The principle of beauty originates in an affection of the mind of a pure character, being directly and entirely pleasurable in its nature, without any admixture of pain ; and, as regards its results, being calculated rather to soothe than to ex-cite us, and to call forth feelings of gratification and admiration, unalloyed by any less agreeable sensations.
Moderation seems, accordingly, to be one great cause of beauty in many subjects, as extremes of any kind, whether in sound or colour or form or motion, all deviate more or less from beauty; while moderation in each of them ordinarily conduces to it. Nevertheless, moderation of itself can hardly be considered as a distinct element of this order.
Perfection is certainly not of itself a cause of beauty in objects of art, inasmuch as many objects of the highest perfection in their way, are almost wholly destitute of beauty. Nevertheless, imperfection, where this is obviously apparent, may have the effect of preventing or destroying the existence of beauty in any subject. Imperfection is, indeed, allied to deformity, which is almost wholly inconsistent with beauty. Consequently, perfection does not so much conduce to the existence of beauty, as the want of it, or imperfection, tends to mar it.
The following appear to me to be the main essential elements which constitute beauty :-1. Variety. 2. Harmony. 3. Pro-portion. 4. Regularity. 5. Placidity. 6. Clearness. 7. Lightness. 8. Minuteness. 9. Delicacy.
(1.) Variety, as I endeavoured to point out when discussing the nature of the faculty of taste, is a leading cause of beauty, from the pleasurable sensations which novelty ever produces in the mind. Novelty, indeed, is of itself agreeable, consisting alike in the escape from an old object which caused satiety, and in the presence of a new one which excites interest.
The element of variety consists in the amalgamation into one object or subject of a number of different ideas or objects, by which the attention of the mind is diversified, and its interest is continually excited and kept alive by the change from one to the other of these topics.
Variety in its nature is originative, and it is active in its operation. It also acts independently of any other element, and is direct as regards its effect, and essential in every composition for the production and extensive existence of beauty.
A variety of colours in any object seldom fails to please, or to conduce to its beauty, and is the source of the latter in the rainbow, the plumage of many birds, and in landscape scenery.
That which constitutes the main beauty in foliage, especially when the autumnal tints are upon it, is its great variety. Rich hues of bright yellow, dark green, light green, dark yellow, dark red, and vermilion, may sometimes be seen here interspersed; and although each in contrast one with another, they are nevertheless at the same time all harmoniously blended together. This variety will be occasionally found to be further augmented by the dark rock rising up in bold masses, by the pallid stream rushing through the Alpine valley, or by the glassy lake which reflects the entire scene, smiling at the foot of the mountain ; while the distribution of light and shade by alternate clouds, and sunshine, contributes fully and effectually to set off the whole. In addition to this I may remark that few if any prospects in nature are more striking, more pleasing, and more perfect, than those which result from the contrasted variety which is afforded by the delicate exquisite green of the foliage of the oak in spring, glistening gaily in the sun, and the rugged dark trunk of the same majestic tree cast into deeper shade by the very richness of the former ; the luxuriant ivy which clusters round a ruin, and the grey mouldering stone that it covers ; or the pure crystal water, and the massive shapeless rock which rears its noble form on the margin of the placid lake. In fact, one of the most extraordinary characteristics of natural scenery is the immense, nay infinite variety displayed throughout its range, both as regards form and colour, and which of itself proves a design as to the minutest object. Nor can this be the effect of chance, as chance ever runs into repetitions of itself, which are, indeed, very difficult to avoid, as we see in the compositions, and even in the sketches from nature, of some practised and accomplished artists ; but which are constantly and inevitably pervaded with this defect, and the monotony and uniformity of which causes their lines to run in parallels, their different forms to be repetitions of each other, and their colours to want both variety and harmony.
In order to produce variety, shade as well as light, and a due proportion of each, are essential, as also to the perfection of scenery, and are what constitute this variety, the leading cause of beauty in every object; just as in the moral world, adversity as well as prosperity, and a due admixture and experience of both, are required to bring to perfection and fully to develope our mental and moral nature.
