When Steinthal had several times solemnly proclaimed the independence of language as regards Logic, and that it produces its forms in complete autonomy, he proceeded to seek the origin of language, recognizing with Humboldt that the question of Its origin is the same as that of its nature. Language, he said, belongs to the great class of reflex movements, but this only shows one side of it, not its true nature. Animals, like men, have reflex actions and sensations, though nature enters the animal by force, takes it by assault, conquers and enslaves it. With man is born language, because he is resistance to nature, governance of his own body, and liberty. "Language is liberation; even to-day we feel that our soul becomes lighter, and frees itself from a weight, when we speak." Man, before he attains to speech, must be conceived of as accompanying all his sensations with bodily movements, mimetic attitudes, gestures, and particularly with articulate sounds. What is still lacking to him, that he may attain to speech? The connexion between the reflex movements of the body and the state of the soul. If his sentient consciousness be already consciousness, then he lacks the consciousness of consciousness; if it be already intuition, then he lacks the intuition of intuition. In sum, he lacks the internal form of language. With this comes speech, which forms the connexion. Man does not choose the sound of his speech. This is given to him and he adopts it instinctively.
When we have accorded to Steinthal the great merit of having rendered coherent the ideas of Humboldt, and of having clearly separated linguistic from logical thought, we must note that he too failed to perceive the identity of the internal form of language, or "intuition of the intuition," as he called it, with the aesthetic imagination. Herbart's psychology, to which Steinthal adhered, did not afford him any means for this identification. Herbart separated logic from psychology, calling it a normative science; he failed to discern the exact limits between feeling and spiritual formation, psyche or soul, and spirit, and to see that one of these spiritual formations is logical thought or activity, which is not a code of laws imposed from without. For Herbart, Aesthetic, as we know, was a code of beautiful formal relations. Thus Steinthal, following Herbart in psychology, was bound to look upon Art as a beautifying of thought, Linguistic as the science of speech, Rhetoric and Aesthetic as the science of beautiful speech.
Steinthal never realized that to speak is to speak well or beautifully, under penalty of not speaking, and that the revolution which he and Humboldt had effected in the conception of language must inevitably react upon and transform Poetic, Rhetoric, and Aesthetic.
Thus, despite so many efforts of conscientious analysis on the part of Humboldt and of Steinthal, the unity of language and of poetry, and the identification of the science of language and the science of poetry still found its least imperfect expression in the prophetic aphorisms of Vico.
The philosophical movement in Germany from the last quarter of the eighteenth century to the first half of the nineteenth, notwithstanding its many errors, is yet so notable and so imposing with the philosophers already considered, as to merit the first place in the European thought of that period. This is even more the case as regards Aesthetic than as regards philosophy in general.
France was the prey of Condillac's sensualism, and therefore incapable of duly appreciating the spiritual activity of art. We hardly get a glimpse of Winckelmann's transcendental spiritualism in Quatremere de Quincy, and the frigid academics of Victor Cousin were easily surpassed by Theodore Jouffroy, though he too failed of isolating the aesthetic fact. French Romanticism defined literature as "the expression of society," admired under German influence the grotesque and the characteristic, declared the independence of art in the formula of "art for art's sake," but did not succeed in surpassing philosophically the old doctrine of the "imitation of nature." F. Schlegel and Solger indeed were largely responsible for the Romantic movement in France—Schlegel with his belief in the characteristic or interesting as the principle of modern art, which led him to admire the cruel and the ugly; Solger with his dialectic arrangement, whereby the finite or terrestrial element is absorbed and annihilated in the divine and thus becomes the tragic, or vice versa, and the result is the comic. Rosenkranz published in Koenigsberg an Aesthetic of the Ugly, and the works of Vischer and Zeising abound in subtleties relating to the Idea and to its expression in the beautiful and sublime. These writers conceived of the Idea as the Knight Purebeautiful, constrained to abandon his tranquil ease through the machinations of the Ugly; the Ugly leads him into all sorts of disagreeable adventures, from all of which he eventually emerges victorious. The Sublime, the Comic, the Humorous, and so on, are his Marengo, Austerlitz, and Jena. Another version of their knight's adventures might be described as his conquest by his enemies, but at the moment of conquest he transforms and irradiates his conquerors. To such a mediocre and artificial mythology led the much-elaborated theory of the Modifications of the Beautiful.
In England, the associationist psychology continued to hold sway, and showed, with Dugald Stewart's miserable attempt at establishing two forms of association, its incapacity to rise to the conception of the imagination. With the poet Coleridge, England also showed the influence of German thought, and Coleridge elaborated with Wordsworth a more correct conception of poetry and of its difference from science. But the most notable contribution in English at that period came from another poet, P.B. Shelley, whose Defence of Poetry contains profound, though unsystematic views, as to the distinction between reason and imagination, prose and poetry, on primitive language, and on the poetic power of objectification.
In Italy, Francesco de Sanctis gave magnificent expression to the independence of art. He taught literature in Naples from 1838 to 1848, in Turin and Zurich from 1850 to 1860, and after 1870 he was a professor in the University of Naples. His Storia della letteratura italiana is a classic, and in it and in monographs on individual writers he exposed his doctrines.
Prompted by a natural love of speculation, he began to examine the old grammarians and rhetoricians, with a view to systematize them. But very soon he proceeded to criticize and to surpass their theories. The cold rules of reason did not find favour with him, and he advised young men to go direct to the original works.
The philosophy of Hegel began to penetrate Italy, and the study of Vico was again taken up. De Sanctis translated the Logic of Hegel in prison, where the Bourbon Government had thrown him for his liberalism. Benard had begun his translation of the Aesthetic of Hegel, and so completely in harmony was De Sanctis with the thought of this master, that he is said to have guessed from a study of the first volume what the unpublished volumes must contain, and to have lectured upon them to his pupils. Traces of mystical idealism and of Hegelianism persist even in his later works, and the distinction, which he always maintained, between imagination and fancy certainly came to him from Hegel and Schelling. He held fancy alone to be the true poetic faculty.
De Sanctis absorbed all the juice of Hegel, but rejected the husks of his pedantry, of his formalism, of his apriority.
Fancy for De Sanctis was not the mystical transcendental apperception of the German philosophers, but simply the faculty of poetic synthesis and creation, opposed to the imagination, which reunites details and always has something mechanical about it. Faith and poetry, he used to say, are not dead, but transformed. His criticism of Hegel amounted in many places to the correction of Hegel; and as regards Vico, he is careful to point out, that when, in dealing with the Homeric poems, Vico talks of generic types, he is no longer the critic of art, but the historian of civilization. De Sanctis saw that, artistically, Achilles must always be Achilles, never a force or an abstraction.
Thus De Sanctis succeeded in keeping himself free from the Hegelian domination, at a moment when Hegel was the acknowledged master of speculation.
But his criticism extended also to other German aestheticians. By a curious accident, he found himself at Zurich in the company of Theodore Vischer, that ponderous Hegelian, who laughed disdainfully at the mention of poetry, of music, and of the decadent Italian race. De Sanctis laughed at Vischer's laughter. Wagner appeared to him a corrupter of music, and "nothing in the world more unaesthetic than the Aesthetic of Theodore Vischer." His lectures on Ariosto and Petrarch, before an international public at Zurich, were delivered with the desire of correcting the errors of these and of other German philosophers and learned men. He gave his celebrated definitions of French and German critics. The French critic does not indulge in theories: one feels warmth of impression and sagacity of observation in his argument. He never leaves the concrete; he divines the quality of the writer's genius and the quality of his work, and studies the man, in order to understand the writer. His great fault is shown in substituting for criticism of the actual art work a historical criticism of the author and of his time. For the German, on the other hand, there is nothing so simple that he does not contrive to distort and to confuse it. He collects shadows around him, from which shoot vivid rays. He laboriously brings to birth that morsel of truth which he has within him. He would seize and define what is most fugitive and impalpable in a work of art. Although nobody talks so much of life as he does, yet no one so much delights in decomposing and generalizing it. Having thus destroyed the particular, he is able to show you as the result of this process, final in appearance, but in reality preconceived and apriorist, one measurement for all feet, one garment for all bodies.
About this time he studied Schopenhauer, who was then becoming the fashion. Schopenhauer said of this criticism of De Sanctis: "That Italian has absorbed me in succum et sanguinem." What weight did he attach to Schopenhauer's much-vaunted writings on art? Having exposed the theory of Ideas, he barely refers to the third volume, "which contains an exaggerated theory of Aesthetic."
