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In successive sections, the influence of design, of fitness, and of utility, upon the beauty of forms, is examined with great acuteness. Many striking extracts might be made. We owe it, however, to our readers, to whom we have hitherto manifested, perhaps, unbecoming parsimony in quotation, to give them one or two, which may both teach them some curious truths, and supply them with a fair specimen of the manner of the author. The first is a curious history of the decay of works of taste. “However obvious or important the principle which I have now stated may be, the fine arts have been unfortunately governed by a very different principle; and the undue preference which artists are naturally disposed to give to the display of design, has been one of the most powerful causes of that decline and degeneracy which has uniformly marked the history Bf the fine arts, after they have arrived at a certain period of perfection. To a common spectator, the great test of excellence in beautiful forms is character or expression, or, in other words, the appearance of some interesting ot affecting quality in the form itself. To the artist, on the other hand, the great test of excellence is skill; the production of something new in point of design, or difficult in point of execution. It is by the expression of character, therefore, that the generality of men determine the beauty of forms. It is by the expression of design, that the artist determines it. When, therefore, the arts which are conversant in the beauty of form, have attained to that fortunate stage of their progress, when this expression of character is itself the great expression of design, the invention and taste of the artist take, almost necessarily, a different direction. When his excellence can no longer be distinguished by the production of merely beautiful or expressive form, he is naturally led to distinguish it by the production of what is uncommon or difficult; to signalize his works by the fertility of his invention, or the dexterity of his execution; and thus gradually to forget the end of his art, in his attention to display his superiority in the art itself." Vol. ii. pp. 110–112. “Nor is this melancholy progress peculiar to those arts which respect the beauty of form. The same causes extend to every other of those arts which are employed in the production of beauty; and they who are acquainted with the history of the fine
arts of antiquity, will recollect, that the history of statuary, of painting, of music, of poetry, and of prose composition, have been alike distinguished, in their latter periods, by the same gradual desertion of the end of the art, for the display of the art itself; and by the same prevalence of the expression of design, over the expression of the composition in which it was employed. It has been seldom found in the history of any of these arts, that the artist, like the great master of painting in this country", has united the philosophy with the practice of his art, and regulated his own sublime inventions, by the chaste principles of truth and science. “For an error, which so immediately arises from the nature, and from the practice of these arts themselves, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to find a remedy. Whether (as I am willing to believe) there may not be circumstances in the modern state of Europe, which may serve to check at least, this unfortunate progression; whether the beautiful models of antiquity in every art, may not serve to fix in some degree the standard of taste in these arts; whether the progress of philosophy and criticism may not tend to introduce greater stability, as well as greater delicacy of taste; and whether the general diffusion of science, by increasing in so great a proportion the number of judges, may not rescue these arts from the sole dominion of the artists, and thus establish more just and philosophical principles of decision, it is far beyond the limits of these essays to inquire. But I humbly conceive, that there is no rule of criticism more important in itself, or more fitted to preserve the taste of the individual, or of the public, than to consider every composition as faulty and defective, in which the expression of the art is more striking than the expression of the subject, or in which the beauty of design prevails over the beauty of character or expression.” Vol. ii. pp. 115–117. The other observation is equally striking, and is meant as a reply to those who urge the permanence of certain proportions in architecture in proof of their inherent and exclusive beauty. After having noticed the influence lent to these proportions by our veneration for antiquity, he goes on to observe : “But besides these, there are other causes in the nature of the art itself, which sufficiently account for the permanence of taste upon this subject. In every production of
human labour, the influence of variety is limited by two circumstances, viz. by the costliness, and the permanence of the materials upon which that labour is employed. Wherever the materials of any object, whether of use or of luxury, are costly; wherever the original price of such subjects is great, the influence of the love of variety is diminished : the objects have a great intrinsic value, independent of their particular form or fashion; and as the destruction of the form is in most cases the destruction of the subject itself, the same form is adhered to with little variation. In dress, for instance, in which the variation of fashion is more observable than in most other subjects, it is those parts of dress which are least costly, of which the forms are most frequently changed: in proportion as the original value increases, the disposition to variety diminishes; and