Nothing proves more clearly that the Renaissance did not overstep the limits of aesthetic theory reached in antiquity, than the fact that the pedagogic theory of art continued to prevail, in the face of translations of the Poetics of Aristotle and of the diffuse labours expended upon that work. This theory was even grafted upon the Poetics, where one is surprised to find it. There are a few hedonists standing out from the general trend of opinion. The restatement of the pedagogic position, reinforced with examples taken from antiquity, was disseminated throughout Europe by the Italians of the Renaissance. France, Spain, England, and Germany felt its influence, and we find the writers of the period of Louis XIV. either frankly didactic, like Le Bossu (1675), for whom the first object of the poet is to instruct, or with La Menardiere (1640) speaking of poetry as "cette science agreable qui mele la gravite des preceptes avec la douceur du langage." For the former of these critics, Homer was the author of two didactic manuals relating to military and political matters: the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Didacticism has always been looked upon as the Poetic of the Renaissance, although the didactic is not mentioned among the kinds of poetry of that period. The reason of this lies in the fact that for the Renaissance all poetry was didactic, in addition to any other qualities which it might possess. The active discussion of poetic theory, the criticism of Aristotle and of Plato's exclusion of poetry, of the possible and of the verisimilar, if it did not contribute much original material to the theory of art, yet at any rate sowed the seeds which afterwards germinated and bore fruit. Why, they asked with Aristotle, at the Renaissance, does poetry deal with the universal, history with the particular? What is the reason for poetry being obliged to seek verisimilitude? What does Raphael mean by the "certain idea," which he follows in his painting?
These themes and others cognate were dealt with by Italian and by Spanish writers, who occasionally reveal wonderful acumen, as when Francesco Patrizio, criticizing Aristotle's theory of imitation, remarks: "All languages and all philosophic writings and all other writings would be poetry, because they are made of words, and words are imitations." But as yet no one dared follow such a clue to the labyrinth, and the Renaissance closes with the sense of a mystery yet to be revealed.
SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
The seventeenth century is remarkable for the ferment of thought upon this difficult problem. Such words as genius, taste, imagination or fancy, and feeling, appear in this literature, and deserve a passing notice. As regards the word "genius," we find the Italian "ingegno" opposed to the intellect, and Dialectic adorned with the attributes of the latter, while Rhetoric has the advantage of "ingegno" in all its forms, such as "concetti" and "acutezze." With these the English word ingenious has an obvious connection, especially in its earlier use as applied to men of letters. The French worked upon the word "ingegno" and evolved from it in various associations the expressions "esprit," "beaux Esprits." The manual of the Spanish Jesuit, Baltasar Gracian, became celebrated throughout Europe, and here we find "ingegno" described as the truly inventive faculty, and from it the English word "genius," the Italian "genio," the French "genie," first enter into general use.
The word "gusto" or taste, "good taste," in its modern sense, also sprang into use about this time. Taste was held to be a judicial faculty, directed to the beautiful, and thus to some extent distinct from the intellectual judgment. It was further bisected into active and passive; but the former ran into the definition of "ingegno," the latter described sterility. The word "gusto," or taste as judgment, was in use in Italy at a very early period; and in Spain we find Lope di Vega and his contemporaries declaring that their object is to "delight the taste" of their public. These uses of the word are not of significance as regards the problem of art, and we must return to Baltasar Gracian (1642) for a definition of taste as a special faculty or attitude of the soul. Italian writers of the period echo the praises of this laconic moralist, who, when he spoke of "a man of taste," meant to describe what we call to-day "a man of tact" in the conduct of life.
The first use of the word in a strictly aesthetic sense occurs in France in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. La Bruyere writes in his Caracteres (1688): "Il y a dans l'art un point de perfection, comme de bonte ou de maturite dans la nature: celui qui le sent et qui l'aime, a le gout parfait; celui qui ne le sent pas, et qui aime au deca ou au dela, a le gout defectueux. Il y a donc un bon et un mauvais gout, et l'on dispute des gouts avec fondement." Delicacy and variability or variety were appended as attributes of taste. This French definition of the Italian word was speedily adopted in England, where it became "good taste," and we find it used in this sense in Italian and German writers of about this period.
The words "imagination" and "fancy" were also passed through the crucible in this century. We find the Cardinal Sforza-Pallavicino (1644) blaming those who look for truth or falsehood, for the verisimilar or for historical truth, in poetry. Poetry, he holds, has to do with the primary apprehensions, which give neither truth nor falsehood. Thus the fancy takes the place of the verisimilar of certain students of Aristotle. The Cardinal continues his eloquence with the clinching remark that if the intention of poetry were to be believed true, then its real end would be falsehood, which is absolutely condemned by the law of nature and by God. The sole object of poetic fables is, he says, to adorn our intellect with sumptuous, new, marvellous, and splendid imaginings, and so great has been the benefits accruing from this to the human race, that poets have been rewarded with a glory superior to any other, and their names have been crowned with divine honours. This, he says in his treatise, Del Bene, has been the just reward of poets, albeit they have not been bearers of knowledge, nor have they manifested truth.
This throwing of the bridle on the neck of Pegasus seemed to Muratori sixty years later to be altogether too risky a proceeding—although advocated by a Prince of the Church! He reinserts the bit of the verisimilar, though he talks with admiration of the fancy, that "inferior apprehensive" faculty, which is content to "represent" things, without seeking to know if they be true or false, a task which it leaves to the "superior apprehensive" faculty of the intellect. The severe Gravina, too, finds his heart touched by the beauty of poetry, when he calls it "a witch, but wholesome."
As early as 1578, Huarte had maintained that eloquence is the work of the imagination, not of the intellect; in England, Bacon (1605) attributed knowledge to the intellect, history to memory, and poetry to the imagination or fancy; Hobbes described the manifestations of the latter; and Addison devoted several numbers of the Spectator to the analysis of "the pleasures of the imagination."
During the same period, the division between those who are accustomed "a juger par le sentiment" and those who "raisonnent par les principes" became marked in France, Du Bos (1719) is an interesting example of the upholder of the feelings as regards the production of art. Indeed, there is in his view no other criterion, and the feeling for art is a sixth sense, against which intellectual argument is useless. This French school of thought found a reflex in England with the position assigned there to emotion in artistic work. But the confusion of such words as imagination, taste, feeling, wit, shows that at this time there was a suspicion that these words were all applicable to the same fact. Alexander Pope thus distinguished wit and judgment:
For wit and judgment often are at strife, Though meant each other's aid like man and wife.
But there was a divergence of opinion as to whether the latter should be looked upon as part of the intellect or not.
There was the same divergence of opinion as to taste and intellectual judgment. As regards the former, the opposition to the intellectual principle was reinforced in the eighteenth century by Kant in his Kritik der Urtheilskraft. But Voltaire and writers anterior to him frequently fell back into intellectualist definitions of a word invented precisely to avoid them. Dacier (1684) writes of taste as "Une harmonie, un accord de l'esprit et de la raison." The difficulties surrounding a true definition led to the creation of the expression non so che, or je ne sais quoi, or no se que, which throws into clear relief the confusion between taste and intellectual judgment.
As regards imagination and feeling, or sentiment, there was a strong tendency to sensualism. The Cardinal Sforza-Pallavicino talks of poetry as ignoring alike truth or falsehood and yet delighting the senses. He approves of the remark that poetry should make us "raise our eyebrows," but in later life this keen-eyed prince seems to have fallen back from the brilliant intuition of his earlier years into the pedagogic theory. Muratori was convinced that fancy was entirely sensual, and therefore he posted the intellect beside it, "to refrain its wild courses, like a friend having authority." Gravina practically coincides in this view of poetic fancy, as a subordinate faculty, incapable of knowledge, fit only to be used by moral philosophy for the introduction into the mind of the true, by means of novelty and the marvellous.
In England, also, Bacon held poetry to belong to the fancy, and assigned to it a place between history and science. Epic poetry he awarded to the former, "parabolic" poetry to the latter. Elsewhere he talks of poetry as a dream, and affirms that it is to be held "rather as an amusement of the intelligence than as a science." For him music, painting, sculpture, and the other arts are merely pleasure-giving. Addison reduced the pleasures of the imagination to those caused by visible objects, or by ideas taken from them. These pleasures he held to be inferior to those of the senses and less refined than those of the intellect. He looked upon imaginative pleasure as consisting in resemblances discovered between imitations and things imitated, between copies and originals, an exercise adapted to sharpen the spirit of observation.
The sensualism of the writers headed by Du Bos, who looked upon art as a mere pastime, like a tournament or a bull-fight, shows that the truth about Aesthetic had not yet succeeded in emerging from the other spiritual activities. Yet the new words and the new views of the seventeenth century have great importance for the origins of Aesthetic; they were the direct result of the restatement of the problem by the writers of the Renaissance, who themselves took it up where Antiquity had left it. These new words, and the discussions which arose from them, were the demands of Aesthetic for its theoretical justification. But they were not able to provide this justification, and it could not come from elsewhere.