In his criticism of Petrarch, De Sanctis finally broke with metaphysical Aesthetic, saying of Hegel's school that it believed the beautiful to become art when it surpassed form and revealed the concept or pure idea. This theory and the subtleties derived from it, far from characterizing art, represent its contrary: the impotent velleity for art, which cannot slay abstractions and come in contact with life.
De Sanctis held that outside the domain of art all Is shapeless. The ugly is of the domain of art, if art give it form. Is there anything more beautiful than Iago? If he be looked upon merely as a contrast to Othello, then we are in the position of those who looked upon the stars as placed where they are to serve as candles for the earth.
Form was for De Sanctis the word which should be inscribed over the entrance to the Temple of Art. In the work of art are form and content, but the latter is no longer chaotic: the artist has given to it a new value, has enriched it with the gift of his own personality. But if the content has not been assimilated and made his own by the artist, then the work lacks generative power: it is of no value as art or literature, though as history or scientific document its value may be great. The Gods of Homer's Iliad are dead, but the Iliad remains. Guelf and Ghibelline have disappeared from Italy: not so the Divine Comedy, which is as vigorous to-day as when Dante first took pen in hand. Thus De Sanctis held firmly to the independence of art, but he did not accept the formula of "art for art's sake," in so far as it meant separation of the artist from life, mutilation of the content, art reduced to mere dexterity.
For De Sanctis, form was identical with imagination, with the artist's power of expressing or representing his artistic vision. This much must be admitted by his critics. But he never attained to a clear definition of art. His theory of Aesthetic always remained a sketch: wonderful indeed, but not clearly developed and deduced. The reason for this was De Sanctis' love of the concrete. No sooner had he attained from general ideas a sufficient clarity of vision for his own purposes, than he plunged again into the concrete and particular. He did not confine his activity to literature, but was active also in politics and in the prosecution and encouragement of historical studies.
As a critic of literature, De Sanctis is far superior to Sainte-Beuve, Lessing, Macaulay, or Taine. Flaubert's genial intuition adumbrated what De Sanctis achieved. In one of his letters to Georges Sand, Flaubert speaks of the lack of an artistic critic. "In Laharpe's time, criticism was grammatical; in the time of Sainte-Beuve and of Taine, it is historical. They analyse with great subtlety the historical environment in which the work appeared and the causes which have produced it. But the unconscious element In poetry? Whence does It come? And composition? And style? And the point of view of the author? Of all that they never speak. For such a critic, great imagination and great goodness are necessary. I mean an ever-ready faculty of enthusiasm, and then taste, a quality so rare, even among the best, that it is never mentioned."
De Sanctis alone fulfilled the conditions of Flaubert, and Italy has in his writings a looking-glass for her literature unequalled by any other country.
But with De Sanctis, the philosopher of art, the aesthetician, is not so great as the critic of literature. The one is accessory to the other, and his use of aesthetic terminology is so inconstant that a lack of clearness of thought might be found in his work by anyone who had not studied it with care. But his want of system is more than compensated by his vitality, by his constant citation of actual works, and by his intuition of the truth, which never abandoned him. His writings bear the further charm of suggesting new kingdoms to conquer, new mines of richness to explore.
While the cry of "Down with Metaphysic" was resounding in Germany, and a furious reaction had set in against the sort of Walpurgisnacht to which the later Hegelians had reduced science and history, the pupils of Herbart came forward and with an insinuating air they seemed to say: "What is this? Why, it is a rebellion against Metaphysic, the very thing our master wished for and tried to achieve, half a century ago! But here we are, his heirs and successors, and we want to be your allies! An understanding between us will be easy. Our Metaphysic is in agreement with the atomic theory, our Psychology with mechanicism, our Ethic and Aesthetic with hedonism." Herbart, who died in 1841, would probably have disdained and rejected his followers, who thus courted popularity and cheapened Metaphysic, putting a literal interpretation on his realities, his ideas and representations, and upon all his most lofty excogitations.
The protagonist of these neo-Herbartians was Robert Zimmermann. He constructed his system of Aesthetic out of Herbart, whom he perverted to his own uses, and even employed the much-abused Hegelian dialectic in order to introduce modifications of the beautiful into pure beauty. The beautiful, he said, is a model which possesses greatness, fulness, order, correction, and definite compensation. Beauty appears to us in a characteristic form, as a copy of this model.
Vischer, against whom was directed this work of Zimmermann, found it easy to reply. He ridiculed Zimmermann's meaning of the symbol as the object around which are clustered beautiful forms. "Does an artist paint a fox, simply that he may depict an object of animal nature. No, no, my dear sir, far from it. This fox is a symbol, because the painter here employs lines and colours, in order to express something different from lines and colours. 'You think I am a fox,' cries the painted animal. 'You are mightily mistaken; I am, on the contrary, a portmanteau, an exhibition by the painter of red, white, grey, and yellow tints.'" Vischer also made fun of Zimmermann's enthusiasm for the aesthetic value of the sense of touch. "What joy it must be to touch the back of the bust of Hercules in repose! To stroke the sinuous limbs of the Venus of Milo or of the Faun of Barberini must give a pleasure to the hand equal to that of the ear as it listens to the puissant fugues of Bach or to the suave melodies of Mozart." Vischer defined the formal Aesthetic of Zimmermann as a queer mixture of mysticism and mathematic.
Lotze, in common with the great majority of thinkers, was dissatisfied with Zimmermann, but could only oppose his formalism with a variety of the old mystical Aesthetic. Who, he asked, could believe that the human form pleases only by its external proportions, regardless of the spirit within. Art, like beauty, should "enclose the world of values in the world of forms." This struggle between the Aesthetic of the content and the Aesthetic of the form attained its greatest height in Germany between 1860 and 1870, with Zimmermann, Vischer, and Lotze as protagonists.
These writers were followed by J. Schmidt, who in 1875 ventured to say that both Lotze and Zimmermann had failed to see that the problem of Aesthetic concerned, not the beauty or ugliness of the content or of the form as mathematical relations, but their representation; Koestlin, who erected an immense artificial structure with the materials of his predecessors modified; Schasler, who is interesting as having converted the old Vischer to his thesis of the importance of the Ugly, as introducing modifications into the beautiful and being the principle of movement there. Vischer confesses that at one time he had followed the Hegelian method and believed that in the essence of beauty is born a disquietude, a fermentation, a struggle: the Idea conquers, hurls the image into the unlimited, and the Sublime is born; but the image, offended in its finitude, declares war upon the Idea, and the Comic appears. Thus the fight is finished and the Beautiful returns to itself, as the result of these struggles. But now, he says, Schasler has persuaded him that the Ugly is the leaven which is necessary to all the special forms of the Beautiful.
E. von Hartmann is in close relation with Schasler. His Aesthetic (1890) also makes great use of the Ugly. Since he insists upon appearance as a necessary characteristic of the beautiful, he considers himself justified in calling his theory concrete idealism. Hartmann considers himself in opposition to the formalism of Herbart, inasmuch as he insists upon the idea as an indispensable and determining element of beauty. Beauty, he says, is truth, but it is not historical truth, nor scientific nor reflective truth: it is metaphysical and ideal. "Beauty is the prophet of idealistic truth in an age without faith, hating Metaphysic, and acknowledging only realistic truth." Aesthetic truth is without method and without control: it leaps at once from the subjective appearance to the essence of the ideal. But in compensation for this, it possesses the fascination of conviction, which immediate intuition alone possesses. The higher Philosophy rises, the less need has she of passing through the world of the senses and of science: she approaches ever more nearly to art. Thus Philosophy starts on the voyage to the ideal, like Baedeker's traveller, "without too much baggage." In the Beautiful is immanent logicity, the microcosmic idea, the unconscious. By means of the unconscious, the process of intellectual intuition takes place in it. The Beautiful is a mystery, because its root is in the Unconscious.