in some objects, which are extremely costly, as in the case of jewels, there is no change of fashion whatever, except in circumstances different from the value of the objects themselves, as in their setting or disposition. Of all the fine arts, however, architecture is by far the most costly. The wealth of individuals is frequently dissipated by it: and even the revenue of nations, is equal only to very slow and very infrequent productions of this kind. The value, therefore, of such ebjects, is in a great measure independent of their forms; the invention of men is little excited to give an additional value to subjects, which in themselves are so valuable; aud the art itself, after it has arrived at a certain necessary degree of perfection, remains in a great measure stationary, both from the infrequency of cases in which invention can be employed, and from the little demand there is for the exercise of that invention. The nature of the Grecian orders very plainly indicates, that they were originally executed in wood, and that they were settled before the Greeks had begun to make use of stone iu their buildings. From the period that stone was employed, and that of course public buildings became more costly, little farther ress seems to have been made in the art. The costliness of the subject, in this as in every other case, gave a kind of permanent value to the form by which it was distinguished. “If, besides the costliness of the subject, it is also permanent or durable, this character is still farther increased. Those productions, of which the materials are perishable, and must often be renewed, are from their nature subjected to the influence of variety. Chairs and tables, for instance, and the other common articles of furniture, cannot well last
above a few years, and very often not so long. In such articles accordingly, there is room for the invention of the artist to display itself, and as the subject itself is of no very great value, and may derive a considerable one from its form, a strong motive is given to the exercise of this invention. But buildings may last, and are intended to last for centuries. The life of man is very inadequate to the duration of such productions: and the present period of the world, though old with respect to those arts, which are employed upon perishable subjects, is yet young in relation to an art, which is employed upon so durable materials as those of architecture. Instead of a few years, therefore, centuries unust probably pass before such productions demand to be renewed; and long before that period is elapsed, the sacredness of antiquity is acquired by the subject itself, and a new motive given for the preservation of similar forms. In every country, accordingly, the same effect has taken place: and the same causes which bave thus served to produce among us, for so many years, an uniformity of taste with regard to the style of Grecian architecture, have produced also among the nations of the east, for a much longer course of time, a similar uniformity of taste with regard to their ornamental style of architecture; and have perpetuated among them the same forms, which were in use among their forefathers, before the Grecian orders were invented.” Vol. ii. pp.162–167.
The length to which these reasonings and extracts have extended, and our farther designs of a somewhat collateral nature upon the reader, admonish us here to state the final conclusions to which the author comes in the 6th section of his last chapter. “The preceding illustrations” (he says) “ seem to afford evidence for the following conclusions.”
1. “That all the qualities of matter are, from nature, from experience, or from accident, the sign of some quality capable of producing emotion or the exercise of some moral affection; and, 2dly, that when these associations are dissolved, or in other words, when the material qualities cease to be significant of the associated qualities, they cease also to produce the emotions of beauty or sublimity.”—Such, therefore, is the theory of the author.
Before entering upon some observations, which perhaps, when it is remembered who the author is, he should have saved us the trouble of making; we deem it necessary to observe, that the present work, as an essay on taste, is defective in two material points. The author has taught us, and taught us ably and truly, that the emotions of beauty and sublimity are to be ascribed, not to the mere perception of material qualities, but of other qualities of which these are the natural or accidental signs. But should he not have taught us, distinctly, and at length, what these other qualities are 2 No classification, generalization, q' enumeration of them is attempted. They may be any thing, it would seem, but qualities of matter. —The other question left untouched by the author is, whether there be any standard of taste, any such thing as good or bad taste. He indeed, in his preface, acknowledges certain deficiencies in his present literary contributions, and expresses his readiness to make them good, if the public should call for thein. But if he thought it fit to publish at all upon taste; and if he can, when the public calls for it, find leisure to publish still more upon this subject; then we are disposed to question the propriety of his publishing at all, without entering upon topics so material to the rounding of his system.
Any attempt to fill up the chasms in Mr. Alison's work would be great presumption ; and, especially when we are trembling at the huge demand we have already made upon the time of our readers, would be impossible. We will therefore enter upon ground where we tread with more security, and which is more appropriate to our feelings and to our office, viz. to examine the bearing of this subject upon religion.
