But the great and masterful presentations of the ideal are somehow neither the one nor the other. They present ideal beauty with just that definiteness with which nature herself sometimes presents it. When we come in a crowd upon an incomparably beautiful face, we know it immediately as an embodiment of the ideal; while it contains the type, — for if it did not we should find it monstrous and grotesque, — it clothes that type in a peculiar splendour of form, colour, and expression. It has an individuality. And just so the imaginary figures of poetry and plastic art may have an individuality given them by the happy affinities of their elements in the imagination. They are not idealizations, they are spontaneous variations, which can arise in the mind quite as easily as in the world. They spring up in
The wreathed trellis of a working brain; . . . With all the gardener fancy e'er could feign Who, breeding flowers, will never breed the same.
Imagination, in a word, generates as well as abstracts; it observes, combines, and cancels; but it also dreams. Spontaneous syntheses arise in it which are not mathematical averages of the images it receives from sense; they are effects of diffused excitements left in the brain by sensations. These excitements vary constantly in their various renewals, and occasionally take such a form that the soul is surprised by the inward vision of an unexampled beauty. If this inward vision is clear and steady, we have an aesthetic inspiration, a vocation to create; and if we can also command the technique of an appropriate art, we shall hasten to embody that inspiration, and realize an ideal. This ideal will be gradually recognized as supremely beautiful for the same reason that the object, had it been presented in the real world, would have been recognized as supremely beautiful; because while embodying a known type of form, — being, that is, a proper man, animal, or vegetable, — it possessed in an extraordinary degree those direct charms which most subjugate our attention.
Imaginary forms then differ in dignity and beauty not according to their closeness to fact or type in nature, but according to the ease with which the normal imagination reproduces the synthesis they contain. To add wings to a man has always been a natural fancy; because man can easily imagine himself to fly, and the idea is delightful to him. The winged man is therefore a form generally recognized as beautiful; although it can happen, as it did to Michael Angelo, that our appreciation of the actual form of the human body should be too keen and overmastering to allow us to relish even so charming and imaginative an extravagance. The centaur is another beautiful monster. The imagination can easily follow the synthesis of the dream in which horse and man melted into one, and first gave the glorious suggestion of their united vitality.
The same condition determines the worth of imaginary personalities. From the gods to the characters of comedy, all are, in proportion to their beauty, natural and exhilarating expressions of possible human activity. We sometimes remould visible forms into imaginary creatures; but our originality in this respect is meagre compared with the profusion of images of action which arise in us, both asleep and awake; we constantly dream of new situations, extravagant adventures, and exaggerated passions. Even our soberer thoughts are very much given to following the possible fortunes of some enterprise, and foretasting the satisfactions of love and ambition. The mind is therefore particularly sensitive to pictures of action and character; we are easily induced to follow the fortunes of any hero, and share his sentiments.
Our will, as Descartes said in a different context, is infinite, while our intelligence is finite; we follow experience pretty closely in our ideas of things, and even the furniture of fairyland bears a sad resemblance to that of earth; but there is no limit to the elasticity of our passion; and we love to fancy ourselves kings and beggars, saints and villains, young and old, happy and unhappy. There seems to be a boundless capacity of development in each of us, which the circumstances of life determine to a narrow channel; and we like to revenge ourselves in our reveries for this imputed limitation, by classifying ourselves with all that we are not, but might so easily have been. We are full of sympathy for every manifestation of life, however unusual; and even the conception of infinite knowledge and happiness — than which nothing could be more removed from our condition or more unrealizable to our fancy — remains eternally interesting to us.
The poet, therefore, who wishes to delineate a character need not keep a note-book. There is a quicker road to the heart — if he has the gift to find it. Probably his readers will not themselves have kept note-books, and his elaborate observations will only be effective when he describes something which they also happen to have noticed. The typical characters describable by the empirical method are therefore few: the miser, the lover, the old nurse, the ingenue, and the other types of traditional comedy. Any greater specification would appeal only to a small audience for a short time, because the characteristics depicted would no longer exist to be recognized. But whatever experience a poet's hearers may have had, they are men. They will have certain imaginative capacities to conceive and admire those forms of character and action which, although never actually found, are felt by each man to express what he himself might and would have been, had circumstances been more favourable.
The poet has only to study himself, and the art of expressing his own ideals, to find that he has expressed those of other people. He has but to enact in himself the part of each of his personages, and if he possesses that pliability and that definiteness of imagination which together make genius, he may express for his fellows those inward tendencies which in them have remained painfully dumb. He will be hailed as master of the human soul. He may know nothing of men, he may have almost no experience; but his creations will pass for models of naturalness, and for types of humanity. Their names will be in every one's mouth, and the lives of many generations will be enriched by the vision, one might almost say by the friendship, of these imaginary beings. They have individuality without having reality, because individuality is a thing acquired in the mind by the congeries of its impressions. They have power, also, because that depends on the appropriateness of a stimulus to touch the springs of reaction in the soul. And they of course have beauty, because in them is embodied the greatest of our imaginative delights, — that of giving body to our latent capacities, and of wandering, without the strain and contradiction of actual existence, into all forms of possible being.
The religious imagination.
Sec. 47. The greatest of these creations hare not been the work of any one man. They have been the slow product of the pious and poetic imagination. Starting from some personification of nature or some memory of a great man, the popular and priestly tradition has refined and developed the ideal; it has made it an expression of men's aspiration and a counterpart of their need. The devotion of each tribe, shrine, and psalmist has added some attribute to the god or some parable to his legend; and thus, around the kernel of some original divine function, the imagination of a people has gathered every possible expression of it, creating a complete and beautiful personality, with its history, its character, and its gifts. No poet has ever equalled the perfection or significance of these religious creations. The greatest characters of fiction are uninteresting and unreal compared with the conceptions of the gods; so much so that men have believed that their gods have objective reality.
The forms men see in dreams might have been a reason for believing in vague and disquieting ghosts; but the belief in individual and well-defined divinities, with which the visions of the dreams might be identified, is obviously due to the intrinsic coherence and impressiveness of the conception of those deities. The visions would never have suggested the legend and attributes of the god; but when the figure of the god was once imaginatively conceived, and his name and aspect fixed in the imagination, it would be easy to recognize him in any hallucination, or to interpret any event as due to his power. These manifestations, which constitute the evidence of his actual existence, can be regarded as manifestations of him, rather than of a vague, unknown power, only when the imagination already possesses a vivid picture of him, and of his appropriate functions. This picture is the work of a spontaneous fancy.
No doubt, when the belief is once specified, and the special and intelligible god is distinguished in the night and horror of the all-pervading natural power, the belief in his reality helps to concentrate our attention on his nature, and thus to develope and enrich our idea. The belief in the reality of an ideal personality brings about its further idealization. Had it ever occurred to any Greek seer to attribute events to the influence of Achilles, or to offer sacrifices to him in the heat of the enthusiasm kindled by the thought of his beauty and virtue, the legend of Achilles, now become a god, would have grown and deepened; it would have been moralized like the legend of Hercules, or naturalized like that of Persephone, and what is now but a poetic character of extraordinary force and sublimity would have become the adored patron of generation after generation, and a manifestation of the divine man.
Achilles would then have been as significant and unforgettable a figure as Apollo or his sister, as Zeus, Athena, and the other greater gods. If ever, while that phase of religion lasted, his character had been obscured and his features dimmed, he would have been recreated by every new votary: poets would never have tired of singing his praises, or sculptors of rendering his form. When, after the hero had been the centre and subject of so much imaginative labour, the belief in his reality lapsed, to be transferred to some other conception of cosmic power, he would have remained an ideal of poetry and art, and a formative influence of all cultivated minds. This he is still, like all the great creations of avowed fiction, but he would have been immensely more so, had belief in his reality kept the creative imagination continuously intent upon his nature.
The reader can hardly fail to see that all this applies with equal force to the Christian conception of the sacred personalities. Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints may have been exactly what our imagination pictures them to be; that is entirely possible; nor can I see that it is impossible that the conceptions of other religions might themselves have actual counterparts somewhere in the universe. That is a question of faith and empirical evidence with which we are not here concerned. But however descriptive of truth our conceptions may be, they have evidently grown up in our minds by an inward process of development. The materials of history and tradition have been melted and recast by the devout imagination into those figures in the presence of which our piety lives.
That is the reason why the reconstructed logical gods of the metaphysicians are always an offence and a mockery to the religious consciousness. There is here, too, a bare possibility that some one of these absolutes may be a representation of the truth; but the method by which this representation is acquired is violent and artificial; while the traditional conception of God is the spontaneous embodiment of passionate contemplation and long experience.