No philosopher has ever made so great a use of the Ugly as Hartmann. He divides Beauty into grades, of which the one below is ugly as compared with that above it. He begins with the mathematical, superior to the sensibly agreeable, which is unconscious. Thence to formal beauty of the second order, the dynamically agreeable, to formal beauty of the third order, the passive teleological; to this degree belong utensils, and language, which in Hartmann's view is a dead thing, inspired with seeming life, only at the moment of use. Such things did the philosopher of the Unconscious dare to print in the country of a Humboldt during the lifetime of a Steinthal! He proceeds in his list of things beautiful, with formal beauty of the fourth degree, which is the active or living teleological, with the fifth, which is that of species. Finally he reaches concrete beauty, or the individual microcosm, the highest of all, because the individual idea is superior to the specific, and is beauty, no longer formal, but of content.
All these degrees of beauty are, as has been said, connected with one another by means of the ugly, and even in the highest degree, which has nothing superior to it, the ugly continues its office of beneficent titillation. The outcome of this ultimate phase is the famous theory of the Modifications of the Beautiful. None of these modifications can occur without a struggle, save the sublime and the graceful, which appear without conflict at the side of supreme beauty. Hartmann gives four instances: the solution is either immanent, logical, transcendental, or combined. The idyllic, the melancholy, the sad, the glad, the elegiac, are instances of the immanent solution; the comic in all its forms is the logical solution; the tragic is the transcendental solution; the combined form is found in the humorous, the tragi-comic. When none of these solutions is possible, we have the ugly; and when an ugliness of content is expressed by a formal ugliness, we have the maximum of ugliness, the true aesthetic devil.
Hartmann is the last noteworthy representative of the German metaphysical school. His works are gigantic in size and appear formidable. But if one be not afraid of giants and venture to approach near, one finds nothing but a big Morgante, full of the most commonplace prejudices, quite easily killed with the bite of a crab!
During this period, Aesthetic had few representatives in other countries. The famous conference of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, held in Paris in 1857, gave to the world the "Science du Beau" of Leveque. No one is interested in it now, but it is amusing to note that Leveque announced himself to be a disciple of Plato, and went on to attribute eight characteristics to the beautiful. These he discovered by closely examining the lily! No wonder he was crowned with laurels! He proved his wonderful theory by instancing a child playing with its mother, a symphony of Beethoven, and the life of Socrates! One of his colleagues, who could not resist making fun of his learned friend, remarked that he would be glad to know what part was played in the life of a philosopher by the normal vivacity of colour!
Thus German theory made no way in France, and England proved even more refractory.
J. Ruskin showed a poverty, an incoherence, and a lack of system in respect to Aesthetic, which puts him almost out of court. His was the very reverse of the philosophic temperament. His pages of brilliant prose contain his own dreams and caprices. They are the work of an artist and should be enjoyed as such, being without any value for philosophy. His theoretic faculty of the beautiful, which he held to be distinct alike from the intelligence and from feeling, is connected with his belief in beauty as a revelation of the divine intentions, "the seal which God sets upon his works." Thus the natural beauty, which is perceived by the pure heart, when contemplating some object untouched by the hand of man, is far superior to the work of the artist. Ruskin was too little capable of analysis to understand the complicated psychologico-aesthetic process taking place within him, as he contemplated some streamlet, or the nest of some small bird.
At Naples flourished between 1861 and 1884 Antonio Tari, who kept himself in touch with the movement of German thought, and followed the German idealists in placing Aesthetic in a sort of middle kingdom, a temperate zone, between the glacial, inhabited by the Esquimaux of thought, and the torrid, dwelt in by the giants of action. He dethroned the Beautiful, and put Aesthetic in its place, for the Beautiful is but the first moment; the later ones are the Comic, the Humorous, and the Dramatic. His fertile imagination found metaphors and similes in everything: for instance, he called the goat the Devil, opposed to the lamb, Jesus. His remarks on men and women are full of quaint fancies. He granted to women grace, but not beauty, which resides in equilibrium. This is proved by her falling down so easily when she walks; by her bow legs, which have to support her wide hips, made for gestation; by her narrow shoulders, and her opulent breast. She is therefore a creature altogether devoid of equilibrium!
I wish that it were possible to record more of the sayings of the excellent Tari, "the last joyous priest of an arbitrary Aesthetic, source of confusion."
The ground lost to the German school of metaphysicians was occupied during the second half of the nineteenth century by the evolutionary and positivist metaphysicians, of whom Herbert Spencer is the most notable representative. The peculiarity of this school lies in repeating at second or third hand certain idealist views, deprived of the element of pure philosophy, given to them by a Schelling or a Hegel, and in substituting a quantity of minute facts and anecdotes, with a view to providing the positivist varnish. These theories are dear to vulgar minds, because they correspond to inveterate religious beliefs, and the lustre of the varnish explains the good fortune of Spencerian positivism in our time. Another notable trait of this school is its barbaric contempt for history, especially for the history of philosophy, and its consequent lack of all link with the series composed of the secular efforts of so many thinkers. Without this link, there can be no fruitful labour and no possibility of progress.
Spencer is colossal in his ignorance of all that has been written or thought on the subject of Aesthetic (to limit ourselves to this branch alone). He actually begins his work on the Philosophy of Style with these words: "No one, I believe, has ever produced a complete theory of the art of writing." This in 1852! He begins his chapter on aesthetic feelings in the Principles of Psychology by admitting that he has heard of the observation made by a German author, whose name he forgets (Schiller!), on the connexion between art and play. Had Spencer's remarks on Aesthetic been written in the eighteenth century, they might have occupied a humble place among the first rude attempts at aesthetic speculation, but appearing in the nineteenth century, they are without value, as the little of value they contain had been long said by others.
In his Principles of Psychology Spencer looks upon aesthetic feelings as arising from the discharge of the exuberant energy of the organism. This he divides into degrees, and believes that we attain complete enjoyment when these degrees are all working satisfactorily each on its own plane, and when what is painful in excessive activity has been avoided. His degrees are sensation, sensation accompanied by representative elements, perception accompanied by more complex elements of representation, then emotion, and that state of consciousness which surpasses sensations and perceptions. But Spencer has no suspicion of what art really is. His views oscillate between sensualism and moralism, and he sees little in the whole art of antiquity, of the Middle Ages, or of modern times, which can be looked upon as otherwise than imperfect!
The Physiology of Aesthetics has also had its votaries in Great Britain, among whom may be mentioned J. Sully, A. Bain, and Allen. These at any rate show some knowledge of the concrete fact of art. Allen harks back to the old distinction between necessary and vital activities and superfluous activities, and gives a physiological definition, which may be read in his Physiological Aesthetics. More recent writers also look upon the physiological fact as the cause of the pleasure of art; but for them it does not alone depend upon the visual organ, and the muscular phenomena associated with it, but also on the participation of some of the most important bodily functions, such as respiration, circulation, equilibrium, intimate muscular accommodation. They believe that art owes its origin to the pleasure that some prehistoric man must have experienced in breathing regularly, without having to re-adapt his organs, when he traced for the first time on a bone or on clay regular lines separated by regular intervals.
A similar order of physico-aesthetic researches has been made in Germany, under the auspices of Helmholtz, Bruecke, and Stumpf. But these writers have succeeded better than the above-mentioned, by restricting themselves to the fields of optic and acoustic, and have supplied information as to the physical processes of artistic technique and as to the pleasure of visual and auditive impressions, without attempting to melt Aesthetic into Physic, or to deprive the former of its spiritual character. They have even occasionally indicated the difference between the two kinds of research. Even the degenerate Herbartians, converting the metaphysical forms of their master into physiological phenomena, made soft eyes at the new sensualists and aesthetico-physiologists.
The Natural Sciences have become in our day a sort of superstition, allied to a certain, perhaps unconscious, hypocrisy. Not only have chemical, physical, and physiological laboratories become a sort of Sibylline grots, where resound the most extraordinary questions about everything that can interest the spirit of man, but even those who really do prosecute their researches with the old inevitable method of internal observation, have been unable to free themselves from the illusion that they are, on the contrary, employing the method of the natural sciences.
Hippolyte Taine's Philosophy of Art represents such an illusion. He declares that when we have studied the diverse manifestations of art in all peoples and at all epochs, we shall then possess a complete Aesthetic. Such an Aesthetic would be a sort of Botany applied to the works of man. This mode of study would provide moral science with a basis equally as sure as that which the natural sciences already possess. Taine then proceeds to define art without regard to the natural sciences, by analysing, like a simple mortal, what passes in the human soul when brought face to face with a work of art. But what analysis and what definitions!