With Descartes, we are not likely to find much sympathy for such studies as relate to wit, taste, fancy, or feelings. He ignored the famous non so che; he abhorred the imagination, which he believed to result from the agitation of the animal spirits. He did not altogether condemn poetry, but certainly looked upon it as the folle du logis, which must be strictly supervised by the reason. Boileau is the aesthetic equivalent of Cartesian intellectualism, Boileau que la raison a ses regles engage, Boileau the enthusiast for allegory. France was infected with the mathematical spirit of Cartesianism and all possibility of a serious consideration of poetry and of art was thus removed. Witness the diatribes of Malebranche against the imagination, and listen to the Italian, Antonio Conti, writing from France in 1756 on the theme of the literary disputes that were raging at the time: "They have introduced the method of M. Descartes into belles-lettres; they judge poetry and eloquence independently of their sensible qualities. Thus they also confound the progress of philosophy with that of the arts. The Abbe Terrasson says that the moderns are greater geometricians than the ancients; therefore they are greater orators and greater poets." La Motte, Fontenelle, Boileau, and Malebranche carried on this battle, which was taken up by the Encyclopaedists, and when Du Bos published his daring book, Jean Jacques le Bel published a reply to it (1726), in which he denied to sentiment its claim to judge of art. Thus Cartesianism could not possess an Aesthetic of the imagination. The Cartesian J.P. de Crousaz (1715) found the beautiful to consist in what is approved of, and thereby reduced it to ideas, ignoring the pleasing and sentiment.
Locke was as intellectualist in the England of this period as was Descartes in France. He speaks of wit as combining ideas in an agreeable variety, which strikes the imagination, while the intellect or judgment seeks for differences according to truth. The wit, then, consists of something which is not at all in accordance with truth and reason. For Shaftesbury, taste is a sense or instinct of the beautiful, of order and proportion, identical with the moral sense and with its "preconceptions" anticipating the recognition of reason. Body, spirit, and God are the three degrees of beauty. Francis Hutcheson proceeded from Shaftesbury and made popular "the internal sense of beauty, which lies somewhere between sensuality and rationality and is occupied with discussing unity in variety, concord in multiplicity, and the true, the good, and the beautiful in their substantial identity." Hutcheson allied the pleasure of art with this sense, that is, with the pleasure of imitation and of the likeness of the copy to the original. This he looked upon as relative beauty, to be distinguished from absolute beauty. The same view dominates the English writers of the eighteenth century, among whom may be mentioned Reid, the head of the Scottish school, and Adam Smith.
With far greater philosophical vigour, Leibnitz in Germany opened the door to that crowd of psychic facts which Cartesian intellectualism had rejected with horror. His conception of reality as continuous (natura non facit saltus) left room for imagination, taste, and their congeners. Leibnitz believed that the scale of being ascended from the lowliest to God. What we now term aesthetic facts were then identified with what Descartes and Leibnitz had called "confused" knowledge, which might become "clear," but not distinct. It might seem that when he applied this terminology to aesthetic facts, Leibnitz had recognized their peculiar essence, as being neither sensual nor intellectual. They are not sensual for him, because they have their own "clarity," differing from pleasure and sensual emotion, and from intellectual "distinctio." But the Leibnitzian law of continuity and intellectualism did not permit of such an interpretation. Obscurity and clarity are here to be understood as quantitative grades of a single form of knowledge, the distinct or intellectual, toward which they both tend and reach at a superior grade. Though artists judge with confused perceptions, which are clear but not distinct, these may yet be corrected and proved true by intellective knowledge. The intellect clearly and distinctly knows the thing which the imagination knows confusedly but clearly. This view of Leibnitz amounts to saying that the realization of a work of art can be perfected by intellectually determining its concept. Thus Leibnitz held that there was only one true form of knowledge, and that all other forms could only reach perfection in that. His "clarity" is not a specific difference; it is merely a partial anticipation of his intellective "distinction." To have posited this grade is an important achievement, but the view of Leibnitz is not fundamentally different from that of the creators of the words and intuitions already studied. All contributed to attract attention to the peculiarity of aesthetic facts.
Speculation on language at this period revealed an equally determined intellectualist attitude. Grammar was held to be an exact science, and grammatical variations to be explainable by the ellipse, by abbreviation, and by failure to grasp the typical logical form. In France, with Arnauld (1660), we have the rigorous Cartesian intellectualism; Leibnitz and Locke both, speculated upon this subject, and the former all his life nourished the thought of a universal language. The absurdity of this is proved in this volume.
A complete change of the Cartesian system, upon which Leibnitz based his own, was necessary, if speculation were ever to surpass the Leibnitzian aesthetic. But Wolff and the other German pupils of Leibnitz were as unable to shake themselves free of the all-pervading intellectualism as were the French pupils of Descartes.
Meanwhile a young student of Berlin, named Alexander Amedeus Baumgarten, was studying the Wolffian philosophy, and at the same time lecturing in poetry and Latin rhetoric. While so doing, he was led to rethink and pose afresh the problem of how to reduce the precepts of rhetoric to a rigorous philosophical system. Thus it came about that Baumgarten published in September 1735, at the age of twenty-one, as the thesis for his degree of Doctor, an opuscule entitled, Meditationes philosophicae de nonnullis ad poema pertinentibus, and in it we find written for the first time the word "Aesthetic," as the name of a special science. Baumgarten ever afterwards attached great importance to his juvenile discovery, and lectured upon it by request in 1742, at Frankfort-on-the-Oder, and again in 1749. It is interesting to know that in this way Emmanuel Kant first became acquainted with the theory of Aesthetic, which he greatly altered when he came to treat of it in his philosophy. In 1750, Baumgarten published the first volume of a more ample treatise, and a second part in 1762. But illness, and death in 1762, prevented his completing his work.
What is Aesthetic for Baumgarten? It is the science of sensible knowledge. Its objects are the sensible facts (aisthaeta), which the Greeks were always careful to distinguish from the mental facts (noaeta). It is therefore scientia cognitionis sensitivae, theoria liberalium artium, gnoseologia inferior, ars pulcre cogitandi, ars analogi rationis. Rhetoric and Poetic are for him special cases of Aesthetic, which is a general science, embracing both. Its laws are diffused among all the arts, like the mariner's star (cynosura quaedam), and they must be always referred to in all cases, for they are universal, not empirical or merely inductive (falsa regula pejor est quam nulla). Aesthetic must not be confounded with Psychology, which supplies only suppositions. Aesthetic is an independent science, which gives the rules for knowing sensibly, and is occupied with the perfection of sensible knowledge, which is beauty. Its contrary is ugliness. The beauty of objects and of matter must be excluded from the beauty of sensible knowledge, because beautiful objects can be badly thought and ugly objects beautifully thought. Poetic representations are those which are confused or imaginative. Distinction and intellectuality are not poetic. The greater the determination, the greater the poetry; individuals absolutely determined (omnimodo determinata) are very poetical, as are images or fancies, and everything which refers to feeling. The judgment of sensible and imaginative representations is taste.
Such are, in brief, the truths which Baumgarten stated in his Meditationes, and further developed and exemplified in his Aesthetica. Close study of the two works above-mentioned leads to the conviction that Baumgarten did not succeed in freeing himself from the unity of the Leibnitzian monadology. He obtained from Leibnitz his conception of the poetic as consisting of the confused, but German critics are wrong in believing that he attributed to it a positive, not a negative quality. Had he really done this, he would have broken at a blow the unity of the Leibnitzian monad, and conquered the science of Aesthetic.
This giant's step he did not take: he failed to banish the contradictions of Leibnitz and of the other intellectualists. To posit a perfection did not suffice. It was necessary to maintain it against the lex continui of Leibnitz and to proclaim its independence of all intellectualism. Aesthetic truths for Baumgarten were those which did not seem altogether false or altogether true: in fact, the verisimilar. If it were objected to Baumgarten that one should not occupy oneself with what, like poetry, he defines as confused and obscure, he would reply that confusion is a condition of finding the truth, that we do not pass at once from night to dawn. Thus he did not surpass the thought of Leibnitz in this respect. Poor Baumgarten was always in suspense lest he should be held to occupy himself with things unworthy of a philosopher! "How can you, a professor of philosophy, dare to praise lying and the mixture of truth and falsehood?" He imagined that some such reproach might be addressed to him on account of his purely philosophical speculations, and true enough he actually received a criticism of his theory, in which it was argued, that if poetry consisted of sensual perfection, then it was a bad thing for mankind. Baumgarten contemptuously replied that he had not the time to argue with those capable of confounding his oratio perfecta sensitiva with an oratio perfecte (omnino!) sensitiva.
The fact about Baumgarten is that apart from baptizing the new science Aesthetic, and apart from his first definitions, he does not stray far from the old ruts of scholastic thought. The excellent Baumgarten, with all his ardour and all his convictions, is a sympathetic and interesting figure in the history of Aesthetic not yet formed, but in process of formation.
The revolutionary who set aside the old definitions of Aesthetic, and for the first time revealed the true nature of art and poetry, is the Italian, Giambattista Vico.
What were the ideas developed by Vico in his Scienza nuova (1725)? They were neither more nor less than the solution of the problem, posed by Plato, attempted in vain by Aristotle, again posed and again unsolved at the Renaissance.
Is poetry a rational or an irrational thing? Is it spiritual or animal? If it be spiritual, what is its true nature, and in what way does it differ from art and science?