As the God of religion differs from that of metaphysics, so does the Christ of tradition differ from that of our critical historians. Even if we took the literal narrative of the Gospels and accepted it as all we could know of Christ, without allowing ourselves any imaginative interpretation of the central figure, we should get an ideal of him, I will not say very different from that of St. Francis or St. Theresa, but even from that of the English, prayer-book. The Christ men have loved and adored is an ideal of their own hearts, the construction of an ever-present personality, living and intimately understood, out of the fragments of story and doctrine connected with a name. This subjective image has inspired all the prayers, all the conversions, all the penances, charities, and sacrifices, as well as half the art of the Christian world.
The Virgin Mary, whose legend is so meagre, but whose power over the Catholic imagination is so great, is an even clearer illustration of this inward building up of an ideal form. Everything is here spontaneous sympathetic expansion of two given events: the incarnation and the crucifixion. The figure of the Virgin, found in these mighty scenes, is gradually clarified and developed, until we come to the thought on the one hand of her freedom from original sin, and on the other to that of her universal maternity. We thus attain the conception of one of the noblest of conceivable roles and of one of the most beautiful of characters. It is a pity that a foolish iconoclasm should so long have deprived the Protestant mind of the contemplation of this ideal.
Perhaps it is a sign of the average imaginative dulness or fatigue of certain races and epochs that they so readily abandon these supreme creations. For, if we are hopeful, why should we not believe that the best we can fancy is also the truest; and if we are distrustful in general of our prophetic gifts, why should we cling only to the most mean and formless of our illusions? From the beginning to the end of our perceptive and imaginative activity, we are synthesizing the material of experience into unities the independent reality of which is beyond proof, nay, beyond the possibility of a shadow of evidence. And yet the life of intelligence, like the joy of contemplation, lies entirely in the formation and inter-relation of these unities. This activity yields us all the objects with which we can deal, and endows them with the finer and more intimate part of their beauty. The most perfect of these forms, judged by its affinity to our powers and its stability in the presence of our experience, is the one with which we should be content; no other kind of veracity could add to its value.
The greatest feats of synthesis which the human mind has yet accomplished will, indeed, be probably surpassed and all ideals yet formed be superseded, because they were not based upon enough experience, or did not fit that experience with adequate precision. It is also possible that changes in the character of the facts, or in the powers of intelligence, should necessitate a continual reconstruction of our world. But unless human nature suffers an inconceivable change, the chief intellectual and aesthetic value of our ideas will always come from the creative action of the imagination.
Sec. 48. We have found in the beauty of material and form the objectification of certain pleasures connected with the process of direct perception, with the formation, in the one case of a sensation, or quality, in the other of a synthesis of sensations or qualities. But the human consciousness is not a perfectly clear mirror, with distinct boundaries and clear-cut images, determinate in number and exhaustively perceived. Our ideas half emerge for a moment from the dim continuum of vital feeling and diffused sense, and are hardly fixed before they are changed and transformed, by the shifting of attention and the perception of new relations, into ideas of really different objects. This fluidity of the mind would make reflection impossible, did we not fix in words and other symbols certain abstract contents; we thus become capable of recognizing in one perception the repetition of another, and of recognizing in certain recurrences of impressions a persistent object. This discrimination and classification of the contents of consciousness is the work of perception and understanding, and the pleasures that accompany these activities make the beauty of the sensible world.
But our hold upon our thoughts extends even further. We not only construct visible unities and recognizable types, but remain aware of their affinities to what is not at the time perceived; that is, we find in them a certain tendency and quality, not original to them, a meaning and a tone, which upon investigation we shall see to have been the proper characteristics of other objects and feelings, associated with them once in our experience. The hushed reverberations of these associated feelings continue in the brain, and by modifying our present reaction, colour the image upon which our attention is fixed. The quality thus acquired by objects through association is what we call their expression. Whereas in form or material there is one object with its emotional effect, in expression there are two, and the emotional effect belongs to the character of the second or suggested one. Expression may thus make beautiful by suggestion things in themselves indifferent, or it may come to heighten the beauty which they already possess.
Expression is not always distinguishable in consciousness from the value of material or form, because we do not always have a distinguishable memory of the related idea which the expressiveness implies. When we have such a memory, as at the sight of some once frequented garden, we clearly and spontaneously attribute our emotion to the memory and not to the present fact which it beautifies. The revival of a pleasure and its embodiment in a present object which in itself might have been indifferent, is here patent and acknowledged.
The distinctness of the analysis may indeed be so great as to prevent the synthesis; we may so entirely pass to the suggested object, that our pleasure will be embodied in the memory of that, while the suggestive sensation will be overlooked, and the expressiveness of the present object will fail to make it beautiful. Thus the mementos of a lost friend do not become beautiful by virtue of the sentimental associations which may make them precious. The value is confined to the images of the memory; they are too clear to let any of that value escape and diffuse itself over the rest of our consciousness, and beautify the objects which we actually behold. We say explicitly: I value this trifle for its associations. And so long as this division continues, the worth of the thing is not for us aesthetic.
But a little dimming of our memory will often make it so. Let the images of the past fade, let them remain simply as a halo and suggestion of happiness hanging about a scene; then this scene, however empty and uninteresting in itself, will have a deep and intimate charm; we shall be pleased by its very vulgarity. We shall not confess so readily that we value the place for its associations; we shall rather say: I am fond of this landscape; it has for me an ineffable attraction. The treasures of the memory have been melted and dissolved, and are now gilding the object that supplants them; they are giving this object expression.
Expression then differs from material or formal value only as habit differs from instinct — in its origin. Physiologically, they are both pleasurable radiations of a given stimulus; mentally, they are both values incorporated in an object. But an observer, looking at the mind historically, sees in the one case the survival of an experience, in the other the reaction of an innate disposition. This experience, moreover, is generally rememberable, and then the extrinsic source of the charm which expression gives becomes evident even to the consciousness in which it arises. A word, for instance, is often beautiful simply by virtue of its meaning and associations; but sometimes this expressive beauty is added to a musical quality in the world itself. In all expression we may thus distinguish two terms: the first is the object actually presented, the word, the image, the expressive thing; the second is the object suggested, the further thought, emotion, or image evoked, the thing expressed.
These lie together in the mind, and their union constitutes expression. If the value lies wholly in the first term, we have no beauty of expression. The decorative inscriptions in Saracenic monuments can have no beauty of expression for one who does not read Arabic; their charm is wholly one of material and form. Or if they have any expression, it is by virtue of such thoughts as they might suggest, as, for instance, of the piety and oriental sententiousness of the builders and of the aloofness from us of all their world. And even these suggestions, being a wandering of our fancy rather than a study of the object, would fail to arouse a pleasure which would be incorporated in the present image. The scroll would remain without expression, although its presence might have suggested to us interesting visions of other things. The two terms would be too independent, and the intrinsic values of each would remain distinct from that of the other. There would be no visible expressiveness, although there might have been discursive suggestions.
Indeed, if expression were constituted by the external relation of object with object, everything would be expressive equally, indeterminately, and universally. The flower in the crannied wall would express the same thing as the bust of Caesar or the Critique of Pure Reason. What constitutes the individual expressiveness of these things is the circle of thoughts allied to each in a given mind; my words, for instance, express the thoughts which they actually arouse in the reader; they may express more to one man than to another, and to me they may have expressed more or less than to yon. My thoughts remain unexpressed, if my words do not arouse them in you, and very likely your greater wisdom will find in what I say the manifestation of a thousand principles of which I never dreamed. Expression depends upon the union of two terms, one of which must be furnished by the imagination; and a mind cannot furnish what it does not possess. The expressiveness of everything accordingly increases with the intelligence of the observer.
But for expression to be an element of beauty, it must, of course, fulfil another condition. I may see the relations of an object, I may understand it perfectly, and may nevertheless regard it with entire indifference. If the pleasure fails, the very substance and protoplasm of beauty is wanting. Nor, as we have seen, is even the pleasure enough; for I may receive a letter full of the most joyous news, but neither the paper, nor the writing, nor the style, need seem beautiful to me. Not until I confound the impressions, and suffuse the symbols themselves with the emotions they arouse, and find joy and sweetness in the very words I hear, will the expressiveness constitute a beauty; as when they sing, Gloria in excelsis Deo.
The value of the second term must be incorporated in the first; for the beauty of expression is as inherent in the object as that of material or form, only it accrues to that object not from the bare act of perception, but from the association with it of further processes, due to the existence of former impressions. We may conveniently use the word "expressiveness" to mean all the capacity of suggestion possessed by a thing, and the word "expression" for the aesthetic modification which that expressiveness may cause in it. Expressiveness is thus the power given by experience to any image to call up others in the mind; and this expressiveness becomes an aesthetic value, that is, becomes expression, when the value involved in the associations thus awakened are incorporated in the present object.
