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PART II. Of the Influence of Utility upon the Beauty of Forms. "The third source of the RELATIVE beauty of forms, is UTILITY. That the expression of this quality is suf. ficient to give beauty to forms, and that forms of the most different and opposite kinds become beautiful from this expression, are facts which have often been observ. ed, and which are within the reach of every person's obe servation. I shall not therefore presume to add any illustrations on a subject, which has already been so beau. tifully illustrated by Mr. Smith, in the most eloquent work* on the subject of MORALS, that modern Europe has produced.
SECTION III. . ' Of the Accidental Beauty of Forms. : Beside the expressions that have now been enu. merated, and which constitute the two great and perma. nent sources of the beauty of forms, there are others of a casual or accidental kind, which have a very observable effect in producing the same emotion in our minds, and which constitute what may be called the ACCIDENTAL beauty of forms. Such associations, instead of being common to all mankind, are peculiar to the individual. They take their rise from education, from peculiar hab. its of thought, from situation, from profession; and the beauty they produce is felt only by those whom similar causes have led to the formation of similar associations. There are few men who have not associations of this kind, with particular forms, from their being familiar to them from their infancy, and thus connected with the
• Theory of Moral Sentiments.
gay and pleasing imagery of that period of life; from their connexion with scenes to which they look back with pleasure; or people whose memories they love : , and such forms, from this accidental connexion, are never seen, without being in some measure the signs of all those affecting and endearing recollections. When such associations are of a more general kind, and are common to many individuals, they sometimes acquire a superiority over the more permanent principles of beauty, and determine even for a time the taste of nations. The admiration which is paid to the forms of architecture, of furniture, of ornament, which we derive from antiquity, though undoubtedly very justly due to these forms themselves, originates, in the greater part of mankind, from the associations which they connect with these forms. These associations, however, are merely accidental ; and were these forms much inferior in point of beauty, the admiration which modern Europe bestows on them · would not be less enthusiastic than it is now. There are every cases, where in a few years, the taste of a nation, in such respects, undergoes an absolute change, from associations of a different kind becoming general or fashionable; and where the beautiful form is always found to correspond to the prevailing association. They who are learned in the history of dress, will recollect many instances of this kind. In every other species of ornament it is also observable. A single instance will be sufficient.
In the succession of fashions which have taken place in the article of ornamental furniture, within these few years, every one must have observed how much their beauty has been determined by accidental associations of this kind, and how little the real and permanent beauty of such forms has been regarded. Some years ago, every article of this kind was made in what was called the CHINESE taste, and however fantastic and uncouth the forms in reality were, they were yet universally admired, because they brought to mind those images of easterii magnificence and splendour, of which we have heard so much, and which we are always willing to believe, because they are distant. To this succeeded the GOTHIC - taste. Every thing was now made in imitation, not in. deed of Gothic furniture, but in imitation of the forms and ornament of Gothic halls and cathedrals. This slight association, however, was sufficient to give beauty to such forms, because it led to ideas of Gothic manners and adventure, which had become fashionable in the world from many beautiful compositions both in prose and verse. The taste which now reigns is that of the ANTIQUE. Every thing we now use, is made in imita. tion of those models which have been lately discovered in Italy; and they serve in the same manner to occupy our imagination, by leading to those recollections of Grecian or Roman taste, which have so much the possession of our minds, from the studies and amusements of our youth..
I shall only further observe upon this subject, that all such instances of the effect of accidental expression, in bestowing a temporary beauty upon forms, conclude immediately against the doctrine of their absolute or independent beauty; and that they afford a very strong presumption, if not a direct proof, that their permanent beauty arises also from the expressions they permanently convey to us.
From the illustrations that I have offered in this long chapter, on the beauty of FORMS, we seem to have sufficient reason for concluding in general, that no forms, or species of forms, are in themselves originally beautiful; but that their beauty in all cases arises from their being expressive to us of some pleasing or affecting qualities..
If the views also that I have presented on the subject are just, we may perhaps still farther conclude, that the principle sources of the beauty of forms are, Ist, the ex.
pressions we connect with peculiar forms, either from · the form itself, or the nature of the subject thus formed :
2dly, The qualities of design, and fitness, and utility, which they indicate : and 3dly, The accidental associa. tions which we happen to connect with them. The consideration of these different expressions may afford per. haps some general rules, that may not be without their use, to those arts that are employed in the production of beauty.
All forms are either ORNAMENTAL or USEFUL.
I. The beauty of merely ORNAMENTAL forms appears to arise from three sources.
1. From the expression of the form itself.
The real and positive beauty, therefore, of every or. namental form, will be in proportion to the nature and the permanence of the expression by which it is distinguished. The strongest and most permanent emotion, however, we can receive from such expressions, is that which arises from the nature of the form itself. The emotion we receive from the expression of design, as I have already shown, is neither so strong nor so permanent; and that which accidental associations produce, perishes of. ten with the year which gave it birth. The beauty of accidental expression, is as variable as the caprice or fancy of mankind. The beauty of the expression of design, varies with every period of art. The beauty which
arises from the expression of form itself, is alone permanent, as founded upon the uniform constitution of the human mind. Considering therefore the beauty of forms as constituted by the degree and the permanence of their expression, the following conclusions seem im. mediately to suggest themselves : : 1. That the greatest beauty which ornamental forms can receive will be that which arises from the expression of the form itself. • 2. That the next will be that which arises from the expression of design or skill. And,
3. That the least will be that which arises from accidental or temporary expression.
In all those arts, therefore, that respect the beauty of form, it ought to be the unceasing study of the artist, to disengage his mind from the accidental associations of his age, as well as the common prejudices of his art; to labour to distinguish his productions by that pure and permanent expression, which may be felt in every age ; and to disdain to borrow a transitory fame, by yielding to the temporary caprices of his time, or by exhibiting only the display of his own dexterity or skill. Or, if the accidental taste of mankind must be gratified, it is still to be remembered, that it is only in those arts, which are employed upon perishable subjects, that it can be gratified with safety ; that in those greater productions of art, which are destined to last for centuries, the fame of the artist must altogether depend upon the permanence of the expression, which he can communicate to his work; and that the only expression which is thus permanent, and which can awaken the admiration of every succeed. ing age, is that which arises from the nature of form itself, and which is founded upon the uniform constitution of man and of nature.