[Note: for this online edition I have moved the Table of Contents to the beginning of the text and slightly modified it to conform with the online format. I have also made two spelling corrections: "chippendale" to "Chippendale" and "closely interpendent" to "closely interdependent."]
AN INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGICAL AESTHETICS
Author of "Beauty and Ugliness" "Laurus Nobilis" etc.
Cambridge: at the University Press New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1913
With the exception of the coat of arms at the foot, the design on the title page is a reproduction of one used by the earliest known Cambridge printer, John Siberch, 1521
Preface and Apology v I. The Adjective "Beautiful" 1 II. Contemplative Satisfaction 8 III. Aspects versus Things 14 IV. Sensations 22 V. Perception of Relations 29 VI. Elements of Shape 35 VII. Facility and Difficulty of Grasping 48 VIII. Subject and Object, or, Nominative and Accusative 55 IX. Empathy (Einfuehlung) 61 X. The Movement of Lines 70 XI. The Character of Shapes 78 XII. From the Shape to the Thing 84 XIII. From the Thing to the Shape 90 XIV. The Aims of Art 98 XV. Attention to Shapes 106 XVI. Information about Things 111 XVII. Co-operation of Things and Shapes 117 XVIII. Aesthetic Responsiveness 128 XIX. The Storage and Transfer of Emotion 139 XX. Aesthetic Irradiation and Purification 147 XXI. Conclusion (Evolutional) 153 Bibliography 156 Index 157
PREFACE AND APOLOGY
I HAVE tried in this little volume to explain aesthetic preference, particularly as regards visible shapes, by the facts of mental science. But my explanation is addressed to readers in whom I have no right to expect a previous knowledge of psychology, particularly in its more modern developments. I have therefore based my explanation of the problems of aesthetics as much as possible upon mental facts familiar, or at all events easily intelligible, to the lay reader. Now mental facts thus available are by no means the elementary processes with which analytical and, especially experimental, psychology has dealings. They are, on the contrary, the everyday, superficial and often extremely confused views which practical life and its wholly unscientific vocabulary present of those ascertained or hypothetical scientific facts. I have indeed endeavoured (for instance in the analysis of perception as distinguished from sensation) to impart some rudiments of psychology in the course of my aesthetical explanation, and I have avoided, as much as possible, misleading the reader about such fearful complexes and cruxes as memory, association and imagination. But I have been obliged to speak in terms intelligible to the lay reader, and I am fully aware that these terms correspond only very approximately to what is, or at present passes as, psychological fact. I would therefore beg the psychologist (to whom I offer this little volume as a possible slight addition even to his stock of facts and hypotheses) to understand that in speaking, for instance, of Empathy as involving a thought of certain activities, I mean merely that whatever happens has the same result as if we thought; and that the processes, whatever they may be (also in the case of measuring, comparing and co-ordinating), translate themselves, when they are detected, into thoughts; but that I do not in the least pre-judge the question whether the processes, the "thoughts," the measuring, comparing etc. exist on subordinate planes of consciousness or whether they are mainly physiological and only occasionally abutting in conscious resultants. Similarly, lack of space and the need for clearness have obliged me to write as if shape-preference invariably necessitated the detailed process of ocular perception, instead of being due, as is doubtless most often the case, to every kind of associative abbreviation and equivalence of processes.
VERNON LEE Maiano near Florence, Easter 1913.
THE ADJECTIVE "BEAUTIFUL"
THIS little book, like the great branch of mental science to which it is an introduction, makes no attempt to "form the taste" of the public and still less to direct the doings of the artist. It deals not with ought but with is, leaving to Criticism the inference from the latter to the former. It does not pretend to tell how things can be made beautiful or even how we can recognise that things are beautiful. It takes Beauty as already existing and enjoyed, and seeks to analyse and account for Beauty's existence and enjoyment. More strictly speaking, it analyses and accounts for Beauty not inasmuch as existing in certain objects and processes, but rather as calling forth (and being called forth by) a particular group of mental activities and habits. It does not ask: What are the peculiarities of the things (and the proceedings) which we call Beautiful? but: What are the peculiarities of our thinking and feeling when in the presence of a thing to which we apply this adjective? The study of single beautiful things, and even more, the comparison of various categories thereof, is indeed one-half of all scientific aesthetics, but only inasmuch as it adds to our knowledge of the particular mental activities which such "Beautiful" (and vice versa "Ugly") things elicit in us. For it is on the nature of this active response on our own part that depends the application of those terms Beautiful and Ugly in every single instance; and indeed their application in any instances whatsoever, their very existence in the human vocabulary.
In accordance with this programme I shall not start with a formal definition of the word Beautiful, but ask: on what sort of occasions we make use of it. Evidently, on occasions when we feel satisfaction rather than dissatisfaction, satisfaction meaning willingness either to prolong or to repeat the particular experience which has called forth that word; and meaning also that if it comes to a choice between two or several experiences, we prefer the experience thus marked by the word Beautiful. Beautiful, we may therefore formulate, implies on our part an attitude of satisfaction and preference. But there are other words which imply that much; first and foremost the words, in reality synonyms, USEFUL and GOOD. I call these synonyms because good always implies good for, or good in, that is to say fitness for a purpose, even though that purpose may be masked under conforming to a standard or obeying a commandment, since the standard or commandment represents not the caprice of a community, a race or a divinity, but some (real or imaginary) utility of a less immediate kind. So much for the meaning of good when implying standards and commandments; ninety-nine times out of a hundred there is, however, no such implication, and good means nothing more than satisfactory in the way of use and advantage. Thus a good road is a road we prefer because it takes us to our destination quickly and easily. A good speech is one we prefer because it succeeds in explaining or persuading. And a good character (good friend, father, husband, citizen) is one that gives satisfaction by the fulfilment of moral obligations.
But note the difference when we come to Beautiful. A beautiful road is one we prefer because it affords views we like to look at; its being devious and inconvenient will not prevent its being beautiful. A beautiful speech is one we like to hear or remember, although it may convince or persuade neither us nor anybody. A beautiful character is one we like to think about but which may never practically help anyone, if for instance, it exists not in real life but in a novel. Thus the adjective Beautiful implies an attitude of preference, but not an attitude of present or future turning to our purposes. There is even a significant lack of symmetry in the words employed (at all events in English, French and German) to distinguish what we like from what we dislike in the way of weather. For weather which makes us uncomfortable and hampers our comings and goings by rain, wind or mud, is described as bad; while the opposite kind of weather is called beautiful, fine, or fair, as if the greater comfort, convenience, usefulness of such days were forgotten in the lively satisfaction afforded to our mere contemplation.
Our mere contemplation! Here we have struck upon the main difference between our attitude when we use the word good or useful, and when we use the word beautiful. And we can add to our partial formula "beautiful implies satisfaction and preference"—the distinguishing predicate—"of a contemplative kind." This general statement will be confirmed by an everyday anomaly in our use of the word beautiful; and the examination of this seeming exception will not only exemplify what I have said about our attitude when employing that word, but add to this information the name of the emotion corresponding with that attitude: the emotion of admiration. For the selfsame object or proceeding may sometimes be called good and sometimes beautiful, according as the mental attitude is practical or contemplative. While we admonish the traveller to take a certain road because he will find it good, we may hear that same road described by an enthusiastic coachman as beautiful, anglice fine or splendid, because there is no question of immediate use, and the road's qualities are merely being contemplated with admiration. Similarly, we have all of us heard an engineer apply to a piece of machinery, and even a surgeon to an operation, the apparently far-fetched adjective Beautiful, or one of the various equivalents, fine, splendid, glorious (even occasionally jolly!) by which Englishmen express their admiration. The change of word represents a change of attitude. The engineer is no longer bent upon using the machine, nor the surgeon estimating the advantages of the operation. Each of these highly practical persons has switched off his practicality, if but for an imperceptible fraction of time and in the very middle of a practical estimation or even of practice itself. The machine or operation, the skill, the inventiveness, the fitness for its purposes, are being considered apart from action, and advantage, means and time, to-day or yesterday; platonically we may call it from the first great teacher of aesthetics. They are being, in one word, contemplated with admiration. And admiration is the rough and ready name for the mood, however transient, for the emotion, however faint, wherewith we greet whatever makes us contemplate, because contemplation happens to give satisfaction. The satisfaction may be a mere skeleton of the "I'd rather than not" description; or it may be a massive alteration in our being, radiating far beyond the present, evoking from the past similar conditions to corroborate it; storing itself up for the future; penetrating, like the joy of a fine day, into our animal spirits, altering pulse, breath, gait, glance and demeanour; and transfiguring our whole momentary outlook on life. But, superficial or overwhelming, this hind of satisfaction connected with, the word Beautiful is always of the Contemplative order.