Art, he says, is imitation, but of a sort that tries to express an essential characteristic. Thus the principal characteristic of a lion is to be "a great carnivore," and we observe this characteristic in all its limbs. Holland has for essential characteristic that of being a land formed of alluvial soil.
Now without staying to consider these two remarkable instances, let us ask, what is this essential characteristic of Taine? It is the same as the ideas, types, or concepts that the old aesthetic teaching assigned to art as its object. Taine himself removes all doubt as to this, by saying that this characteristic is what philosophers call the essence of things, and for that reason they declare that the purpose of art is to manifest things. He declares that he will not employ the word essence, which is technical. But he accepts and employs the thought that the word expresses. He believes that there are two routes by which man can attain to the superior life: science and art. By the first, he apprehends fundamental laws and causes, and expresses them in abstract terms; by the second, he expresses these same laws and causes in a manner comprehensible to all, by appealing to the heart and feeling, as well as to the reason of man. Art is both superior and popular; it makes manifest what is highest, and makes it manifest to all.
That Taine here falls into the old pedagogic theory of Aesthetic is evident. Works of art are arranged for him in a scale of values, as for the aesthetic metaphysicians. He began by declaring the absurdity of all judgment of taste, "a chacun son gout," but he ends by declaring that personal taste is without value, that we must establish a common measure before proceeding to praise or blame. His scale of values is double or triple. We must first fix the degree of importance of the characteristic, that is, the greater or less generality of the idea, and the degree of good in it, that is to say, its greater or lesser moral value. These, he says, are two degrees of the same thing, strength, seen from different sides. We must also establish the degree of convergence of the effects, that is, the fulness of expression, the harmony between the idea and the form.
This half-moral, half-metaphysical exposition is accompanied with the usual protestations, that the matter in hand is to be studied methodically, analytically, as the naturalist would study it, that he will try to reach "a law, not a hymn." As if these protestations could abolish the true nature of his thought! Taine actually went so far as to attempt dialectic solutions of works of art! "In the primitive period of Italian art, we find the soul without the body: Giotto. At the Renaissance, with Verrocchio and his school, we find the body without the soul. With Raphael, in the sixteenth century, we find expression and anatomy in harmony: body and soul." Thesis, antithesis, synthesis!
With G.T. Fechner we find the like protestations and the like procedure. He will study Aesthetic inductively, from beneath. He seeks clarity, not loftiness. Proceeding thus inductively, he discovers a long series of laws or principles of Aesthetic, such as unity in variety, association and contrast, change and persistence, the golden mean, etc. He exhibits this chaos with delight at showing himself so much of a physiologist, and so inconclusive. Then he proceeds to describe his experiments in Aesthetics. These consist of attempts to decide, for instance, by methods of choice, which of certain rectangles of cardboard is the most agreeable, and which the most disagreeable, to a large number of people arbitrarily chosen. Naturally, these results do not agree with others obtained on other occasions, but Fechner knows that errors correct themselves, and triumphantly publishes long lists of these valuable experiments. He also communicates to us the shapes and measurements of a large number of pictures in museums, as compared with their respective subjects! Such are the experiments of physiological aestheticians.
But Fechner, when he comes to define what beauty and what art really are, is, like everyone else, obliged to fall back upon introspection. But his definition is trivial, and his comparison of his three degrees of beauty to a family is simply grotesque in its naivete. He terms this theory the eudemonistic theory, and we are left wondering why, when he had this theory all cut and dried in his mind, he should all the same give himself the immense trouble of compiling his tables and of enumerating his laws and principles, which do not agree with his theory. Perhaps it was all a pastime for him, like playing at patience, or collecting postage-stamps?
Another example of superstition in respect to the natural sciences is afforded by Ernest Grosse. Grosse abounds in contempt for what he calls speculative Aesthetic. Yet he desires a Science of Art (Kunstwissenschaft), which shall formulate its laws from those historical facts which have hitherto been collected.
But Grosse wishes us to complete the collection of historical evidence with ethnographical and prehistoric materials, for we cannot obtain really general laws of art from the exclusive study of cultivated peoples, "just as a theory of reproduction exclusively based upon the form it takes with mammifers, must necessarily be imperfect!"
He is, however, aware that the results of experiences among savages and prehistoric races do not alone suffice to furnish us with an equipment for such investigations as that concerning the nature of Art, and, like any ordinary mortal, he feels obliged to interrogate, before starting, the spirit of man. He therefore proceeds to define Aesthetic on apriorist principles, which, he remarks, can be discarded when we shall have obtained the complete theory, in like manner with the scaffolding that has served for the erection of a house.
Words! Words! Vain words! He proceeds to define Aesthetic as the activity which in its development and result has the immediate value of feeling, and is, therefore, an end in itself. Art is the opposite of practice; the activity of games stands intermediate between the two, having also its end in its own activity.
The Aesthetics of Taine and of Grosse have been called sociological. Seeing that any true definition of sociology as a science is impossible, for it is composed of psychological elements, which are for ever varying, we do not delay to criticize the futile attempts at definition, but pass at once to the objective results attained by the sociologists. This superstition, like the naturalistic, takes various forms in practical life. We have, for instance, Proudhon (1875), who would hark back to Platonic Aesthetic, class the aesthetic activity among the merely sensual, and command the arts to further the cause of virtue, on pain of judicial proceedings in case of contumacy.
But M. Guyau is the most important of sociological aestheticians. His works, published in Paris toward the end of last century, and his posthumous work, entitled Les problemes de l'Esthetique contemporaine, substitute for the theory of play, that of life, and the posthumous work above-mentioned makes it evident that by life he means social life. Art is the development of social sympathy, but the whole of art does not enter into sociology. Art has two objects; the production of agreeable sensations (colours, sounds, etc.) and of phenomena of psychological induction, which include ideas and feelings of a more complex nature than the foregoing, such as sympathy for the personages represented, interest, piety, indignation, etc. Thus art becomes the expression of life. Hence arise two tendencies: one for harmony, consonance, for all that delights the ear and eye; the other transforming life, under the dominion of art. True genius is destined to balance these two tendencies; but the decadent and the unbalanced deprive art of its sympathetic end, setting aesthetic sympathy against human sympathy. If we translate this language into that with which we are by this time quite familiar, we shall see that Guyau admits an art that is merely hedonistic, and places above it another art, also hedonistic, but serving the ends of morality.
M. Nordau wages war against the decadent and unbalanced, in much the same manner as Guyau. He assigns to art the function of re-establishing the integrity of life, so much broken up and specialized in our industrial civilization. He remarks that there is such a thing as art for art's sake, the simple expression of the internal states of the individual, but it is the art of the cave-dweller.
C. Lombroso's theory of genius as degeneration may be grouped with the naturalistic theories. His argument is in essence the following. Great mental efforts, and total absorption in one dominant thought, often produce physiological disorders or atrophy of important vital functions. Now these disorders often lead to madness; therefore, genius may be identified with madness. This proof, from the particular to the general, does not follow that of traditional Logic. But with Lombroso, Buechner, Nordau, and the like we have come to the boundary between specious and vulgar error. They confuse scientific analysis with historical research. Such inquiries may have value for history, but they have none for Aesthetic. Thus, too, A. Lang maintains that the doctrine of the origin of art as disinterested expression of the mimetic faculty is not confirmed in what we know of primitive art, which is rather decorative than expressive. But primitive art, which is a given fact to be interpreted, cannot ever become its own criterion of interpretation.
The naturalistic misunderstanding has had a bad effect on linguistic researches, which have not been carried out on the lofty plane to which Humboldt and Steinthal had brought them.
Max Mueller is popular and exaggerated. He fails clearly to distinguish thought from logical thought, although in one place he remarks that the formation of names has a more intimate connexion with wit than with judgment. He holds that the science of language is not historical, but natural, because language is not the invention of man, altogether ignoring the science of the spirit, philosophy, of which language is a part. For Max Mueller, the natural sciences were the only sciences. The consciousness of the science of the spirit becomes ever more obscured, and we find the philologist W.D. Whitney combating Max Mueller's "miracles" and maintaining the separability of thought and speech.
With Hermann Paul (1880) we have an awakening of Humboldt's spirit. Paul maintains that the origin of language is the speech of the individual man, and that a language has its origin every time it is spoken. Paul also showed the fallacies contained in the Voelkerpsychologie of Steinthal and Lazarus, demonstrating that there is no such thing as a collective soul, and that there is no language save that of the individual.