Plato, we know, banished poetry to the inferior region of the soul, among the animal spirits. Vico on the contrary raises up poetry, and makes of it a period in the history of humanity. And since Vico's is an ideal history, whose periods are not concerned with contingent facts, but with spiritual forms, he makes of it a moment of the ideal history of the spirit, a form of knowledge. Poetry comes before the intellect, but after feeling. Plato had confused it with feeling, and for that reason banished it from his Republic. "Men feel," says Vico, "before observing, then they observe with perturbation of the soul, finally they reflect with the pure intellect," He goes on to say, that poetry being composed of passion and of feeling, the nearer it approaches to the particular, the more true it is, while exactly the reverse is true of philosophy.
Imagination is independent and autonomous as regards the intellect. Not only does the intellect fail of perfection, but all it can do is to destroy it. "The studies of Poetry and Metaphysic are naturally opposed. Poets are the feeling, philosophers the intellect of the human race." The weaker the reason, the stronger the imagination. Philosophy, he says, deals with abstract thought or universals, poetry with the particular. Painters and poets differ only in their material. Homer and the great poets appear in barbaric times. Dante, for instance, appeared in "the renewed barbarism of Italy." The poetic ages preceded the philosophical, and poetry is the father of prose, by "necessity of nature," not by the "caprice of pleasure." Fables or "imaginary universals" were conceived before "reasoned or philosophical universals." To Homer, says Vico, belongs wisdom, but only poetic wisdom. "His beauties are not those of a spirit softened and civilized by any philosophy."
If any one make poetry in epochs of reflexion, he becomes a child again; he does not reflect with his intellect, but follows his fancy and dwells upon particulars. If the true poet make use of philosophic ideas, he only does so that he may change logic into imagination.
Here we have a profound statement of the line of demarcation between science and art. They cannot be confused again.
His statement of the difference between poetry and history is a trifle less clear. He explains why to Aristotle poetry seemed more philosophical than history, and at the same time he refutes Aristotle's error that poetry deals with the universal, history with the particular. Poetry equals science, not because it is occupied with the intellectual concept, but because, like science, it is ideal. A good poetical fable must be all ideal: "With the idea the poet gives their being to things which are without it. Poetry is all fantastic, as being the art of painting the idea, not icastic, like the art of painting portraits. That is why poets, like painters, are called divine, because in that respect they resemble God the Creator." Vico ends by identifying poetry and history. The difference between them is posterior and accidental. "But, as it is impossible to impart false ideas, because the false consists of a vicious combination of ideas, so it is impossible to impart a tradition, which, though it be false, has not at first contained some element of truth. Thus mythology appears for the first time, not as the invention of an individual, but as the spontaneous vision of the truth as it appears to primitive man."
Poetry and language are for Vico substantially identical. He finds in the origins of poetry the origins of languages and letters. He believed that the first languages consisted in mute acts or acts accompanied by bodies which had natural relations to the ideas that it was desired to signify. With great cleverness he compared these pictured languages to heraldic arms and devices, and to hieroglyphs. He observed that during the barbarism of the Middle Age, the mute language of signs must return, and we find it in the heraldry and blazonry of that epoch. Hence come three kinds of languages: divine silent languages, heroic emblematic languages, and speech languages.
Formal logic could never satisfy a man with such revolutionary ideas upon poetry and language. He describes the Aristotelian syllogism as a method which explains universals In their particulars, rather than unites particulars to obtain universals, looks upon Zeno and the sorites as a means of subtilizing rather than sharpening the intelligence, and concludes that Bacon is a great philosopher, when he advocates and illustrates induction, "which has been followed by the English to the great advantage of experimental philosophy." Hence he proceeds to criticize mathematics, which, had hitherto always been looked upon as the type of the perfect science.
Vico is indeed a revolutionary, a pioneer. He knows very well that he is in direct opposition to all that has been thought before about poetry. "My new principles of poetry upset all that first Plato and then Aristotle have said about the origin of poetry, all that has been said by the Patrizzi, by the Scaligers, and by the Castelvetri. I have discovered that It was through lack of human reason that poetry was born so sublime that neither the Arts, nor the Poetics, nor the Critiques could cause another equal to it to be born, I say equal, and not superior." He goes as far as to express shame at having to report the stupidities of great philosophers upon the origin of song and verse. He shows his dislike for the Cartesian philosophy and its tendency to dry up the imagination "by denying all the faculties of the soul which come to it from the body," and talks of his own time as of one "which freezes all the generous quality of the best poetry and thus precludes it from being understood."
As regards grammatical forms, Vico may be described as an adherent of the great reaction of the Renaissance against scholastic verbalism and formalism. This reaction brought back as a value the experience of feeling, and afterwards with Romanticism gave its right place to the imagination. Vico, in his Scienza nuova, may be said to have been the first to draw attention to the imagination. Although he makes many luminous remarks on history and the development of poetry among the Greeks, his work is not really a history, but a science of the spirit or of the ideal. It is not the ethical, logical, or economic moment of humanity which interests him, but the imaginative moment. He discovered the creative imagination, and it may almost be said of the Scienza nuova of Vico that it is Aesthetic, the discovery of a new world, of a new mode of knowledge.
This was the contribution of the genius of Vico to the progress of humanity: he showed Aesthetic to be an autonomous activity. It remained to distinguish the science of the spirit from history, the modifications of the human spirit from the historic vicissitudes of peoples, Aesthetic from Homeric civilization.
But although Goethe, Herder, and Wolf were acquainted with the Scienza nuova, the importance of this wonderful book did not at first dawn upon the world. Wolf, in his prolegomena to Homer, thought that he was dealing merely with an ingenious speculator on Homeric themes. He did not realize that the intellectual stature of Vico far surpassed that of the most able philologists.
The fortunes of Aesthetic after Vico were very various, and the list of aestheticians who fell back into the old pedagogic definition, or elaborated the mistakes of Baumgarten, is very long. Yet with C.H. Heydenreich in Germany and Sulzer in Switzerland we find that the truths contained in Baumgarten have begun to bear fruit. J.J. Herder (1769) was more important than these, and he placed Baumgarten upon a pedestal, though criticizing his pretension of creating an ars pulchre cogitandi instead of a simple scientia de pulchro et pulchris philosophice cogitans. Herder admitted Baumgarten's definition of poetry as oratio sensitiva perfecta, perfect sensitived speech, and this is probably the best definition of poetry that has ever been given. It touches the real essence of poetry and opens to thought the whole of the philosophy of the beautiful. Herder, although he does not cite Vico upon aesthetic questions, yet praises him as a philosopher. His remarks about poetry as "the maternal language of humanity, as the garden is more ancient than the cultivated field, painting than writing, song than declamation, exchange than commerce," are replete with the spirit of the Italian philosopher.
But despite similar happy phrases, Herder is philosophically the inferior of the great Italian. He is a firm believer in the Leibnitzian law of continuity, and does not surpass the conclusions of Baumgarten.
Herder and his friend Hamann did good service as regards the philosophy of language. The French encyclopaedists, J.J. Rousseau, d'Alembert, and many others of this period, were none of them able to get free of the idea that a word is either a natural, mechanical fact, or a sign attached to a thought. The only way out of this difficulty is to look upon the imagination as itself active and expressive in verbal imagination, and language as the language of intuition, not of the intelligence. Herder talks of language as "an understanding of the soul with itself." Thus language begins to appear, not as an arbitrary invention or a mechanical fact, but as a primitive affirmation of human activity, as a creation.
But all unconscious of the discoveries of Vico, the great mass of eighteenth century writers try their hands at every sort of solution. The Abbe Batteux published in 1746 Les Beaux-arts reduits a un seul principe, which is a perfect little bouquet of contradictions. The Abbe finds himself confronted with difficulties at every turn, but with "un peu d'esprit on se tire de tout," and when for instance he has to explain artistic enjoyment of things displeasing, he remarks that the imitation never being perfect like reality, the horror caused by reality disappears.
But the French were equalled and indeed surpassed by the English in their amateur Aesthetics. The painter Hogarth was one day reading in Italian a speech about the beauty of certain figures, attributed to Michael Angelo. This led him to imagine that the figurative arts depend upon a principle which consists of conforming to a given line. In 1745 he produced a serpentine line as frontispiece of his collection of engravings, which he described as "the line of beauty." Thus he succeeded in exciting universal curiosity, which he proceeded to satisfy with his "Analysis of Beauty." Here he begins by rightly combating the error of judging paintings by their subject and by the degree of their imitation, instead of by their form, which is the essential in art. He gives his definition of form, and afterwards proceeds to describe the waving lines which are beautiful and those which are not, and maintains that among them all there is but one that is really worthy to be called "the line of beauty," and one definite serpentine line "the line of grace." The pig, the bear, the spider, and the frog are ugly, because they do not possess serpentine lines. E. Burke, with a like assurance in his examples, was equally devoid of certainty in his general principles. He declares that the natural properties of an object cause pleasure or pain to the imagination, but that the latter also procures pleasure from their resemblance to the original. He does not speak further of the second of these, but gives a long list of the natural properties of the sensible, beautiful object. Having concluded his list, he remarks that these are in his opinion the qualities upon which beauty depends and which are the least liable to caprice and confusion. But "comparative smallness, delicate structure, colouring vivid but not too much so," are all mere empirical observations of no more value than those of Hogarth, with whom Burke must be classed as an aesthetician. Their works are spoken of as "classics." Classics indeed they are, but of the sort that arrive at no conclusion.