And upon the fact we have thus formulated depend, as we shall see, most of the other facts and formulae of our subject.
This essentially unpractical attitude accompanying the use of the word Beautiful has led metaphysical aestheticians to two famous, and I think, quite misleading theories. The first of these defines aesthetic appreciation as disinterested interest, gratuitously identifying self-interest with the practical pursuit of advantages we have not yet got; and overlooking the fact that such appreciation implies enjoyment and is so far the very reverse of disinterested. The second philosophical theory (originally Schiller's, and revived by Herbert Spencer) takes advantage of the non-practical attitude connected with the word Beautiful to define art and its enjoyment as a kind of play. Now although leisure and freedom from cares are necessary both for play and for aesthetic appreciation, the latter differs essentially from the former by its contemplative nature. For although it may be possible to watch other people playing football or chess or bridge in a purely contemplative spirit and with the deepest admiration, even as the engineer or surgeon may contemplate the perfections of a machine or an operation, yet the concentration on the aim and the next moves constitutes on the part of the players themselves an eminently practical state of mind, one diametrically opposed to contemplation, as I hope to make evident in the next section.
WE have thus defined the word Beautiful as implying an attitude of contemplative satisfaction, marked by a feeling, sometimes amounting to an emotion, of admiration; and so far contrasted it with the practical attitude implied by the word good. But we require to know more about the distinctive peculiarities of contemplation as such, by which, moreover, it is distinguished not merely from the practical attitude, but also from the scientific one.
Let us get some rough and ready notions on this subject by watching the behaviour and listening to the remarks of three imaginary wayfarers in front of a view, which they severally consider in the practical, the scientific and the aesthetic manner. The view was from a hill-top in the neighbourhood of Rome or of Edinburgh, whichever the Reader can best realise; and in its presence the three travellers halted and remained for a moment absorbed each in his thoughts.
"It will take us a couple of hours to get home on foot"—began one of the three. "We might have been back for tea-time if only there had been a tram and a funicular. And that makes me think: Why not start a joint-stock company to build them? There must be water-power in these hills; the hill people could keep cows and send milk and butter to town. Also houses could be built for people whose work takes them to town, but who want good air for their children; the hire-purchase system, you know. It might prove a godsend and a capital investment, though I suppose some people would say it spoilt the view. The idea is quite a good one. I shall get an expert—"
"These hills," put in the second man—"are said to be part of an ancient volcano. I don't know whether that theory is true! It would be interesting to examine whether the summits have been ground down in places by ice, and whether there are traces of volcanic action at different geological epochs; the plain, I suppose, has been under the sea at no very distant period. It is also interesting to notice, as we can up here, how the situation of the town is explained by the river affording easier shipping on a coast poor in natural harbours; moreover, this has been the inevitable meeting-place of seafaring and pastoral populations. These investigations would prove, as I said, remarkably full of interest."
"I wish"—complained the third wayfarer, but probably only to himself—"I wish these men would hold their tongues and let one enjoy this exquisite place without diverting one's attention to what might be done or to how it all came about. They don't seem to feel how beautiful it all is." And he concentrated himself on contemplation of the landscape, his delight brought home by a stab of reluctance to leave.
Meanwhile one of his companions fell to wondering whether there really was sufficient pasture for dairy-farming and water-power for both tramway and funicular, and where the necessary capital could be borrowed; and the other one hunted about for marks of stratification and upheaval, and ransacked his memory for historical data about the various tribes originally inhabiting that country.
"I suppose you're a painter and regretting you haven't brought your sketching materials?" said the scientific man, always interested in the causes of phenomena, even such trifling ones as a man remaining quiet before a landscape.
"I reckon you are one of those literary fellows, and are planning out where you can use up a description of this place"—corrected the rapid insight of the practical man, accustomed to weigh people's motives in case they may be turned to use.
"I am not a painter, and I'm not a writer"—exclaimed the third traveller, "and I thank Heaven I'm not! For if I were I might be trying to engineer a picture or to match adjectives, instead of merely enjoying all this beauty. Not but that I should like to have a sketch or a few words of description for when I've turned my back upon it. And Heaven help me, I really believe that when we are all back in London I may be quite glad to hear you two talking about your tramway-funicular company and your volcanic and glacial action, because your talk will evoke in my mind the remembrance of this place and moment which you have done your best to spoil for me—"
"That's what it is to be aesthetic"—said the two almost in the same breath.
"And that, I suppose"—answered the third with some animosity—"is what you mean by being practical or scientific."
Now the attitude of mind of the practical man and of the man of science, though differing so obviously from one another (the first bent upon producing new and advantageous results, the second examining, without thought of advantage, into possible causes), both differed in the same way from the attitude of the man who was merely contemplating what he called the beauty of the scene. They were, as he complained, thinking of what might be done and of how it had all come about. That is to say they were both thinking away from that landscape. The scientific man actually turned his back to it in examining first one rock, then another. The practical man must have looked both at the plain in front and at the hill he was on, since he judged that there was pasture and water-power, and that the steepness required supplementing the tramway by a funicular. But besides the different items of landscape, and the same items under different angles, which were thus offered to these two men's bodily eyes, there was a far greater variety, and rapider succession of items and perspectives presented to the eyes of their spirit: the practical man's mental eye seeing not only the hills, plain, and town with details not co-existing in perspective or even in time, but tram-lines and funiculars in various stages of progress, dairy-products, pasture, houses, dynamos, waterfalls, offices, advertisements, cheques, etc., etc., and the scientific man's inner vision glancing with equal speed from volcanoes to ice-caps and seas in various stages of geological existence, besides minerals under the microscope, inhabitants in prehistoric or classic garb, let alone probably pages of books and interiors of libraries. Moreover, most, if not all these mental images (blocking out from attention the really existing landscape) could be called images only by courtesy, swished over by the mental eye as by an express train, only just enough seen to know what it was, or perhaps nothing seen at all, mere words filling up gaps in the chain of thought. So that what satisfaction there might be in the case was not due to these rapidly scampered through items, but to the very fact of getting to the next one, and to a looming, dominating goal, an ultimate desired result, to wit, pounds, shillings, and pence in the one case, and a coherent explanation in the other. In both cases equally there was a kaleidoscopic and cinematographic succession of aspects, but of aspects of which only one detail perhaps was noticed. Or, more strictly speaking, there was no interest whatever in aspects as such, but only in the possibilities of action which these aspects implied; whether actions future and personally profitable, like building tram-lines and floating joint-stock companies, or actions mainly past and quite impersonally interesting, like those of extinct volcanoes or prehistoric civilisations.
Now let us examine the mental attitude of the third man, whom the two others had first mistaken for an artist or writer, and then dismissed as an aesthetic person.
ASPECTS VERSUS THINGS
HAVING settled upon a particular point of view as the one he liked best, he remained there in contemplation of the aspect it afforded him. Had he descended another twenty minutes, or looked through powerful glasses, he would have seen the plain below as a juxtaposition of emerald green, raw Sienna, and pale yellow, whereas, at the distance where he chose to remain, its colours fused into indescribably lovely lilacs and russets. Had he moved freely about he would have become aware that a fanlike arrangement of sharply convergent lines, tempting his eye to run rapidly into their various angles, must be thought of as a chessboard of dikes, hedges, and roads, dull as if drawn with a ruler on a slate. Also that the foothills, instead of forming a monumental mass with the mountains behind them, lay in a totally different plane and distracted the attention by their aggressive projection. While, as if to spoil the aspect still more, he would have been forced to recognise (as Ruskin explains by his drawing of the cottage roof and the Matterhorn peak) that the exquisitely phrased skyline of the furthermost hills, picked up at rhythmical intervals into sharp crests, dropping down merely to rush up again in long concave curves, was merely an illusion of perspective, nearer lines seeming higher and further ones lower, let alone that from a balloon you would see only flattened mounds. But to how things might look from a balloon, or under a microscope, that man did not give one thought, any more than to how they might look after a hundred years of tramways and funiculars or how they had looked before thousands of years of volcanic and glacial action. He was satisfied with the wonderfully harmonised scheme of light and colour, the pattern (more and more detailed, more and more co-ordinated with every additional exploring glance) of keenly thrusting, delicately yielding lines, meeting as purposefully as if they had all been alive and executing some great, intricate dance. He did not concern himself whether what he was looking at was an aggregate of things; still less what might be these things' other properties. He was not concerned with things at all, but only with a particular appearance (he did not care whether it answered to reality), only with one (he did not want to know whether there might be any other) aspect.