Perhaps the best, and indeed a complete illustration of my theory as to variety being so leading and so essential an element in the constitution of beauty, is afforded by the view of the lake of Lucerne in Switzerland, which is peculiarly remarkable for its beautiful and picturesque appearance. This mainly arises from the variety in the outlines of the mountains about it, and also of the shadows produced thereby. Here, too, you have rock, woodland, turf, and water, with the snowy peaks of the Alps in the distance, all combined in the prospect. Some of the mountains, moreover, are very steep and rugged, others smooth and gradual ; some are very distant, others quite near. The variety of tints on the lake conduces also much to its beauty.
Variety is mainly of four kinds, of form, of colour, of light and shade, and of sound. Each of these has its influence and effect in artistical design ; but the first of them is probably the most important. Variety in form occasions pleasurable feelings, corresponding with variety in colour, and is in like manner a cause of beauty. This we see evinced in vegetable productions, in which the variety of shape in their flowers, leaves, stems, and trunks, conduces much to their beauty as a whole. In sound, too, the effect of variety is even more particularly observable. Thus a single note of a bell or of a musical instrument by itself, hardly ever appears beautiful. But several notes of bells or instruments following each other in succession in different tones, produce excellent music through the combination of sounds thus effected.
Sounds and colours, and also flavours which are presented to the palate are, nevertheless, frequently so united in one and blended together, as to appear to form but one single sound, or colour, or flavour; and thus what in reality is made up of so many independent constituents harmoniously combined, may be considered to be uncompounded; hence the theory here maintained may be thought to be controverted. Thus the notes of the nightingale, the colour of many flowers, the flavour of many wines, may each be deemed to be single and uncompounded in their nature. On examination, however, it will be found not only that they are each compounded, but that they owe their tasteful capacity entirely to their compounded nature,to several suitable ideas being thus conjoined.
Besides, in consequence of the slow operation or dullness of our senses, we perceive many objects quite differently to what they actually exist in nature. Sounds, for instance, which are distinct and successive, not unfrequently appear to be single ; and thus what are in reality compounded sounds blended into one, as the notes of the nightingale, the vibrations from a bell, and the music of many instruments, seem to be simple and uncompounded, and as such, from their beautiful effect, might be quoted as examples adverse to my theory,that an apt combination of ideas, so as to produce variety, is a main cause of beauty.
The pleasure derived to the mind from variety originates in the very soul itself; and, as already observed, we have experience of it not only in works of art, but in the operation of the senses, and of the emotions of each kind, variety in which is always pleasant, and monotony always disagreeable. The eye is not only fatigued but pained by looking long at one object ; and even the mind itself becomes oppressed by dwelling long on the same idea. Change in each case affords both relief and gratification.
That variety is of itself an efficient producing cause and an essential element of beauty, is moreover evinced by the simplest objects owing their beauty to this alone. Thus an oval is more beautiful than a circle. A straight road or canal is not beautiful in itself, although one winding in a graceful curve is at once felt to be so. So also a straight bar is not beautiful ; but one twisted round like a cornucopia is of this character.
The variety which nature exhibits in each scene is indeed truly astonishing, consisting at once in that of form, colour, motion, size, sound, and light and shade. All these varieties are further diversified, as in the shape of each object, the various hues and tints of each colour, and the modulations of each sound. The different size in which figures appear in a landscape according to their distance in perspective, conduces also much to variety in natural scenes.
Beauty in landscape scenery is mainly promoted by variety and harmony; as in the case of the verdure of the green fields diversified gently by hill and dale, rock, wood, and flowers, and also water, especially when the latter is calm and reflects the bright hills on which the sun is shining, and the clouds are either light, or there is an equal distribution of cloud and sky. Indeed, the effect of variety is never more forcibly illustrated than by the different result produced on a fine prospect when the sky is either dull or cloudless, diffusing one uniform light ; from that which arises when there is, in consequence of a number of clouds floating about, a general and pretty equal distribution of bright light and deep shade, constantly changing, which serves to vary the scenery, and to break the monotony which would otherwise exist. The same view under these two different aspects, will produce quite a different impression on the mind.
Undulation of the ground, from its occasioning variety, also contributes much to beauty in landscape. The variety of nature is indeed not only incessant but infinite. Each mountain and each cloud is diversified in form, and every tree and rock presents a new assemblage of tints, and hues, and colours ; these, too, are ever changing with the variations of light and shadow.