Henry Home (Lord Kaimes) is on a level a trifle above the two just mentioned. He seeks "the true principles of the beaux-arts," in order to transform criticism into "a rational science." He selects facts and experience for this purpose, but in his definition of beauty, which he divides into two parts, relative and intrinsic, he is unable to explain the latter, save by a final cause, which he finds in the Almighty.
Such theories as the three above mentioned defy classification, because they are not composed by any scientific method. Their authors pass from physiological sensualism to moralism, from imitation of nature to finalism, and to transcendental mysticism, without consciousness of the incongruity of their theses, at variance each with itself.
The German, Ernest Platner, at any rate did not suffer from a like confusion of thought. He developed his researches on the lines of Hogarth, but was only able to discover a prolongation of sexual pleasure in aesthetic facts. "Where," he exclaims, "is there any beauty that does not come from the feminine figure, the centre of all beauty? The undulating line is beautiful, because it is found in the body of woman; essentially feminine movements are beautiful; the notes of music are beautiful, when they melt into one another; a poem is beautiful, when one thought embraces another with lightness and facility."
French sensualism shows itself quite incapable of understanding aesthetic production, and the associationism of David Hume is not more fortunate in this respect.
The Dutchman Hemsterhuis (1769) developed an ingenious theory, mingling mystical and sensualist theory with some just remarks, which afterwards, in the hands of Jacobi, became sentimentalism. Hemsterhuis believed beauty to be a phenomenon arising from the meeting by the sentimentalism, which gives multiplicity, with the internal sense, which tends to unity. Consequently the beautiful will be that which presents the greatest number of ideas in the shortest space of time. To man is denied supreme unity, but here he finds approximative unity. Hence the joy arising from the beautiful, which has some analogy with the joy of love.
With Winckelmann (1764) Platonism or Neo-platonism was vigorously renewed. The creator of the history of the figurative arts saw in the divine indifference and more than human elevation of the works of Greek sculpture a beauty which had descended from the seventh heaven and become incarnate in them. Mendelssohn, the follower of Baumgarten, had denied beauty to God: Winckelmann, the Neoplatonician, gave it back to Him. He holds that perfect beauty is to be found only in God. "The conception of human beauty becomes the more perfect in proportion as it can be thought as in agreement with the Supreme Being, who is distinguished from matter by His unity and indivisibility." To the other characteristics of supreme beauty, Winckelmann adds "the absence of any sort of signification" (Unbezeichnung). Lines and dots cannot explain beauty, for it is not they alone which form it. Its form is not proper to any definite person, it expresses no sentiment, no feeling of passion, for these break up unity and diminish or obscure beauty. According to Winckelmann, beauty must be like a drop of pure water taken from the spring, which is the more healthy the less it has of taste, because it is purified of all foreign elements.
A special faculty is required to appreciate this beauty, which Winckelmann is inclined to call intelligence, or a delicate internal sense, free of all instinctive passions, of pleasure, and of friendship. Since it becomes a question of perceiving something immaterial, Winckelmann banishes colour to a secondary place. True beauty, he says, is that of form, a word which describes lines and contours, as though lines and contours could not also be perceived by the senses, or could appear to the eye without any colour.
It is the destiny of error to be obliged to contradict itself, when it does not decide to dwell in a brief aphorism, in order to live as well as may be with facts and concrete problems. The "History" of Winckelmann dealt with historic concrete facts, with which it was necessary to reconcile the idea of a supreme beauty. His admission of the contours of lines and his secondary admission of colours is a compromise. He makes another with regard to the principle of expression. "Since there is no intermediary between pain and pleasure in human nature, and since a human being without these feelings is inconceivable, we must place the human figure in a moment of action and of passion, which is what is termed expression in art." So Winckelmann studied expression after beauty. He makes a third compromise between his one, indivisible, supreme, and constant beauty and individual beauties. Winckelmann preferred the male to the female body as the most complete incarnation of supreme beauty, but he was not able to shut his eyes to the indisputable fact that there also exist beautiful bodies of women and even of animals.
Raphael Mengs, the painter, was an intimate friend of Winckelmann and associated himself with him in his search for a true definition of the beautiful. His ideas were generally in accordance with those of Winckelmann. He defines beauty as "the visible idea of perfection, which is to perfection what the visible is to the mathematical point." He falls under the influence of the argument from design. The Creator has ordained the multiplicity of beauties. Things are beautiful according to our ideas of them, and these ideas come from the Creator. Thus each beautiful thing has its own type, and a child would appear ugly if it resembled a man. He adds to his remarks in this sense: "As the diamond is alone perfect among stones, gold among metals, and man among living creatures, so there is distinction in each species, and but little is perfect." In his Dreams of Beauty, he looks upon beauty as "an intermediate disposition," which contains a part of perfection and a part of the agreeable, and forms a tertium quid, which differs from the other two and deserves a special name. He names four sources of the art of painting: beauty, significant or expressive character, harmony, and colouring. The first of these he finds among the ancients, the second with Raphael, the third with Correggio, the fourth with Titian. Mengs does not succeed in rising above this empiricism of the studio, save to declaim about the beauty of nature, virtue, forms, and proportions, and indeed everything, including the First Cause, which is the most beautiful of all.
The name of G.E. Lessing (1766) is well known to all concerned with art problems. The ideas of Winckelmann reappear in Lessing, with less of a metaphysical tinge. For Lessing, the end of art is the pleasing, and since this is "a superfluous thing," he thought that the legislator should not allow to art the liberty indispensable to science, which seeks the truth, necessary to the soul. For the Greeks painting was, as it should always be, "imitation of beautiful bodies." Everything disagreeable or ill-formed should be excluded from painting. "Painting, as clever imitation, may imitate deformity. Painting, as a fine art, does not permit this." He was more inclined to admit deformity in poetry, as there it is less shocking, and the poet can make use of it to produce in us certain feelings, such as the ridiculous or the terrible. In his Dramaturgie (1767), Lessing followed the Peripatetics, and believed that the rules of Aristotle were as absolute as the theorems of Euclid. His polemic against the French school is chiefly directed to claiming a place in poetry for the verisimilar, as against absolute historical exactitude. He held the universal to be a sort of mean of what appears in the individual, the catharsis was in his view a transformation of the passions into virtuous dispositions, and he held the duty of poetry to be inspiration of the love of virtue. He followed Winckelmann in believing that the expression of physical beauty was the supreme object of painting. This beauty exists only as an ideal, which finds its highest expression in man. Animals possess it to a slighter extent, vegetable and inanimate nature not at all. Those mistaken enough to occupy themselves with depicting the latter are imitating beauties deprived of all ideal. They work only with eye and hand; genius has little if any share in their productions. Lessing found the physical ideal to reside chiefly in form, but also in the ideal of colour, and in permanent expression. Mere colouring and transitory expression were for him without ideal, "because nature has not imposed upon herself anything definite as regards them." At bottom he does not care for colouring, finding in the pen drawings of artists "a life, a liberty, a delicacy, lacking to their pictures." He asks "whether even the most wonderful colouring can make up for such a loss, and whether it be not desirable that the art of oil-painting had never been invented."
This "ideal beauty," wonderfully constructed from divine quintessence and subtle pen and brush strokes, this academic mystery, had great success. In Italy it was much discussed in the environment of Mengs and of Winckelmann, who were working there.
The first counterblast to their aesthetic Neo-platonism came from an Italian named Spalletti, and took the form of a letter addressed to Mengs. He represents the characteristic as the true principle of art. The pleasure obtained from beauty is intellectual, and truth is its object. When the soul meets with what is characteristic, and what really suits the object to be represented, the work is held to be beautiful. A well-made man with a woman's face is ugly. Harmony, order, variety, proportion, etc.—these are elements of beauty, and man enjoys the widening of his knowledge before disagreeable things characteristically represented. Spalletti defines beauty as "that modification inherent to the object observed, which presents it, as it should appear, with an infallible characteristic."
Thus the Aristotelian thesis found a supporter in Italy, some years before any protestation was heard in Germany. Louis Hirt, the historian of art (1797) observed that ancient monuments represented all sorts of forms, from the most beautiful and sublime to the most ugly and most common. He therefore denied that ideal beauty was the principle of art, and for it substituted the characteristic, applicable equally to gods, heroes, and animals.
Wolfgang Goethe, in 1798, forgetting the juvenile period, during which he had dared to raise a hymn to Gothic architecture, now began seriously to seek a middle term between beauty and expression. He believed that he had found it, in certain characteristic contents presenting to the artist beautiful shapes, which the artist would then develop and reduce to perfect beauty. Thus for Goethe at this period, the characteristic was simply the starting-point, or framework, from which the beautiful arose, through the power of the artist.