For, odd as it may sound, a Thing is both much more and much less than an Aspect. Much more, because a Thing really means not only qualities of its own and reactions of ours which are actual and present, but a far greater number and variety thereof which are potential. Much less, on the other hand, because of these potential qualities and reactions constituting a Thing only a minimum need be thought of at any given time; instead of which, an aspect is all there, its qualities closely interdependent, and our reactions entirely taken up in connecting them as whole and parts. A rose, for instance, is not merely a certain assemblage of curves and straight lines and colours, seen as the painter sees it, at a certain angle, petals masking part of stem, leaf protruding above bud: it is the possibility of other combinations of shapes, including those seen when the rose (or the person looking) is placed head downwards. Similarly it is the possibility of certain sensations of resistance, softness, moisture, pricking if we attempt to grasp it, of a certain fragrance if we breathe in the air. It is the possibility of turning into a particular fruit, with the possibility of our finding that fruit bitter and non-edible; of being developed from cuttings, pressed in a book, made a present of or cultivated for lucre. Only one of these groups of possibilities may occupy our thoughts, the rest not glanced at, or only glanced at subsequently; but if, on trial, any of these grouped possibilities disappoint us, we decide that this is not a real rose, but a paper rose, or a painted one, or no rose at all, but some other thing. For, so far as our consciousness is concerned, things are merely groups of actual and potential reactions on our own part, that is to say of expectations which experience has linked together in more or less stable groups. The practical man and the man of science in my fable, were both of them dealing with Things: passing from one group of potential reaction to another, hurrying here, dallying there, till of the actual aspect of the landscape there remained nothing in their thoughts, trams and funiculars in the future, volcanoes and icecaps in the past, having entirely altered all that; only the material constituents and the geographical locality remaining as the unshifted item in those much pulled about bundles of thoughts of possibilities.
Every thing may have a great number of very different Aspects; and some of these Aspects may invite contemplation, as that landscape invited the third man to contemplate it; while other aspects (say the same place after a proper course of tramways and funiculars and semi-detached residences, or before the needful volcanic and glacial action) may be such as are dismissed or slurred as fast as possible. Indeed, with the exception of a very few cubes not in themselves especially attractive, I cannot remember any things which do not present quite as many displeasing aspects as pleasing ones. The most beautiful building is not beautiful if stood on its head; the most beautiful picture is not beautiful looked at through a microscope or from too far off; the most beautiful melody is not beautiful if begun at the wrong end. . . . Here the Reader may interrupt: "What nonsense! Of course the building is a building only when right side up; the picture isn't a picture any longer under a microscope; the melody isn't a melody except begun at the beginning"—all which means that when we speak of a building, a picture, or a melody, we are already implicitly speaking, no longer of a Thing, but of one of the possible Aspects of a thing; and that when we say that a thing is beautiful, we mean that it affords one or more aspects which we contemplate with satisfaction. But if a beautiful mountain or a beautiful woman could only be contemplated, if the mountain could not also be climbed or tunnelled, if the woman could not also get married, bear children and have (or not have!) a vote, we should say that the mountain and the woman were not real things. Hence we come to the conclusion, paradoxical only as long as we fail to define what we are talking about, that what we contemplate as beautiful is an Aspect of a Thing, but never a Thing itself. In other words: Beautiful is an adjective applicable to Aspects not to Things, or to Things only, inasmuch as we consider them as possessing (among other potentialities) beautiful Aspects. So that we can now formulate: The word beautiful implies the satisfaction derived from the contemplation not of things but of aspects.
This summing up has brought us to the very core of our subject; and I should wish the Reader to get it by heart, until he grow familiarised therewith in the course of our further examinations. Before proceeding upon these, I would, however, ask him to reflect how this last formula of ours bears upon the old, seemingly endless, squabble as to whether or not beauty has anything to do with truth, and whether art, as certain moralists contend, is a school of lying. For true or false is a judgment of existence; it refers to Things; it implies that besides the qualities and reactions shown or described, our further action or analysis will call forth certain other groups of qualities and reactions constituting the thing which is said to exist. But aspects, in the case in which I have used that word, are what they are and do not necessarily imply anything beyond their own peculiarities. The words true or false can be applied to them only with the meaning of aspects truly existing or not truly existing; i.e. aspects of which it is true or not to say that they exist. But as to an aspect being true or false in the sense of misleading, that question refers not to the aspect itself, but to the thing of which the aspect is taken as a part and a sign. Now the contemplation of the mere aspect, the beauty (or ugliness) of the aspect, does not itself necessitate or imply any such reference to a thing. Our contemplation of the beauty of a statue representing a Centaur may indeed be disturbed by the reflexion that a creature with two sets of lungs and digestive organs would be a monster and not likely to grow to the age of having a beard. But this disturbing thought need not take place. And when it takes place it is not part of our contemplation of the aspect of that statue; it is, on the contrary, outside it, an excursion away from it due to our inveterate (and very necessary) habit of interrupting the contemplation of Aspects by the thinking and testing of Things. The Aspect never implied the existence of a Thing beyond itself; it did not affirm that anything was true, i.e. that anything could or would happen besides the fact of our contemplation. In other words the formula that beautiful is an adjective applying only to aspects, shows us that art can be truthful or untruthful only in so far as art (as is often the case) deliberately sets to making statements about the existence and nature of Things. If Art says "Centaurs can be born and grow up to man's estate with two sets of respiratory and digestive organs"—then Art is telling lies. Only, before accusing it of being a liar, better make sure that the statement about the possibility of centaurs has been intended by the Art, and not merely read into it by ourselves.
But more of this when we come to the examination of Subject and Form.
IN the contemplation of the Aspect before him, what gave that aesthetic man the most immediate and undoubted pleasure was its colour, or, more correctly speaking, its colours. Psycho-Physiologists have not yet told us why colours, taken singly and apart from their juxtaposition, should possess so extraordinary a power over what used to be called our animal spirits, and through them over our moods; and we can only guess from analogy with what is observed in plants, as well as from the nature of the phenomenon itself, that various kinds of luminous stimulation must have some deep chemical repercussion throughout the human organism. The same applies, though in lesser degree, to sounds, quite independent of their juxtaposition as melodies and harmonies. As there are colours which feel, i.e. make us feel, more or less warm or cool, colours which are refreshing or stifling, depressing or exhilarating quite independent of any associations, so also there are qualities of sound which enliven us like the blare of the trumpet, or harrow us like the quaver of the accordion. Similarly with regard to immediacy of effect: the first chords of an organ will change our whole mode of being like the change of light and colour on first entering a church, although the music which that organ is playing may, after a few seconds of listening, bore us beyond endurance; and the architecture of that church, once we begin to take stock of it, entirely dispel that first impression made by the church's light and colour. It is on account of this doubtless physiological power of colour and sound, this way which they have of invading and subjugating us with or without our consent and long before our conscious co-operation, that the Man-on-the-Hill's pleasure in the aspect before him was, as I have said, first of all, pleasure in colour. Also, because pleasure in colour, like pleasure in mere sound-quality or timbre, is accessible to people who never go any further in their aesthetic preference. Children, as every one knows, are sensitive to colours, long before they show the faintest sensitiveness for shapes. And the timbre of a perfect voice in a single long note or shake used to bring the house down in the days of our grandparents, just as the subtle orchestral blendings of Wagner entrance hearers incapable of distinguishing the notes of a chord and sometimes even incapable of following a modulation.
The Man on the Hill, therefore, received immediate pleasure from the colours of the landscape. Received pleasure, rather than took it, since colours, like smells, seem, as I have said, to invade us, and insist upon pleasing whether we want to be pleased or not. In this meaning of the word we may be said to be passive to sound and colour quality: our share in the effects of these sensations, as in the effect of agreeable temperatures, contacts and tastes, is a question of bodily and mental reflexes in which our conscious activity, our voluntary attention, play no part: we are not doing, but done to by those stimulations from without; and the pleasure or displeasure which they set up in us is therefore one which we receive, as distinguished from one which we take.
Before passing on to the pleasure which the Man on the Hill did take, as distinguished from thus passively receiving, from the aspect before him, before investigating into the activities to which this other kind of pleasure, pleasure taken, not received, is due, we must dwell a little longer on the colours which delighted him, and upon the importance or unimportance of those colours with regard to that Aspect he was contemplating.