W. Wundt (1886), on the other hand, commits the error of connecting language with Ethnopsychology and other non-existent sciences, and actually terms the glorious doctrine of Herder and of Humboldt Wundertheorie, or theory of miracle, accusing them of mystical obscurity. Wundt confuses the question of the historical appearance of language with that of its internal nature and genesis. He looks upon the theory of evolution as having attained to its complete triumph, in its application to organic nature in general, and especially to man. He has no suspicion whatever of the function of fancy, and of the true relation between thought and expression, between expression in the naturalistic, and expression in the spiritual and linguistic sense. He looks upon speech as a specially developed form of psycho-physical vital manifestations, of expressive animal movements. Language is developed continuously from such facts, and thus is explained how, "beyond the general concept of expressive movement, there is no specific quality which delimits language in a non-arbitrary manner."
Thus the philosophy of Wundt reveals its weak side, showing itself incapable of understanding the spiritual nature of language and of art. In the Ethic of the same author, aesthetic facts are presented as a mixture of logical and ethical elements, a special normative aesthetic science is denied, and Aesthetic is merged in Logic and Ethic.
The neo-critical and neo-Kantian movement in thought was not able to maintain the concept of the spirit against the hedonistic, moralistic, and psychological views of Aesthetic, in vogue from about the middle of last century. Neo-criticism inherited from Kant his view as to the slight importance of the creative imagination, and appears indeed to have been ignorant of any form of knowledge, other than the intellective.
Kirchmann (1868) was one of the early adherents to psychological Aesthetic, defining the beautiful as the idealized image of pleasure, the ugly as that of pain. For him the aesthetic fact is the idealized image of the real. Failing to apprehend the true nature of the aesthetic fact, Kirchmann invented a new psychological category of ideal or apparent feelings, which he thought were attenuated images from those of real life.
The aged Theodore Fischer describes Aesthetic in his auto-criticism as the union of mimetic and harmony, and the beautiful as the harmony of the universe, which is never realized in fact, because it is infinite. When we think to grasp the beautiful, we experience that exquisite illusion, which is the aesthetic fact. Robert Fischer, son of the foregoing, introduced the word Einfuehlung, to express the vitality which he believed that man inspired into things with the help of the aesthetic process.
E. Siebeck and M. Diez, the former writing in 1875, the latter in 1892, unite a certain amount of idealistic influence, derived from Kant and Herbart, with the merely empirical and psychological views that have of late been the fashion. Diez, for instance, would explain the artistic function as the ideal of feeling, placing it parallel to science; the ideal of thought, morality; the ideal of will and religion, the ideal of the personality. But this ideal of feeling escapes definition, and we see that these writers have not had the courage of their ideas: they have not dared to push their thought to its logical conclusion.
The merely psychological and associationist view finds in Theodore Lipps its chief exponent. He criticizes and rejects a series of aesthetic theories, such as those of play, of pleasure, of art as recognition of real life, even if disagreeable, of emotionality, of syncretism, which attaches to art a number of other ends, in addition to those of play and of pleasure.
The theory of Lipps does not differ very greatly from that of Jouffroy, for he assumes that artistic beauty is the sympathetic. "Our ego, transplanted, objectified, and recognized in others, is the object of sympathy. We feel ourselves in others, and others in us." Thus the aesthetic pleasure is entirely composed of sympathy. This extends even to the pleasure derived from architecture, geometrical forms, etc. Whenever we meet with the positive element of human personality, we experience this feeling of beatitude, which is the aesthetic emotion. But the value of the personality is an ethical value: the whole sphere of ethic is included in it. Therefore all artistic or aesthetic pleasure is the enjoyment of something which has ethical value, but this value is not an element of a compound, but the object of aesthetic intuition. Thus is aesthetic activity deprived of all autonomous existence and reduced to a mere retainer of Ethic.
C. Groos (1895) shows some signs of recognizing aesthetic activity as a theoretic value. Feeling and intellect, he says, are the two poles of knowledge, and he recognizes the aesthetic fact as internal imitation. Everything beautiful belongs to aestheticity, but not every aesthetic fact is beautiful. The beautiful is the representation of sensible pleasure, and the ugly of sensible displeasure. The sublime is the representation of something powerful, in a simple form. The comic is the representation of an inferiority, which provokes in us the pleasurable feeling of "superiority." Groos very wisely makes mock of the supposed function of the Ugly, which Hartmann and Schasler had inherited and developed from a long tradition. Lipps and Groos agree in denying aesthetic value to the comic, but Lipps, although he gives an excellent analysis of the comic, is nevertheless in the trammels of his moralistic thesis, and ends by sketching out something resembling the doctrine of the overcoming of the ugly, by means of which may be attained a higher aesthetic and (sympathetic) value.
Labours such as those of Lipps have been of value, since they have cleared away a number of errors that blocked the way, and restrained speculation to the field of the internal consciousness. Similar is the merit of E. Veron's treatise (1883) on the double form of Aesthetic, in which he combats the academic view of the absolute beauty, and shows that Taine confuses Art and Science, Aesthetic and Logic. He acutely remarks that if the object of art were to reveal the essence of things, the greatest artists would be those who best succeeded in doing this, and the greatest works would all be identical; whereas we know that the very opposite is the case. Veron was a precursor of Guyau, and we seek for scientific system in vain in his book. Veron looks upon art as two things: the one decorative, pleasing eye and ear, the other expressive, "l'expression emue de la personalite humaine." He thought that decorative art prevailed in antiquity, expressive art in modern times.
We cannot here dwell upon the aesthetic theories of men of letters, such as that of E. Zola, developing his thesis of natural science and history mixed, which is known as that of the human document or as the experimental theory, or of Ibsen and the moralization of the art problem, as presented by him and by the Scandinavian school. Perhaps no French writer has written more profoundly upon art than Gustave Flaubert. His views are contained in his Correspondence, which has been published. L. Tolstoi wrote his book on art while under the influence of Veron and his hatred of the concept of the beautiful. Art, he says, communicates the feelings, as the word communicates the thoughts. But his way of understanding this may be judged from the comparison which he institutes between Art and Science. According to this, "Art has for its mission to make assimilable and sensible what may not have been assimilated in the form of argument. There is no science for science's sake, no art for art's sake. Every human effort should be directed toward increasing morality and suppressing violence." This amounts to saying that well-nigh all the art that the world has hitherto seen is false. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Dante, Tasso, Milton, Shakespeare, Raphael, Michael Angelo, Bach, Beethoven, are all, according to Tolstoi, "false reputations, made by the critics."
We must also class F. Nietzsche with the artists, rather than with the philosophers. We should do him an injustice (as with J. Ruskin) were we to express in intellectual terminology his aesthetic affirmations. The criticism which they provoke would be too facile. Nowhere has Nietzsche given a complete theory of art, not even in his first book, Die Geburt der Tragoedie oder Griechentum und Pessimismus. What seems to be theory there, is really the confession of the feelings and aspirations of the writer. Nietzsche was the last, splendid representative of the romantic period. He was, therefore, deeply preoccupied with the art problem and with the relation of art to natural science and to philosophy, though he never succeeded in definitely fixing those relations. From Romanticism, rather than from Schopenhauer, he gathered those elements of thought out of which he wove his conception of the two forms of art: the Apollonian, all serene contemplation, as expressed in the epic and in sculpture; the Dionysaic, all tumult and agitation, as expressed in music and the drama. These doctrines are not rigorously proved, and their power of resistance to criticism is therefore but slender, but they serve to transport the mind to a more lofty spiritual level than any others of the second half of the nineteenth century.
The most noteworthy thought on aesthetic of this period is perhaps to be found among the aestheticians of special branches of the arts, and since we know that laws relating only to special branches are not conceivable, this thought may be considered as bearing upon the general theory of Aesthetic.
The Bohemian critic E. Hanslick (1854) is perhaps the most important of these writers. His work On Musical Beauty has been translated into several languages. His polemic is chiefly directed against R. Wagner and the pretension of finding in music a determined content of ideas and feelings. He expresses equal contempt for those sentimentalists who derive from music merely pathological effects, passionate excitement, or stimulus for practical activity, in place of enjoying the musical works. "If a few Phrygian notes sufficed to instil courage into the soldier facing the enemy, or a Doric melody to assure the fidelity of a wife whose husband was absent, then the loss of Greek music may cause pain to generals and to husbands, but aestheticians and composers will have no reason to deplore it." "If every Requiem, every lamenting Adagio, possessed the power to make us sad, who would be able to support existence in such conditions? But if a true musical work look upon us with the clear and brilliant eyes of beauty, we feel ourselves bound by its invincible fascination, though its theme be all the sorrows of the century."
