Images de page

dictory, that I conceive it safest, to proceed at once to the consideration of the subject itself, without attempting to give you any previous view of the opinions of others with respect to it. I am quite sure, that, if these opinions were exhibited to you in succession, your powers of inquiry would be distracted and oppressed, rather than enlightened or invigorated, and, therefore, would not be in a state very well fitted for prosecuting the investigation, on which you might be called to enter. In questions which relate to objects that cannot be directly submitted to the senses, and that have been thus perplexed by many opposite doctrines and speculations, it is often necessary to endeavour to forget as much as possible what others have thought, and to strive to think as if the opinions of others had been unknown to us. I know no question, in which this temporary forgetfulness could be of more profit than in that on which we are to enter.

When we speak of the emotion which beauty excites, we speak necessarily of an emotion that is pleasing; for it is only in the case of pleasing emotions that all writers concur in using the name, and only in such cases that the name is used, even by the vulgar, in their common phraseology. It is, in truth, only one of the many forms of that joyous delight, which I ranked as one of the elementary feelings to which our emotions are reducible. The pleasure, then, I may remark, in the first place, is one essential circumstance of the emotion.

Another circumstance, which may not seem so obvious, but which I consider as not less constituent of beauty, in that maturer state of the mind, in which alone we are capable of considering it, is that we transfer, in part at least, the delight which we feel, and embody it in the object which excited it, whatever that object may have been, combining it at least partially with our very conception of the object, as beautiful,-much in the same way as we invest external forms, with the colours which exist as feelings of our own mind, or in our vague conception, and of the sapid or odoriferous substances, that are gratifying to our luxury, we consider as almost present in them, and permanent some part of the very delight which they afford. I know well, that, philosophically, we consider these sapid and odoriferous substances, merely as the unknown causes of our sensations of sweetness and fragrance; but I have little doubt, at the same time, that it is only philosophical

a moment.

ly we do so consider them, and that, while we smell a rose, without thinking of our philosophy, we do truly consider the fragrance, which we are at the moment enjoying, or at least a charm which involves a sort of shadowy resemblance of that peculiar species of delight, to be floating around that beautiful flower, as if existing there, independently of our feeling. We do not, indeed, think of the sensation of fragrance as existing without, for if we characterised it as a sensation, this very judgment would imply a sort of philosophizing on its nature, which is far from taking place in such But, without regarding it as a sensation, and enjoying merely the actual feeling of the moment, we incorporate the charm, as it were, with the colours of the rose, with as little intention of forming this combination, and even with as little consciousness that any such combination is taking place, as when, in vision, we invest the external hardness,-the mere feeling of gentle and limited resistance, which the rosebud gives us as an object of touch, or of muscular compression, with the colours, which are at the moment arising from affections of a different organ. In the case of fragrance, it is more easy for us, indeed, to separate the sensation from the external form with which we combine it,-and to imagine a rose without odour, than, in the case of vision, to separate the mere form and hue that mingle as if in one sensation, because there are many objects which we touch, that excite in us no sensations of fragrance; and no objects of touch which do not excite in us some sensations of colour. The coexistence is, therefore, more uniform, and the subsequent suggestions consequently more uniform and indissoluble in the one case, than in the other. It is much easier for us, accordingly, to persuade those who have never read, or discoursed, or thought, on such subjects, that the feelings of smell and taste are not inherent in their objects, than to persuade them that the actual colours, which form their sensations of vision, are not spread over the surfaces of external things. But the actual investment of external things, with the feelings of our own mind, does take place in our sensitive references to objects without; and in some cases, as in those of vision, constitutes a union so close, that it is impossible even for our philoso phy to break the union while the sensation continues. We know well, when we open our eyes, that whatever affects our eyes, within the small compass of their orbit; and yet we cannot look


for a single moment, without spreading what we thus visually feel over whole miles of landscape.