These colours—particularly a certain rain-washed blue, a pale lilac and a faded russet—gave him, as I said, immediate and massive pleasure like that of certain delicious tastes and smells, indeed anyone who had watched him attentively might have noticed that he was making rather the same face as a person rolling, as Meredith says, a fine vintage against his palate, or drawing in deeper draughts of exquisitely scented air; he himself, if not too engaged in looking, might have noticed the accompanying sensations in his mouth, throat and nostrils; all of which, his only active response to the colour, was merely the attempt to receive more of the already received sensation. But this pleasure which he received from the mere colours of the landscape was the same pleasure which they would have given him if he had met them in so many skeins of silk; the more complex pleasure due to their juxtaposition, was the pleasure he might have had if those skeins, instead of being on separate leaves of a pattern-book, had been lying tangled together in an untidy work-basket. He might then probably have said, "Those are exactly the colours, and in much the same combination, as in that landscape we saw such and such a day, at such and such a season and hour, from the top of that hill." But he would never have said (or been crazy if he had) "Those skeins of silk are the landscape we saw in that particular place and oh that particular occasion." Now the odd thing is that he would have used that precise form of words, "that is the landscape," etc. etc., if you had shown him a pencil drawing or a photograph taken from that particular place and point of view. And similarly if you had made him look through stained glass which changed the pale blue, pale lilac and faded russet into emerald green and blood red. He would have exclaimed at the loss of those exquisite colours when you showed him the monochrome, and perhaps have sworn that all his pleasure was spoilt when you forced him to look through that atrocious glass. But he would have identified the aspect as the one he had seen before; just as even the least musical person would identify "God save the King" whether played with three sharps on the flute or with four flats on the trombone.
There is therefore in an Aspect something over and above the quality of the colours (or in a piece of music, of the sounds) in which that aspect is, at any particular moment, embodied for your senses; something which can be detached from the particular colours or sounds and re-embodied in other colours or sounds, existing meanwhile in a curious potential schematic condition in our memory. That something is Shape.
It is Shape which we contemplate; and it is only because they enter into shapes that colours and sounds, as distinguished from temperatures, textures, tastes and smells, can be said to be contemplated at all. Indeed if we apply to single isolated colour or sound-qualities (that blue or russet, or the mere timbre of a voice or an orchestra) the adjective beautiful while we express our liking for smells, tastes, temperatures and textures merely by the adjectives agreeable, delicious; this difference in our speech is doubtless due to the fact that colours or sounds are more often than not connected each with other colours or other sounds into a Shape and thereby become subject to contemplation more frequently than temperatures, textures, smells and tastes which cannot themselves be grouped into shapes, and are therefore objects of contemplation only when associated with colours and sounds, as for instance, the smell of burning weeds in a description of autumnal sights, or the cool wetness of a grotto in the perception of its darkness and its murmur of waters.
On dismissing the practical and the scientific man because they were thinking away from aspects to things, I attempted to inventory the aspect in whose contemplation their aesthetic companion had remained absorbed. There were the colours, that delicious recently-washed blue, that lilac and russet, which gave the man his immediate shock of passive and (as much as smell and taste) bodily pleasure. But besides these my inventory contained another kind of item: what I described as a fan-like arrangement of sharply convergent lines and an exquisitely phrased sky-line of hills, picked up at rhythmical intervals into sharp crests and dropping down merely to rush up again in long rapid concave curves. And besides all this, there was the outline of a distant mountain, rising flamelike against the sky. It was all these items made up of lines (skyline, outline, and lines of perspective!) which remained unchanged when the colours were utterly changed by looking through stained glass, and unchanged also when the colouring was reduced to the barest monochrome of a photograph or a pencil drawing; nay remained the same despite all changes of scale in that almost colourless presentment of them. Those items of the aspect were, as we all know, Shapes. And with altered colours, and colours diminished to just enough for each line to detach itself from its ground, those Shapes could be contemplated and called beautiful.
PERCEPTION OF RELATIONS
WHY should this be the case? Briefly, because colours (and sounds) as such are forced upon us by external stimulation of our organs of sight and hearing, neither more nor less than various temperatures, textures, tastes and smells are forced upon us from without through the nervous and cerebral mechanism connected with our skin, muscle, palate and nose. Whereas shapes instead of being thus nilly willy seen or heard, are, at least until we know them, looked at or listened to, that is to say taken in or grasped, by mental and bodily activities which meet, but may also refuse to meet, those sense stimulations. Moreover, because these mental and bodily activities, being our own, can be rehearsed in what we call our memory without the repetition of the sensory stimulations which originally started them, and even in the presence of different ones.
In terms of mental science, colour and sound, like temperature, texture, taste and smell, are sensations; while shape is, in the most complete sense, a perception. This distinction between sensation and perception is a technicality of psychology; but upon it rests the whole question why shapes can be contemplated and afford the satisfaction connected with the word beautiful, while colours and sounds, except as grouped or groupable into shapes, cannot. Moreover this distinction will prepare us for understanding the main fact of all psychological aesthetics: namely that the satisfaction or the dissatisfaction which we get from shapes is satisfaction or dissatisfaction in what are, directly or indirectly, activities of our own.
Etymologically and literally, perception means the act of grasping or taking in, and also the result of that action. But when we thus perceive a shape, what is it precisely that we grasp or take in? At first it might seem to be the sensations in which that form is embodied. But a moment's reflection will show that this cannot be the case, since the sensations are furnished us simply without our performing any act of perception, thrust on us from outside, and, unless our sensory apparatus and its correlated brain centre were out of order, received by us passively, nilly willy, the Man on the Hill being invaded by the sense of that blue, that lilac and that russet exactly as he might have been invaded by the smell of the hay in the fields below. No: what we grasp or take in thus actively are not the sensations themselves, but the relations between these sensations, and it is of these relations, more truly than of the sensations themselves, that a shape is, in the most literal sense, made up. And it is this making up of shapes, this grasping or taking in of their constituent relations, which is an active process on our part, and one which we can either perform or not perform. When, instead of merely seeing a colour, we look at a shape, our eye ceases to be merely passive to the action of the various light-waves, and becomes active, and active in a more or less complicated way; turning its differently sensitive portions to meet or avoid the stimulus, adjusting its focus like that of an opera glass, and like an opera glass, turning it to the right or left, higher or lower.
Moreover, except in dealing with very small surfaces, our eye moves about in our head and moves our head, and sometimes our whole body, along with it. An analogous active process undoubtedly distinguishes listening from mere hearing; and although psycho-physiology seems still at a loss for the precise adjustments of the inner ear corresponding to the minute adjustments of the eye, it is generally recognised that auditive attention is accompanied by adjustments of the vocal parts, or preparations for such adjustments, which account for the impression of following a sequence of notes as we follow the appearance of colours and light, but as we do not follow, in the sense of connecting by our activity, consecutive sensations of taste or smell. Besides such obvious or presumable bodily activities requisite for looking and listening as distinguished from mere seeing and hearing, there is moreover in all perception of shape, as in all grasping of meaning, a mental activity involving what are called attention and memory. A primer of aesthetics is no place for expounding any of the various psychological definitions of either of these, let us call them, faculties. Besides I should prefer that these pages deal only with such mental facts as can be found in the Reader's everyday (however unnoticed) experience, instead of requiring for their detection the artificial conditions of specialised introspection or laboratory experiment. So I shall give to those much fought over words attention and memory merely the rough and ready meaning with which we are familiar in everyday language, and only beg the Reader to notice that, whatever psychologists may eventually prove or disprove attention and memory to be, these two, let us unscientifically call them faculties, are what chiefly distinguishes perception from sensation. For instance, in grasping or taking stock of a visible or an audible shape we are doing something with our attention, or our attention is doing something in us: a travelling about, a returning to starting points, a summing up. And a travelling about not merely between what is given simultaneously in the present, but, even more, between what has been given in an immediately proximate past, and what we expect to be given in an immediately proximate future; both of which, the past which is put behind us as past, and the past which is projected forwards as future, necessitate the activity of memory. There is an adjustment of our feelings as well as our muscles not merely to the present sensation, but to the future one, and a buzz of continuing adjustment to the past. There is a holding over and a holding on, a reacting backwards and forwards of our attention, and quite a little drama of expectation, fulfilment and disappointment, or as psychologists call them, of tensions and relaxations. And this little drama involved in all looking or listening, particularly in all taking stock of visible or audible (and I may add intellectual or verbal) shape, has its appropriate accompaniment of emotional changes: the ease or difficulty of understanding producing feelings of victory or defeat which we shall deal with later. And although the various perceptive activities remain unnoticed in themselves (so long as easy and uninterrupted), we become aware of a lapse, a gap, whenever our mind's eye (if not our bodily one!) neglects to sweep from side to side of a geometrical figure, or from centre to circumference, or again whenever our mind's ear omits following from some particular note to another, just as when we fall asleep for a second during a lecture or sermon: we have, in common parlance, missed the hang of some detail or passage. What we have missed, in that lapse of attention, is a relation, the length and direction of a line, or the span of a musical interval, or, in the case of words, the references of noun and verb, the co-ordination of tenses of a verb. And it is such relations, more or less intricate and hierarchic, which transform what would otherwise be meaningless juxtapositions or sequences of sensations into the significant entities which can be remembered and recognised even when their constituent sensations are completely altered, namely shapes. To our previous formula that beautiful denotes satisfaction in contemplating an aspect, we can now add that an aspect consists of sensations grouped together into relations by our active, our remembering and foreseeing, perception.