For Hanslick, the only end of music was form, or musical beauty. The followers of Herbart showed themselves very tender towards this unexpected and vigorous ally, and Hanslick, not to be behindhand in politeness, returned their compliments, by referring to Herbart and to R. Zimmermann, in the later editions of his work, as having "completely developed the great aesthetic principle of form." Unfortunately Hanslick meant something altogether different from the Herbartians by his use of the word form. Symmetry, merely acoustic relations, and the pleasure of the ear, did not constitute the musically beautiful for him. Mathematics were in his view useless in the Aesthetic of music. "Sonorous forms are not empty, but perfectly full; they cannot be compared to simple lines enclosing a space; they are the spirit, which takes form, making its own bodily configuration. Music is more of a picture than is an arabesque; but it is a picture of which the subject is inexpressible in words, nor is it to be enclosed in a precise concept. In music, there is a meaning and a connexion, but of a specially musical nature: it is a language which we speak and understand, but which it is impossible to translate." Hanslick admits that music, if it do not render the quality of sentiments, renders their tone or dynamic side; it renders adjectives, if it fail to render substantives; if not "murmuring tenderness" or "impetuous courage," at any rate the "murmuring" and the "impetuous."
The essence of his book is contained in the negation that it is possible to separate form and content in music. "Take any motive you will, and say where form begins and content ends. Are we to call the sounds content? Very good, but they have already received form. What are we to call form? Sounds again? But they are already form filled, that is to say, possessing a content." These observations testify to an acute penetration of the nature of art. Hanslick's belief that they were characteristics peculiar to music, not common to every form of art, alone prevented him from seeing further.
C. Fiedler, published in German (in 1887) an extremely luminous work on the origin of artistic activity. He describes eloquently how the passive spectator seems to himself to grasp all reality, as the shows of life pass before him; but at the moment that he tries to realize this artistically, all disappears, and leaves him with the emptiness of his own thoughts. Yet by concentration alone do we attain to expression; art is a language that we gradually learn to speak. Artistic activity is only to be attained by limiting ourselves; it must consist of "forms precisely determined, tangible, sensibly demonstrable, precisely because it is spiritual." Art does not imitate nature, for what is nature, but that vast confusion of perceptions and representations that were referred to above? Yet in a sense art does imitate nature; it uses nature to produce values of a kind peculiar to itself. Those values are true visibility.
Fiedler's views correspond with those of his predecessor, Hanslick, but are more rigorously and philosophically developed. The sculptor A. Hildebrand may be mentioned with these, as having drawn attention to the nature of art as architectonic rather than imitative, with special application to the art of sculpture.
What we miss with these and with other specialists, is a broad view of art and language, as one and the same thing, the inheritance of all humanity, not of a few persons, specially endowed. H. Bergson in his book on laughter (1900) falls under the same criticism. He develops his theory of art in a manner analogous to Fiedler, and errs like him in looking upon it as something different and exceptional in respect to the language of every moment. He declares that in life the individuality of things escapes us: we see only as much as suffices for our practical ends. The influence of language aids this rude simplification: all but proper names are abstractions. Artists arise from time to time, who recover the riches hidden beneath the labels of ordinary life.
Amid the ruin of idealist metaphysics, is to be desired a healthy return to the doctrine of Baumgarten, corrected and enriched with the discoveries that have been made since his time, especially by romanticism and psychology. C. Hermann (1876) announced this return, but his book is a hopeless mixture of empirical precepts and of metaphysical beliefs regarding Logic and Aesthetic, both of which, he believes, deal not with the empirical thought and experience of the soul, but with the pure and absolute.
B. Bosanquet (1892) gives the following definition of the beautiful, as "that which has a characteristic or individual expressivity for the sensible perception, or for the imagination, subject to the conditions of general or abstract expressivity for the same means." The problem as posed by this writer by the antithesis of the two German schools of form and content, appears to us insoluble.
Though De Sanctis left no school in Italy, his teaching has been cleared of the obscurities that had gathered round it during the last ten years; and the thesis of the true nature of history, and of its nature, altogether different from natural science, has been also dealt with in Germany, although its precise relation to the aesthetic problem has not been made clear. Such labours and such discussions constitute a more favourable ground for the scientific development of Aesthetic than the stars of mystical metaphysic or the stables of positivism and of sensualism.
We have now reached the end of the inquiry into the history of aesthetic speculation, and we are struck with the smallness of the number of those who have seen clearly the nature of the problem. No doubt, amid the crowd of artists, critics, and writers on other subjects, many have incidentally made very just remarks, and if all these were added to the few philosophers, they would form a gallant company. But if, as Schiller truly observed, the rhythm of philosophy consist in a withdrawal from public opinion, in order to return to it with renewed vigour, it is evident that this withdrawal is essential, and indeed that in it lies the whole progress of philosophy.
During our long journey, we have witnessed grave aberrations from the truth, which were at the same time attempts to reach it; such were the hedonism of the sophists and rhetoricians of antiquity, of the sensualists of the eighteenth and second half of the nineteenth centuries; the moralistic hedonism of Aristophanes and the Stoics, of the Roman eclectics, of the writers of the Middle Age and of the Renaissance; the ascetic and logical hedonism of Plato and the Fathers of the Church; the aesthetic mysticism of Plotinus, reborn to its greatest triumphs, during the classic period of German thought.
Through the midst of these variously erroneous theories, that traverse the field of thought in all directions, runs a tiny rivulet of golden truth. Starting from the subtle empiricism of Aristotle, it flows in the profound penetration of Vico to the nineteenth century, where it appears again in the masterly analyses of Schleiermacher, Humboldt, and De Sanctis.
This brief list shows that the science of Aesthetic is no longer to be discovered, but it also shows that it is only at its beginning.
The birth of a science is like the birth of a human being. In order to live, a science, like a man, has to withstand a thousand attacks of all sorts. These appear in the form of errors, which must be extirpated, if the science is not to perish. And when one set has been weeded, another crops up; when these have been dealt with, the former errors often return. Therefore scientific criticism is always necessary. No science can repose on its laurels, complete, unchallenged. Like a human being, it must maintain its position by constant efforts, constant victories over error. The general errors which reveal a negation of the very concept of art have already been dealt with in the Historical Summary. The particular errors have been exposed in the Theory. They may be divided under three heads: (i.) Errors as to the characteristic quality of the aesthetic fact, or (ii.) as to its specific quality, or (iii.) as to its generic quality. These are contradictions of the characteristics of intuition, of theoretic contemplation, and of spiritual activity, which constitute the aesthetic fact.
The principal bar to a proper understanding of the true nature of language has been and still is Rhetoric, with the modern form it has assumed, as style. The rhetorical categories are still mentioned in treatises and often referred to, as having definite existence among the parts of speech. Side by side with such phrases goes that of the double form, or metaphor, which implies that there are two ways of saying the same thing, the one simple, the other ornate.
Kant, Herbart, Hegel, and many minor personages, have been shown to be victims of the rhetorical categories, and in our own day we have writers in Italy and in Germany who devote much attention to them, such as R. Bonghi and G. Groeber; the latter employs a phraseology which he borrows from the modern schools of psychology, but this does not alter the true nature of his argument. De Sanctis gave perhaps the clearest and most stimulating advice in his lectures on Rhetoric, which he termed Anti-rhetoric.
But even he failed to systematize his thought, and we may say that the true critique of Rhetoric can only be made from the point of view of the aesthetic activity, which is, as we know, one, and therefore does not give rise to divisions, and cannot express the same content now in one form, now in another. Thus only can we drive away the double monster of naked form deprived of imagination, and of decorated form, which would represent something more than imagination. The same remarks apply to artistic and literary styles, and to their various laws or rules. In modern times they have generally been comprised with rhetoric, and although now discredited, they cannot be said to have altogether disappeared.