The associative process.
Sec. 49. The purest case in which, an expressive value could arise might seem to be that in which both terms were indifferent in themselves, and what pleased was the activity of relating them. We have such a phenomenon in mathematics, and in any riddle, puzzle, or play with symbols. But such pleasures fall without the aesthetic field in the absence of any objectification; they are pleasures of exercise, and the objects involved are not regarded as the substances in which those values inhere. We think of more or less interesting problems or calculations, but it never occurs to the mathematician to establish a hierarchy of forms according to their beauty. Only by a metaphor could he say that (a + b)2 = a2 + 2ab + b2 was a more beautiful formula than 2 + 2 = 4. Yet in proportion as such conceptions become definite and objective in the mind, they approach aesthetic values, and the use of aesthetic epithets in describing them becomes more constant and literal.
The beauties of abstract music are but one step beyond such mathematical relations — they are those relations presented in a sensible form, and constituting an imaginable object. But, as we see clearly in this last case, when the relation and not the terms constitute the object, we have, if there is beauty at all, a beauty of form, not of expression; for the more mathematical the charm of music is the more form and the less expression do we see in it. In fact, the sense of relation is here the essence of the object itself, and the activity of passing from term to term, far from taking us beyond our presentation to something extrinsic, constitutes that presentation. The pleasure of this relational activity is therefore the pleasure of conceiving a determined form, and nothing could be more thoroughly a formal beauty.
And we may here insist upon a point of fundamental importance; namely, that the process of association enters consciousness as directly, and produces as simple a sensation, as any process in any organ. The pleasures and pains of cerebration, the delight and the fatigue of it, are felt exactly like bodily impressions; they have the same directness, although not the same localization. Their seat is not open to our daily observation, and therefore we leave them disembodied, and fancy they are peculiarly spiritual and intimate to the soul. Or we try to think that they flow by some logical necessity from the essences of objects simultaneously in our mind. We involve ourselves in endless perplexities in trying to deduce excellence and beauty, unity and necessity, from the describable qualities of things; we repeat the rationalistic fiction of turning the notions which we abstract from the observation of facts into the powers that give those facts character and being.
We have, for instance, in the presence of two images a sense of their incongruity; and we say that the character of the images causes this emotion; whereas in dreams we constantly have the most rapid transformations and patent contradictions without any sense of incongruity at all; because the brain is dozing and the necessary shock and mental inhibition is avoided. Add this stimulation, and the incongruity returns. Had such a shock never been felt, we should not know what incongruity meant; no more than without eyes we should know the meaning of blue or yellow.
In saying this, we are not really leaning upon physiological theory. The appeal to our knowledge of the brain facilitates the conception of the immediacy of our feelings of relation; but that immediacy would be apparent to a sharp introspection. We do not need to think of the eye or skin to feel that light and heat are ultimate data; no more do we need to think of cerebral excitements to see that right and left, before and after, good and bad, one and two, like and unlike, are irreducible feelings. The categories are senses without organs, or with organs unknown. Just as the discrimination of our feelings of colour and sound might never have been distinct and constant, had we not come upon the organs that seem to convey and control them; so perhaps our classification of our inner sensations will never be settled until their respective organs are discovered; for psychology has always been physiological, without knowing it. But this truth remains — quite apart from physical conceptions, not to speak of metaphysical materialism — that whatever the historical conditions of any state of mind may be said to be, it exists, when it does exist, immediately and absolutely; each of its distinguishable parts might conceivably have been absent from it; and its character, as well as its existence, is a mere datum of sense.
The pleasure that belongs to the consciousness of relations is therefore as immediate as any other; indeed, our emotional consciousness is always single, but we treat it as a resultant of many and even of conflicting feelings because we look at it historically with a view to comprehending it, and distribute it into as many factors as we find objects or causes to which to attribute it. The pleasure of association is an immediate feeling, which we account for by its relation to a feeling in the past, or to cerebral structure modified by a former experience; just as memory itself, which we explain by a reference to the past, is a peculiar complication of present consciousness.
Kinds of value in the second term.
Sec. 50. These reflections may make less surprising to us what is the most striking fact about the philosophy of expression; namely, that the value acquired by the expressive thing is often of an entirely different kind from that which the thing expressed possesses. The expression of physical pleasure, of passion, or even of pain, may constitute beauty and please the beholder. Thus the value of the second term may be physical, or practical, or even negative; and it may be transmuted, as it passes to the first term, into a value at once positive and aesthetic. The transformation of practical values into aesthetic has often been noted, and has even led to the theory that beauty is utility seen at arm's length; a premonition of pleasure and prosperity, much as smell is a premonition of taste. The transformation of negative values into positive has naturally attracted even more attention, and given rise to various theories of the comic, tragic, and sublime. For these three species of aesthetic good seem to please us by the suggestion of evil; and the problem arises how a mind can be made happier by having suggestions of unhappiness stirred within it; an unhappiness it cannot understand without in some degree sharing in it. We must now turn to the analysis of this question.
The expressiveness of a smile is not discovered exactly through association of images. The child smiles (without knowing it) when he feels pleasure; and the nurse smiles back; his own pleasure is associated with her conduct, and her smile is therefore expressive of pleasure. The fact of his pleasure at her smile is the ground of his instinctive belief in her pleasure in it. For this reason the circumstances expressive of happiness are not those that are favourable to it in reality, but those that are congruous with it in idea. The green of spring, the bloom of youth, the variability of childhood, the splendour of wealth and beauty, all these are symbols of happiness, not because they have been known to accompany it in fact, — for they do not, any more than their opposites, — but because they produce an image and echo of it in us aesthetically. We believe those things to be happy which it makes us happy to think of or to see; the belief in the blessedness of the supreme being itself has no other foundation. Our joy in the thought of omniscience makes us attribute joy to the possession of it, which it would in fact perhaps be very far from involving or even allowing.
The expressiveness of forms has a value as a sign of the life that actually inhabits those forms only when they resemble our own body; it is then probable that similar conditions of body involve, in them and in us, similar emotions; and we should not long continue to regard as the expression of pleasure an attitude that we know, by experience in our own person, to accompany pain. Children, indeed, may innocently torture animals, not having enough sense of analogy to be stopped by the painful suggestions of their writhings; and, although in a rough way we soon correct these crying misinterpretations by a better classification of experience, we nevertheless remain essentially subject to the same error. We cannot escape it, because the method which involves it is the only one that justifies belief in objective consciousness at all. Analogy of bodies helps us to distribute and classify the life we conceive about us; but what leads us to conceive it is the direct association of our own feeling with images of things, an association which precedes any clear representation of our own gestures and attitude. I know that smiles mean pleasure before I have caught myself smiling in the glass; they mean pleasure because they give it.
Since these aesthetic effects include some of the most moving and profound beauties, philosophers have not been slow to turn the unanalyzed paradox of their formation into a principle, and to explain by it the presence and necessity of evil. As in the tragic and the sublime, they have thought, the sufferings and dangers to which a hero is exposed seem to add to his virtue and dignity, and to our sacred joy in the contemplation of him, so the sundry evils of life may be elements in the transcendent glory of the whole. And once fired by this thought, those who pretend to justify the ways of God to man have, naturally, not stopped to consider whether so edifying a phenomenon was not a hasty illusion. They have, indeed, detested any attempt to explain it rationally, as tending to obscure one of the moral laws of the universe. In venturing, therefore, to repeat such an attempt, we should not be too sanguine of success; for we have to encounter not only the intrinsic difficulties of the problem, but also a wide-spread and arrogant metaphysical prejudice.
For the sake of greater clearness we may begin by classifying the values that can enter into expression; we shall then be better able to judge by what combinations of them various well-known effects and emotions are produced. The intrinsic value of the first term can be entirely neglected, since it does not contribute to expression. It does, however, contribute greatly to the beauty of the expressive object. The first term is the source of stimulation, and the acuteness and pleasantness of this determine to a great extent the character and sweep of the associations that will be aroused. Very often the pleasantness of the medium will counterbalance the disagreeableness of the import, and expressions, in themselves hideous or inappropriate, may be excused for the sake of the object that conveys them. A beautiful voice will redeem a vulgar song, a beautiful colour and texture an unmeaning composition. Beauty in the first term — beauty of sound, rhythm, and image — will make any thought whatever poetic, while no thought whatever can be so without that immediate beauty of presentation.
Aesthetic value in the second term.
