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EMOTIONS OF BEAUTY,
§. 17. Characteristics of emotions of beauty. We do not profess to enter into an examination of every possible emotion. They are so various and multiplied, it would be difficult to do it ; nor would any important object be answered. Proceeding on the principle of selecting those, which, either in themselves, or by reason of their relation to the arts and to human conduct, appear to be most interesting and important, we shall begin with emotions of Beauty. We have already had occasion to remark, that all emotions are undefinable. This remark is applicable to those under consideration, as well as others. Of the emotions of beauty it will be as difficult to give a definition, so as to make them clearer to any one's comprehension than they already are, as to define the simple sensations of color, sound, or taste. We find in them, however, these two marks or characteristics.
(1)-The emotion of beauty, in the first place, is always a pleasing one. We never give the name to one, which is painful, or to any feeling of disgust. Whenever, therefore, we speak of an emotion of beauty, we imply, in the use of the terms, some degree of satisfaction or pleasure. All persons, the illiterate as well as the scientific, use the phrase with this import.—(2) We never speak of emotions of beauty, to whatever degree may be our experience of inward satisfaction, without referring such emotions to something external. The same emotion, which is called satisfaction or delight of mind, when it is wholly and exclusively internal, we find to be termed an emotion of beauty, if we are able to refer it to something without, and to spread its charms around any external object.
$. 18. Of what is meant by beautiful objects. There are many objects, which excite the emotion of beauty ; that is, when the objects are presented, this emotion, in a greater or less degree, immediately exists. These objects we call beautiful. There are other objects, which, so far from exciting pleasant emotions within us, are either indifferent, or cause feelings of a decidedly opposite character, so that we speak of them as deformed or disgusting. If there were no emotions, pleasant or unpleasant, excited by either of these classes, or if the emotions which they cause were of the same kind, we should apply to them the same epithets. So that the ground of distinction, which in speaking of these different objects we never fail to make, appears to exist in our own feelings. In other words, we call an object BEAUTIFUL, because it excites within us pleasant emotions, which, in the circumstances of the case, we cannot well ascribe to any other cause.
And when we prefer to say, in other terms, that an object has beauty, we obviously mean the same thing, viz, that the object has a trait or quality, (perhaps we may find it difficult to explain precisely what it is,) which causes these emotions.
§. 19. Of the distinction between beautiful and other objects. In view of what has been said we may venture to make two remarks. (1.) Every beautiful object has something in itself, which truly discriminates it from all other objects. This something, this peculiar trait, whatever it is, lays the foundation for those results in the human mind, which, on being experienced, authorize us to speak of the object as beautiful. This is clear, not only from what, on a careful examination, we shall frequently find in the objects themselves; but also from the fact that the operations of the mind always have their appropriate causes.
If the mind experiences a pleasant emotion in view of a certain object, it is because there is something in the object, which has a determinate and permanent relation to that particular mental state, which distinguishes it from other objects. If it were not for that distinctive trait in the object, the human mind is so constituted, that it could not have experienced the corresponding emotion.
(II.) Beautiful objects are distinguished from all others, not only by something in themselves, certain original and inherent traits characteristic of them, but also, and perhaps still more, by a superadded trait, a species of borrowed effulgence, derived and reflected back from the mind itself. When we contemplate a beautiful object, we are pleased ; we are more or less happy. We naturally connect this emotion of pleasure with the object which is its cause ; and we have been in the habit of doing this, no doubt in most instances unconsciously to ourselves, from early life. The consequence is, the association between the inward delight and the outward cause becomes so strong, that we are unable to separate them; and the objects, additional to their own proper qualities, appear to be surrounded, and to beam out with an effulgence, which comes from the mind.