Variety and novelty are moreover important in art, not only as pleasing but as also invigorating to the mind during its observation of any object or subject. Nevertheless, variety, whether of form, of colour, or of sound, to be pleasing and to excite ideas of beauty, as already remarked, must be gradual and also harmonious. Too sudden variety creates harshness, and thereby destroys beauty. In figures, winding lines gradually waving are the most beautiful; in colours, shades gradually diversified; in sounds, notes gradually changing. Too abrupt a change or contrast in either of these, conduces rather to grandeur than to beauty, and sometimes even to ugliness. In the human form the gradual variety of outline is an efficient cause of beauty, and above all that which is exhibited by the female face. So also the gradual variety of shade in the rain-bow, and of notes in the organ. In rocks, which are objects of grandeur, not of beauty, as also in the oak-tree, the lines are sudden and rugged. As regards the figure of man, the lines in the adult male incline to rudeness and irregularity; in the youth and in the female, which are the forms of beauty, to gradual variety.
Fishes owe their beauty to their shape, which is constituted of gradually varying lines, less diversified although more entirely beautiful than those which compose the forms of beasts ; and also to the gradual and harmonious variety of their colours. In the human form there is more variety as to shape than there is in fishes, although less than in animals ; but the lines gene-rally are of that gradual variation which so much conduces to beauty.
(2.) The next element of beauty is that of harmony, which consists in that complete agreement or concordance, and mutual co-operation between the several constituent parts, or agents, in any particular figure, or composition, one with an-other, and whether as regards form, action, or any other distinguishing characteristic, by means of which these or respective members, however independent, may correspond, and act together without discordance or disagreement of any kind that may disturb their regular and harmonious operation.
The importance of this principle is best illustrated in the case of music; but it is equally essential in narrative, and form, and pictorial composition, and indeed in every subject in what-ever art, where several constituent, but to a certain extent, independent parts contribute to make up one complete whole.
Harmony is in its nature active rather than passive ; it operates independently of any other element, and in a direct manner in the production of beauty, for which it is absolutely essential.
It is stated by Flaxman that beauty is mainly dependent on harmony; in support of which he refers to the harmony of the universe, and of the human form, deformity and disproportion in which at once destroy this principle. My definition of beauty, and of its elements, which is more comprehensive, includes harmony and certain other equally essential constituents.
Nature is indeed ever the best guide as to the regulation of the principles of harmony, whether in tints, in light and shade, in form, or even in colour. Every landscape, nay every tree, and flower, and rock, may afford us abundant instruction here, as has already been pointed out during the consideration of the preceding element.
It is necessary, moreover, in respect to harmony, as with regard to all the combinations made by the faculty of taste, that the different constituents of the composition should not only agree well with one another, but that they should also co-operate cordially together. Combinations which are merely passive, like colours lying in a paint box, are inanimate, and fail to occasion any efficient result.
Uniformity is a complex quality or element, being constituted in part of harmony, and in part of proportion also.
Contrast and harmony, although very different, and ordinarily indeed opposed to each other, are not, nevertheless, necessarily inconsistent as regards their conjuncture and co-operation. This we see in the variety of foliage in natural scenery, as also in the contrasts afforded by rock, and woodland, and water, but which nevertheless harmonize well together.
(3.) The element of proportion consists in that due and reasonable relation one to another as regards their extent, of different subjects or objects, or the constituent parts in the same composition, which serves to convey an idea of the uniformity and regularity of the whole.
In its nature it is passive. Its effect in the promotion of beauty is direct and immediate, and it is absolutely essential to its constitution.
Proportion is, nevertheless, not so much of itself an efficient, originative cause or element of beauty, as it is an auxiliary, and a regulating element to be joined with other causes. With variety, especially, it should ever be blended. The simple observance of proportion by itself, is productive of nothing in the way of grace or elegance, although the absence of it may mar all attempts at their production. Proportion is so essential, however, that it is not only observable through all nature, but in each department its beauty is more or less to be traced to obedience to this rule.
There is, indeed, nothing more remarkable, or which conduces more to the beauty of objects in nature, than the perfect proportion which they possess in all their parts. And this is true alike in the animal and vegetable world, and in each of the creatures in both these departments. Indeed, many of the most satisfactory examples of proportion are afforded by nature, more especially as regards the forms of animals and of plants. These serve alike as guides in painting, in sculpture, in architecture, in gardening, and in costume.