Sec. 51. That the noble associations of any object should embellish that object is very comprehensible. Homer furnishes us with a good illustration of the constant employment of this effect. The first term, one need hardly say, leaves with him little to be desired. The verse is beautiful. Sounds, images, and composition conspire to stimulate and delight. This immediate beauty is sometimes used to clothe things terrible and sad; there is no dearth of the tragic in Homer. But the tendency of his poetry is nevertheless to fill the outskirts of our consciousness with the trooping images of things no less fair and noble than the verse itself. The heroes are virtuous. There is none of importance who is not admirable in his way. The palaces, the arms, the horses, the sacrifices, are always excellent. The women are always stately and beautiful. The ancestry and the history of every one are honourable and good. The whole Homeric world is clean, clear, beautiful, and providential, and no small part of the perennial charm of the poet is that he thus immerses us in an atmosphere of beauty; a beauty not concentrated and reserved for some extraordinary sentiment, action, or person, but permeating the whole and colouring the common world of soldiers and sailors, war and craft, with a marvellous freshness and inward glow. There is nothing in the associations of life in this world or in another to contradict or disturb our delight. All is beautiful, and beautiful through and through.
Something of this quality meets us in all simple and idyllic compositions. There is, for instance, a popular demand that stories and comedies should "end well." The hero and heroine must be young and handsome; unless they die, — which is another matter, — they must not in the end be poor. The landscape in the play must be beautiful; the dresses pretty; the plot without serious mishap. A pervasive presentation of pleasure must give warmth and ideality to the whole. In the proprieties of social life we find the same principle; we study to make our surroundings, manner, and conversation suggest nothing but what is pleasing. We hide the ugly and disagreeable portion of our lives, and do not allow the least hint of it to come to light upon festive and public occasions. Whenever, in a word, a thoroughly pleasing effect is found, it is found by the expression, as well as presentation, of what is in itself pleasing — and when this effect is to be produced artificially, we attain it by the suppression of all expression that is not suggestive of something good.
If our consciousness were exclusively aesthetic, this kind of expression would be the only one allowed in art or prized in nature. We should avoid as a shock or an insipidity, the suggestion of anything not intrinsically beautiful. As there would be no values not aesthetic, our pleasure could never be heightened by any other kind of interest. But as contemplation is actually a luxury in our lives, and things interest us chiefly on passionate and practical grounds, the accumulation of values too exclusively aesthetic produces in our minds an effect of closeness and artificiality. So selective a diet cloys, and our palate, accustomed to much daily vinegar and salt, is surfeited by such unmixed sweet.
Instead we prefer to see through the medium of art — through the beautiful first term of our expression — the miscellaneous world which is so well known to us — perhaps so dear, and at any rate so inevitable, an object. We are more thankful for this presentation, of the unlovely truth in a lovely form, than for the like presentation of an abstract beauty; what is lost in the purity of the pleasure is gained in the stimulation of our attention, and in the relief of viewing with aesthetic detachment the same things that in practical life hold tyrannous dominion over our souls. The beauty that is associated only with other beauty is therefore a sort of aesthetic dainty; it leads the fancy through a fairyland of lovely forms, where we must forget the common objects of our interest. The charm of such an idealization is undeniable; but the other important elements of our memory and will cannot long be banished. Thoughts of labour, ambition, lust, anger, confusion, sorrow, and death must needs mix with our contemplation and lend their various expressions to the objects with which in experience they are so closely allied. Hence the incorporation in the beautiful of values of other sorts, and the comparative rareness in nature or art of expressions the second term of which has only aesthetic value.
Practical value in the same.
Sec. 52. More important and frequent is the case of the expression of utility. This is found whenever the second term is the idea of something of practical advantage to us, the premonition of which brings satisfaction; and this satisfaction prompts an approval of the presented object. The tone of our consciousness is raised by the foretaste of a success; and this heightened pleasure is objectified in the present image, since the associated image to which the satisfaction properly belongs often fails to become distinct. We do not conceive clearly what this practical advantage will be; but the vague sense that an advantage is there, that something desirable has been done, accompanies the presentation, and gives it expression.
The case that most resembles that of which we have been just speaking, is perhaps that in which the second term is a piece of interesting information, a theory, or other intellectual datum. Our interest in facts and theories, when not aesthetic, is of course practical; it consists in their connexion with our interests, and in the service they can render us in the execution of our designs. Intellectual values are utilitarian in their origin but aesthetic in their form, since the advantage of knowledge is often lost sight of, and ideas are prized for their own sake. Curiosity can become a disinterested passion, and yield intimate and immediate satisfaction like any other impulse.
When we have before us, for instance, a fine map, in which the line of coast, now rocky, now sandy, is clearly indicated, together with the windings of the rivers, the elevations of the land, and the distribution of the population, we have the simultaneous suggestion of so many facts, the sense of mastery over so much reality, that we gaze at it with delight, and need no practical motive to keep us studying it, perhaps for hours together. A map is not naturally thought of as an aesthetic object; it is too exclusively expressive. The first term is passed over as a mere symbol, and the mind is filled either with imaginations of the landscape the country would really offer, or with thoughts about its history and inhabitants. These circumstances prevent the ready objectification of our pleasure in the map itself. And yet, let the tints of it be a little subtle, let the lines be a little delicate, and the masses of land and sea somewhat balanced, and we really have a beautiful thing; a thing the charm of which consists almost entirely in its meaning, but which nevertheless pleases us in the same way as a picture or a graphic symbol might please. Give the symbol a little intrinsic worth of form, line, and colour, and it attracts like a magnet all the values of the things it is known to symbolize. It becomes beautiful in its expressiveness.
Hardly different from this example is that of travel or of reading; for in these employments we get many aesthetic pleasures, the origin of which is in the satisfaction of curiosity and intelligence. When we say admiringly of anything that it is characteristic, that it embodies a whole period or a whole man, we are absorbed by the pleasant sense that it offers innumerable avenues of approach to interesting and important things. The less we are able to specify what these are, the more beautiful will the object be that expresses them. For if we could specify them, the felt value would disintegrate, and distribute itself among the ideas of the suggested things, leaving the expressive object bare of all interest, like the letters of a printed page.
The courtiers of Philip the Second probably did not regard his rooms at the Escurial as particularly interesting, but simply as small, ugly, and damp. The character which we find in them and which makes us regard them as eminently expressive of whatever was sinister in the man, probably did not strike them. They knew the king, and had before them words, gestures, and acts enough in which to read his character. But all these living facts are wanting to our experience; and it is the suggestion of them in their unrealizable vagueness that fills the apartments of the monarch with such pungent expression. It is not otherwise with all emphatic expressiveness — moonlight and castle moats, minarets and cypresses, camels filing through the desert — such images get their character from the strong but misty atmosphere of sentiment and adventure which clings about them. The profit of travel, and the extraordinary charm of all visible relics of antiquity, consists in the acquisition of images in which to focus a mass of discursive knowledge, not otherwise felt together. Such images are concrete symbols of much latent experience, and the deep roots of association give them the same hold upon our attention which might be secured by a fortunate form or splendid material.
Cost as an element of effect.
Sec. 53. There is one consideration which often adds much to the interest with which we view an object, but which we might be virtuously inclined not to admit among aesthetic values. I mean cost. Cost is practical value expressed in abstract terms, and from the price of anything we can often infer what relation it has to the desires and efforts of mankind. There is no reason why cost, or the circumstances which are its basis, should not, like other practical values, heighten the tone of consciousness, and add to the pleasure with which we view an object. In fact, such is our daily experience; for great as is the sensuous beauty of gems, their rarity and price adds an expression of distinction to them, which they would never have if they were cheap.
The circumstance that makes the appreciation of cost often unaesthetic is the abstractness of that quality. The price of an object is an algebraic symbol, it is a conventional term, invented to facilitate our operations, which remains arid and unmeaning if we stop with it and forget to translate it again at the end into its concrete equivalent. The commercial mind dwells in that intermediate limbo of symbolized values; the calculator's senses are muffled by his intellect and by his habit of abbreviated thinking. His mental process is a reckoning that loses sight of its original values, and is over without reaching any concrete image. Therefore the knowledge of cost, when expressed in terms of money, is incapable of contributing to aesthetic effect, but the reason is not so much that the suggested value is not aesthetic, as that no real value is suggested at all. No object of any kind is presented to the mind by the numerical expression. If we reinterpret our price, however, and translate it back into the facts which constitute it, into the materials employed, their original place and quality, and the labour and art which transformed them into the present thing, then we add to the aesthetic value of the object, by the expression which we find in it, not of its price in money, but of its human cost. We have now the consciousness of the real values which it represents, and these values, sympathetically present to the fancy, increase our present interest and admiration.