ELEMENTS OF SHAPE
LET us now examine some of these relations, not in the genealogical or hierarchic order assigned to them by experimental psychology, but in so far as they constitute the elements of shape, and more especially as they illustrate the general principle which I want to impress on the Reader, namely: That the perception of Shape depends primarily upon movements which we make, and the measurements and comparisons which we institute.
And first we must examine mere extension as such, which distinguishes our active dealings with visual and audible sensations from our passive reception of the sensations of taste and smell. For while in the case of the latter a succession of similar stimulations affects us as "more taste of strawberry" or "more smell of rose" when intermittent, or as a vague "there is a strong or faint taste of strawberry" and a "there is a smell of lemon flower"—when continuous; our organ of sight being mobile, reports not "more black on white" but "so many inches of black line on a white ground," that is to say reports a certain extension answering to its own movement. This quality of extension exists also in our sound-perceptions, although the explanation is less evident. Notes do not indeed exist (but only sounding bodies and air-vibrations) in the space which we call "real" because our eye and our locomotion coincide in their accounts of it; but notes are experienced, that is thought and felt, as existing in a sort of imitation space of their own. This "musical space," as M. Dauriac has rightly called it, has limits corresponding with those of our power of hearing or reproducing notes, and a central region corresponding with our habitual experience of the human voice; and in this "musical space" notes are experienced as moving up and down and with a centrifugal and centripetal direction, and also as existing at definite spans or intervals from one another; all of which probably on account of presumable muscular adjustments of the inner and auditive apparatus, as well as obvious sensations in the vocal parts when we ourselves produce, and often when we merely think of, them. In visual perception the sweep of the glance, that is the adjustment of the muscles of the inner eye, the outer eye and of the head, is susceptible of being either interrupted or continuous like any other muscular process; and its continuity is what unites the mere successive sensations of colour and light into a unity of extension, so that the same successive colour-and-light-sensations can be experienced either as one extension, or as two or more, according as the glance is continuous or interrupted; the eye's sweep, when not excessive, tending to continuity unless a new direction requires a new muscular adjustment. And, except in the case of an extension exceeding any single movement of eye and head, a new adjustment answers to what we call a change of direction. Extension therefore, as we have forestalled with regard to sound, has various modes, corresponding to something belonging to ourselves: a middle, answering to the middle not of our field of vision, since that itself can be raised or lowered by a movement of the head, but to the middle of our body; and an above and below, a right and a left referable to our body also, or rather to the adjustments made by eye and head in the attempt to see our own extremities; for, as every primer of psychology will teach you, mere sight and its muscular adjustments account only for the dimensions of height (up and down) and of breadth (right and left) while the third or cubic dimension of depth is a highly complex result of locomotion in which I include prehension. And inasmuch as we are dealing with aspects and not with things, we have as yet nothing to do with this cubic or third dimension, but are confining ourselves to the two dimensions of extension in height and breadth, which are sufficient for the existence, the identity, or more correctly the quiddity, of visible shapes.
Such a shape is therefore, primarily, a series of longer or shorter extensions, given by a separate glance towards, or away from, our own centre or extremities, and at some definite angle to our own axis and to the ground on which we stand. But these acts of extension and orientation cease to be thought of as measured and orientated, and indeed as accomplished, by ourselves, and are translated into objective terms whenever our attention is turned outwards: thus we say that each line is of a given length and direction, so or so much off the horizontal or vertical.
So far we have established relations only to ourselves. We now compare the acts of extension one against the other, and we also measure the adjustment requisite to pass from one to another, continuing to refer them all to our own axis and centre; in everyday speech, we perceive that the various lines are similar and dissimilar in length, direction and orientation. We compare; and comparing we combine them in the unity of our intention: thought of together they are thought of as belonging together. Meanwhile the process of such comparison of the relation of each line with us to the analogous relation to us of its fellows, produces yet further acts of measurement and comparison. For in going from one of our lines to another we become aware of the presence of—how shall I express it?—well of a nothing between them, what we call blank space, because we experience a blank of the particular sensations, say red and black, with which we are engaged in those lines. Between the red and black sensations of the lines we are looking at, there will be a possibility of other colour sensations, say the white of the paper, and these white sensations we shall duly receive, for, except by shutting our eyes, we could not avoid receiving them. But though received these white sensations will not be attended to, because they are not what we are busied with. We shall be passive towards the white sensations while we are active towards the black and red ones; we shall not measure the white; not sweep our glance along it as we do along the red and the black. And as ceteris paribus our tense awareness of active states always throws into insignificance a passive state sandwiched between them; so, bent as we are upon our red and black extensions, and their comparative lengths and directions, we shall treat the uninteresting white extensions as a blank, a gap, as that which separates the objects of our active interest, and takes what existence it has for our mind only from its relation of separating those interesting actively measured and compared lines. Thus the difference between our active perception and our merely passive sensation accounts for the fact that every visible shape is composed of lines (or bands) measured and compared with reference to our own ocular adjustments and our axis and centre; lines existing, as we express it, in blank space, that is to say space not similarly measured; lines, moreover, enclosing between each other more of this blank space, which is not measured in itself but subjected to the measurement of its enclosing lines. And similarly, every audible Shape consists not merely of sounds enclosing silence, but of heard tones between which we are aware of the intervening blank interval which might have been occupied by the intermediary tones and semitones. In other words, visible and audible Shape is composed of alternations between active, that is moving, measuring, referring, comparing, attention; and passive, that is comparatively sluggish reception of mere sensation.
This fact implies another and very important one, which I have indeed already hinted at. If perceiving shape means comparing lines (they may be bands, but we will call them lines), and the lines are measured only by consecutive eye movements, then the act of comparison evidently includes the co-operation, however infinitesimally brief, of memory. The two halves of this Chippendale chair-back exist simultaneously in front of my eyes, but I cannot take stock simultaneously of the lengths and orientation of the curves to the right and the curves of the left. I must hold over the image of one half, and unite it, somewhere in what we call "the mind"—with the other; nay, I must do this even with the separate curves constituting the patterns each of which is measured by a sweep of the glance, even as I should measure them successively by applying a tape and then remembering and comparing their various lengths, although the ocular process may stand to the tape-process as a minute of our time to several hundreds of years. This comes to saying that the perception of visible shapes, even like that of audible ones, takes place in time, and requires therefore the co-operation of memory. Now memory, paradoxical as it may sound, practically implies expectation: the use of the past, to so speak, is to become that visionary thing we call the future. Hence, while we are measuring the extension and direction of one line, we are not only remembering the extent and direction of another previously measured line, but we are also expecting a similar, or somewhat similar, act of measurement of the next line; even as in "following a melody" we not only remember the preceding tone, but expect the succeeding ones. Such interplay of present, past and future is requisite for every kind of meaning, for every unit of thought; and among others, of the meaning, the thought, which we contemplate under the name of shape. It is on account of this interplay of present, past and future, that Wundt counts feelings of tension and relaxation among the elements of form-perception. And the mention of such feelings, i.e. rudiments of emotion, brings us to recognise that the remembering and foreseeing of our acts of measurement and orientation constitutes a microscopic psychological drama—shall we call it the drama of the SOUL MOLECULES?—whose first familiar examples are those two peculiarities of visible and audible shape called Symmetry and Rythm.
Both of these mean that a measurement has been made, and that the degree of its span is kept in memory to the extent of our expecting that the next act of measurement will be similar. Symmetry exists quite as much in Time (hence in shapes made up of sound-relations) as in Space; and Rythm, which is commonly thought of as an especially musical relation, exists as much in Space as in Time; because the perception of shape requires Time and movement equally whether the relations are between objectively co-existent and durable marks on stone or paper, or between objectively successive and fleeting sound-waves. Also because, while the single relations of lines and of sounds require to be ascertained successively, the combination of those various single relations, their relations with one another as whole and parts, require to be grasped by an intellectual synthesis; as much in the case of notes as in the case of lines. If, in either case, we did not remember the first measurement when we obtained the second, there would be no perception of shape however elementary; which is the same as saying that for an utterly oblivious mind there could be no relationships, and therefore no meaning. In the case of Symmetry the relations are not merely the lengths and directions of the single lines, that is to say their relations to ourselves, and the relation established by comparison between these single lines; there is now also the relation of both to a third, itself of course related to ourselves, indeed, as regards visible shape, usually answering to our own axis. The expectation which is liable to fulfilling or balking is therefore that of a repetition of this double relationship remembered between the lengths and directions on one side, by the lengths and directions on the other; and the repetition of a common relation to a central item.
