disturb me, for nothing is so mystical as life), I shall offer a solution of the problem of the fundamental cause in the organic response of the human mind to the evidence in created things of the presence of the Creator. They seem beautiful to us because we feel, in some way which the intellectual analysis fails to discover, the impress of something on them which corresponds to a something in our own souls, as wax responds to the seal.12 What we are corresponds pro tanto with what our Creator is, — faintly and far away, but still, as deeply as it goes, the same. If Deity had been different, and we by consequence, the quality of beauty would have been different by as much; but for what it is the instinctive recognition delights us, and we call it beautiful. There is of course no question of “ God creating things beautiful for the delight of man;” such a belief argues a very low conception of the relation between the Creator and creation. Beauty appeals to man because the Divine nature appeals to the human ; for the characters are the same, and when they appear to us even in the accidents of the universe the sensorium responds as a string to its accord. In music we feel the appeal more potently, because it reaches the nervous system somewhat more than in color, and far more than in form ; yet in color it sometimes happens that the appeal is like that of a harmony in music. Ruskin hit the true solution in principle; where he failed to get at the roots of the question was in mistaking his personal, individual emotions for the fundamental cause, and in attempting to analyze a feeling which is fundamental, and therefore beyond analysis. He failed in his analysis of beauty because he attempted to explain it by analyzing God ; and of God no analysis more minute than that which recognizes His love and His wisdom is possible. We can enumerate our emotions, but we can find in ourselves, in ultimate analysis, only the same two gifts, love and intellect; all the emotions are secondary results, and the Divine attributes of Raskin’s doctrine have too much the appearance of anthropomorphic attribution. But the conclusion at which he arrives as to the investigating faculty is so strong a confirmation of my position that I quote it entire : “ No intellectual operation is here of any avail. There is not any reasoning by which the evidences of depravity are to be traced in the movements of muscle or form of feature ; there is not any knowledge nor experience nor diligence of comparison that can be of any avail. Here, as throughout the operation of the theoretic faculty, the perception is altogether moral, an instinctive love, and clinging to the lines of light. Nothing hut love can read the letters, nothing but sympathy catch the sound ; there is no pure passion that can he understood or painted except by pureness of heart.”
Darwin’s conclusion, then, that the beauty of animals “has been effected through sexual selection, — that is, by the more beautiful males having been continually preferred by the females,” — though it might be admitted as accounting for the preservation of the more beautiful types of the male, will account neither for the origin of beauty nor for the sense of the beautiful in the female. The beauty must have been there before it attracted the female, and the sense of beauty must have been in the female from the beginning, or the beauty would not have attracted; and we end, where we end in accounting for life, in a mystery fathomed alone by the imagination, the “ active power for the synthesis of the manifold which we call imagination ” of Kant. Darwin himself says: “ Few objects are more beautiful than the minute silicaceous cases of the diatomaceæ.” Can these be accounted for by sexual selection ? Why do we find them beautiful; and why do we agree with the female birds as to the beauty of their males ? There are sea shells which have designs of great beauty, invariable in the species, but which are hidden under an epidermis ; so that even if the sexual appreciation existed in the animal, the beauty could not excite it. Why are they beautiful, and why does the pattern always persist ? Inexplicable puzzles are all these problems, unless we can admit the presence behind the process of evolution of a fundamental cause in the very foundation of the universe, — Design and an Ideal. If, however, the signature of the Divine Artist is set on all His work, if all created objects are “ embodiments of Divine thought in material forms,” then are we at the threshold of the mystery which veils, and still discloses, Beauty, the Ineffable, the Eternal.
W. J. Stillman.
- The Origin of Species, chap. vi.↩
- It may be said, in passing, that this development of the aesthetic sense in the bird is a conclusive proof that it is pure instinct, and therefore not due to any mental association or education.↩
- The æsthetic sense as developed, in art responds to two distinct appeals, — that of a decorative character and that of embodiment of the ideal. Art begins with the former, and ends with the latter.↩
- Darwiniana, p. 135.↩
- Darwiniana, p. 107.↩
- “ If, therefore, a judgment is thought with strict universality, so that no exception is admitted as possible, it is not derived from experience, but is valid absolutely a priori.” — KANT.↩
- “ Whatever the process and the means may be by which knowledge reaches its objects, there is one that reaches them directly, and forms the ultimate material of all thought, namely, intuition,” — KANT.↩
- Not Goodness in the sense Cousin uses the word, but good as distinguished from evil,↩
- Arcana Coelestia, 3080.↩
- Idem, 4986.↩
- If Darwin is right, all sentient creatures have in their degree the same response.↩
- There is, however, a fundamental difference in our relation to the beautiful and the sublime. Love is one, ours as His ; but our wisdom is not as His, and our sympathy with the former is fundamental and primary, with the latter consequent and secondary.↩
- “He shall see that nature is the opposite of the soul, answering it part to part. One is seal and one is print. Its beauty is the beauty of his own mind. Its laws are the laws of his own mind. Nature thus becomes to him the measure of his own attainments. So much of nature as he is ignorant of, so much of his own soul does he not yet possess. And we find the ancient precept ‘ Know thyself ’ and the modern precept ‘ Study Nature ’ become at last one maxim.” — R. W. EMERSON.↩