I believe economists count among the elements of the value of an object the rarity of its material, the labour of its manufacture, and the distance from which it is brought. Now all these qualities, if attended to in themselves, appeal greatly to the imagination. We have a natural interest in what is rare and affects us with unusual sensations. What comes from a far country carries our thoughts there, and gains by the wealth and picturesqueness of its associations. And that on which human labour has been spent, especially if it was a labour of love, and is apparent in the product, has one of the deepest possible claims to admiration. So that the standard of cost, the most vulgar of all standards, is such only when it remains empty and abstract. Let the thoughts wander back and consider the elements of value, and our appreciation, from being verbal and commercial, becomes poetic and real.
We have in this one more example of the manner in which practical values, when suggested by and incorporated in any object, contribute to its beauty. Our sense of what lies behind, unlovely though that background may be, gives interest and poignancy to that which is present; our attention and wonder are engaged, and a new meaning and importance is added to such intrinsic beauty as the presentation may possess.
The expression of economy and fitness.
Sec. 54. The same principle explains the effect of evident cleanliness, security, economy, and comfort. This Dutch charm hardly needs explanation; we are conscious of the domesticity and neatness which pleases us in it. There are few things more utterly discomforting to our minds than waste: it is a sort of pungent extract and quintessence of folly. The visible manifestation of it is therefore very offensive; and that of its absence very reassuring. The force of our approval of practical fitness and economy in things rises into an appreciation that is half-aesthetic, and which becomes wholly so when the fit form becomes fixed in a type, to the lines of which we are accustomed; so that the practical necessity of the form is heightened and concentrated into the aesthetic propriety of it.
The much-praised expression of function and truth in architectural works reduces itself to this principle. The useful contrivance at first appeals to our practical approval; while we admire its ingenuity, we cannot fail to become gradually accustomed to its presence, and to register with attentive pleasure the relation of its parts. Utility, as we have pointed out in its place, is thus the guiding principle in the determination of forms.
The recurring observation of the utility, economy, and fitness of the traditional arrangement in buildings or other products of art, re-enforces this formal expectation with a reflective approval. We are accustomed, for instance, to sloping roofs; the fact that they were necessary has made them familiar, and the fact that they are familiar has made them objects of study and of artistic enjoyment. If at any moment, however, the notion of condemning them passes through the mind, — if we have visions of the balustrade against the sky, — we revert to our homely image with kindly loyalty, when we remember the long months of rain and snow, and the comfortless leaks to be avoided. The thought of a glaring, practical unfitness is enough to spoil our pleasure in any form, however beautiful intrinsically, while the sense of practical fitness is enough to reconcile us to the most awkward and rude contrivances.
This principle is, indeed, not a fundamental, but an auxiliary one; the expression of utility modifies effect, but does not constitute it. There would be a kind of superstitious haste in the notion that what is convenient and economical is necessarily and by miracle beautiful. The uses and habits of one place and society require works which are or may easily become intrinsically beautiful; the uses and habits of another make these beautiful works impossible. The beauty has a material and formal basis that we have already studied; no fitness of design will make a building of ten equal storeys as beautiful as a pavilion or a finely proportioned tower; no utility will make a steamboat as beautiful as a sailing vessel. But the forms once established, with their various intrinsic characters, the fitness we know to exist in them will lend them some added charm, or their unfitness will disquiet us, and haunt us like a conscientious qualm. The other interests of our lives here mingle with the purely aesthetic, to enrich or to embitter it.
If Sybaris is so sad a name to the memory — and who is without some Sybaris of his own? — if the image of it is so tormenting and in the end so disgusting, this is not because we no longer think its marbles bright, its fountains cool, its athletes strong, or its roses fragrant; but because, mingled with all these supreme beauties, there is the ubiquitous shade of Nemesis, the sense of a vacant will and a suicidal inhumanity. The intolerableness of this moral condition poisons the beauty which continues to be felt. If this beauty did not exist, and was not still desired, the tragedy would disappear and Jehovah would be deprived of the worth of his victim. The sternness of moral forces lies precisely in this, that the sacrifices morality imposes upon us are real, that the things it renders impossible are still precious.
We are accustomed to think of prudence as estranging us only from low and ignoble things; we forget that utility and the need of system in our lives is a bar also to the free flights of the spirit. The highest instincts tend to disorganization as much as the lowest, since order and benefit is what practical morality everywhere insists upon, while sanctity and genius are as rebellious as vice. The constant demands of the heart and the belly can allow man only an incidental indulgence in the pleasures of the eye and the understanding. For this reason, utility keeps close watch over beauty, lest in her wilfulness and riot she should offend against our practical needs and ultimate happiness. And when the conscience is keen, this vigilance of the practical imagination over the speculative ceases to appear as an eventual and external check. The least suspicion of luxury, waste, impurity, or cruelty is then a signal for alarm and insurrection. That which emits this sapor hoereticus becomes so initially horrible, that naturally no beauty can ever be discovered in it; the senses and imagination are in that case inhibited by the conscience.
For this reason, the doctrine that beauty is essentially nothing but the expression of moral or practical good appeals to persons of predominant moral sensitiveness, not only because they wish it were the truth, but because it largely describes the experience of their own minds, somewhat warped in this particular. It will further be observed that the moralists are much more able to condemn than to appreciate the effects of the arts. Their taste is delicate without being keen, for the principle on which they judge is one which really operates to control and extend aesthetic effects; it is a source of expression and of certain nuances of satisfaction; but it is foreign to the stronger and more primitive aesthetic values to which the same persons are comparatively blind.
The authority of morals over aesthetics.
Sec. 55. The extent to which aesthetic goods should be sacrificed is, of course, a moral question; for the function of practical reason is to compare, combine, and harmonize all our interests, with a view to attaining the greatest satisfactions of which our nature is capable. We must expect, therefore, that virtue should place the same restraint upon all our passions — not from superstitious aversion to any one need, but from an equal concern for them all. The consideration to be given to our aesthetic pleasures will depend upon their greater or less influence upon our happiness; and as this influence varies in different ages and countries, and with different individuals, it will be right to let aesthetic demands count for more or for less in the organization of life.
We may, indeed, according to our personal sympathies, prefer one type of creature to another. We may love the martial, or the angelic, or the political temperament. We may delight to find in others that balance of susceptibilities and enthusiasms which we feel in our own breast. But no moral precept can require one species or individual to change its nature in order to resemble another, since such a requirement can have no power or authority over those on whom we would impose it. All that morality can require is the inward harmony of each life: and if we still abhor the thought of a possible being who should be happy without love, or knowledge, or beauty, the aversion we feel is not moral but instinctive, not rational but human. What revolts us is not the want of excellence in that other creature, but his want of affinity to ourselves. Could we survey the whole universe, we might indeed assign to each species a moral dignity proportionate to its general beneficence and inward wealth; but such an absolute standard, if it exists, is incommunicable to us; and we are reduced to judging of the excellence of every nature by its relation to the human.
All these matters, however, belong to the sphere of ethics, nor should we give them here even a passing notice, but for the influence which moral ideas exert over aesthetic judgments. Our sense of practical benefit not only determines the moral value of beauty, but sometimes even its existence as an aesthetic good. Especially in the right selection of effects, these considerations have weight. Forms in themselves pleasing may become disagreeable when the practical interests then uppermost in the mind cannot, without violence, yield a place to them. Thus too much eloquence in a diplomatic document, or in a familiar letter, or in a prayer, is an offence not only against practical sense, but also against taste. The occasion has tuned us to a certain key of sentiment, and deprived us of the power to respond to other stimuli.
If things of moment are before us, we cannot stop to play with symbols and figures of speech. We cannot attend to them with pleasure, and therefore they lose the beauty they might elsewhere have had. They are offensive, not in themselves, — for nothing is intrinsically ugly, — but by virtue of our present demand for something different. A prison as gay as a bazaar, a church as dumb as a prison, offend by their failure to support by their aesthetic quality the moral emotion with, which we approach them. The arts must study their occasions; they must stand modestly aside until they can slip in fitly into the interstices of life. This is the consequence of the superficial stratum on which they flourish; their roots, as we have seen, are not deep in the world, and they appear only as unstable, superadded activities, employments of our freedom, after the work of life is done and the terror of it is allayed. They must, therefore, fit their forms, like parasites, to the stouter growths to which they cling.
