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If one be the possessor of a conclusive, optimistic philosophical system, well and good; one knows such positions, as final, to be impossible and absurd. And yet they historically have been held in serious speculation. Why, then, should not sceptical, pessimistic, and positivist phases be as legitimate in the evolution of the ästhetic as of the philosophical consciousness? Unless we profess an essentially absolute knowledge, does not our denial of the possibility of unbelieving art involve us in the denial of truth as the sine qua non of art, and in the substitution for it of pleasureableness? Only here we come into another trouble, perhaps a paradox,—will the merely pleasant, which is not believed to be true, really please at all? The fact is, æsthetic pleasure is not a blind gratification, so to speak, of the higher animal, but a satisfaction—it may be, melancholy—of the sense of reason in us.
Bound up with the conviction that art must be pleasant, is the ordinary assertion of its ideality. It will not be necessary for us to traverse the time-worn arguments of idealists and realists; we can perhaps get nearer the heart of the problem involved here by asking, in as philosophical a spirit as the narrow limits of a short paper will permit,—What is an ideal? In the first instance, it is a conception of worth, a subjectively-derived norm—a type-form, principle—applied to things. In this general sense, though, all thinking is idealisation—to find anything obedient to the mere law of cause and effect is to find it responsive to a demand of the mind—we strive to envisage things under this relationship, because, conceived thus, they satisfy a notion, standard, or ideal craving brought to bear upon them by the mind itself; and so far it is correct enough to describe as idealists even the realists who profess in their art to furnish simple "scientific documents," or doubters and disconsolates who deal in “reality" and not “illusion." However, there is another sense, too commonly ignored by critics, in which these persons rightly protest against the accusation of idealism. They are charged with idealising by selecting their materials, and keeping to what is significant. But a scientist, too, selects in this manner, because he regards his objects only in certain relevant,
special characteristics; and yet he is not an idealist within the usual meaning. Idealism signifies ordinarily a faith in the conformity of things to our fullest and richest and highest, or absolute criteria ; and it is in this sense that art is commonly called idealistic. Is it such ? In one point of view we may, perhaps, safely enough say, Yes. Most judges would probably concur, that just as philosophy, be it even agnostic or destructive, never can quite divest itself of the great ideal objects of God, Freedom, and Immortality, but always implies an attitude toward them, so in the same way art, be it of whatever type, always has at least the lurking aspiration of this more alluring ideality, in the same fashion that it has that of pleasureableness. Otherwise it would not be art, any more than philosophy would be philosophy without having regard to final problems. If, however, by its idealism is meant a gratification of the mind's absolute demands—a presentation of ideals as fulfilled—then the mere existence of the whole tribe of the Byrons, Zolas, Ibsens, Hardys, Hauptmanns, and the rest of the realists, flingers of challenges and dispellers of dreams, is a refutation of its inevitable ideality. Or are we to refuse these latter the character of artists? We will not avail ourselves of a parallel by pointing out again how such disbelievers in the achievement of the cherished ambitions of philosophy as Comte, Schopenhauer, and Hume nevertheless are recognised as genuine philosophers; we shall try to confront, very briefly, some of the directer logic of the situation.
We may start by asking at once, Who cares for idealism divorced from truth? Plainly, in the idealism of art, as in its pleasureableness, truth is demanded. It is a poor species that would be content to rank as a narcotic. Yet how far does truth comport with idealism? As a measuring by a subjective standard, an ideal expresses a subjective need, and hence at least something of the truth of the nature of the subject that has the need. In this light, an art even of absolute affirmations, though it should be found to reveal only the truth as, for the subject, it ought to be, irrespective of what it is the “ideal” truth in precisely the sense in which, perhaps, more
frequently than not, the term is used-yet must always possess a certain real truth, and must always retain a certain serious import in the way it did for Kant, who read its verifiable meaning altogether subjectively, and discovered its solid interest solely in its suggestions touching the "destination" of the subject. All the more will such art of the Oughtto-be preserve its import, if we believe that in virtue of that concrete perceptual mode of representation which differentiates it as art, it may often achieve a fuller truth than will reflective thought with its abstractions; and still more yet will it keep its abiding significance as a mode both of discovery and expression, if we hold, not that reflective thought is the goal and grave of perception, but that, on the contrary, reflective thought, being by its very nature as reflective (i. e., selfconscious), inevitably abstract, formal, false, is itself in its highest and subtlest uses only an instrument for the mediating and developing of perceptions. For in this latter case, the true course of mental evolution will not be from perception to reflection as the end, but from perception ultimately to perception,—from the primitive "innocency,” i. e., unconsciousness and concreteness of instinct, to the regained unconsciousness and wholeness of habit and ripe intuition. On which account, under this view, philosophy cannot ever supersede art as a higher over a lower, but the final stage both of insight and utterance, whatever we may name it besides, will still be artistic.
