« PrécédentContinuer »
lights and preferences,-certain objects seem to be productive, in a higher degree than others, of that pleasing emotion, which we denominate beauty, when reflected and embodied, as it were, in the objects that excite it; and as certainly this delightful emotion varies, in the course of his life, from object to object, innume. rable times, according to circumstances, which we may not always be able to detect, but which it is, generally, not very difficult to trace, at least in some of their most striking and permanent inAuences.
In the case of those theories, which would refer all beauty in the forms and colours, or other qualities of material things, to the suggestion of mental qualities, and the succession of associate trains of images in accordance with these, there is one circumstance which
have led to the illusion, if the theories are truly to be held to be illusive; and it is a circumstance common, you will perceive, to all those cases on which the theories are professedly founded. By the mere laws of suggestion, though no other laws of mind were concerned, and though beauty, as a primary direct emotion, were the exclusive invariable result of certain perceptions in all mankind alike, as immediate as the perceptions themselves, analogous objects would unquestionably suggest analogous objects; and, where the suggestions were rapid, and the pleasing emotion of beauty continued to coexist with various suggestions, it might not be very obvious, when we endeavour to review the whole series of feelings, to which set of feelings the priority should be assigned; and whether the emotion which perhaps led to the suggestions of the analogous objects, by the mere influence of this common delightful feeling, might not be itself rather the result of them. The pleasure which preceded the suggestion of an agreea. ble object, and still continued after that object was suggested, might thus seem to be the effect of the suggestion of the agreeable object itself. When, therefore, in our endeavour to explain the beauty of any corporeal form, we dwell on it for any length of time, or even when we dwell on it with that mere passive gaze of pleasure which its beauty excites, a variety of analogous objects may be suggested during the delightful contemplation ; and, among these, since the different mental affections, intellectual and moral, which we feel in ourselves, or observe in others, must present to us the most interesting of all analogies, it is not wonderful that
some analogous mental qualities should very readily arise in our mind, as any other analogous object is suggested in any other train. The pleasure attached to the contemplation of the mental quality will, of course, blend with the pleasure previously felt from the material object; and may be conceived to be itself the chief constituent of that primary pleasure, since the subsequence is too rapid to be distinguishable on reflection. There is a pleasure also, it must be remembered, in such a case, from the mere perception of the analogy of the coexisting objects of thought,-a pleasure that constitutes the whole charm of the metaphorical language of the poet and the rhetorician,--which gives, therefore, an additional delight to the mental suggestion when the kindred image is suggested, and, consequently, leads us the more to ascribe to it the whole delight which we feel. But though, when we consider any forms and colour, simple or combined, the analogy of some mental affection may be suggested, and though, when the analogous feeling is suggested, the pleasure of the beauty may be greatly increased, tbis is no proof that the material objects themselves are not pleasing, independent of the suggestion, though not, perhaps, to an equal degree. The softness of moonshine may derive no slight charm, and perhaps its chief charm, from the mild graces of the mind which it suggests, or the remembrance of many a delightful evening walk with friends whom we loved. But this certainly is far from proving that this softness of moonshine would not be delightful, in any degree, if it had not excited such analogous conceptions. The sun, bursting in all his majesty, like the sovereign of the etherial world, through the clouds, which he seems to annihilate with the very brightness of his glory, presents unquestionably many moral analogies, which add to our delight, when we gaze, above or below, on that instant change, which all nature seems to feel :
“ Denso relamine nubis
The similitude which these beautiful verses develope, is unquestionably most pleasing. But would there, indeed, be no delight in the contemplation of so magnificent an object, if some moral analVOL, II.
ogy were not excited, and if the sun itself, with the instant succes. sion of darkness and splendour, and the light diffused over every object beneath, were all of which our mind could be said to be conscious ?
Though, in this question of probabilities which we have been considering, the preponderance seems to me to be in favour of the belief of some original tendencies to the emotion of beauty, on the contemplation of certain objects, I have already said, that it is only a small part of this order of emotions, which we can ascribe to such a source; and these, as I conceive, of very humble value, in relation to other more important emotions of the order, which are truly the production of associations of various kinds. Though all objects might not have been originally indifferent, the objects of our livelier emotion at present, are certainly those which speak to us of moral analogies and happy remembrances. It will not be an uninteresting inquiry, then, in what way these associations operate, in giving birth to the emotions, or in aiding them with such powerful accessions of delight. Let us pass, then, from the ques. tion of original beauty, to this still more important investigation.