These remarks will be found to have an application to certain speculations, which have sometimes been promulgated on the subject of beauty. In accordance with what has just been said, we do not feel at liberty to deny absolutely, and without qualification, as the philosophy of some writers seems to authorize them to do, that there is actually beauty in the objects, which are generally considered as possessing it; in the rising or setting sun, in the moon walking in her majesty, and in the multitude of stars that rejoice in her presence. On the contrary, we have already intimated, that there is something in all these cases, as there is in blossoms and flowers and waving trees and falling cascades, which distinguishes them from other objects, that are not beautiful. God has made them glorious in themselves. But at the same time, we have no doubt, that they are invested, in the eye of the beholder, with a new and additional radiance, which flows out from his own bosom. The mind seems to act on the principle of compensation ; it receives from the lustre of the outward object a happiness, which it repays by throwing around it the appropriate tribute of superadded splendor.
S. 20. Grounds or occasions of emotions of beauty various. The next remark, which we have to make on the subject of Beauty is, that the objects, by which it is occasioned, are not always the same, but are very various ; differing from each other not only in their general nature, but also in their subordinate incidents. This may occasion a degree of surprise and difficulty in the minds of some, who cannot readily perceive how the results can be identical, while there is such a want of unity and accordance in their antecedents. It has frequently been the case, that writers, under the bias of mind originating from this difficulty, have endeavored to resolve the various grounds or causes of beauty into one. In other words, they are disposed to maintain, that in every object, which men agree in denominating beautiful, there is one common quality, one predominant element, however different the objects may be in other respects, which is the ground of the internal emotion. Accordingly some announce the general and somewhat indefinite doctrine, that beauty consists in the perception of relations; others, more precise and definite in their views, maintain, that it consists in a fixed and determinate proportion, (that is to say, a proportion which is known and measurable,) of the parts of the object; others, again, assert, that the emotion of beauty is based upon the perception of utility ; in other words, in the perception of the fitness of the beautiful object for some profitable purpose.
It is not our object to endeavor in this place, as we shall have occasion to refer to the subject again, to show the futility of these and other kindred attempts, which aim, and in some instances with no small show of plausibility, to resolve the basis of all beauty into a single principle. We simply state here, in general terms, the fact, as we understand it to be, that the grounds or causes of beauty, while the result or internal emotion is always identical in its nature, are multiplied and various. In other words, we assert that beauty in the mind is one, while outward beauty, or rather the causes of beanty in outward objects, is many ; accompanying the statement with the additional and explanatory remark, that this state of things, anomalous as it may appear at first, is supported by the analogy of the mind in some other instances.
§. 21. Illustrations of the foregoing statement. Take, as an illustration, the state of mind, denomina
, ted Belief. The grounds or occasions of belief, it is well known, are very various ; so much so as scarcely to exhibit any likeness or to admit of any comparison; but belief itself, although it admits of various degrees, is always the same in nature. It is occasioned alike, (and this is obviously a fundamental principle of the mind,) by the senses, by original suggestion, by consciousness, by memory, by relative suggestion or judgment, by reasoning, and testimony; and the operation of all these various causes results in an identity of feeling. We have another instance of the same thing in Association. This term does not appear to express a state or feeling of the mind, so much as a general fact in the mind's operations, a principle or law of its action. When association takes place, there is always a sameness or unity of result; the issue is not discordant with itself but is one, viz. a regular consecution of the mental states. But, although the result is identical, the antecedents or causes are various, viz. resemblance, contrast, contiguity in time and place, and cause and effect, which are greatly modified also by other
And so in regard to emotions of beauty. There is a want of identity in the grounds of their existence; but not in the result which follows. The causes, like different roads conducting to the same termination, are various ; but the issue is one.-It ought to be added, however, although the emotion of beauty is the same in nature under every variety of circumstances, it exists in different and various degrees. We speak, with entire propriety, of the beauty of an object being greater or less, the same as we speak of any event, which is alledged to have taken place, as being, in our opinion, more or less probable ; expressions, indicative of differences in the degree of belief, which the mind under the particular circumstances of the case entertains.
§. 22. Of the objects in general which excite emotions of beauty.
Keeping in view what was said in the last section, we may with propriety regard the term BEAUTY, not so much a particular, as a general or common name, expressive of numerous emotions which always possess the characteristic of be