But these writers mentioned after J.B. Vico are not true philosophers. Winckelmann, Mengs, Hogarth, Lessing, and Goethe are great in other ways. Meier called himself a historian of art, but he was inferior both to Herder and to Hamann. From J.B. Vico to Emmanuel Kant, European thought is without a name of great importance as regards this subject.
Kant took up the problem, where Vico had left it, not in the historical, but in the ideal sense. He resembled the Italian philosopher, in the gravity and the tenacity of his studies in Aesthetic, but he was far less happy in his solutions, which did not attain to the truth, and to which he did not succeed in giving the necessary unity and systematization. The reader must bear in mind that Kant is here criticized solely as an aesthetician: his other conclusions do not enter directly into the discussion.
What was Kant's idea of art? The answer is: the same in substance as Baumgarten's. This may seem strange to those who remember his sustained polemic against Wolf and the conception of beauty as confused perception. But Kant always thought highly of Baumgarten. He calls him "that excellent analyst" in the Critique of Pure Reason, and he used Baumgarten's text for his University lectures on Metaphysic. Kant looked upon Logic and Aesthetic as cognate studies, and in his scheme of studies for 1765, and in the Critique of Pure Reason, he proposes to cast a glance at the Critique of Taste, that is to say, Aesthetic, "since the study of the one is useful for the other and they are mutually illuminative." He followed Meier in his distinctions between logical and aesthetic truth. He even quoted the Instance of the young girl, whose face when distinctly seen, i.e. with a microscope, is no longer beautiful. It is true, aesthetically, he said, that when a man is dead he cannot come to life, although this be opposed both to logical and to moral truth. It is aesthetically true that the sun plunges into the sea, although that is not true logically or objectively.
No one, even among the greatest, can yet tell to what extent logical truth should mingle with aesthetic truth. Kant believed that logical truth must wear the habit of Aesthetic, in order to become accessible. This habit, he thought, was discarded only by the rational sciences, which tend to depth. Aesthetic certainly is subjective. It is satisfied with authority or with an appeal to great men. We are so feeble that Aesthetic must eke out our thoughts. Aesthetic is a vehicle of Logic. But there are logical truths which are not aesthetic. We must exclude from philosophy exclamations and other emotions, which belong to aesthetic truth. For Kant, poetry is the harmonious play of thought and sensation, differing from eloquence, because in poetry thoughts are fitted to suggestions, in eloquence the reverse is true. Poetry should make virtue and intellect visible, as was done by Pope in his Essay on Man. Elsewhere, he says frankly that logical perfection is the foundation of all the rest.
The confirmation of this is found in his Critique of Judgment, which Schelling looked upon as the most important of the three Critiques, and which Hegel and other metaphysical idealists always especially esteemed.
For Kant art was always "a sensible and imaged covering for an intellectual concept." He did not look upon art as pure beauty without a concept. He looked upon it as a beauty adherent and fixed about a concept. The work of genius contains two elements: imagination and intelligence. To these must be added taste, which combines the two. Art may even represent the ugly in nature, for artistic beauty "is not a beautiful thing but a beautiful representation of a thing." But this representation of the ugly has its limits in the arts (here Kant remembers Lessing and Winckelmann), and an absolute limit in the disgusting and the repugnant, which kills the representation itself. He believes that there may be artistic productions without a concept, such as are flowers in nature, and these would be ornaments to frameworks, music without words, etc., etc., but since they represent nothing reducible to a definite concept, they must be classed, like flowers, with free beauties. This would certainly seem to exclude them from Aesthetic, which, according to Kant, should combine imagination and intelligence.
Kant is shut in with intellectualist barriers. A complete definition of the imagination is wanting to his system. He does not admit that the imagination belongs to the powers of the mind. He relegates it to the facts of sensation. He is aware of the reproductive and combinative imagination, but he does not recognize fancy (fantasia), which is the true productive imagination.
Yet Kant was aware that there exists an activity other than the intellective. Intuition is referred to by him as preceding intellective activity and differing from sensation. He does not speak of it, however, in his critique of art, but in the first section of the Critique of Pure Reason. Sensations do not enter the mind, until it has given them form. This is neither sensation nor intelligence. It is pure intuition, the sum of the a priori principles of sensibility. He speaks thus: "There must, then, exist a science that forms the first part of the transcendental doctrine of the elements, distinct from that which contains the principles of pure thought and is called transcendental Logic."
What does he call this new science? He calls it Transcendental Aesthetic, and refuses to allow the term to be used for the Critique of Taste, which could never become a science.
But although he thus states so clearly the necessity of a science of the form of the sensations, that is of pure intuition, Kant here appears to fall into grave error. This arises from his inexact idea of the essence of the aesthetic faculty or of art, which, as we now know, is pure intuition. He conceives the form of sensibility to be reducible to the two categories of space and time.
Benedetto Croce has shown that space and time are far from being categories or functions: they are complex posterior formations. Kant, however, looked upon density, colour, etc., as material for sensations; but the mind only observes colour or hardness when it has already given a form to its sensations. Sensations, in so far as they are crude matter, are outside the mind: they are a limit. Colour, hardness, density, etc., are already intuitions. They are the aesthetic activity in its rudimentary manifestation.
Characterizing or qualifying imagination, that is, aesthetic activity, should therefore take the place occupied by the study of space and time in the Critique of Pure Reason, and constitute the true Transcendental Aesthetic, prologue to Logic.
Had Kant done this, he would have surpassed Leibnitz and Baumgarten; he would have equalled Vico.
Kant did not identify the Beautiful with art. He established what he called "the four moments of Beauty," amounting to a definition of it. The two negative moments are, "That is beautiful which pleases without interest"; this thesis was directed against the sensualist school of English writers, with whom Kant had for a time agreed; and "That is beautiful which pleases without a concept," directed against the intellectualists. Thus he affirmed the existence of a spiritual domain, distinct from that of organic pleasure, of the useful, the good, and the true. The two other moments are, "That is beautiful which has the form of finality without the representation of an end," and "That is beautiful which is the object of universal pleasure." What is this disinterested pleasure that we experience before pure colours, pure sounds, and flowers? Benedetto Croce replies that this mysterious domain has no existence; that the instances cited represent, either instances of organic pleasure, or are artistic facts of expression.
Kant was less severe with the Neoplatonicians than with the two schools of thought above mentioned. His Critique of Judgment contains some curious passages, in one of which he gives his distinction of form from matter: "In music, the melody is the matter, harmony the form: in a flower, the scent is the matter, the shape or configuration the form." In the other arts, he found that the design was the essential. "Not what pleases in sensation, but what is approved for its form, is the foundation of taste."
In his pursuit of the phantom of a beauty, which is neither that of art nor of sensual pleasure, exempt alike from expression and from enjoyment, he became enveloped in inextricable contradictions. Little disposed as he was to let himself be carried away by the imagination, he expressed his contempt for philosopher-poets like Herder, and kept saying and unsaying, affirming and then immediately criticizing his own affirmations as to this mysterious beauty. The truth is that this mystery is simply his own individual uncertainty before a problem which he could not solve, owing to his having no clear idea of an activity of sentiment. Such an activity represented for him a logical contradiction. Such expressions as "necessary universal pleasure," "finality without the idea of end," are verbal proofs of his uncertainty.
How was he to emerge from this uncertainty, this contradiction? He fell back upon the concept of a base of subjective finality as the base of the judgment of taste, that is of the subjective finality of nature by the judgment. But nothing can be known or disclosed to the object by means of this concept, which is indeterminate in itself and not adapted for knowledge. Its determining reason is perhaps situated in "the suprasensible substratum of humanity." Thus beauty becomes a symbol of morality. "The subjective principle alone, that is, the indeterminate idea of the suprasensible in us, can be indicated as the sole key to reveal this faculty, which remains unknown to us in its origin. Nothing but this principle can make that hidden faculty comprehensible."
Kant had a tendency to mysticism, which this statement does not serve to conceal, but it was a mysticism without enthusiasm, a mysticism almost against the grain. His failure to penetrate thoroughly the nature of the aesthetic activity led him to see double and even triple, on several occasions. Art being unknown to him in its essential nature, he invents the functions of space and time and terms this transcendental aesthetic; he develops the theory of the imaginative beautifying of the intellectual concept by genius; he is finally forced to admit a mysterious power of feeling, intermediate between the theoretic and the practical activity. This power is cognoscitive and non-cognoscitive, moral and indifferent to morality, agreeable and yet detached from the pleasure of the senses. His successors hastened to make use of this mysterious power, for they were glad to be able to find some sort of justification for their bold speculations in the severe philosopher of Koenigsberg.
In addition to Schelling and Hegel, for whom, as has been said, the Critique of Judgment seemed the most important of the three Critiques, we must now mention the name of a poet who showed himself as great in philosophical as in aesthetic achievement.
Friedrich Schiller first elaborated that portion of the Kantian thought contained in the Critique of Judgment. Before any professional philosopher, Schiller studied that sphere of activity which unites feeling with reason. Hegel talks with admiration of this artistic genius, who was also so profoundly philosophical and first announced the principle of reconciliation between life as duty and reason on the one hand, and the life of the senses and feeling on the other.
To Schiller belongs the great merit of having opposed the subjective idealism of Kant and of having made the attempt to surpass it.