Still, I must repeat, not the slightest doubt is philosophically entertained by those, who, when they open their eyes, yield like the vulgar to the temporary allusion-that the colours, thus supposed to be spread over the external scenery, are truly feelings of the mind, of which the external objects, or rather the rays of light that come from them, are merely the unknown causes. When questioned on the subject of vision, we state this opinion with confidence, and even with astonishment, that our opinion on the subject, in the present age of philosophy, should be doubted by him who has taken the superfluous trouble of putting such a question. At the very moment, probably, at which we give our answer, we have our eyes fixed on him, to whom we address it. His complexion, his dress, are regarded by us as external colours, and we are practically, at the very moment, therefore, belying the very opinion, which we profess, and in speculation truly profess, to hold.. These remarks show sufficiently the distinction of our speculative limitation of our feelings to mind, as the only subject of feeling, and our practical diffusion of these very feelings over matter, which, by its nature, is incapable of being the subject of any feeling; and they show, that it is very possible for the same mind to combine both, or rather, that there is no individual, who has accurately made the distinction, that does not, in almost every moment of his life, and certainly in every moment of vision,-go through that very process of spiritualizing matter, or of diffusing over matter his own sensations, which, in his speculations, appears to him to involve an absolute contradiction.

It is not enough, therefore, to urge, in disproof of any diffusion of our mental feelings over material things, that our feelings are affections of mind, and cannot be affections of matter; since this would be to disprove a fact, which certainly in vision, and, as I conceive, in some degree in our other senses also, is continually taking place, notwithstanding the supposed demonstration of its impossibility.

To apply these remarks, however, to our particular subject.-Beauty, I have said, is necessarily an emotion that is pleasing, and it is an emotion which we diffuse, and combine with our conception of the object that may have excited it.

These two circumstances, the pleasing nature of the emotion itself, and the identification of it with the object that excites it, are essential to it, in those years in which alone it can be an object of reflection; and are, as I conceive, the only circumstances that are essential to it, in all its varieties, and in whatever way the emotion itself may be produced. It is true, indeed, that when questioned, precisely as in the case of simple vision, whether we think that the emotion of beauty is a state or affection of matter, we should have no hesitation, in affirming instantly, that it is a state of the mind, and is absolutely incapable of existing in any substance, that is purely material. All this we should say with confidence, as we say with confidence that colour is an affection of the mind, and only an affection of the mind. Yet still, as in the case of colour, the temporary diffusion of our own feeling over the external objects, would take place as before. The beauty as truly felt, and as reasoned upon, would be in our mind; the beauty, as considered by us at the time of the feeling, would be a delight that seemed to float over the object without the object which we, therefore, term beautiful, as we term certain other objects red or green-not the mere unknown causes of the feelings which we term redness, or greenness, or beauty, but objects that are red, and green, and beautiful. Even at the time of the diffusion, however, we do not say, or even think, that we diffuse the emotion of beauty any more than we say or think that we diffuse the sensations of colour; for this, as I have said, would be to have philosophized on the nature of the feelings or states of a substantial mind; but without any thought of the colours as sensations, or of the beauty as an emotion, we feel them as in the objects that excite them, that is to say, we reflect them from ourselves on the objects. The dif fusion may be temporary, indeed, and depend on the actual pres ence of the object, but sttil the temporary diffusion does take place; and while the object is before us, it is as little possible for us not to regard it, as permanently beautiful, though no eye were ever to behold it, as it would be for us to regard its colour, as fading the very moment in which we close our eye. Beauty, then, is a pleasing emotion, and a delight which we feel, as if dif fused over the object which excites it.

I shall proceed further in my inquiry in my next Lecture.




GENTLEMEN, the latter part of my Lecture, yesterday, was employed in considering one of the most interesting of our emotions, that which constitutes the charm of Beauty,-an emotion, which every one must have felt sufficiently, to understand, at the mere mention of the name, what it is, which is the subject of inquiry, and which, notwithstanding, when we endeavour to explain to others what we feel, no two individuals probably would define by the same terms.

Of an emotion, which is so delightful, and so universal, and, by a singular, and almost contradictory character of thought, at once so clearly felt, and so obscurely comprehended, many theories, as might well be supposed, have been formed by philosophers. If the accurate knowledge of a subject bear any necessary proportion, to the number of opinions with respect to it, that have been stated and canvassed, and the labour and ability of those who have advanced their own theories, or examined the theories of others, there could now be scarcely any more doubt, as to the nature of what is beautiful, than as to any property of a circle or a triangle, which geometricians have demonstrated.


Such a proportion, however, unfortunately does not hold. There are subjects, which as little grow clearer, by a comparison many opinions with respect to them, as the waters of a turbid lake grow clearer, by being frequently dashed together, when all that can be effected, by the agitation, is to darken them the more.

In such a case, the plan most prudent, is to let the waters rest,

« PrécédentContinuer »