How much beauty owes to proportion, is peculiarly seen in the case of the grey lizard, the colour of which is ugly, and the general character of the reptile is doubtless repulsive. But from the perfection of its proportions throughout its frame, it is one of the most elegant, if not most beautiful of animals. The long waving lines which bound its form and its tapering tail, add also to its beauty; and its motion well accords, in artistical character, with its shape.
In the case of other animals, it may be also observed that where this principle of proportion is from any cause neglected, deformity at once ensues ; as we see in the forms of the lobster, the giraffe, and of diseased frames.
In all architectural edifices, proportion is an essential contributory cause of beauty, and conduces extensively to the pleasing effect of the entire structure. Thus, in a church, the shape and proportion of the spire, of the porches, and of the windows, should all be in harmonious relation one to another, and to the main outline of the edifice ; corresponding with what we observe in nature as regards the shape and proportion of the different branches of a tree in relation to the trunk, and the different members of a human or an animal body in relation to each other, and to the frame to which they belong.
Proportion is, moreover, essential not only in buildings, but in each part of a building, which is independent in itself, and divisible into parts capable of proportion ; and this is the real test, probably, whether proportion is required or not. This element is also to be observed not only in buildings, but in the rows or blocks of edifices which these buildings form, in the streets which are constituted of them, and in the cities to which the streets contribute.
Proportion may be said to exist not by rule, but in the mind. This, however, is only in the mind that has been disciplined by the cultivation of its taste, and taught by the habitual contemplation of correct forms in nature to admire whatever is most beautiful and pure. From the general observation of nature, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, the mind abstracts the true principles of taste ; by feeding continually on her, it becomes in time imbued with her spirit and character.
It should also be borne in mind that proportion, as much as actual size, conveys the idea of the relative dimensions of any figure; as we see giants adequately and effectively represented in small pictures or on coins, and children by statues or paintings above the size of life.
The element of proportion is equally applicable to colour, and also to sound, as it is to form; and regulates as effectively the relative amount of quantities in the two former, as the different shapes and dimensions in the latter.
(4.) The element of regularity consists in the general agreement or coincidence one with another of the various parts of a figure, or of the different subjects or objects, or constituent parts of the same subjects or objects in a composition, so as to confer on the whole the character of being well ordered and unique, which is of itself naturally calculated to be pleasing to the mind.
This element is passive and also originating in its nature, and quite independent of any other element. Its effect in the pro-motion of beauty is direct, but it is by no means essential for this purpose.
Regularity is moreover to be considered not only as an element in itself, but it is important as opposed to, and excluding the qualities of deformity and disproportion.
For poetry of the beautiful style, verse in rhyme is more adapted than blank verse, as being more regular, and therefore more in accordance with this element.
A remarkable instance of the power and influence of regularity in the production of beauty is afforded by the common fern, which is an extremely elegant and graceful plant, owing mainly, if not entirely, to the uniform and repeated regularity exhibited throughout its structure, and the complete correspondence of each of the several parts of it one with the other.
Lines at right angles, or in a zigzag direction, are for the most part the reverse of beautiful, their abruptness and rudeness being displeasing and distasteful to the mind. Nevertheless, in many architectural structures a very beautiful and agree-able effect is produced by this means, as we see in the zigzag lines over Norman archways, and in stone palisades crossing at right angles. The beauty here, however, arises not from the zigzag or right angular forms, but mainly, if not solely, from the strict and entire regularity in which these various forms are repeated and placed together. An analogous result is occasioned by the recurrence of sounds of a similar nature. Measure in sound may be said to correspond with regularity in form, and a vista in a prospect answers as regards its effect to rhyme in a poem.
(5.) Another element in the constitution of beauty is that of placidity, which consists in the quietude or inertness of the subject of it, although at the same time it is wholly distinct from mere repose itself.
This element is passive in its nature, and is derivative from and auxiliary to other elements, rather than originative and in-dependent by itself. Its effect in the production of beauty is in many cases direct ; but it is not always essential for this purpose, or in every case resorted to.
The idea of the possession of vast strength conduces, as I have already observed, to the production of grandeur. The opposite quality to this, whether exhibited in placidity or weakness, is auxiliary to beauty. Thus, a still flowing river is a beautiful object, while a fiercely rolling torrent is one of grandeur. The ocean, when becalmed and placid, is beautiful ; when agitated strongly it is grand, from the idea of vast power which it then conveys.