The exact relations between Kant and Schiller, and the extent to which the latter may have been influenced by Leibnitz and Herder, are of less importance to the history of Aesthetic than the fact that Schiller unified once for all art and beauty, which had been separated by Kant, with his distinctions between adherent and pure beauty. Schiller's artistic sense must doubtless have stood him here in good stead.
Schiller found a very unfortunate and misleading term to apply to the aesthetic sphere. He called it the sphere of play (Spiel). He strove to explain that by this he did not mean ordinary games, nor material amusement. For Schiller, this sphere of play lay intermediate between thought and feeling. Necessity in art gives place to a free disposition of forces; mind and nature, matter and form are here reconciled. The beautiful is life, but not physiological life. A beautiful statue may have life, and a living man be without it. Art conquers nature with form. The great artist effaces matter with form. The less we are sensible of the material in a work of art, the greater the triumph of the artist. The soul of the spectator should leave the magic sphere of art as pure and as perfect as when it left the hands of the Creator. The most frivolous theme should be so treated that we can pass at once from it to the most rigorous, and vice versa. Only when man has placed himself outside the world and contemplates it aesthetically, can he know the world. While he is merely the passive receiver of sensations, he is one with the world, and therefore cannot realize it. Art is indeterminism. With the help of art, man delivers himself from the yoke of the senses, and is at the same time free of any rational or moral duty: he may enjoy for a moment the luxury of serene contemplation.
Schiller was well aware that the moment art is employed to teach morals directly, it ceases to be art. All other teachings give to the soul a special imprint. Art alone is favourable to all without prejudice. Owing to this indifference of art, it possesses a great educative power, by opening the path to morality without preaching or persuasion; without determining, it produces determinability. This was the main theme of the celebrated "Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man," which Schiller wrote to his patron the Duke of Holstein-Augustenburg. Here, and in his lectures at the University of Jena, it is clear that Schiller addresses himself to a popular audience. He began a work, on scientific Aesthetic, which he intended to entitle "Kallias," but unfortunately died without completing it. We possess only a few fragments, contained in his correspondence with his friend Koerner. Koerner did not feel satisfied with the formula of Schiller, and asks for some more precise and objective mark of the beautiful. Schiller tells him that he has found it, but what he had found we shall never know, as there is no document to inform us.
The fault of Schiller's aesthetic theory was its lack of precision. His artistic faculty enabled him to give unsurpassable descriptions of the catharsis and of other effects of art, but he fails to give a precise definition of the aesthetic function. True, he disassociates it from morality, yet admits that it may in a measure be associated with it. The only formal activities that he recognizes are the moral and the intellectual, and he denies altogether (against the sensualists) that art can have anything to do with passion or sensuality. His intellectual world consisted only of the logical and the intellectual, leaving out the imaginative activity.
What is art for Schiller? He admits four modes of relation between man and external things. They are the physical, the logical, the moral, and the aesthetic. He describes this latter as a mode by which things affect the whole of our different forces, without being a definite object for any one in particular. Thus a man may be said to please aesthetically, "when he does so without appealing to any one of the senses directly, and without any law or end being thought of in connection with him." Schiller cannot be made to say anything more definite than this. His general position was probably much like Kant's (save in the case above mentioned, where he made a happy correction), and he probably looked upon Aesthetic as a mingling of several faculties, as a play of sentiment.
Schiller was faithful to Kant's teaching in its main lines, and his uncertainty was largely due to this. The existence of a third sphere uniting form and matter was for Schiller rather an ideal conformable to reason than a definite activity; it was supposititious, rather than effective.
But the Romantic movement in literature, which was at that time gaining ground, with its belief in a superhuman faculty called imagination, in genius breaker of rules, found no such need for restraint. Schiller's modest reserve was set aside, and with J.P. Richter we approach a mythology of the imagination. Many of his observations are, however, just, and his distinction between productive and reproductive imagination is excellent. How could humanity appreciate works of genius, he asks, were it without some common measure? All men who can go as far as saying "this is beautiful" before a beautiful thing, are capable of the latter. He then proceeds to establish to his own satisfaction categories of the imagination, leading from simple talent to the supreme form of male genius in which all faculties flourish together: a faculty of faculties.
The Romantic conception of art is, in substance, that of idealist German philosophy, where we find it in a more coherent and systematic form. It is the conception of Schelling, Solger, and Hegel.
Fichte, Kant's first great pupil, cannot be included with these, for his view of Aesthetic, largely influenced by Schiller, is transformed in the Fichtian system to a moral activity, to a representation of the ethical ideal. The subjective idealism of Fichte, however, generated an Aesthetic: that of irony as the base of art. The I that has created the universe can also destroy it. The universe is a vain appearance, smiled at by the Ego its creator, who surveys it as an artist his work, from without and from above. For Friedrich Schlegel, art was a perpetual farce, a parody of itself; and Tieck defined irony as a force which allows the poet to dominate his material.
Novalis, that Romantic Fichtian, dreamed of a magical idealism, an art of creating by an instantaneous act of the Ego. But Schelling's "system of transcendental idealism" was the first great philosophical affirmation of Romanticism and of conscious Neo-platonism reborn in Aesthetic.
Schelling has obviously studied Schiller, but he brings to the problem a mind more purely philosophical and a method more exactly scientific. He even takes Kant to task for faultiness of method. His remarks as to Plato's position are curious, if not conclusive. He says that Plato condemned the art of his time, because it was realistic and naturalistic: like all antique art, it exhibited a finite character. Plato's judgment would have been quite different had he known Christian art, of which the character is infinity.
Schelling held firm to the fusion of art and beauty effected by Schiller, but he combated Winckelmann's theory of abstract beauty with its negative conception of the characteristic, assigning to art the limits of the individual. Art is characteristic beauty; it is not the individual, but the living conception of the individual. When the artist recognizes the eternal idea in an individual, and expresses it outwardly, he transforms the individual into a world apart, into a species, into an eternal idea. Characteristic beauty is the fulness of form which slays form: it does not silence passion, but restrains it as the banks of a river the waters that flow between them, but do not overflow.
Schelling's starting-point is the criticism of teleological judgment, as stated by Kant in his third Critique. Teleology is the union of theoretic with practical philosophy. But the system would not be complete, unless we could show the identity of the two worlds, theoretic and practical, in the subject itself. He must demonstrate the existence of an activity, which is at once unconscious as nature and conscious as spirit. This activity we find in Aesthetic, which is therefore "the general organ of philosophy, the keystone of the whole building."
Poetry and philosophy alone possess the world of the ideal, in which the real world vanishes. True art is not the impression of the moment, but the representation of infinite life: it is transcendental intuition objectified. The time will come when philosophy will return to poetry, which was its source, and on the new philosophy will arise a new mythology. Philosophy does not depict real things, but their ideas; so too, art. Those same ideas, of which real things are, as philosophy shows, the imperfect copies, reappear in art objectified as ideas, and therefore in their perfection. Art stands nearest to philosophy, which itself stands nearest to the Idea, and therefore nearest to perfection. Art differs from philosophy only by its specialization: in all other ways it is the ideal world in its most complete expression. The three Ideas of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty correspond to the three powers of the ideal and of the real world. Beauty is not the universal whole, which is truth, nor is it the only reality, which is action: it is the perfect mingling of the two. "Beauty exists where the real or particular is so adequate to its concept that this infinite thing enters into the finite, and is contemplated in the concrete." Philosophy unites truth, morality, and beauty, in what they possess in common, and deduces them from their unique Source, which is God. If philosophy assume the character of science and of truth, although it be superior to truth, the reason for this lies in the fact that science and truth are simply the formal determination of philosophy.
Schelling looked upon mythology as a necessity for every art. Ideas are Gods, considered from the point of view of reality; for the essence of each is equal to God in a particular form. The characteristics of all Gods, including the Christian, are pure limitation and absolute indivisibility. Minerva has wisdom and strength, but lacks womanly tenderness; Juno has power and wisdom, but is without amorous charm, which she borrows with the girdle of Venus, who in her turn is without the wisdom of Minerva. What would these Gods become without their limitations? They would cease to be the objects of Fancy. Fancy is a faculty, apart from the pure intellect and from the reason. Distinct from imagination, which develops the products of art, Fancy has intuitions of them, grasps them herself, and herself represents them. Fancy is to imagination as intellectual intuition is to reason. Fancy, then, is intellectual intuition in art. In the thought of Schelling, fancy, the new or artistic intuition, sister of intellectual intuition, came to dominate alike the intellect and the old conception of the fancy and the imagination, in a system for which reason alone did not suffice.
C.G. Solger followed Schelling and agreed with him in finding but little truth in the theories of Kant, and especially of Fichte. He held that their dialectic had failed to solve the difficulty of intellectual intuition. He too conceived of fancy as distinct from imagination, and divided the former into three degrees. Imagination he held to appertain to ordinary knowledge, "which re-establishes the original intuition to infinity." Fancy "originates from the original antithesis in the idea, and so operates that the opposing elements which are separated from the idea become perfectly united in reality. By means of fancy, we are able to understand things more lofty than those of common knowledge, and in them we recognize the idea itself as real. In art, fancy is the faculty of transforming the idea into reality."