This kind of subjective truth, then, art may safely enough aspire after; but can we get no farther? What about objective truth, truth “in the World” instead of simply “for the mind ?” Surely we can advance at least one step more. Later philosophy, with its monistic temper, would not consent to draw such a line between mind and world, subject and object, as Kant drew. For us, the human mind itself is only a manifestation of the one Universe; so that whatever throws light upon the nature of the former, cannot but bear testimony in a certain measure as to the constitution and process also of the latter. This is a vein of philosophy of which I am not sure that it has yet been worked to its full worth. Still, for the very reason that we are not nowadays disposed radically to sever the inward subVol. XV-No. 2.
jective being from all other existence, we ought hardly to expect to derive from it insights so utterly divergent from and beyond anything derivable from the other or objective phase of reality. And historic experience does seem to testify that the unfolding of the inward nature of mind and the outer nature of things, go pretty much hand in hand. So, now, what direct objective truth has ideal art? What truth have the objects purporting to be cognised in its ideals?
Thus far, we have not attempted to define more closely the content of the ideals which art pictures forth. Is it enough to say that art occupies itself with ideals, without specifying further; or do ideals differ in degree of their attainableness, or the conformity of the objective order to them? If we follow Kant, and besides permit ourselves, as everyday usage fairly warrants, to include under the name of ideal all subjectivelyposited standards and desired goals, we must divide ideals, serious ideals, altogether aside from imaginative levities, into the objectively verifiable and the objectively not-verifiable; the finite ideals of the Understanding, such as the Kantian “Categories" themselves, and the infinite, absolute ideals of Reason, like God, Freedom, and a completely teleological World. Provisionally granting this distinction, we still run into controversy touching which class art has to do with; namely, whether its creations are simple concrete presentments of commonplace scientific relations of rhythm, proportion, unity in variety, and causal development (the spirit, tacitly at any rate, of a good deal of the contemporary psychological and "exact" ästhetics, and, most notably of all, and avowedly, of modern French realism and the school of criticism that goes with this movement); or whether (as Plotinus and Hegel, or even Kant and Aristotle would say) it is an attempt “to chisel the image of God”—an attempt, like the boldest philosophy, to grasp the final significance of the whole scheme of things. To undertake a subtle demonstration that even one of Herrick's fragile lyrics or Hogarth's "Line of Beauty” is beautiful and not simply pleasant, because it touches the spirit's last perplexities, and that the most positivistic of Zola's novels, so far as it succeeds as art, engenders and expresses a mood haunted by infinite suggestions, would lead us too curiously far afield. I shall be dogmatic at this point, as before, to the extent of asserting that at least the approved imperishable sort of art utters the mind's absolute demands, and pries at the absolute Secret. This much assumed, are we forced to go on and add that these demands and these pryings must in the nature of the case remain forever futile, and the contents of our bravest visions never find a place as things out in the kingdom of Nature?
Once more, then, what amount of objective truth have the absolute ideals of great art? Of course, this truth, if they possess it, must be describable as a truth admitting of development, growth; for the æsthetic consciousness has most notably had a developing, growing content. But Hegel has once for all taught us that truth may be on different planes, and that the advance of our insight from a lower to a higher plane does not involve a simple repudiation of the lower, but that the lower is lifted up into and “conserved" as an abiding, vital element in the higher; so that the fact that insight has had a history does not signify a disowning of its past. The past of the human mind, whether in philosophy or art, is not, to use Hegel's vivid image, a museum of the mind's aberrations, but a Pantheon of godlike figures, each of which is an indispensable stage or phase of truth. This much, therefore, is fairly simple. With it disposed of, however, we at last come to our crux, which, as alway, is a matter of our whole philosophical viewpoint. For Hegel and his literal disciples, the enduring essence and final reality, after all, of the World, lies in the pure abstract "Idea,'
“" or the total system of the World's broad underlying structural principles—the “Categories"—these latter being conceived, it is true, not as a dead formal World-plan, but as livingly enforming the World; yet nevertheless abstract, inasmuch as in their inmost nature they persist above and after all particular existences. The serious difficulty which here arises for such of us as are not Hegelians, does not spring from a disposition on our part to doubt whether such categories and genuinely objective World-shaping principles are possible of apprehension. Few trained thinkers, I imagine, will be gravely tempted to