The case of RYTHM is more complex. For, although we usually think of Rythm as a relation of two items, it is in reality a relation of four (or more ); because what we remember and expect is a mixture of similarity with dissimilarity between lengths, directions or impacts. OR IMPACTS. For with Rythm we come to another point illustrative of the fact that all shape-elements depend upon our own activity and its modes. A rythmical arrangement is not necessarily one between objectively alternated elements like objectively longer or shorter lines of a pattern, or objectively higher or lower or longer and shorter notes. Rythm exists equally where the objective data, the sense stimulations, are uniform, as is the case with the ticks of a clock. These ticks would be registered as exactly similar by appropriate instruments. But our mind is not such an impassive instrument: our mind (whatever our mind may really be) is subject to an alternation of more and less, of vivid and less vivid, important and less important, of strong and weak; and the objectively similar stimulations from outside, of sound or colour or light, are perceived as vivid or less vivid, important or less important, according to the beat of this mutual alternation with which they coincide: thus the uniform, ticking of the clock will be perceived by us as a succession in which the stress, that is the importance, is thrown upon the first or the second member of a group; and the recollection and expectation are therefore of a unity of dissimilar importance. We hear STRONG-WEAK; and remembering strong-weak, we make a new strong-weak out of that objective uniformity. Here there is no objective reason for one rythm more than another; and we express this by saying that the tickings of a clock have no intrinsic form. For Form, or as I prefer to call it, Shape, although it exists only in the mind capable of establishing and correlating its constituent relationships, takes an objective existence when the material stimulations from the outer world are such as to force all normally constituted minds to the same series and combinations of perceptive acts; a fact which explains why the artist can transmit the shapes existing in his own mind to the mind of a beholder or hearer by combining certain objective stimulations, say those of pigments on paper or of sound vibrations in time, so as to provoke perceptive activities similar to those which would, ceteris paribus, have been provoked in himself if that shape had not existed first of all only in his mind.
A further illustration of the principle that shape-perception is a combination of active measurements and comparisons, and of remembrance and expectations, is found in a fact which has very great importance in all artistic dealings with shapes. I have spoken, for simplicity's, sake, as if the patches of colour on a blank (i.e. uninteresting) ground along which the glance sweeps, were invariably contiguous and continuous. But these colour patches, and the sensations they afford us, are just as often, discontinuous in the highest degree; and the lines constituting a shape may, as for instance in constellations, be entirely imaginary. The fact is that what we feel as a line is not an objective continuity of colour-or-light-patches, but the continuity of our glance's sweep which may either accompany this objective continuity or replace it. Indeed such imaginary lines thus established between isolated colour patches, are sometimes felt as more vividly existing than real ones, because the glance is not obliged to take stock of their parts, but can rush freely from extreme point to extreme point. Moreover not only half the effectiveness of design, but more than half the efficiency of practical life, is due to our establishing such imaginary lines. We are inevitably and perpetually dividing visual space (and something of the sort happens also with "musical space") by objectively non-existent lines answering to our own bodily orientation. Every course, every trajectory, is of this sort. And every drawing executed by an artist, every landscape, offered us by "Nature," is felt, because it is measured, with reference to a set of imaginary horizontals or perpendiculars. While, as I remember the late Mr G. F. Watts showing me, every curve which we look at is felt as being part of an imaginary circle into which it could be prolonged. Our sum of measuring and comparing activities, and also our dramas of remembrance and expectation, are therefore multiplied by these imaginary lines, whether they connect, constellation-wise, a few isolated colour indications, or whether they are established as standards of reference (horizontals, verticals, etc.) for other really existing lines; or whether again they be thought of, like those circles, as wholes of which objectively perceived series of colour patches might possibly be parts. In all these cases imaginary lines are felt, as existing, inasmuch as we feel the movement by which we bring them into existence, and even feel that such a movement might be made by us when it is not.
So far, however, I have dealt with these imaginary lines only as an additional proof that shape-perception is an establishment of two dimensional relationships, through our own activities, and an active remembering, foreseeing and combining thereof.
FACILITY AND DIFFICULTY OF GRASPING
OF this we get further proof when we proceed to another and less elementary relationship implied in the perception of shape: the relation of Whole and Parts.
In dealing with the ground upon which we perceive our red and black patches to be extended, I have already pointed out that our operations of measuring and comparing are not applied to all the patches of colour which we actually see, but only to such as we look at; an observation equally applicable to sounds. In other words our attention selects certain sensations, and limits to these all that establishing of relations, all that measuring and comparing, all that remembering and expecting; the other sensations being excluded. Now, while whatever is thus merely seen, but not looked at, is excluded as so much blank or otherness; whatever is, on the contrary, included is thereby credited with the quality of belonging, that is to say being included, together. And the more the attention alternates between the measuring of included extensions and directions and the expectation of equivalent (symmetrical or rythmical) extensions or directions or stresses, the closer will become the relation of these items included by our attention and the more foreign will become the excluded otherness from which, as we feel, they detach themselves. But—by an amusing paradox—these lines measured and compared by our attention, are themselvesnot only excluding so much otherness or blank; they also tend, so soon as referred to one another, to include some of this uninteresting blankness; and it is across this more or less completely included blankness that the eye (and the imagination!) draw such imaginary lines as I have pointed out with reference to the constellations. Thus a circle, say of red patches, excludes some of the white paper on which it is drawn; but it includes or encloses the rest. Place a red patch somewhere on that enclosed blank; our glance and attention will now play not merely along the red circumference, but to and fro between the red circumference and the red patch, thereby establishing imaginary but thoroughly measured and compared lines between the two. Draw a red line from the red patch to the red circumference; you will begin expecting similar lengths on the other sides of the red patch, and you will become aware that these imaginary lines are, or are not, equal; in other words, that the red patch is, or is not, equidistant from every point of the red circumference. And if the red patch is not thus in the middle, you will expect, and imagine another patch which is; and from this imaginary centre you will draw imaginary lines, that is you will make by no means imaginary glance-sweeps, to the red circumference. Thus you may go on adding real red lines and imaginary lines connecting them with the circumference; and the more you do so the more you will feel that all these real lines and imaginary lines and all the blank space which the latter measure, are connected, or susceptible of being connected, closer and closer, every occasional excursion beyond the boundary only bringing you back with an increased feeling of this interconnexion, and an increased expectation of realising it in further details. But if on one of these glance-flickings beyond the circumference, your attention is caught by some colour patch or series of colour patches outside of it, you will either cease being interested in the circle and wander away to the new colour patches; or more probably, try to connect that outlying colour with the circle and its radii; or again failing that, you will "overlook it," as, in a pattern of concentric circles you overlook a colour band which, as you express it "has nothing to do with it," that is with what you are looking at. Or again listening to. For if a church-bell mixes its tones and rythm with that of a symphony you are listening to, you may try and bring them in, make a place for them, expect them among the other tones or rythms. Failing which you will, after a second or two, cease to notice those bells, cease to listen to them, giving all your attention once more to the sonorous whole whence you have expelled those intruders; or else, again, the intrusion will become an interruption, and the bells, once listened to, will prevent your listening adequately to the symphony.
Moreover, if the number of extensions, directions, real or imaginary lines or musical intervals, alternations of something and nothing, prove too great for your powers of measurement and comparison, particularly if it all surpass your habitual interplay of recollection and expectation, you will say (as before an over intricate pattern or a piece of music of unfamiliar harmonies and rythm) that "you can't grasp it"—that you "miss the hang of it." And what you will feel is that you cannot keep the parts within the whole, that the boundary vanishes, that what has been included unites with the excluded, in fact that all shape welters into chaos. And as if to prove once more the truth of our general principle, you will have a hateful feeling of having been trifled with. What has been balked and wasted are all your various activities of measuring, comparing and co-ordinating; what has been trifled with are your expectations. And so far from contemplating with satisfaction the objective cause of all this vexation and disappointment, you will avoid contemplating it at all, and explain your avoidance by calling that chaotic or futile assemblage of lines or of notes "ugly."