For Solger as for Schelling, beauty belongs to the region of Ideas, which are inaccessible to common knowledge. Art is nearly allied to religion, for as religion is the abyss of the idea, into which our consciousness plunges, that it may become essential, so Art and the Beautiful resolve, in their way, the world of distinctions, the universal and the particular. Artistic activity is more than theoretical: it is practical, realized and perfect, and therefore belongs to practical, not to theoretic philosophy, as Kant wrongly believed. Since art must touch infinity on one side, it cannot have ordinary nature for its object. Art therefore ceases in the portrait, and this explains why the ancients generally chose Gods or Heroes as models for sculpture. Every deity, even in a limited and particular form, expresses a definite modification of the Idea.
G.G.F. Hegel gives the same definition of art as Solger and Schelling, All three were mystical aestheticians, and the various shades of mystical Aesthetic, presented by these three writers, are not of great interest. Schelling forced upon art the abstract Platonic ideas, while Hegel reduced it to the concrete idea. This concrete idea was for Hegel the first and lowest of the three forms of the liberty of the spirit. It represented immediate, sensible, objectified knowledge; while Religion filled the second place, as representative consciousness with adoration, which is an element foreign to art alone. The third place was of course occupied by Philosophy, the free thought of the absolute spirit. Beauty and Truth are one for Hegel; they are united in the Idea. The beautiful he defined as the sensible appearance of the Idea.
Some writers have erroneously believed that the views of the three philosophers above mentioned lead back to those of Baumgarten. But that is not correct. They well understood that art cannot be made a medium for the expression of philosophic concepts. Not only are they opposed to the moralistic and intellectualistic view, but they are its active opponents. Schelling says that aesthetic production is in its essence absolutely free, and Hegel that art does not contain the universal as such.
Hegel accentuated the cognoscitive character of art, more than any of his predecessors. We have seen that he placed it with Philosophy and Religion in the sphere of the absolute Spirit. But he does not allow either to Art or to Religion any difference of function from that of Philosophy, which occupies the highest place in his system. They are therefore inferior, necessary, grades of the Spirit. Of what use are they? Of none whatever, or at best, they merely represent transitory and historical phases of human life.
Thus we see that the tendency of Hegelianism is anti-artistic, as it is rationalistic and anti-religious.
This result of thought was a strange and a sad thing for one who loved art so fervently as Hegel. Our memories conjure up Plato, who also loved art well, and yet found himself logically obliged to banish the poet from his ideal Republic, after crowning him with roses. But the German philosopher was as staunch to the (supposed) command of reason as the Greek, and felt himself obliged to announce the death of art. Art, he says, occupies a lofty place in the human spirit, but not the most lofty, for it is limited to a restricted content and only a certain grade of truth can be expressed in art. Such are the Hellenic Gods, who can be transfused in the sensible and appear in it adequately. The Christian conception of truth is among those which cannot be so expressed. The spirit of the modern world, and more precisely the spirit of our religion and rational development, seem to have gone beyond the point at which art is the chief way of apprehending the Absolute. The peculiarity of artistic production no longer satisfies our highest needs. Thought and reflexion have surpassed art, the beautiful. He goes on to say that the reason generally given for this is the prevalence of material and political interests. But the true reason is the inferiority in degree of art as compared with pure thought. Art is dead, and Philosophy can therefore supply its complete biography.
Hegel's Vorlesungen Ueber Aesthetik amounts therefore to a funeral oration upon Art.
Romanticism and metaphysical idealism had placed art, sometimes above the clouds, sometimes within them, and believing that it was no good there to anyone, Hegel provided a decent burial.
Nothing perhaps better shows how well this fantastic conception of art suited the spirit of the time, than the fact that even the adversaries of Schelling, Solger, and Hegel either admit agreement with that conception, or find themselves involuntarily in agreement with it, while believing themselves to be very remote. They too are mystical aestheticians.
We all know with what virulence Arthur Schopenhauer attacked and combated Schelling, Hegel, and all the "charlatans" and "professors" who had divided among them the inheritance of Kant.
Well, Schopenhauer's theory of art starts, just like Hegel's, from the difference between the abstract and the concrete concept, which is the Idea. Schopenhauer's ideas are the Platonic ideas, although in the form which he gives to them, they have a nearer resemblance to the Ideas of Schelling than to the Idea of Hegel.
Schopenhauer takes much trouble to differentiate his ideas from intellectual concepts. He calls the idea "unity which has become plurality by means of space and time. It is the form of our intuitive apperception. The concept is, on the contrary, unity extracted from plurality by means of abstraction, which is an act of our intellect. The concept may be called unitas post rem, the idea unitas ante rem."
The origin of this psychological illusion of the ideas or types of things is always to be found in the changing of the empirical classifications created for their own purposes by the natural sciences, into living realities.
Thus each art has for its sphere a special category of ideas. Architecture and its derivatives, gardening (and strange to say landscape-painting is included with it), sculpture and animal-painting, historical painting and the higher forms of sculpture, etc., all possess their special ideas. Poetry's chief object is man as idea. Music, on the contrary, does not belong to the hierarchy of the other arts. Schelling had looked upon music as expressing the rhythm of the universe itself. For Schopenhauer, music does not express ideas, but the Will itself.
The analogies between music and the world, between fundamental notes and crude matter, between the scale and the scale of species, between melody and conscious will, lead Schopenhauer to the conclusion that music is not only an arithmetic, as it appeared to Leibnitz, but indeed a metaphysic: "the occult metaphysical exercise of a soul not knowing that it philosophizes."
For Schopenhauer, as for his idealist predecessors, art is beatific. It is the flower of life; he who is plunged in artistic contemplation ceases to be an individual; he is the conscious subject, pure, freed from will, from pain, and from time.
Yet in Schopenhauer's system exist elements for a better and a more profound treatment of the problem of art. He could sometimes show himself to be a lucid and acute analyst. For instance, he continually remarks that the categories of space and time are not applicable to art, but only the general form of representation. He might have deduced from this that art is the most immediate, not the most lofty grade of consciousness, since it precedes even the ordinary perceptions of space and time. Vico had already observed that this freeing oneself from ordinary perception, this dwelling in imagination, does not really mean an ascent to the level of the Platonic Ideas, but, on the contrary, a redescending to the sphere of immediate intuition, a return to childhood.
On the other hand, Schopenhauer had begun to submit the Kantian categories to impartial criticism, and finding the two forms of intuition insufficient, added a third, causality.
He also drew comparisons between art and history, and was more successful here than the idealist excogitators of a philosophy of history. Schopenhauer rightly saw that history was irreducible to concepts, that it is the contemplation of the individual, and therefore not a science. Having proceeded thus far, he might have gone further, and realized that the material of history is always the particular in its particularity, that of art what is and always is identical. But he preferred to execute a variation on the general motive that was in fashion at this time.
The fashion of the day! It rules in philosophy as elsewhere, and we are now about to see the most rigid and arid of analysts, the leader of the so-called realist school, or school of exact science in Germany in the nineteenth century, plunge headlong into aesthetic mysticism.
G.F. Herbart (1813) begins his Aesthetic by freeing it from the discredit attaching to Metaphysic and to Psychology. He declares that the only true way of understanding art is to study particular examples of the beautiful and to note what they reveal as to its essence.
We shall now see what came of Herbart's analysis of these examples of beauty, and how far he succeeded in remaining free of Metaphysic.
For Herbart, beauty consists of relations. The science of Aesthetic consists of an enumeration of all the fundamental relations between colours, lines, tones, thoughts, and will. But for him these relations are not empirical or physiological. They cannot therefore be studied in a laboratory, because thought and the will form part of them, and these belong as much to Ethics as to the external world. But Herbart explicitly states that no true beauty is sensible, although sensation may and does often precede and follow the intuition of beauty. There is a profound distinction between the beautiful and the agreeable or pleasant: the latter does not require a representation, while the former consists in representations of relations, which are immediately followed by a judgment expressing unconditioned approval. Thus the merely pleasurable becomes more and more indifferent, but the beautiful appears always as of more and more permanent value. The judgment of taste is universal, eternal, immutable. The complete representation of the same relations always carries with it the same judgment. For Herbart, aesthetic judgments are the general class containing the sub-class of ethical judgments. The five ethical ideas, of internal liberty, of perfection, of benevolence, of equity, and of justice, are five aesthetic ideas; or better, they are aesthetic concepts applied to the will in its relations.
Herbart looked upon art as a complex fact, composed of an external element possessing logical or psychological value, the content, and of a true aesthetic element, which is the form. Entertainment, instruction, and pleasure of all sorts are mingled with the beautiful, in order to obtain favour for the work in question. The aesthetic judgment, calm and serene in itself, may be accompanied by all sorts of psychic emotions, foreign to it. But the content is always transitory, relative, subject to moral laws, and judged by them. The form alone is perennial, absolute, and free. The true catharsis can only be effected by separating the form from the content. Concrete art may be the sum of two values, but the aesthetic fact is form alone.
