« PreviousContinue »
6. The word Beauty 'is a general term of approbation, of the most vague and extensive
, meaning, applied indiscriminately to almost every thing that is pleasing, either to the sense, the imagination, or the understanding; whatever the nature of it be, whether a material substance, a moral excellence, or an intellectual theorem. We do not, indeed, so often speak of beautiful smells, or flavours, as of beautiful forms, colours, and sounds; but, nevertheless, we apply the epithet to a problem, a syllogism, or a period, as familiarly, and (as far as we can judge from authority) as correctly as to a rose, a landscape, or a woman. We speak also, and, I believe, with equal propriety, not only of the beauties of symmetry and arrangement, but of those of virtue, charity, holiness, &c. The illustrious author, indeed, of the Inquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful, chooses to consider such expressions as improper, and to confine beauty to the sensible qualities of
ther I am singular in my opinion; but, for my own part, I would rather look upon a tree in all its luxuriancy and diffusion of boughs and branches, than when it is thus cut and trimmed into a mathematical figure; and cannot but fancy that an orchard in flower looks infinitely more delightful than all the little labyrinths of the most finished parterre.”
This was bold scepticism for so cautious a writer in
things*. But, as an ancient grammarian observed, even Cæsar, though he could command the lives and fortunes of men, could not command words, nor alter, in a single instance, the customary idiom of speech; and in this instance customary idiom has established these expressions, not only in the English, but in all the other polished languages of Europe, both ancient and modern; x«λos in the Greek, pulcher in the Latin, bello in the Italian, and beau in the French, being constantly applied to moral and intellectual, as well as to physical or material qualities. It is in vain, therefore, for individuals to dispute about their propriety or impropriety; for, after all, the ultimate criterion must be common use
Quem penes arbitrium est, et jus, et norma loquendi, and from which he, who chooses to depart, only makes his meaning less intelligible.
* Part III. f. i. and ix.
+ This application of the word 2λ0s has given being to a saint of signal celebrity in Sicily, and some parts of the south of Italy, called St. Calogero, the general patron of all medicinal baths, salubrious springs, excavated rocks, &c. and much distinguished for his miraculous cures of all chronical diseases.
Καλος γέρων, corrupted in the later times of the Byzantine empire to xaλoyspos, signified a monk or hermit; and it is in places inhabited or frequented by such persons, that we find the relics, or hear of the miracles of St. Calogero.
7. It may be said, perhaps, that the epithet is used in a plain sense, when applied to objects of sensation; and in a figurative one, when applied to objects of intellect: but no such distinction exists in fact; for, when applied to objects of sight or hearing, it is, in most instances, applied to qualities purely intellectual; such as composition, proportion, expression, fitness, &c. which perpetually distinguish the beautiful from the ugly in the same species; though often totally changed when applied to another species, and sometimes, when applied to a different class in the same species; of both which instances will be given in the sequel. It is true that all epithets, employed to distinguish qualities perceivable only by intellect, were originally applied to objects of sense : for as such objects are the primary subjects of thought and observation, the primary words in all languages belong to them; and are therefore applied transitively, though not always figuratively, to objects of intellect or imagination. That expression only is properly figurative which employs the image or idea of one thing to illustrate another : but when we speak of the beauty of virtue, we mean the pleasing result of well-balanced and duly proportioned affections; and, when we speak of the beauty of the human form, we mean the pleasing result of well-balanced and duly proportioned
limbs and features. In both instances the word is equally applied to the results of proportion, without reference to any other image; and though, in the one, the general subject be mental, and in the other corporeal, the particular object, in both, is an abstract idea, and consequently, purely intellectual; nor is the expression more figurative in the one than in the other. If we speak, indeed, of any individual human form, the idea is not abstract; but then it is complex: and of the ideas that compose it, those of colour only are immediately derived from the sense of sight; the others being entirely the results of mental operation, employing the evidence of other senses; as has been abundantly shewn by Locke, Reid, and other metaphysical writers; and as will be further explained in the course of this inquiry.
s. I admit, however, that the word Beauty entirely changes its meaning with every complete or generic change of its application: that is, accordingly as it is applied to objects of the
συμμετρια των μελων μετα της ευχροιας το καλλος ποιές τη owμatos. Gregor. Nyssen. orat. de anima.
Καλλος επί το έν τη συνθέσει των μελων ευαρμοσον, επ αυτῷ την χαριν εχον. Basil. Cæs. in xliv.
Id. in Isai. c. v.
Καλλος ψυχης το κατ' αρετην συμμετρον.
Καλος κάγαθος—τελεως σπουδαιος, επι γας της αρετης το καλεν xai ayadov deysow. Aristot. ix. μεν. lib. ii. c. ix.
senses, the imagination, or the understanding; for, though these faculties are so mixed and compounded in their operations, in the complicated mind of civilized man, that it is extremely difficult to discriminate them accurately; yet the pleasures of each, though mixed in their effects, are utterly distinct in their causes.
9. Perfect beauty, indeed, taking perfect in its most strict, and beauty in its most comprehensive signification, ought to be equally pleasing to all; but of this instances are scarcely to be found: for, as to taking them, or, indeed, any examples for illustration, from the other sex of our own species, it is extremely fallacious; as there can be little doubt that all male animals think the females of their own species the most beautiful productions of Nature. At least, we know this to be the case among the different varieties of men, whose respective ideas of the beauty of their females are as widely different as those of man, and any other animal, can be. The sable Africans view with pity and contempt the marked deformity of the Europeans; whose mouths are compressed, their noses pinched, their cheeks shrunk, their hair rendered lank and flimsy, their bodies lengthened and emaciated, and their skins unnaturally bleached by shade and seclusion, and the baneful influence of a cold