Herein lies the greatest difficulty and nicety of art. It must not only create things abstractly beautiful, but it must conciliate all the competitors these may have to the attention of the world, and must know how to insinuate their charms among the objects of our passion. But this subserviency and enforced humility of beauty is not without its virtue and reward. If the aesthetic habit lie under the necessity of respecting and observing our passions, it possesses the privilege of soothing our griefs. There is no situation so terrible that it may not be relieved by the momentary pause of the mind to contemplate it aesthetically.
Grief itself becomes in this way not wholly pain; a sweetness is added to it by our reflection. The saddest scenes may lose their bitterness in their beauty. This ministration makes, as it were, the piety of the Muses, who succour their mother, Life, and repay her for their nurture by the comfort of their continual presence. The aesthetic world is limited in its scope; it must submit to the control of the organizing reason, and not trespass upon more useful and holy ground. The garden must not encroach upon the corn-fields; but the eye of the gardener may transform the corn-fields themselves by dint of loving observation into a garden of a soberer kind. By finding grandeur in our disasters, and merriment in our mishaps, the aesthetic sense thus mollifies both, and consoles us for the frequent impossibility of a serious and perfect beauty.
Negative values in the second term.
Sec. 56. All subjects, even the most repellent, when the circumstances of life thrust them before us, can thus be observed with curiosity and treated with art. The calling forth of these aesthetic functions softens the violence of our sympathetic reaction. If death, for instance, did not exist and did not thrust itself upon our thoughts with painful importunity, art would never have been called upon to soften and dignify it, by presenting it in beautiful forms and surrounding it with consoling associations. Art does not seek out the pathetic, the tragic, and the absurd; it is life that has imposed them upon our attention, and enlisted art in their service, to make the contemplation of them, since it is inevitable, at least as tolerable as possible.
The agreeableness of the presentation is thus mixed with the horror of the thing; and the result is that while we are saddened by the truth we are delighted by the vehicle that conveys it to us. The mixture of these emotions constitutes the peculiar flavour and poignancy of pathos. But because unlovely objects and feelings are often so familiar as to be indifferent or so momentous as to be alone in the mind, we are led into the confusion of supposing that beauty depends upon them for its aesthetic value; whereas the truth is that only by the addition of positive beauties can these evil experiences be made agreeable to contemplation.
There is, in reality, no such paradox in the tragic, comic, and sublime, as has been sometimes supposed. We are not pleased by virtue of the suggested evils, but in spite of them; and if ever the charm of the beautiful presentation sinks so low, or the vividness of the represented evil rises so high, that the balance is in favour of pain, at that very moment the whole object becomes horrible, passes out of the domain of art, and can be justified only by its scientific or moral uses. As an aesthetic value it is destroyed; it ceases to be a benefit; and the author of it, if he were not made harmless by the neglect that must soon overtake him, would have to be punished as a malefactor who adds to the burden of mortal life. For the sad, the ridiculous, the grotesque, and the terrible, unless they become aesthetic goods, remain moral evils.
We have, therefore, to study the various aesthetic, intellectual, and moral compensations by which the mind can be brought to contemplate with pleasure a thing which, if experienced alone, would be the cause of pain. There is, to be sure, a way of avoiding this inquiry. We might assert that since all moderate excitement is pleasant, there is nothing strange in the fact that the representation of evil should please; for the experience is evil by virtue of the pain it gives; but it gives pain only when felt with great intensity. Observed from afar, it is a pleasing impression; it is vivid enough to interest, but not acute enough to wound. This simple explanation is possible in all those cases where aesthetic effect is gained by the inhibition of sympathy.
The term "evil" is often a conventional epithet; a conflagration may be called an evil, because it usually involves loss and suffering; but if, without caring for a loss and suffering we do not share, we are delighted by the blaze, and still say that what pleases us is an evil, we are using this word as a conventional appellation, not as the mark of a felt value. We are not pleased by an evil; we are pleased by a vivid and exciting sensation, which is a good, but which has for objective cause an event which may indeed be an evil to others, but about the consequences of which we are not thinking at all. There is, in this sense, nothing in all nature, perhaps, which is not an evil; nothing which is not unfavourable to some interest, and does not involve some infinitesimal or ultimate suffering in the universe of life.
But when we are ignorant or thoughtless, this suffering is to us as if it did not exist. The pleasures of drinking and walking are not tragic to us, because we may be poisoning some bacillus or crushing some worm. To an omniscient intelligence such acts may be tragic by virtue of the insight into their relations to conflicting impulses; but unless these impulses are present to the same mind, there is no consciousness of tragedy. The child that, without understanding of the calamity, should watch a shipwreck from the shore, would hare a simple emotion of pleasure as from a jumping jack; what passes for tragic interest is often nothing but this. If he understood the event, but was entirely without sympathy, he would have the aesthetic emotion of the careless tyrant, to whom the notion of suffering is no hindrance to the enjoyment of the lyre. If the temper of his tyranny were purposely cruel, he might add to that aesthetic delight the luxury of Schadenfreude; but the pathos and horror of the sight could only appeal to a man who realized and shared the sufferings he beheld.
A great deal of brutal tragedy has been endured in the world because the rudeness of the representation, or of the public, or of both, did not allow a really sympathetic reaction to arise. We all smile when Punch beats Judy in the puppet show. The treatment and not the subject is what makes a tragedy. A parody of Hamlet or of King Lear would not be a tragedy; and these tragedies themselves are not wholly such, but by the strain of wit and nonsense they contain are, as it were, occasional parodies on themselves. By treating a tragic subject bombastically or satirically we can turn it into an amusement for the public; they will not feel the griefs which we have been careful to harden them against by arousing in them contrary emotions. A work, nominally a work of art, may also appeal to non-aesthetic feelings by its political bias, brutality, or obscenity. But if an effect of true pathos is sought, the sympathy of the observer must be aroused; we must awaken in him the emotion we describe. The intensity of the impression must not be so slight that its painful quality is not felt; for it is this very sense of pain, mingling with the aesthetic excitement of the spectacle, that gives it a tragic or pathetic colouring.
We cannot therefore rest in the assertion that the slighter degree of excitement is pleasant, when a greater degree of the same would be disagreeable; for that principle does not express the essence of the matter, which is that we must be aware of the evil, and conscious of it as such, absorbed more or less in the experience of the sufferer, and consequently suffering ourselves, before we can experience the essence of tragic emotion. This emotion must therefore be complex; it must contain an element of pain overbalanced by an element of pleasure; in our delight there must be a distinguishable touch of shrinking and sorrow; for it is this conflict and rending of our will, this fascination by what is intrinsically terrible or sad, that gives these turbid feelings their depth and pungency.
Influence of the first term in the pleasing expression of self.
Sec. 57. A striking proof of the compound nature of tragic effects can be given by a simple experiment. Remove from any drama — say from Othello — the charm of the medium of presentation; reduce the tragedy to a mere account of the facts and of the words spoken, such as our newspapers almost daily contain; and the tragic dignity and beauty is entirely lost. Nothing remains but a disheartening item of human folly, which may still excite curiosity, but which will rather defile than purify the mind that considers it. A French poet has said:
Il n'est de vulgaire chagrin Qua celui d'une ame vulgaire.
The counterpart of this maxim is equally true. There is no noble sorrow except in a noble mind, because what is noble is the reaction upon the sorrow, the attitude of the man in its presence, the language in which he clothes it, the associations with which he surrounds it, and the fine affections and impulses which shine through it. Only by suffusing some sinister experience with this moral light, as a poet may do who carries that light within him, can we raise misfortune into tragedy and make it better for us to remember our lives than to forget them.
There are times, although rare, when men are noble in the very moment of passion: when that passion is not unqualified, but already mastered by reflection and levelled with truth. Then the experience is itself the tragedy, and no poet is needed to make it beautiful in representation, since the sufferer has been an artist himself, and has moulded what he has endured. But usually these two stages have to be successive: first we suffer, afterwards we sing. An interval is necessary to make feeling presentable, and subjugate it to that form in which alone it is beautiful.
This form appeals to us in itself, and without its aid no subject-matter could become an aesthetic object. The more terrible the experience described, the more powerful must the art be which is to transform it. For this reason prose and literalness are more tolerable in comedy than in tragedy; any violent passion, any overwhelming pain, if it is not to make us think of a demonstration in pathology, and bring back the smell of ether, must be rendered in the most exalted style. Metre, rhyme, melody, the widest nights of allusion, the highest reaches of fancy, are there in place. For these enable the mind swept by the deepest cosmic harmonies, to endure and absorb the shrill notes which would be intolerable in a poorer setting.