We have already suggested, that from Mr. Alison, as “one who ministers and serves the altar,” we had, perhaps, a right to expect some such consecration of his subject. In his enthusiasm upon many secular or
literary topics, we could have wished to see him now and then kindle with a more sacred flame. Even his reviewer, in the critique to which we have already referred, though not of a fraternity who make any loud profession of religion, is sometimes surprised into devout allusions, which constitute a part of the charm of his oratory. Indeed, much of the scenery employed in the display of this subject, is calculated to sublime and spiritualize the mind; and we wonder, that, when the car mounts, the prophet should not ascend with it. But we should do injustice to Mr. Alison, if we left our readers persuaded that he had not in any degree connected his system with religion. There is a splendid, though somewhat objectionable, and in part mysterious, passage with which the work concludes, and which, though long, yet, in justice to Mr. Alison, we shall extract.
“There is yet, however, a greater expression which the appearances of the material world are fitted to convey, and a more inportant influence which, in the design of nature, they are destined to produce upon us; their influence I mean in leading us directly to religious sentiment. Had organic enjoyment been the only object of our formation, it would have been sufficient to establish senses for the reception of these enjoyments. But if the promises of our nature are greater: if it is destined to a nobler conclusion; if it is enabled to look to the Author ot being himself, and to feel its proud" relation to him; then nature, in all its aspects around us, ought only to be felt as signs of his providence, and as conducting us by the universal language of these signs, to the throne of the Deity.
“How much this is the case with every pure and innocent mind, I flatter myself few of my readers will require any illustration. Wherever, in fact, the eye of man opens upon any sublime or any beautiful scene of nature, the first impression f is to
* Quere, proud 2 Ought it not to be humble P
t Is this true in point of fact? That this impression is made on the religious mind we admit; but we do not believe that the finest prospect in the world would have the
consider it as designed, as the effect or workmanship of the Author of nature, and as significant of his power, his wisdom, or his goodness: and perhaps it is chiefly for this Jine issue, that the heart of man is thus finely touched, that devotion may spring from delight; that the imagination, in the midst of its highest enjoyment, may be led to terminate in the only object in which it finally can repose; and that all the noblest convictious, and confidences of religion, may be acquired in the simple school of nature, and amid the scenes which perpetually surround us". Wherever we observe, accordingly,
the workings of the human mind, whether.
in its rudest or its most improved appearances, we every where see this union of devotional sentiment with sensibility to the expressions of natural scenery. It calls forth the hymn of the infant bard, as well as the anthem of the poet of classic times. It prompts the nursery tale of superstition, as well as the demonstration of the school of philosophy. There is no aera so barbarous in which man has existed, in which the traces are not to be seen of the alliance which he has felt between earth and heaven, or of the conviction he has acquired of the mind that created nature, by the signs which it exhibits; and amid the wildest, as amid the most genial scenes of an uncultivated world, the rude altar of the savage every where marks the emotions that swelled in his bosom when he erected it to the awful or the beneficent deities whose imaginary presence it records. In ages of civilization and refinement, this union of devotional sentiment with sensibility to the beauties of natural scenery, forms one of the Inost characteristic marks of human improvement, and may be traced in every art which professes to give delight to the imagination. The funereal urn, and the inscription to the dead, present themselves every where as the most interesting incidents in the scenes of ornamented nature. In the landscape of the painter, the columns of the temple, or the spire of the church, rise amid the ceaseless luxuriance of vegetable life, and by their contrast, give the mighty moral to the scene, which we love, even while we dread it; the powers
effect of producing such an impression as this in a mind not already imbued with religious sentinent. *This will prove but a poor substitution for the school of Christ. How miserably has Mr. Alison's new school failed of its effect in every age I Can he produce instances of "convictions and confidences" thus wrought?