J.C. Scaliger may be entitled the protagonist of the unities in comparatively modern times: he it was who "laid the foundations of the classical Bastille," and supplied tyrants of literature, like Boileau, with some of their best weapons. Lessing opposed the French rules and restrictions with German rules and restrictions, giving as his opinion that Corneille and others had wrongly interpreted Aristotle, whose rules did not really prevent Shakespeare from being included among correct writers! Lessing undoubtedly believed in intellectual rules for poetry. Aristotle was the tyrant, father of tyrants, and we find Corneille saying "qu'il est aise de s'accommoder avec Aristote," much in the same way as Tartuffe makes his "accommodements avec le ciel." In the next century, several additions were made to the admitted styles, as for instance the "tragedie bourgeoise."
But these battles of the rules with one another are less interesting than the rebellion against all the rules, which began with Pietro Aretino in the sixteenth century, who makes mock of them in the prologues to his comedies. Giordano Bruno took sides against the makers of rules, saying that the rules came from the poetry, and "therefore there are as many genuses and species of true rules as there are genuses and species of true poets." When asked how the true poets are to be known, he replies, "by repeating their verses, which either cause delight, or profit, or both." Guarini, too, said that "the world judges poetry, and its sentence is without appeal."
Strangely enough, it was priest-ridden Spain that all through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led the van of revolt against the rules and precepts of the grammarians. While Torquato Tasso remained the miserable slave of grammarians unworthy to lick the dust from his feet, Lope de Vega slyly remarked that when he wrote his comedies, he locked up the givers of precepts with six keys, that they might not reproach him. J.B. Marino declared that he knew the rules better than all the pedants in the world; "but the true rule is to know when to break the rules, in accordance with the manners of the day and the taste of the age." Among the most acute writers of the end of the seventeenth century is to be mentioned Gravina, who well understood that a work of art must be its own criterion, and said so clearly when praising a contemporary for a work which did not enter any one of the admitted categories. Unfortunately Gravina did not clearly formulate his views.
France of the eighteenth century produced several writers like Du Bos, who declared that men will always prefer the poems that move them, to those composed according to rule. La Motte combated the unities of place and time, and Batteux showed himself liberal in respect to rules. Voltaire, although he opposed La Motte and described the three unities as the three great laws of good sense, was also capable of declaring that all styles but the tiresome are good, and that the best style is that which is best used. In England we find Home in his Elements of Criticism deriding the critics for asserting that there must be a precise criterion for distinguishing epic poetry from all other forms of composition. Literary compositions, he held, melt into one another, just like colours.
The literary movement of the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries attacked rules of all sorts. We will not dwell upon the many encounters of these periods, nor record the names of those that conquered gloriously, or their excesses. In France the preface to the Cromwell of V. Hugo (1827), in Italy the Lettera semiseria di Grisostomo, were clarions of rebellion. The principle first laid down by A.W. Schlegel, that the form of compositions must be organic and not mechanic, resulting from the nature of the subject, from its internal development not from an external stamp, was enunciated in Italy. Art is always a whole, a synthesis.
But it would be altogether wrong to believe that this empirical defeat of the styles and rules implied their final defeat in philosophy. Even writers who were capable of dispensing with prejudice when judging works of art, once they spoke as philosophers, were apt to reassume their belief in those categories which, empirically, they had discarded. The spectacle of these literary or rhetorical categories, raised by German philosophers to the honours of philosophical deduction, is even more amusing than that which afforded amusement to Home. The truth is that they were unable to free their aesthetic systems of intellectualism, although they proclaimed the empire of the mystic idea. Schelling (1803) at the beginning, Hartmann (1890) at the end of the century, furnish a good example of this head and tail.
Schelling, in his Philosophy of Art, declares that, historically speaking, the first place in the styles of poetry is due to Epic, but, scientifically speaking, it falls to Lyric. In truth, if poetry be the representation of the infinite in the finite, then lyric poetry, in which prevails the finite, must be its first moment. Lyric poetry corresponds to the first of the ideal series, to reflection, to knowledge; epic poetry corresponds to the second power, to action. This philosopher finally proceeds to the unification of epic and lyric poetry, and from their union he deduces the dramatic form, which is in his view "the supreme incarnation of the essence and of the in-se of every art."
With Hartmann, poetry is divided into poetry of declamation and poetry for reading. The first is subdivided into Epic, Lyric, and Dramatic; the Epic is divided into plastic epic, proper epic, pictorial epic, and lyrical epic; Lyric is divided into epical lyric, lyrical lyric, and dramatic lyric; Dramatic is divided into lyrical dramatic, epical dramatic, and dramatical dramatic. The second (readable poetry) is divided into poetry which is chiefly epical, lyrical, and dramatic, with the tertiary division of moving, comic, tragic, and humoristic; and poetry which can all be read at once, like a short story, or that requires several sittings, like a romance.
These brief extracts show of what dialectic pirouettes and sublime trivialities even philosophers are capable, when they begin to treat of the Aesthetic of the tragic, comic, and humorous. Such false distinctions are still taught in the schools of France and Germany, and we find a French critic like Ferdinand Brunetiere devoting a whole volume to the evolution of literary styles or classes, which he really believes to constitute literary history. This prejudice, less frankly stated, still infests many histories of literature, even in Italy.
We believe that the falsity of these rules of classes should be scientifically demonstrated. In our Theory of Aesthetic we have shown how we believe that it should be demonstrated.
The proof of the theory of the limits of the arts has been credited to Lessing, but his merit should rather be limited to having been the first to draw attention to the problem. His solution was false, but his achievement nevertheless great, in having posed the question clearly. No one before him, in antiquity, in the Middle Age, or in modern times, had seriously asked: What is the value of the distinctions between the arts? Which of them comes first? Which second? Leonardo da Vinci had declared his personal predilection for painting, Michael Angelo for sculpture, but the question had not been philosophically treated before Lessing.
Lessing's attention was drawn to the problem, through his desire to disprove the assertions of Spence and of the Comte de Caylus, the former in respect to the close union between poetry and painting in antiquity, the latter as believing that a poem was good according to the number of subjects which it should afford the painter. Lessing argued thus: Painting manifests itself in space, poetry in time: the mode of manifestation of painting is through objects which coexist, that of poetry through objects which are consecutive. The objects which coexist, or whose parts are coexistent, are called bodies. Bodies, then, owing to their visibility, are the true objects of painting. Objects which are consecutive, or whose parts are consecutive, are called, in general, actions. Actions, then, are the suitable object of poetry. He admitted that painting might represent an action, but only by means of bodies which make allusion to it; that poetry can represent bodies, but only by means of actions. Returning to this theme, he explained the action or movement in painting as added by our imagination. Lessing was greatly preoccupied with the naturalness and the unnaturalness of signs, which is tantamount to saying that he believed each art to be strictly limited to certain modes of expression, which are only overstepped at the cost of coherency. In the appendix to his Laocooen, he quotes Plutarch as saying that one should not chop wood with a key, or open the door with an axe. He who should do so would not only be spoiling both those utensils, but would also be depriving himself of the utility of both. He believed that this applied to the arts.
The number of philosophers and writers who have attempted empirical classifications of the arts is enormous: it ranges in comparatively recent times from Lessing, by way of Schasler, Solger, and Hartmann, to Richard Wagner, whose theory of the combination of the arts was first mooted in the eighteenth century.
Lotze, while reflecting upon the futility of these attempts, himself adopts a method, which he says is the most "convenient," and thereby incurs the censure of Schasler. This method is in fact suitable for his studies in botany and in zoology, but useless for the philosophy of the spirit. Thus both these thinkers maintained Lessing's wrong principle as to the constancy, the limits, and the peculiar nature of each art.
Who among aestheticians has criticized this principle? Aristotle had a glimpse of the truth, when he refused to admit that the distinction between prose and poetry lay in an external fact, the metre. Schleiermacher seems to have been the only one who was thoroughly aware of the difficulty of the problem. In analysis, indeed, he goes so far as to say that what the arts have in common is not the external fact, which is an element of diversity; and connecting such an observation as this with his clear distinction between art and what is called technique, we might argue that Schleiermacher looked upon the divisions between the arts as non-existent. But he does not make this logical inference, and his thought upon the problem continues to be wavering and undecided. Nebulous, uncertain, and contradictory as is this portion of Schleiermacher's theory, he has yet the great merit of having doubted Lessing's theory, and of having asked himself by what right are special arts held to be distinct in art.