The sensuous harmony of words, and still more the effects of rhythm, are indispensable at this height of emotion. Evolutionists have said that violent emotion naturally expresses itself in rhythm. That is hardly an empirical observation, nor can the expressiveness of rhythms be made definite enough to bear specific association with complex feelings. But the suspension and rush of sound and movement have in themselves a strong effect; we cannot undergo them without profound excitement; and this, like martial music, nerves us to courage and, by a sort of intoxication, bears us along amid scenes which might otherwise be sickening. The vile effect of literal and disjointed renderings of suffering, whether in writing or acting, proves how necessary is the musical quality to tragedy — a fact Aristotle long ago set forth. The afflatus of rhythm, even if it be the pomp of the Alexandrine, sublimates the passion, and clarifies its mutterings into poetry. This breadth and rationality are necessary to art, which is not skill merely, but skill in the service of beauty.
Mixture of other expressions, including that of truth.
Sec. 58. To the value of these sensuous and formal elements must be added the continual suggestion of beautiful and happy things, which no tragedy is sombre enough to exclude. Even if we do not go so far as to intersperse comic scenes and phrases into a pathetic subject, — a rude device, since the comic passages themselves need that purifying which they are meant to effect, — we must at least relieve our theme with pleasing associations. For this reason we have palaces for our scene, rank, beauty, and virtue in our heroes, nobility in their passions and in their fate, and altogether a sort of glorification of life without which tragedy would lose both in depth of pathos — since things so precious are destroyed — and in subtlety of charm, since things so precious are manifested.
Indeed, one of the chief charms that tragedies have is the suggestion of what they might have been if they had not been tragedies. The happiness which glimmers through them, the hopes, loves, and ambitions of which it is made, these things fascinate us, and win our sympathy; so that we are all the more willing to suffer with our heroes, even if we are at the same time all the more sensitive to their suffering. Too wicked a character or too unrelieved a situation revolts us for this reason. We do not find enough expression of good to make us endure the expression of the evil.
A curious exception to this rule, which, however, admirably illustrates the fundamental principle of it, is where by the diversity of evils represented the mind is relieved from painful absorption in any of them. There is a scene in King Lear, where the horror of the storm is made to brood over at least four miseries, that of the king, of the fool, of Edgar in his real person, and of Edgar in his assumed character. The vividness of each of these portrayals, with its different note of pathos, keeps the mind detached and free, forces it to compare and reflect, and thereby to universalize the spectacle. Yet even here, the beautiful effect is not secured without some touches of good. How much is not gained by the dumb fidelity of the fool, and by the sublime humanity of Lear, when he says, "Art cold? There is a part of me is sorry for thee yet."
Yet all these compensations would probably be unavailing but for another which the saddest things often have, — the compensation of being true. Our practical and intellectual nature is deeply interested in truth. What describes fact appeals to us for that reason; it has an inalienable interest. However unpleasant truth may prove, we long to know it, partly perhaps because experience has shown us the prudence of this kind of intellectual courage, and chiefly because the consciousness of ignorance and the dread of the unknown is more tormenting than any possible discovery. A primitive instinct makes us turn the eyes full on any object that appears in the dim borderland of our field of vision — and this all the more quickly, the more terrible that object threatens to be.
This physical thirst for seeing has its intellectual extension. We covet truth, and to attain it, amid all accidents, is a supreme satisfaction. Now this satisfaction the representation of evil can also afford. Whether we hear the account of some personal accident, or listen to the symbolic representation of the inherent tragedy of life, we crave the same knowledge; the desire for truth makes us welcome eagerly whatever comes in its name. To be sure, the relief of such instruction does not of itself constitute an aesthetic pleasure: the other conditions of beauty remain to be fulfilled. But the satisfaction of so imperious an intellectual instinct insures our willing attention to the tragic object, and strengthens the hold which any beauties it may possess will take upon us. An intellectual value stands ready to be transmuted into an aesthetic one, if once its discursiveness is lost, and it is left hanging about the object as a vague sense of dignity and meaning.
To this must be added the specific pleasure of recognition, one of the keenest we have, and the sentimental one of nursing our own griefs and dignifying them by assimilation to a less inglorious representation of them. Here we have truth on a small scale; conformity in the fiction to incidents of our personal experience. Such correspondences are the basis of much popular appreciation of trivial and undigested works that appeal to some momentary phase of life or feeling, and disappear with it. They have the value of personal stimulants only; they never achieve beauty. Like the souvenirs of last season's gayeties, or the diary of an early love, they are often hideous in themselves in proportion as they are redolent with personal associations. But however hopelessly mere history or confession may fail to constitute a work of art, a work of art that has an historical warrant, either literal or symbolical, gains the support of that vivid interest we have in facts. And many tragedies and farces, that to a mind without experience of this sublunary world might seem monstrous and disgusting fictions, may come to be forgiven and even perhaps preferred over all else, when they are found to be a sketch from life.
Truth is thus the excuse which ugliness has for being. Many people, in whom the pursuit of knowledge and the indulgence in sentiment have left no room for the cultivation of the aesthetic sense, look in art rather for this expression of fact or of passion than for the revelation of beauty. They accordingly produce and admire works without intrinsic value. They employ the procedure of the fine arts without an eye to what can give pleasure in the effect. They invoke rather the a priori interest which men are expected to have in the subject-matter, or in the theories and moral implied in the presentation of it. Instead of using the allurements of art to inspire wisdom, they require an appreciation of wisdom to make us endure their lack of art.
Of course, the instruments of the arts are public property and any one is free to turn them to new uses. It would be an interesting development of civilization if they should now be employed only as methods of recording scientific ideas and personal confessions. But the experiment has not succeeded and can hardly succeed. There are other simpler, clearer, and more satisfying ways of expounding truth. A man who is really a student of history or philosophy will never rest with the vague and partial oracles of poetry, not to speak of the inarticulate suggestions of the plastic arts. He will at once make for the principles which art cannot express, even if it can embody them, and when those principles are attained, the works of art, if they had no other value than that of suggesting them, will lapse from his mind. Forms will give place to formulas as hieroglyphics have given place to the letters of the alphabet.
If, on the other hand, the primary interest is really in beauty, and only the confusion of a moral revolution has obscured for a while the vision of the ideal, then as the mind regains its mastery over the world, and digests its new experience, the imagination will again be liberated, and create its forms by its inward affinities, leaving all the weary burden, archaeological, psychological, and ethical, to those whose business is not to delight. But the sudden inundation of science and sentiment which has made the mind of the nineteenth century so confused, by overloading us with materials and breaking up our habits of apperception and our ideals, has led to an exclusive sense of the value of expressiveness, until this has been almost identified with beauty. This exaggeration can best prove how the expression of truth may enter into the play of aesthetic forces, and give a value to representations which, but for it, would be repulsive.
The liberation of self.
Sec. 59. Hitherto we have been considering those elements of a pathetic presentation which may mitigate our sympathetic emotion, and make it on the whole agreeable. These consist in the intrinsic beauties of the medium of presentation, and in the concomitant manifestation of various goods, notably of truth. The mixture of these values is perhaps all we have in mildly pathetic works, in the presence of which we are tolerably aware of a sort of balance and compensation of emotions. The sorrow and the beauty, the hopelessness and the consolation, mingle and merge into a kind of joy which has its poignancy, indeed, but which is far too passive and penitential to contain the louder and sublimer of our tragic moods. In these there is a wholeness, a strength, and a rapture, which still demands an explanation.
Where this explanation is to be found may be guessed from the following circumstance. The pathetic is a quality of the object, at once lovable and sad, which we accept and allow to flow in upon the soul; but the heroic is an attitude of the will, by which the voices of the outer world are silenced, and a moral energy, flowing from within, is made to triumph over them. If we fail, therefore, to discover, by analysis of the object, anything which could make it sublime, we must not be surprised at our failure. We must remember that the object is always but a portion of our consciousness: that portion which has enough coherence and articulation to be recognized as permanent and projected into the outer world. But consciousness remains one, in spite of this diversification of its content, and the object is not really independent, but is in constant relation to the rest of the mind, in the midst of which it swims like a bubble on a dark surface of water.
The aesthetic effect of objects is always due to the total emotional value of the consciousness in which they exist. We merely attribute this value to the object by a projection which is the ground of the apparent objectivity of beauty. Sometimes this value may be inherent in the process by which the object itself is perceived; then we have sensuous and formal beauty; sometimes the value may be due to the incipient formation of other ideas, which the perception of this object evokes; then we have beauty of expression. But among the ideas with which every object has relation there is one vaguest, most comprehensive, and most powerful one, namely, the idea of self. The impulses, memories, principles, and energies which we designate by that word baffle enumeration; indeed, they constantly fade and change into one another; and whether the self is anything, everything, or nothing depends on the aspect of it which we momentarily fix, and especially on the definite object with which we contrast it.