of music have reached only their highest perfection when they have been devoted to the services of religion; and the description of the genuine poet has seldom concluded without some hymn to the Author of the universe, or some warm appeal to the devotional sensibility of mankind. “Even the thoughtless and the dissipated yield unconsciously to this beneficent instinct; and in the pursuit of pleasure, return without knowing it, to the first and the noblest sentiments of their nature. They leave the society of cities, and all the artificial pleasures, which they feel have occupied, without satiating their imagination. They hasten into those solitary and those uncultivated scenes, where they seem to breathe a purer air, and to experience some more profound delight. They leave behind them all the arts, and all the labours of man, to meet nature in her primeval inagnificence and beauty. Amid the slumber of their usual thoughts, they love to feel themselves awakened to those deep and majestic emotions which give a new and a nobler expansion to their hearts, and amid the tumult and astonishment of their imagination, Praesentiorem conspicere Deum Per invias rupes, fera perjuga, Clivosque praeruptos, sonantes Inter aquas, memorumque noctem". * It is on this account that it is of so much consequence in the education of the young, to encourage their instinctive taste for the beauty and sublimity of nature t. While it opens to the years of infancy or youth a source of pure, and of permanent enjoyment, it has consequences on the character and happiness of future life, which they are unable to foresee. It is to provide them amid all the agitations and trials of society, with one gentle and unreproaching friend, whose voice is ever in alliance with goodness
* Mr. Alison has clearly formed too lofty conceptions of the state of mind which belongs to the crowd who run annually from the town to the country, and from the country to town, or who fill the room at an oratorio. We apprehend that his imputations would surprise inany of them.
f Has not Mr. Alison completely inverted the right order of things? Ought he not to have urged the formation of religious senti. ment in the young, that they might thence acquire a higher taste for beauty and sublimity, rather than to have taught them, as he has done, that the cultivation of taste will lead to religion, a position which we believe to have little or no foundation in fact?
and virtue, and which, when once understood, is able both to sooth misfortune and to reclaim from folly. It is to identify them with the happiness of that mature to which they belong; to give them an interest in every species of being which surrounds them; and amid the hours of curiosity and delight, to awaken those latent feelings of benevolence and of sympathy, from which all the moral or intellectual greatness of man finally arises. It is to lay the foundation of an early and of a manly piety; amid the magnificent system of material signs in which they reside, to give them the mighty key which can interpret them; and to make them look upon the universe which they inhabit, not as the abode only of human cares, or human joys, but as the temple of the living God, in which praise is due, and where service is to be performed." Vol. ii. pp. 441–447.
Mr. Alison has here instructed us,
in very soaring language, how the cultivation of taste is calculated to promote the exercise of religious sentiment. We should be glad to borrow a pen from the same wing, while we endeavour to establish a far less dubious, and therefore more important, doctrine, which is, the necessity of religion to the highest enjoyments of taste. Whether we re
ard the works of nature or of art, it will be found that it is the associations which connect them with religion, that supply them with their highest characters of sublimity and beauty. If, for instance, we cast our eye over some vast expanse of country, how does it rejoice
“To view the slender spire And massy tower from deep embowering shades
Oft rising in the vale, or on the side
It at once unsecularizes the soul, and carries it with hasty wing from earth to heaven. If, in like manner, we are viewing some sunny vale, where the lake seems to sleep, where every field is whitened by flocks, and every cottage pours forth its brown sons and daughters of exercise, what fresh beauties kindle in the scene, when we regard all these features of peace as the expression of Divine mercy, of the gracious
prodigality of a heavenly Father? When, again, we list our eyes to the rocky regions of the north, and see nature as it were in her elemental shape, mountain piled on mountain, rocks which seem like the skeleton of the world waiting to be clothed, interminable wastes, where the Creator appears almost to have forgotten to be gracious ; what a new sublimity pervades the scene when we regard this desolation as the indication of Divine wrath, as the solemn relics of a deluge in which Jehovah broke up the fountains of the deep, and let loose his angry waters upon a guilty world In like manner, when we contemplate the heavens and see the lamps with which they are hung, with what fresh sublimity are they clothed when we refer them to the Infinite Being who suspended them there; when we consider them as the parts of a machine stretching through all space, but following the controul of his mighty hand; when we regard each star as the sun of a system, and each system perhaps peopled with immortal souls, who are to feel the terrors of his wrath, or to wear the crown of glory which God hath prepared for them that love him * Nor does religion minister less to the enjoyments of taste in the works of art. When the artists of antiquity meant to give perpetuity to their labours, to chissel the statues which should command the admiration of