For those capable of penetrating beneath appearances, the aesthetic doctrines of Herbart and of Kant will appear very similar. Herbart is notable as insisting, in the manner of Kant, on the distinction between free and adherent beauty (or adornment as sensuous stimulant), on the existence of pure beauty, object of necessary and universal judgments, and on a certain mingling of ethical with his aesthetic theory. Herbart, indeed, called himself "a Kantian, but of the year 1828." Kant's aesthetic theory, though it be full of errors, yet is rich in fruitful suggestions. Kant belongs to a period when philosophy is still young and pliant. Herbart came later, and is dry and one-sided. The romantics and the metaphysical idealists had unified the theory of the beautiful and of art. Herbart restored the old duality and mechanism, and gave us an absurd, unfruitful form of mysticism, void of all artistic inspiration.
Herbart may be said to have taken all there was of false in the thought of Kant and to have made it into a system.
The beginning of the nineteenth century in Germany is notable for the great number of philosophical theories and of counter-theories, broached and rapidly discussed, before being discarded. None of the most prominent names in the period belong to philosophers of first-rate importance, though they made so much stir in their day.
The thought of Friedrich Schleiermacher was obscured and misunderstood amid those crowding mediocrities; yet it is perhaps the most interesting and the most noteworthy of the period.
Schleiermacher looked upon Aesthetic as an altogether modern form of thought. He perceived a profound difference between the "Poetics" of Aristotle, not yet freed from empirical precepts, and the tentative of Baumgarten in the eighteenth century. He praised Kant as having been the first to include Aesthetic among the philosophical disciplines. He admitted that with Hegel it had attained to the highest pinnacle, being connected with religion and with philosophy, and almost placed upon their level.
But he was dissatisfied with the absurdity of the attempt made by the followers of Baumgarten to construct a science or theory of sensuous pleasure. He disapproved of Kant's view of taste as being the principle of Aesthetic, of Fichte's art as moral teaching, and of the vague conception of the beautiful as the centre of Aesthetic.
He approved of Schiller's marking of the moment of spontaneity in productive art, and he praised Schelling for having drawn attention to the figurative arts, as being less liable than poetry to be diverted to false and illusory moralistic ends. Before he begins the study of the place due to the artistic activity in Ethic, he carefully excludes from the study of Aesthetic all practical rules (which, being empirical, are incapable of scientific demonstration).
For Schleiermacher, the sphere of Ethic included the whole Philosophy of the Spirit, in addition to morality. These are the two forms of human activity—that which, like Logic, is the same in all men, and is called activity of identity, and the activity of difference or individuality. There are activities which, like art, are internal or immanent and individual, and others which are external or practical. The true work of art is the internal picture. Measure is what differentiates the artist's portrayal of anger on the stage and the anger of a really angry man. Truth is not sought in poetry, or if it be sought there, it is truth of an altogether different kind. The truth of poetry lies in coherent presentation. Likeness to a model does not compose the merit of a picture. Not the smallest amount of knowledge comes from art, which expresses only the truth of a particular consciousness. Art has for its field the immediate consciousness of self, which must be carefully distinguished from the thought of the Ego. This last is the consciousness of identity in the diversity of moments as they pass; the immediate consciousness of self is the diversity itself of the moments, of which we should be aware, for life is nothing but the development of consciousness. In this field, art has sometimes been confused with two facts which accompany it there: these are sentient consciousness (that is, the feelings of pleasure and of pain) and religion. Schleiermacher here alludes to the sensualistic aestheticians of the eighteenth century, and to Hegel, who had almost identified art and religion. He refutes both points of view by pointing out that sentient pleasure and religious sentiment, however different they may be from other points of view, are yet both determined by an objective fact; while art, on the contrary, is free productivity.
Dream is the best parallel and proof of this free productivity. All the essential elements of art are found in dream, which is the result of free thoughts and of sensible intuitions, consisting simply of images. But dream, as compared with art, is chaotic: when measure and order is established in dream, it becomes art. Thoughts and images are alike essential to art, and to both is necessary ponderation, reflexion, measure, and unity, because otherwise every image would be confused with every other image. Thus the moments of inspiration and of ponderation are both necessary to art.
Schleiermacher's thought, so firm and lucid up to this point, begins to become less secure, with the discussion of typicity and of the extent to which the artist should follow Nature. He says that ideal figures, which Nature would give, were she not impeded by external obstacles, are the products of art. He notes that when the artist represents something really given, such as a portrait or a landscape, he renounces freedom of production and adheres to the real. In the artist is a double tendency, toward the perfection of the type and toward the representation of natural reality. He should not fall into the abstraction of the type, nor into the insignificance of empirical reality. Schleiermacher feels all the difficulty of such a problem as whether there be one or several ideals of the human figure. This problem may be transferred to the sphere of art, and we may ask whether the poet is to represent only the ideal, or whether he should also deal with those obstacles to it that impede Nature in her efforts to attain. Both views contain half the truth. To art belongs the representation of the ideal as of the real, of the subjective and of the objective alike. The representation of the comic, that is of the anti-ideal and of the imperfect ideal, belongs to the domain of art. For the human form, both morally and physically, oscillates between the ideal and caricature.
He arrives at a most important definition as to the independence of art in respect to morality. The nature of art, as of philosophic speculation, excludes moral and practical effects. Therefore, there is no other difference between works of art than their respective artistic perfection (Vollkommenheit in der Kunst). If we could correctly predicate volitional acts in respect of works of art, then we should find ourselves admiring only those works which stimulated the will, and there would thus be established a difference of valuation, independent of artistic perfection. The true work of art depends upon the degree of perfection with which the external in it agrees with the internal.
Schleiermacher rightly combats Schiller's view that art is in any sense a game. That, he says, is the view held by mere men of business, to whom business alone is serious. But artistic activity is universal, and a man completely deprived of it unthinkable, although the difference here between man and man, is gigantic, ranging from the simple desire to taste of art to the effective tasting of it, and from this, by infinite gradations, to productive genius.
The regrettable fact that Schleiermacher's thought has reached us only in an imperfect form, may account for certain of its defects, such as his failure to eliminate aesthetic classes and types, his retention of a certain residue of abstract formalism, his definition of art as the activity of difference. Had he better defined the moment of artistic reproduction, realized the possibility of tasting the art of various times and of other nations, and examined the true relation of art to science, he would have seen that this difference is merely empirical and to be surmounted. He failed also to recognize the identity of the aesthetic activity, with language as the base of all other theoretic activity.
But Schleiermacher's merits far outweigh these defects. He removed from Aesthetic its imperativistic character; he distinguished a form of thought different from logical thought. He attributed to our science a non-metaphysical, anthropological character. He denied the concept of the beautiful, substituting for it artistic perfection, and maintaining the aesthetic equality of a small with a great work of art, he looked upon the aesthetic fact as an exclusively human productivity.
Thus Schleiermacher, the theologian, in this period of metaphysical orgy, of rapidly constructed and as rapidly destroyed systems, perceived, with the greatest philosophical acumen, what is really characteristic of art, and distinguished its properties and relations. Even where he fails to see clearly his way, he never abandons analysis for mere guess-work.
Schleiermacher, thus exploring the obscure region of the immediate consciousness, or of the aesthetic fact, can almost be heard crying out to his straying contemporaries: Hic Rhodus, hi salta!
Speculation upon the origin and nature of language was rife at this time in Germany. Many theories were put forward, among the most curious being that of Schelling, who held language and mythology to be the product of a pre-human consciousness, allegorically expressed as the diabolic suggestions which had precipitated the Ego from the infinite to the finite.
Even Wilhelm von Humboldt was unable to free himself altogether from the intellectualistic prejudice of the substantial identity and the merely historical and accidental diversity of logical thought and language. He speaks of a perfect language, broken up and diminished with the lesser capacities of lesser peoples. He believed that language is something standing outside the individual, independent of him, and capable of being revived by use. But there were two men in Humboldt, an old man and a young one. The latter was always suggesting that language should be looked upon as a living, not as a dead thing, as an activity, not as a word. This duality of thought sometimes makes his writing difficult and obscure. Although he speaks of an internal form of speech, he fails to identify this with art as expression. The reason is that he looks upon the word in too unilateral a manner, as a means of developing logical thought, and his ideas of Aesthetic are too vague and too inexact to enable him to discover their identity. Despite his perception of the profound truth that poetry precedes prose, Humboldt gives grounds for doubt as to whether he had clearly recognized and firmly grasped the fact that language is always poetry, and that prose (science) is a distinction, not of aesthetic form, but of content, that is, of logical form.
Steinthal, the greatest follower of Humboldt, solved his master's contradictions, and in 1855 sustained successfully against the Hegelian Becker the thesis that words are necessary for thought. He pointed to the deaf-mute with his signs, to the mathematician with his formulae, to the Chinese language, where the figurative portion is an essential of speech, and declared that Becker was wrong in believing that the Sanskrit language was derived from twelve cardinal concepts. He showed effectively that the concept and the word, the logical judgment and the proposition, are not comparable. The proposition is not a judgment, but the representation of a judgment; and all propositions do not represent logical judgments. Several judgments can be expressed with one proposition. The logical divisions of judgments (the relations of concepts) have no correspondence in the grammatical division of propositions. "If we speak of a logical form of the proposition, we fall into a contradiction in terms not less complete than his who should speak of the angle of a circle, or of the periphery of a triangle." He who speaks, in so far as he speaks, has not thoughts, but language.