The investigation, when we first enter on it, may seem a very easy one.— It is, as we have found from our examination of the laws of mind, the nature of one object, either perceived or conceived, to suggest, by the common laws which regulate our trains of thought at all times, some other object or feeling, that has toit some one of many relations; and this again may suggest others, related to it in like manner. Each suggestion, during a long train of thought, may be the suggestion of some delightful object, and thus indirectly of the delightful emotions which such objects were of themselves capable of inducing ; and though the amount of gratification additional, in ea ch separate suggestion, may be slight, the gratification afforded by a long series of such images, all delightful in themselves, and all harmonizing with the object immediately before us, may be very considerable,-50 considerable as to be sufficient not to favour merely, but absolutely to constitute that emotion, to which we give the name of beauty. Such is the view of the origin of this emotion, which has been given, with much felicity of language, and with much happy illustration of er. ample and analysis, by my very ingenious and very eloquent friend, the author of the Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste.
The continued suggestion of trains of harmonizing images, Mr Alison considers as essential to the emotion, which consists, according to him, not more in the kindred associate feelings themselves, that are recalled to the mind, than in the peculiar delight attending, what he terms, the exercise of the imagination in recalling them,—that is to say, according to the view which I have given you of our mental functions, the delight which he supposes to attend the mere suggestion of image after image in associate and harmonizing trains of thought. This opinion, as to the delight of the mere exercise of imagination, seems to be founded on the belief of a sort of voluntary exertion of the mind, in such trains, when all which truly takes place in them, as I endeavoured, in former Lectures, to explain to you, is the operation of the common laws of suggestion, that may be pleasing or painful in their influence, precisely as the separate feelings that rise by sugges. tion, are themselves pleasing or painful. The exercise of imagination, in such a case, is nothing more than these separate states themselves. When we gaze on a beautiful object, we do not call up the analogous images that may arise, but they arise of themselves unwilled, and if the images were of an opposite kind, the process would itself be painful. Indeed, if the supposed exercise of imagination, were in itself as an exercise of the mind, necessarily pleasing, this exercise, Mr Alison should have remembered, is pot confined to objects that are beautiful, but is common to these with the objects that excite emotions opposite to those of beauty, in which, therefore, it would not be very easy for him to account for its different effect. Since, according to his theory, the same species of exercise of imagination is involved in these likewise, it is very evident, that, if necessarily pleasing, it should tend, not to increase, but to lessen the disagreeable feelings, and to convert ugliness itself into a minor sort of beauty. On the fallacy of this supposed part of the process, however, it is unnecessary for us to dwell. I allude to the supposed delight of the mere exercise at present, only to shew, how necessary it has been felt, in this theory, to account by a multitude of images, for an amount of delight, which seems too great for any single image in suggestion. Here, then, lies the great difficulty, which that theory has to overcome. To him, who reflects on the circumstances that have attended the emotion, in cases in which it has been most strongly felt, does it appear, on this review, that a series of images succeeding images, have passed through his mind ? When we turn our eye, for example, on a beautiful living form, is there no immediate, or almost immediate, feeling of delight whatever,--but do we think of many analogies-and, till these analogies have all been scanned, and the amount of enjoyment, which may have attended the different objects of them, been measured, is the countenance of smile, or the form of grace, only a mass of coloured matter to our eyes ? There are cases, surely, in which the feeling of beauty is immediately consequent on the very perception of the beautiful form,—so immediately consequent, that it would be difficult to convince the greater number of those, who have not been accustomed to reflect on such subjects, that there is any subsequence whatever, and that the delightful emotion is not itself the very glance, which gives that happy feeling in instant sequence to the soul. I have no hesitation even in saying, that the more intense the feeling of beauty may be, the less is the tendency of the mind to pass
from the delightful form, which fills the heart as it fills the eyes, to images of distant analogy,—that this transition takes place, chiefly, where the emotion is of a slight kind,-and that what is said to constitute beauty, has thus an inverse, and not a direct proportion, to that very beauty, which it is said directly to constitute. There can be no question, at least, that, in the language of every poet, and of every impassioned describer of these impassioned feelings, the total suspension of all our faculties, but of that which is fixed on the contemplation of the dazzling object itself, is stated as an essential character of excess of this emotion. There is uniformly described a sort of rapturous stupefaction, which overwhelms every other thought or feeling ;--and though this, in its full extent, may be true only in those excessive emotions, which belong rather to poetry, than to sober life,-even in sober life, there is assuredly an approach to it; and we may safely, therefore, venture to assert, that the beauty, which scarcely allows the mind to wander for a moment from itself, is not less than the beauty, which allows its happy admirer to run over the thousand kind and gentle qualities which it expresses, or to wander, still more widely, over a thousand analogies in other objects.
If we attend, then, to the whole course of our feelings, during our admiration of the objects, which we term beautiful, we are far