Stillness or repose is, indeed, oftentimes a great and direct cause of beauty. Thus the placidity of a summer moonlight scene, conduces much to its beauty, as does the repose and harmony of a landscape. So, too, a fine lake is seen to advantage, and displays all its charms, during its hours of serenity, when undisturbed by turmoil, and free from excitement, and no breeze ruffles its surface. Nevertheless, it may happen that agitation may increase and intensify its graces, and develope new beauties, which during its hours of placidity lay dormant. Indeed, as action is not always productive of grandeur, so stillness is not always conducive to beauty ; its being so must depend entirely on the nature of the subject. In birds and in fishes the variety and elegance of their movements is a great addition, in producing ideas of beauty, to the splendour of their various hues. In warbling brooks the quick lively action is the principal cause of beauty.
Motion is, however, by no means essential to beauty ; as, in the first place, many of the most graceful attitudes are those of repose : and in the next place actual motion cannot be strictly represented in either painting, sculpture, or architecture ; although in the two former may be depicted those various stages which intervene during its progress.
Grandeur and beauty in motion may, indeed, be contended, and have been thought by some to depend entirely on association, and to owe nothing to either of the elements referred to, independently or inherently in themselves. But, on the other hand, there are many motions, both grand and beautiful, which are quite independent of the influence of association for their qualities and power in this respect. Certain actions are, no doubt, indebted to, or largely influenced by association as regards their picturesque principles ; but from this it does not follow that others besides them should be so dependent. And even where association does influence this quality, it does so in most instances only very partially.
(6.) Clearness is a great cause of the beautiful, especially in objects of sight. It exists where at once the nature of any subject or transaction is discerned without difficulty or perplexity, which renders its observance or perusal a matter of pleasure in itself, from the easy and ready mode in which the mind receives the ideas so communicated. No doubt or obscurity intervenes in such a case to interrupt the view, or to interfere with its survey.
As regards its nature and operation, clearness is wholly passive, and is derivative from and auxiliary to other elements, rather than originative, or independent by itself. In its effect it is direct, although by no means essential in the production of beauty. It is, indeed, so far, immediately conducive to beauty, as being naturally agreeable to the mind, and productive of emotions of a cheerful and pleasing character. Thus the clearness of the sky and of the ocean are among the prominent causes of their beauty. The planets and sun obscured by clouds or mist lose much of this character. In description also clearness con-tributes essentially and directly to the beauty of its effect.
(7.) Colour constitutes a very important material with regard to the excitement of picturesque sentiments in any object. The element of lightness, accordingly, consists in the bright and shadowless appearance. as regards its colour of the object to be represented ; and as an element of beauty is mainly to be considered as the counterpart, or direct opposite to darkness, which is an element of grandeur. It contributes very powerfully to excite those ideas of a pleasing and exhilarating nature which aid in the production of beauty.
As regards its operation this element is passive, and it is derivative rather than originating in its nature, and independent and direct, inasmuch as it acts by itself alone and immediately, in contributing to the accomplishment of the end in view. Nevertheless, however important as an element in picturesque combination, it is not absolutely essential, or universally to be found in objects or compositions which are decidedly and eminently beautiful, as by a corresponding analogy, all grand objects are not necessarily, or in every case dark. At the same time, light colours do in general tend directly to produce beauty, as those of a dark and gloomy hue do to excite grandeur. Bright and light colours are naturally more cheerful to the mind, and are productive of emotions corresponding with the character excited by objects of beauty. Colours, more especially those of a bright and vivid hue, are what mainly conduce to produce beautiful objects; as in the case of the tints of flowers, the feathers of birds, and the sky when adorned with the florid hues of the setting sun, which are among the most beautiful appearances in nature.
Although thunder is directly and extensively grand, and as a subject of the picturesque contains many of the elements of grandeur; yet lightning, on the other hand, which is but a part of the same operation as thunder, being simply the visible appearance of what the other is only the sound, is directly and extensively beautiful, and has little or nothing of grandeur belonging to it. This is occasioned by its possessing to so large extent the element of lightness in its vivid brightness, which is the excess, and indeed the superlative of the present element ; added to which the element of action, which is also one of beauty, particularly when it is lively and sprightly, is another of those contributory to the constitution of beauty.