We seem thus to have got a good way in our explanation; and indeed the older psychology, for instance of the late Grant Allen, did not get any further. But to explain why a shape difficult to perceive should be disliked and called "ugly," by no means amounts to explaining why some other shape should be liked and called "beautiful," particularly as some ugly shapes happen to be far easier to grasp than some beautiful ones. The Reader will indeed remember that there is a special pleasure attached to all overcoming of difficulty, and to all understanding. But this double pleasure is shared with form-perception by every other successful grasping of meaning; and there is no reason why that pleasure should be repeated in the one case more than in the other; nor why we should repeat looking at (which is what we mean by contemplating) a shape once we have grasped it, any more than we continue to dwell on, to reiterate the mental processes by which we have worked out a geometrical proposition or unravelled a metaphysical crux. The sense of victory ends very soon after the sense of the difficulty overcome; the sense of illumination ends with the acquisition of a piece of information; and we pass on to some new obstacle and some new riddle. But it is different in the case of what we call Beautiful. Beautiful means satisfactory for contemplation, i.e. for reiterated perception; and the very essence of contemplative satisfaction is its desire for such reiteration. The older psychology would perhaps have explained this reiterative tendency by the pleasurableness of the sensory elements, the mere colours and sounds of which the easily perceived shape is made up. But this does not explain why, given that other shapes are made up of equally agreeable sensory elements, we should not pass on from a once perceived shape or combination of shapes to a new one, thus obtaining, in addition to the sensory agreeableness of colour or sound, a constantly new output of that feeling of victory and illumination attendant on every successful intellectual effort. Or, in other words, seeing that painting and music employ sensory elements already selected as agreeable, we ought never to wish to see the same picture twice, or to continue looking at it; we ought never to wish to repeat the same piece of music or its separate phrases; still less to cherish that picture or piece of music in our memory, going over and over again as much of its shape as had become our permanent possession.
We return therefore to the fact that although balked perception is enough to make us reject a shape as ugly, i.e. such that we avoid entering into contemplation of it, easy perception is by no means sufficient to make us cherish a shape as beautiful, i.e. such that the reiteration of our drama of perception becomes desirable. And we shall have to examine whether there may not be some other factor of shape-perception wherewith to account for this preference of reiterated looking at the same to looking at something else.
Meanwhile we may add to our set of formulae: difficulty in shape-perception makes contemplation disagreeable and impossible, and hence earns for aspects the adjective ugly. But facility in perception, like agreeableness of sensation by no means suffices for satisfied contemplation, and hence for the use of the adjective Beautiful.
SUBJECT AND OBJECT
BUT before proceeding to this additional factor in shape-perception, namely that of Empathic Interpretation, I require to forestall an objection which my Reader has doubtless been making throughout my last chapters; more particularly that in clearing away the ground of this objection I shall be able to lay the foundations of my further edifice of explanation. The objection is this: if the man on the hill was aware of performing any, let alone all, of the various operations described as constituting shape-perception, neither that man nor any other human being would be able to enjoy the shapes thus perceived.
My answer is:
When did I say or imply that he was aware of doing any of it? It is not only possible, but extremely common, to perform processes without being aware of performing them. The man was not aware, for instance, of making eye adjustments and eye movements, unless indeed his sight was out of order. Yet his eye movements could have been cinematographed, and his eye adjustments have been described minutely in a dozen treatises. He was no more aware of doing any measuring or comparing than we are aware of doing our digestion or circulation, except when we do them badly. But just as we are aware of our digestive and circulatory processes in the sense of being aware of the animal spirits resulting from their adequate performance, so he was aware of his measuring and comparing, inasmuch as he was aware that the line A—B was longer than the line C—D, or that the point E was half an inch to the left of the point F. For so long as we are neither examining into ourselves, nor called upon to make a choice between two possible proceedings, nor forced to do or suffer something difficult or distressing, in fact so long as we are attending to whatever absorbs our attention and not to our processes of attending, those processes are replaced in our awareness by the very facts—for instance the proportions and relations of lines—resulting from their activity. That these results should not resemble their cause, that mental elements (as they are called) should appear and disappear, and also combine into unaccountable compounds (Browning's "not a third sound, but a star") according as we attend to them, is indeed the besetting difficulty of a science carried on by the very processes which it studies. But it is so because it is one of Psychology's basic facts. And, so far as we are at present concerned, this difference between mental processes and their results is the fact upon which psychological aesthetics are based. And it is not in order to convert the Man on the Hill to belief in his own acts of shape-perception, nor even to explain why he was not aware of them, that I am insisting upon this point. The principle I have been expounding, let us call it that of the merging of the perceptive activities of the subject in the qualities of the object of perception, explains another and quite as important mental process which was going on in that unsuspecting man.
But before proceeding to that I must make it clearer how that man stood in the matter of awareness of himself. He was, indeed, aware of himself whenever, during his contemplation of that landscape, the thought arose, "well, I must be going away, and perhaps I shan't see this place again"—or some infinitely abbreviated form, perhaps a mere sketched out gesture of turning away, accompanied by a slight feeling of clinging, he couldn't for the life of him say in what part of his body. He was at that moment acutely aware that he did not want to do something which it was optional to do. Or, if he acquiesced passively in the necessity of going away, aware that he wanted to come back, or at all events wanted to carry off as much as possible of what he had seen. In short he was aware of himself either making the effort of tearing himself away, or, if some other person or mere habit, saved him this effort, he was aware of himself making another effort to impress that landscape on his memory, and aware of a future self making an effort to return to it. I call it effort; you may, if you prefer, call it will; at all events the man was aware of himself as nominative of a verb to cling to, (in the future tense) return to, to choose as against some other alternative; as nominative of a verb briefly, to like or love. And the accusative of these verbs would be the landscape. But unless the man's contemplation was thus shot with similar ideas of some action or choice of his own, he would express the situation by saying "this landscape is awfully beautiful."
This IS. I want you to notice the formula, by which the landscape, ceasing to be the accusative of the man's looking and thinking, becomes the nominative of a verb to be so-and-so. That grammatical transformation is the sign of what I have designated, in philosophical language, as the merging of the activities of the subject in the object. It takes place already in the domain of simple sensation whenever, instead of saying "I taste or I smell something nice or nasty" we say—"this thing tastes or smells nice or nasty." And I have now shown you how this tendency to put the cart before the horse increases when we pass to the more complex and active processes called perception; turning "I measure this line"—"I compare these two angles" into "this line extends from A to B"—"these two angles are equal to two right angles."
But before getting to the final inversion—"this landscape is beautiful" instead of "I like this landscape"—there is yet another, and far more curious merging of the subject's activities in the qualities of the object. This further putting of the cart before the horse (and, you will see, attributing to the cart what only the horse can be doing!) falls under the head of what German psychologists call Einfuehlung, or "Infeeling"—which Prof. Titchener has translated Empathy. Now this new, and comparatively newly discovered element in our perception of shape is the one to which, leaving out of account the pleasantness of mere colour and sound sensations as such, we probably owe the bulk of whatever satisfaction we connect with the word Beautiful. And I have already given the Reader an example of such Empathy when I described the landscape seen by the man on the hill as consisting of a skyline "dropping down merely to rush up again in rapid concave curves"; to which I might have added that there was also a plain which extended, a valley which wound along, paths which climbed and roads which followed the undulations of the land. But the best example was when I said that opposite to the man there was a distant mountain rising against the sky.
THE mountain rises. What do we mean when we employ this form of words? Some mountains, we are told, have originated in an upheaval. But even if this particular mountain did, we never saw it and geologists are still disputing about HOW and WHETHER. So the rising we are talking about is evidently not that probable or improbable upheaval. On the other hand all geologists tell us that every mountain is undergoing a steady lowering through its particles being weathered away and washed down; and our knowledge of landslips and avalanches shows us that the mountain, so far from rising, is descending. Of course we all know that, objects the Reader, and of course nobody imagines that the rock and the earth of the mountain is rising, or that the mountain is getting up or growing taller! All we mean is that the mountain looks as if it were rising.
The mountain looks! Surely here is a case of putting the cart before the horse. No; we cannot explain the mountain rising by the mountain looking, for the only looking in the business is our looking at the mountain. And if the Reader objects again that these are all figures of speech, I shall answer that Empathy is what explains why we employ figures of speech at all, and occasionally employ them, as in the case of this rising mountain, when we know perfectly well that the figure we have chosen expresses the exact reverse of the objective truth. Very well; then, (says the Reader) we will avoid all figures of speech and say merely: when we look at the mountain we somehow or other think of the action of rising. Is that sufficiently literal and indisputable?
So literal and indisputable a statement of the case, I answer, that it explains, when we come to examine it, why we have said that the mountain rises. For if the Reader remembers my chapter on shape-perception, he will have no difficulty in answering why we should have a thought of rising when we look at the mountain, since we cannot look at the mountain, nor at a tree, a tower or anything of which we similarly say that it rises, without lifting our glance, raising our eye and probably raising our head and neck, all of which raising and lifting unites into a general awareness of something rising. The rising of which we are aware is going on in us. But, as the Reader will remember also, when we are engrossed by something outside ourselves, as we are engrossed in looking at the shape (for we can look at only the shape, not the substance) of that mountain we cease thinking about ourselves, and cease thinking about ourselves exactly in proportion as we are thinking of the mountain's shape. What becomes therefore of our awareness of raising or lifting or rising? What can become of it (so long as it continues to be there!) except that it coalesces with the shape we are looking at; in short that the rising continuing to be thought, but no longer to be thought of with reference to ourselves (since we aren't thinking of ourselves), is thought of in reference to what we are thinking about, namely the mountain, or rather the mountain's shape, which is, so to speak, responsible for any thought of rising, since it obliges us to lift, raise or rise ourselves in order to take stock of it. It is a case exactly analogous to our transferring the measuring done by our eye to the line of which we say that it extends from A to B, when in reality the only extending has been the extending of our glance. It is a case of what I have called the tendency to merge the activities of the perceiving subject with the qualities of the perceived object. Indeed if I insisted so much upon this tendency of our mind, I did so largely because of its being at the bottom of the phenomenon of Empathy, as we have just seen it exemplified in the mountain which rises.