Now, it is the essential privilege of beauty to so synthesize and bring to a focus the various impulses of the self, so to suspend them to a single image, that a great peace falls upon that perturbed kingdom. In the experience of these momentary harmonies we have the basis of the enjoyment of beauty, and of all its mystical meanings. But there are always two methods of securing harmony: one is to unify all the given elements, and another is to reject and expunge all the elements that refuse to be unified. Unity by inclusion gives us the beautiful; unity by exclusion, opposition, and isolation gives us the sublime. Both are pleasures: but the pleasure of the one is warm, passive, and pervasive; that of the other cold, imperious, and keen. The one identifies us with the world, the other raises us above it.
There can be no difficulty in understanding how the expression of evil in the object may be the occasion of this heroic reaction of the soul. In the first place, the evil may be felt; but at the same time the sense that, great as it may be in itself, it cannot touch us, may stimulate extraordinarily the consciousness of our own wholeness. This is the sublimity which Lucretius calls "sweet" in the famous lines in which he so justly analyzes it. We are not pleased because another suffers an evil, but because, seeing it is an evil, we see at the same time our own immunity from it. We might soften the picture a little, and perhaps make the principle even clearer by so doing. The shipwreck observed from the shore does not leave us wholly unmoved; we suffer, also, and if possible, would help. So, too, the spectacle of the erring world must sadden the philosopher even in the Acropolis of his wisdom; he would, if it might be, descend from his meditation and teach. But those movements of sympathy are quickly inhibited by despair of success; impossibility of action is a great condition of the sublime. If we could count the stars, we should not weep before them. While we think we can change the drama of history, and of our own lives, we are not awed by our destiny. But when the evil is irreparable, when our life is lived, a strong spirit has the sublime resource of standing at bay and of surveying almost from the other world the vicissitudes of this.
The more intimate to himself the tragedy he is able to look back upon with calmness, the more sublime that calmness is, and the more divine the ecstasy in which he achieves it. For the more of the accidental vesture of life we are able to strip ourselves of, the more naked and simple is the surviving spirit; the more complete its superiority and unity, and, consequently, the more unqualified its joy. There remains little in us, then, but that intellectual essence, which several great philosophers have called eternal and identified with the Divinity.
A single illustration may help to fix these principles in the mind. When Othello has discovered his fatal error, and is resolved to take his own life, he stops his groaning, and addresses the ambassadors of Venice thus:
Speak of me as I am: nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice: then, must you speak Of one that loved, not wisely, but too well; Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought, Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand, Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, Albeit unused to the melting mood, Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees Their medicinal gum. Set you down this: And say, besides, that in Aleppo once When a malignant and a turbaned Turk Beat a Venetian, and traduced the state, I took by the throat the circumcised dog, And smote him, thus.
There is a kind of criticism that would see in all these allusions, figures of speech, and wandering reflections, an unnatural rendering of suicide. The man, we might be told, should have muttered a few broken phrases, and killed himself without this pomp of declamation, like the jealous husbands in the daily papers. But the conventions of the tragic stage are more favourable to psychological truth than the conventions of real life. If we may trust the imagination (and in imagination lies, as we have seen, the test of propriety), this is what Othello would have felt. If he had not expressed it, his dumbness would have been due to external hindrances, not to the failure in his mind of just such complex and rhetorical thoughts as the poet has put into his mouth. The height of passion is naturally complex and rhetorical. Love makes us poets, and the approach of death should make us philosophers. When a man knows that his life is over, he can look back upon it from a universal standpoint. He has nothing more to live for, but if the energy of his mind remains unimpaired, he will still wish to live, and, being cut off from his personal ambitions, he will impute to himself a kind of vicarious immortality by identifying himself with what is eternal. He speaks of himself as he is, or rather as he was. He sums himself up, and points to his achievement. This I have been, says he, this I have done.
This comprehensive and impartial view, this synthesis and objectification of experience, constitutes the liberation of the soul and the essence of sublimity. That the hero attains it at the end consoles us, as it consoles him, for his hideous misfortunes. Our pity and terror are indeed purged; we go away knowing that, however tangled the net may be in which we feel ourselves caught, there is liberation beyond, and an ultimate peace.
The sublime independent of the expression of evil.
Sec. 60. So natural is the relation between the vivid conception of great evils, and that self-assertion of the soul which gives the emotion of the sublime, that the sublime is often thought to depend upon the terror which these conceived evils inspire. To be sure, that terror would have to be inhibited and subdued, otherwise we should have a passion too acute to be incorporated in any object; the sublime would not appear as an aesthetic quality in things, but remain merely an emotional state in the subject. But this subdued and objectified terror is what is commonly regarded as the essence of the sublime, and so great an authority as Aristotle would seem to countenance some such definition. The usual cause of the sublime is here confused, however, with the sublime itself. The suggestion of terror makes us withdraw into ourselves: there with the supervening consciousness of safety or indifference comes a rebound, and we have that emotion of detachment and liberation in which the sublime really consists.
Thoughts and actions are properly sublime, and visible things only by analogy and suggestion when they induce a certain moral emotion; whereas beauty belongs properly to sensible things, and can be predicated of moral facts only by a figure of rhetoric. What we objectify in beauty is a sensation. What we objectify in the sublime is an act. This act is necessarily pleasant, for if it were not the sublime would be a bad quality and one we should rather never encounter in the world. The glorious joy of self-assertion in the face of an uncontrollable world is indeed so deep and entire, that it furnishes just that transcendent element of worth for which we were looking when we tried to understand how the expression of pain could sometimes please. It can please, not in itself, but because it is balanced and annulled by positive pleasures, especially by this final and victorious one of detachment. If the expression of evil seems necessary to the sublime, it is so only as a condition of this moral reaction.
We are commonly too much engrossed in objects and too little centred in ourselves and our inalienable will, to see the sublimity of a pleasing prospect. We are then enticed and flattered, and won over to a commerce with these external goods, and the consummation of our happiness would lie in the perfect comprehension and enjoyment of their nature. This is the office of art and of love; and its partial fulfilment is seen in every perception of beauty. But when we are checked in this sympathetic endeavour after unity and comprehension; when we come upon a great evil or an irreconcilable power, we are driven to seek our happiness by the shorter and heroic road; then we recognize the hopeless foreignness of what lies before us, and stiffen ourselves against it. We thus for the first time reach the sense of our possible separation from our world, and of our abstract stability; and with this comes the sublime.
But although experience of evil is the commonest approach to this attitude of mind, and we commonly become philosophers only after despairing of instinctive happiness, yet there is nothing impossible in the attainment of detachment by other channels. The immense is sublime as well as the terrible; and mere infinity of the object, like its hostile nature, can have the effect of making the mind recoil upon itself. Infinity, like hostility, removes us from things, and makes us conscious of our independence. The simultaneous view of many things, innumerable attractions felt together, produce equilibrium and indifference, as effectually as the exclusion of all. If we may call the liberation of the self by the consciousness of evil in the world, the Stoic sublime, we may assert that there is also an Epicurean sublime, which consists in liberation by equipoise. Any wide survey is sublime in that fashion. Each detail may be beautiful. We may even be ready with a passionate response to its appeal. We may think we covet every sort of pleasure, and lean to every kind of vigorous, impulsive life. But let an infinite panorama be suddenly unfolded; the will is instantly paralyzed, and the heart choked. It is impossible to desire everything at once, and when all is offered and approved, it is impossible to choose everything. In this suspense, the mind soars into a kind of heaven, benevolent but unmoved.
This is the attitude of all minds to which breadth of interest or length of years has brought balance and dignity. The sacerdotal quality of old age comes from this same sympathy in disinterestedness. Old men full of hurry and passion appear as fools, because we understand that their experience has not left enough mark upon their brain to qualify with the memory of other goods any object that may be now presented. We cannot venerate any one in whom appreciation is not divorced from desire. And this elevation and detachment of the heart need not follow upon any great disappointment; it is finest and sweetest where it is the gradual fruit of many affections now merged and mellowed into a natural piety. Indeed, we are able to frame our idea of the Deity on no other model.
When the pantheists try to conceive all the parts of nature as forming a single being, which shall contain them all and yet have absolute unity, they find themselves soon denying the existence of the world they are trying to deify; for nature, reduced to the unity it would assume in an omniscient mind, is no longer nature, but something simple and impossible, the exact opposite of the real world. Such an opposition would constitute the liberation of the divine mind from nature, and its existence as a self-conscious individual. The effort after comprehensiveness of view reduces things to unity, but this unity stands out in opposition to the manifold phenomena which it transcends, and rejects as unreal.