(8.) Minuteness in any object conduces essentially to, and is another element in the production of beauty, inasmuch as it is extensively calculated to call forth those ideas of a pleasing and refined nature, which excite the mind in a corresponding manner, and to bring it into a frame similar to that to which objects of beauty contribute to raise it. It is entirely passive as regards its mode of operation, is merely derivative in its nature, and is wholly dependent on the subject to which it has relation. It acts indirectly in the promotion of the end which it has in view, and is not absolutely essential for the production of the beautiful, inasmuch as certain objects of considerable size are also of great beauty. Nevertheless, as has al-ready been remarked, magnitude, which is the direct counter-part of minuteness, conduces mainly to, although not essential to grandeur, in a manner corresponding with that in which minuteness contributes to beauty. Small objects are, however, not always or necessarily beautiful, nor are large objects always or necessarily grand, although, as a general rule, greatness more invariably and extensively conduces to grandeur than minuteness does to beauty; and whether they are or are not original and independent causes of these orders of the picturesque, they are nevertheless both very important elements in their constitution.
As magnitude raises and excites the mind, so minuteness tends to calm and appease it, and to produce emotions of a placid and pleasing character, such as it is the direct effect of objects of beauty to call forth. Flowers and birds owe much of their beauty to their minuteness. Mountains, and many buildings, and certain other objects which appear grand when near, seem beautiful in the distance.
(9.) Allied to the element of minuteness is that of delicacy, which consists in a certain degree of refinement and tenderness as regards the appearance of any object, by which it seems to be fragile and delicate in its quality, and so excites in the mind ideas of a soft and pleasing character, which con-duce to the production of the beautiful. This is especially observable in the case of flowers, and the tender foliage of trees in spring, as also fine fret-work in carving, whether of wood or stone, and in the texture of lace and other delicate substances used in costume.
The operation of this element must be deemed to be passive rather than active, although in its nature it is originating by itself rather than derivative from any other. It is also auxiliary to other elements rather than independent by itself; but it operates directly in the production of the beautiful. Nevertheless, it is not absolutely essential for this purpose, and many objects of great beauty will be found destitute of this element in their combination. The exquisite beauty of hoar frost is mainly caused by the delicacy of its appearance. Insects and many birds owe their beauty in a great measure to the delicacy of their forms and colours, and the elegance of their motions.
In music, or sound, softness, which corresponds with delicacy, conduces to beauty. Thus also shrill tones belong to the beautiful, while those that are grave or bass, to the grand style.
A confusion is sometimes created, as already observed, by persons when treating on this subject, between objects actually beautiful, as approved of by the taste, and those which are agreeable owing to their approbation by the reason; between those which are pleasing as combining apt ideas of a picturesque nature, and those which are gratifying from the logical fitness and coincidence of the ideas excited by them. In both cases, however, possibly taste to a certain extent aids, as superintending and approving the fitness of the combination in question, which may be seen in a logical composition quite out of the sphere of art, but the elegant structure of which is in conformity with its principles. Nevertheless, the pleasure produced by a suitable combination as regards taste, and as regards logical or scientific arrangement, is quite distinct, and is dependent on capacities of the mind of an entirely different order. Doubtless, moreover, there is a gross error in terms in ascribing beauty to such a thing as morality or virtue, in which the qualities of neither beauty nor ugliness can even be strictly and correctly said to exist. But the mistake seems to arise from the excitement of pleasurable sensations in the mind caused by acts of virtue, being similar to those which beautiful objects in art pro-duce. Thus also we speak of a beautiful problem or definition, but without at all meaning to convey an impression of any of those elements which constitute artistical beauty being contained in it.
With regard to many of the orations of Demosthenes, and of Cicero also, a large portion of the praise bestowed upon them by the soundest critics results from their argumentative skill and power of reasoning, as well as from the eloquence which they exhibit. For the former quality however they are not indebted to art, but it is one quite independent of it, although science may be often legitimately resorted to to aid art, as art, on the other hand, occasionally aids science. So also in the other arts, the beauty of a painting or statue may be partly owing to the skilful application of materials, or scientific acquirements, as well as to the taste of the artist. But this, al-though an undoubted and essential merit, is nevertheless a merit altogether independent of art.