If this is Empathy, says the Reader (relieved and reassured), am I to understand that Empathy is nothing beyond attributing what goes on in us when we look at a shape to the shape itself?
I am sorry that the matter is by no means so simple! If what we attributed to each single shape was only the precise action which we happen to be accomplishing in the process of looking at it, Empathy would indeed be a simple business, but it would also be a comparatively poor one. No. The rising of the mountain is an idea started by the awareness of our own lifting or raising of our eyes, head or neck, and it is an idea containing the awareness of that lifting or raising. But it is far more than the idea merely of that lifting or raising which we are doing at this particular present moment and in connexion with this particular mountain. That present and particular raising and lifting is merely the nucleus to which gravitates our remembrance of all similar acts of raising, or rising. which we have ever accomplished or seen accomplished, raising or rising not only of our eyes and head, but of every other part of our body, and of every part of every other body which we ever perceived to be rising. And not merely the thought of past rising but the thought also of future rising. All these risings, done by ourselves or watched in others, actually experienced or merely imagined, have long since united together in our mind, constituting a sort of composite photograph whence all differences are eliminated and wherein all similarities are fused and intensified: the general idea of rising, not "I rise, rose, will rise, it rises, has risen or will rise" but merely rising as such, rising as it is expressed not in any particular tense or person of the verb to rise, but in that verb's infinitive. It is this universally applicable notion of rising, which is started in our mind by the awareness of the particular present acts of raising or rising involved in our looking at that mountain, and it is this general idea of rising, i.e. of upward movement, which gets transferred to the mountain along with our own particular present activity of raising some part of us, and which thickens and enriches and marks that poor little thought of a definite raising with the interest, the emotional fullness gathered and stored up in its long manifold existence. In other words: what we are transferring (owing to that tendency to merge the activities of the perceiving subject with the qualities of the perceived object) from ourselves to the looked at shape of the mountain, is not merely the thought of the rising which is really being done by us at that moment, but the thought and emotion, the idea of rising as such which had been accumulating in our mind long before we ever came into the presence of that particular mountain. And it is this complex mental process, by which we (all unsuspectingly) invest that inert mountain, that bodiless shape, with the stored up and averaged and essential modes of our activity—it is this process whereby we make the mountain raise itself, which constitutes what, accepting Prof. Titchener's translation[*] of the German word Einfuehlung, I have called Empathy.
[*] From en and pascho, epathon.
The German word Einfuehlung "feeling into"—derived from a verb to feel oneself into something ("sich in Etwas ein fuehlen") was in current use even before Lotze and Viscber applied it to aesthetics, and some years before Lipps (1897) and Wundt (1903) adopted it into psychological terminology; and as it is now consecrated, and no better occurs to me, I have had to adopt it, although the literal connotations of the German word have surrounded its central meaning (as I have just defined it) with several mischievous misinterpretations. Against two of these I think it worth while to warn the Reader, especially as, while so doing, I can, in showing what it is not, make it even clearer what Empathy really is. The first of these two main misinterpretations is based upon the reflexive form of the German verb "sich einfuehlen" (to feel oneself into) and it defines, or rather does not define, Empathy as a metaphysical and quasi-mythological projection of the ego into the object or shape under observation; a notion incompatible with the fact that Empathy, being only another of those various mergings of the activities of the perceiving subject with the qualities of the perceived object wherewith we have already dealt, depends upon a comparative or momentary abeyance of all thought of an ego; if we became aware that it is we who are thinking the rising, we who are feeling the rising, we should not think or feel that the mountain did the rising. The other (and as we shall later see) more justifiable misinterpretation of the word Empathy is based on its analogy with sympathy, and turns it into a kind of sympathetic, or as it has been called, inner, i.e. merely felt, mimicry of, for instance, the mountain's rising. Such mimicry, not only inner and felt, but outwardly manifold, does undoubtedly often result from very lively empathic imagination. But as it is the mimicking, inner or outer, of movements and actions which, like the rising of the mountain, take place only in our imagination, it presupposes such previous animation of the inanimate, and cannot therefore be taken either as constituting or explaining Empathy itself.
Such as I have defined and exemplified it in our Rising Mountain, Empathy is, together with mere Sensation, probably the chief factor of preference, that is of an alternative of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, in aesthetic contemplation, the muscular adjustments and the measuring, comparing and coordinating activities by which Empathy is started, being indeed occasionally difficult and distressing, but giving in themselves little more than a negative satisfaction, at the most that of difficulty overcome and suspense relieved. But although nowhere so fostered as in the contemplation of shapes, Empathy exists or tends to exist throughout our mental life. It is, indeed, one of our simpler, though far from absolutely elementary, psychological processes, entering into what is called imagination, sympathy, and also into that inference from our own inner experience which has shaped all our conceptions of an outer world, and given to the intermittent and heterogeneous sensations received from without the framework of our constant and highly unified inner experience, that is to say, of our own activities and aims. Empathy can be traced in all of modes of speech and thought, particularly in the universal attribution of doing and having and tending where all we can really assert is successive and varied being. Science has indeed explained away the anthropomorphic implications of Force and Energy, Attraction and Repulsion; and philosophy has reduced Cause and Effect from implying intention and effort to meaning mere constant succession. But Empathy still helps us to many valuable analogies; and it is possible that without its constantly checked but constantly renewed action, human thought would be without logical cogency, as it certainly would be without poetical charm. Indeed if Empathy is so recent a discovery, this may be due to its being part and parcel of our thinking; so that we are surprised to learn its existence, as Moliere's good man was to hear that be talked prose.
THE MOVEMENT OF LINES
ANY tendency to Empathy is perpetually being checked by the need for practical thinking. We are made to think in the most summary fashion from one to another of those grouped possibilities, past, present and future, which we call a Thing; and in such discursive thinking we not only leave far behind the aspect, the shape, which has started a given scheme of Empathy, a given movement of lines, but we are often faced by facts which utterly contradict it. When, instead of looking at a particular aspect of that mountain, we set to climbing it ourselves, the mountain ceases to "rise"; it becomes passive to the activity which our muscular sensations and our difficulty of breathing locate most unmistakably in ourselves. Besides which, in thus dealing with the mountain as a thing, we are presented with a series of totally different aspects or shapes, some of which suggest empathic activities totally different from that of rising. And the mountain in question, seen from one double its height, will suggest the empathic activity of spreading itself out. Moreover practical life hustles us into a succession of more and more summary perceptions; we do not actually see more than is necessary for the bare recognition of whatever we are dealing with and the adjustment of our actions not so much to what it already is, as to what it is likely to become. And this which is true of seeing with the bodily eye, is even more so of seeing, or rather not seeing but recognising, with the eye of the spirit. The practical man on the hill, and his scientific companion, (who is merely, so to speak, a man unpractically concerned with practical causes and changes) do not thoroughly see the shapes of the landscape before them; and still less do they see the precise shape of the funiculars, tramways, offices, cheques, volcanoes, ice-caps and prehistoric inhabitants of their thoughts. There is not much chance of Empathy and Empathy's pleasures and pains in their lightning-speed, touch-and-go visions!
But now let us put ourselves in the place of their aesthetically contemplative fellow-traveller. And, for simplicity's sake, let us imagine him contemplating more especially one shape in that landscape, the shape of that distant mountain, the one whose "rising"—came to an end as soon as we set to climbing it. The mountain is so far off that its detail is entirely lost; all we can see is a narrow and pointed cone, perhaps a little toppling to one side, of uniform hyacinth blue detaching itself from the clear evening sky, into which, from the paler misty blue of the plain, it rises, a mere bodiless shape. It rises. There is at present no doubt about its rising. It rises and keeps on rising, never stopping unless we stop looking at it. It rises and never has risen. Its drama of two lines striving (one with more suddenness of energy and purpose than the other) to arrive at a particular imaginary point in the sky, arresting each other's progress as they meet in their endeavour, this simplest empathic action of an irregular and by no means rectilinear triangle, goes on repeating itself, like the parabola of a steadily spirting fountain: for ever accomplishing itself anew and for ever accompanied by the same effect on the feelings of the beholder.