Page images
PDF
EPUB

with the serenity of the sky. Independent of associations of this kind, all that we can farther observe concerning colours is, that those chosen for Beauty are generally delicate, rather than glaring. Such are those paintings with which Nature hath ornamented some of her works, and which art strives in vain to imitate; as the feathers of several kinds of birds, the leaves of flowers, and the fine variation of colours exhibited by the sky at the rising and setting of the sun. These present to us the highest instances of the Beauty of colouring; and have accordingly been the favourite subjects of poetical description in all countries.

From Colour we proceed to Figure, which opens to us forms of Beauty more complex and diversified. Regularity first occurs to be noticed as a source of Beauty. By a regular figure, is meant, one which we perceive to be formed according to some certain rule, and not left arbitrary, or loose, in the construction of its parts. Thus, a circle, a square, a triangle, or a hexagon, please the eye, by their regularity, as beautiful figures. We must not, however, conclude, that all figures please in proportion to their regularity; or that regularity is the sole, or the chief foundation of Beauty in figure. On the contrary, a certain graceful variety is found to be a much more powerful principle of Beauty; and is therefore studied a great deal more than regularity, in all works that are designed merely to please the eye. I am, indeed, inclined to think, that regularity appears beautiful to us, chiefly, if not only, on account of its suggesting the ideas of fitness, propriety, and use, which have always a greater connection with orderly and proportioned forms, than with those which appear not

1

The apart

constructed according to any certain rule. It is clear that Nature, who is undoubtedly the most graceful artist, hath, in all her ornamental works, pursued variety, with an apparent neglect of regu. larity. Cabinets, doors, and windows, are made after a regular form, in cubes and parallelograms, with exact proportion of parts; and by being so formed they please the eye : for this good reason, that, being works of use, they are, by such figures, the better suited to the ends for which they were designed. But plants, flowers, and leaves, are full of variety and diversity. A straight canal is an insipid figure, in comparison of the mæanders of rivers. Cones and pyramids are beautiful; but trees growing in their natural wildness, are infinitely more beautiful than when trimmed into pyramids and cones. ments of a house must be regular in their disposition, for the conveniency of its inhabitants; but a garden which is designed merely for beauty, would be exceedingly disgusting, if it had as much uniformity and order in its parts as a dwelling-house.

Mr. Hogarth, in his Analysis of Beauty, has observed, that figures bounded by curve lines are, in general, more beautiful than those bounded by straight lines and angles. He pitches upon two lines, on which, according to him, the Beauty of figure principally depends; and he has illustrated and supported his doctrine, by a surprising number of instances. The one is the Waving Line, or a curve bending backwards and forwards, somewhat in the form of the letter S. This he calls the Line of Beauty; and shews how often it is found in shells, flowers, and. such other ornamental works of nature; as is common also in the figures designed by painters and

[merged small][ocr errors]

sculptors, for the purpose of decoration. The other line, which he calls the Line of Grace, is the former waving curve, twisted round some solid body. The curling worm of a common jack is one of the instances he gives of it. Twisted pillars, and twisted horns, also exhibit it. In all the instances which he mentions, Variety plainly appears to be so material a principle of Beauty that he seems not to err much when he defines the art of drawing pleasing forms, to be the art of varying well. For the curve line, so much the favourite of painters, derives, according to him, its chief advantage, from its perpetual bending and variation from the stiff regularity of the straight line.

Motion furnishes another source of Beauty, distinct from figure. Motion of itself is pleasing; and bodies in motion are, “ cæteris paribus,” preferred to those in rest. It is, however, only gentle motion that belongs to the Beautiful; for, when it is very swift or very forcible, such as that of a torrent, it partakes of the Sublime. The motion of a bird gliding through the air is extremely beautiful; the swiftness with which lightning darts through the heavens is magnificent and astonishing. And here it is proper to observe, that the sensations of Sublime and Beauti, ful are not always distinguished by very distant boundaries; but are capable, in several instances, of approaching towards each other. Thus, a smooth running stream is one of the most beautiful objects in nature: as it swells gradually into a great river, the Beautiful, by degrees, is lost in the Sublime. A young tree is a beautiful object; a spreading ancient oak is a venerable and a grand one. The calmness of a fine morning is beautiful; the universal stillness

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

of the evening is highly sublime. But to return to the Beauty of motion, it will be found, I think, to hold very generally, that motion in a straight line is not so beautiful as in an undulating waving direction; and motion upwards is, commonly too, more agreeable than motion downwards. The easy curling motion of flame and smoke may be instanced, as an object singularly agreeable; and here Mr. Hogarth’s waving line recurs upon us as a principle of Beauty. That artist observes, very ingeniously, that all the common and necessary motions for the business of life are performed by men in straight or plain lines; but that all the graceful and ornamental movements are made in waving lines; an observation not unworthy of being attended to, by all who study the grace of gesture and action.

Though Colour, Figure, and Motion, be separate principles of Beauty; yet in many beautiful objects they all meet, and thereby render the Beauty both greater and more complex. Thus, in flowers, trees, animals, we are entertained at once with the delicacy of the colour, with the gracefulness of the figure, and sometimes also with the motion of the object. Although each of these produce a separate agreeable sensation, yet they are of such a similar nature, as readily to mix and blend in one general perception of Beauty, which we ascribe to the whole object as its cause: for Beauty is always conceived by us as something residing in the object which raises the pleasant sensation; a sort of glory which dwells upon, and invests it. Perhaps the most complete assemblage of beautiful objects that can any where be found, is presented by a rich natural landscape, where there is a sufficient variety of objects: fields in verdure, scattered

a

any tha

trees and flowers, running water, and animals grazing. If to these be joined some of the productions of art which suit such a scene, as a bridge with arches over a river, smoke rising from cottages in the midst of trees, and the distant view of a fine building seen by the rising sun; we then enjoy, in the highest perfection, that gay, cheerful, and placid sensation which characterises Beauty. To have an eye and a taste formed for catching the peculiar beauties of such scenes as these, is a necessary requisite for all who attempt poetical description.

The Beauty of the human countenance is more complex th that we have yet considered. It includes the Beauty of colour, arising from the delicate shades of the complexion; and the Beauty of figure, arising from the lines which form the different features of the face. But the chief Beauty of the countenance depends upon a mysterious expression, which it conveys of the qualities of the mind; of

. good sense, or good humour; of sprightliness, can

: dour, benevolence, sensibility, or other amiable dispositions. How it comes to pass, that a certain conformation of features is connected in our idea with certain moral qualities; whether we are taught by instinct, or by experience, to form this connection, and to read the mind in the countenance ; belongs not to us now to enquire, nor is indeed easy to resolve. The fact is certain, and acknowledged, that what gives the human countenance its most distinguishing Beauty, is what is called its expression; or an image, which it is conceived to shew of internal moral dispositions.

This leads us to observe, that there are certain qualities of the mind, which, whether expressed in

« EelmineJätka »