Schleiermacher absolutely denied the existence of a beautiful in nature, and praised Hegel for having sustained this negation. Hegel did not really deserve this praise, as his negation was rather verbal than effective; but the importance of this thesis as stated by Schleiermacher is very great, in so far as he denied the existence of an objective natural beauty not produced by the spirit of man. This theory of the beautiful in nature, when taken in a metaphysical sense, does not constitute an error peculiar to aesthetic science. It forms part of a fallacious general theory, which can be criticized together with its metaphysic.
The theory of aesthetic senses, that is, of certain superior senses, such as sight and hearing, being the only ones for which aesthetic impressions exist, was debated as early as Plato. The Hippias major contains a discussion upon this theme, which Socrates leads to the conclusion that there exist beautiful things, which do not reach us through impressions of eye or ear. But further than this, there exist things which please the eye, but not the ear, and vice versa; therefore the reason of beauty cannot be visibility or audibility, but something different from, yet common to both. Perhaps this question has never been so acutely and so seriously dealt with as in this Platonic dialogue. Home, Herder, Hegel, Diderot, Rousseau, Berkeley, all dealt with the problem, but in a more or less arbitrary manner. Herder, for instance, includes touch with the higher aesthetic senses, but Hegel removes it, as having immediate contact with matter as such, and with its immediate sensible qualities.
Schleiermacher, with his wonted penetration, saw that the problem was not to be solved so easily. He refuted the distinction between clear and confused senses. He held that the superiority of sight and hearing over the other senses lay in their free activity, in their capacity of an activity proceeding from within, and able to create forms and sounds without receiving external impressions. The eye and the ear are not merely means of perception, for in that case there could be no visual and no auditive arts. They are also functions of voluntary movements, which fill the domain of the senses. Schleiermacher, however, considered that the difference was rather one of quantity, and that we should allow to the other senses a minimum of independence.
The sensualists, as we know, maintain that all the senses are aesthetic. That is the hedonistic hypothesis, which has been dealt with and disproved in this book. We have shown the embarrassment in which the hedonists find themselves, when they have dubbed all the senses "aesthetic," or have been obliged to differentiate in an absurd manner some of the senses from the others. The only way out of the difficulty lies in abandoning the attempt to unite orders of facts so diverse as the representative form of the spirit and the conception of given physical organs or of a given material of impressions.
The origin of classes of speech and of grammatical forms is to be found in antiquity, and as regards the latter, the disputes among the Alexandrian philosophers, the analogists, and the anomalists, resulted in logic being identified with grammar. Anything which did not seem logical was excluded from grammar as a deviation. The analogists, however, did not have it all their own way, and grammar in the modern sense of the word is a compromise between these extreme views, that is, it contains something of the thought of Chrysippus, who composed a treatise to show that the same thing can be expressed with different sounds, and of Apollonius Discolus, who attempted to explain what the rigorous analogists refused to admit into their schemes and classifications. It is only of late years that we have begun to emerge from the superstitious reverence for grammar, inherited from the Middle Age. Such writers as Pott, in his introduction to Humboldt, and Paul in his Principien d. Sprachgeschichte, have done good service in throwing doubt upon the absolute validity of the parts of speech. If the old superstitions still survive tenaciously, we must attribute this partly to empirical and poetical grammar, partly to the venerable antiquity of grammar itself, which has led the world to forget its illegitimate and turbid origin.
The theory of the relativity of taste is likewise ancient, and it would be interesting to know whether the saying "there's no accounting for tastes" could be traced to a merely gustatory origin. In this sense, the saying would be quite correct, as it is quite wrong when applied to aesthetic facts. The eighteenth century writers exhibit a piteous perplexity of thought on this subject. Home, for instance, after much debate, decides upon a common "standard of taste," which he deduces from the necessity of social life and from what he calls "a final cause." Of course it will not be an easy matter to fix this "standard of taste." As regards moral conduct, we do not seek our models among savages, so with regard to taste, we must have recourse to those few whose taste has not been corrupted nor spoilt by pleasure, who have received good taste from nature, and have perfected it by education and by the practice of life. If after this has been done, there should yet arise disputes, it will be necessary to refer to the principles of criticism, as laid down in his book by the said Home.
We find similar contradictions and vicious circles in the Discourse on Taste of David Hume. We search his writings in vain for the distinctive characteristics of the man of taste, whose judgments should be final. Although he asserts that the general principles of taste are universal in human nature, and admits that no notice should be accorded to perversions and ignorance, yet there exist diversities of taste that are irreconcilable, insuperable, and blameless.
But the criticism of the sensualist and relativist positions cannot be made from the point of view of those who proclaim the absolute nature of taste and yet place it among the intellectual concepts. It has been shown to be impossible to escape from sensualism and relativity save by falling into the intellectualist error. Muratori in the eighteenth century is an instance of this. He was one of the first to maintain the existence of a rule of taste and of universal beauty. Andre also spoke of what appears beautiful in a work of art as being not that which pleases at once, owing to certain particular dispositions of the faculties of the soul and of the organs of the body, but that which has the right of pleasing the reason and reflection through its own excellence. Voltaire admitted an "universal taste," which was "intellectual," as did many others. Kant appeared, and condemned alike the intellectualist and the sensualistic error; but placing the beautiful in a symbol of morality, he failed to discover the imaginative absoluteness of taste. Later speculative philosophy did not attach importance to the question.
The correct solution was slow in making its way. It lies, as we know, in the fact that to judge a work of art we must place ourselves in the position of the artist at the time of production, and that to judge is to reproduce. Alexander Pope, in his Essay on Criticism, was among the first to state this truth:
A perfect judge will read each work of wit With the same spirit that its author writ.
Remarks equally luminous were made by Antonio Conti, Terrasson, and Heydenreich in the eighteenth century, the latter with considerable philosophical development. De Sanctis gave in his adhesion to this formula, but a true theory of aesthetic criticism had not yet been given, because for such was necessary, not only an exact conception of nature in art, but also of the relations between the aesthetic fact and its historical conditions. In more recent times has been denied the possibility of aesthetic criticism; it has been looked upon as merely individual and capricious, and historical criticism has been set up in its place. This would be better called a criticism of extrinsic erudition and of bad philosophical inspiration—positivist and materialist. The true history of literature will always require the reconstruction and then the judgment of the work of art. Those who have wished to react against such emasculated erudition have often thrown themselves into the opposite extreme, that is, into a dogmatic, abstract, intellectualistic, or moralistic form of criticism.
This mention of the history of certain doctrines relating to Aesthetic suffices to show the range of error possible in the theory. Aesthetic has need to be surrounded by a vigilant and vigorous critical literature which shall derive from it and be at once its safeguard and its source of strength.
I here add as an appendix, at the request of the author, a translation of his lecture which he delivered before the Third International Congress of Philosophy, at Heidelberg, on 2nd September 1908.
The reader will find that it throws a vivid light upon Benedetto Croce's general theory of Aesthetic.
PURE INTUITION AND THE LYRICAL CHARACTER OF ART.
A Lecture delivered at Heidelberg at the second general session of the Third International Congress of Philosophy.
There exists an empirical Aesthetic, which although it admits the existence of facts, called aesthetic or artistic, yet holds that they are irreducible to a single principle, to a rigorous philosophical concept. It wishes to limit itself to collecting as many of those facts as possible, and in the greatest possible variety, thence, at the most, proceeding to group them together in classes and types. The logical ideal of this school, as declared on many occasions, is zoology or botany. This Aesthetic, when asked what art is, replies by indicating successively single facts, and by saying: "Art is this, and this, and this too is art," and so on, indefinitely. Zoology and botany renew the representatives of fauna and of flora in the same way. They calculate that the species renewed amount to some thousand, but believe that they might easily be increased to twenty or a hundred thousand, or even to a million, or to infinity.
There is another Aesthetic, which has been called hedonistic, utilitarian, moralistic, and so on, according to its various manifestations. Its complex denomination should, however, be practicism, because that is precisely what constitutes its essential character. This Aesthetic differs from the preceding, in the belief that aesthetic or artistic facts are not a merely empirical or nominalistic grouping together, but that all of them possess a common foundation. Its foundation is placed in the practical form of human activity. Those facts are therefore considered, either generically, as manifestations of pleasure and pain, and therefore rather as economic facts; or, more particularly, as a special class of those manifestations; or again, as instruments and products of the ethical spirit, which subdues and turns to its own ends individual hedonistic and economic tendencies.