Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/January 1881/Aesthetic Evolution in Man
|←The Advantages of Ignorance||Popular Science Monthly Volume 18 January 1881 (1881)
Aesthetic Evolution in Man
By Grant Allen
|A Japanese Typhoon→|
ALL the higher processes of evolution are necessarily so complex in character that we can really deal with only a single aspect at a time. Hence, in spite of the rather general title which this paper bears, it proposes to treat of æsthetic evolution in man under one such aspect only—that of its gradual decentralization, its increase in disinterestedness from the simple and narrow feelings of the savage or the child to the full and expansive æsthetic catholicity of the cultivated adult. We have to trace the progress of the sense of beauty from its first starting-point in the primitive sensibilities of the race or the individual to its highest development in the most refined and advanced of European artists.
To do so, we must first find this starting-point itself. What is the center from which the widening circle of æsthetic sensibility takes its departure? In other words, what is the primitive source of the appreciation of beauty? Putting the question into a concrete form, what objects did man, as a whole, and does each man in particular, first find beautiful? If we look at a cultivated European, we see that he derives great æsthetic enjoyment from contemplating the sunset clouds, the green trees, the lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, the flowers, birds, and insects around him. But, if we look at a savage or a child, we see that for the most part they care for none of these things. We might almost conclude, on a hurried glance, that they had no sense of beauty whatsoever. Yet, when we examine them a little more closely, we find that there are many objects to which they do apply some such word as pretty, the symbol of the simplest æsthetic appreciation. If we can discover the limitations of these earliest æsthetic objects, we shall have solved one of the most important fundamental problems in the theory of beauty.
The settlement of such fundamental problems seems to me an indispensable preliminary to the construction of a scientific doctrine of æsthetics. When professors of fine art discuss the principles of beauty, they are too fond of confining themselves to the very highest feelings of the most cultivated classes in the most civilized nations. The mere childish love of colors, the mere savage taste for bone necklets and carved calabashes, seem beneath their exalted notice. Nay, more, we constantly find them accusing one another of having no feeling for beauty, or at least very little. Thus we see Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Poynter each mutually denying the other's powers of appreciation. But the psychological æsthetician can not confine his attention to such exceptional and highest developments of the love for beauty as engage the whole interest of these artistic critics. He must look rather to those simpler and more universal feelings which are common to all the race, and which form the groundwork for every higher mode of aesthetic sensibility. It is enough for him that all village children call a daisy or a primrose pretty: he need not go far afield to discuss the peculiar specific merits of a Botticelli or a Pinturiccio. Hundreds of thousands, who would stare in blank unconcern at a torso from the chisel of Phidias, can love and admire "the meanest flower that blows," with something not wholly unlike the welling emotions of a Wordsworth. Indeed, one is often inclined to fancy that the truest lovers of beauty in nature, or in the works of man, are not always those who can talk most glibly the technical dialect of art-criticism.
If we wish to hit upon the primitive germ of æsthetic sensibility in man, we can not begin better than by looking at its foreshadowing in the lower animals. There are two modes of aesthetic feeling which seem to exist among vertebrates and insects at least: the first is the sense of visual beauty in form, color, or brilliancy; the second is the sense of auditory beauty in musical or rhythmical sound. The former of the two modes I have endeavored in part to illustrate in my little work "The Color-Sense": the latter has been admirably treated by Mr. Sully in his valuable essay on "Animal Music," which appeared in the "Cornhill Magazine" for November, 1879. Now, if we look at the manner in which insects, birds, and mammals apparently manifest these presumed æsthetic feelings, we shall see that they are very restricted and limited in range. Animals never seem to admire scenery, or foliage, or beautiful creatures of other species. They do not appear for the most part to care greatly for human music, or for any sounds other than those uttered by their own kind. They do not even show any marked aesthetic enjoyment of the lovely flowers and fruits whose tints, as Mr. Darwin teaches us, are mainly due to their own selective action. But, if our great biologist is correct in his reasonings, they do very distinctly display their admiration for the beautiful forms, colors, and songs of their own highly decorated or musical mates. The facts on which Mr. Darwin bases his theory of sexual selection thus become of the first importance for the aesthetic philosopher, because they are really the only solid evidence for the existence of a love for beauty in the infra-human world. Granting the truth of his views (on which I for one have no shadow of doubt now remaining), we have good proof of a taste for symmetry and curved form in the magnificent tail of the lyre-bird, in the wedding plumage of the whydah-bird, in the twisted horns of the kudu antelope; of a taste for color and luster in the gorgeous train of the peacock, in the metallic necklets of the humming-bird, in the exquisite wings of tropical butterflies, in the bronze and gilded armor of the rose-chafers; lastly, of a taste for musical sound in the stridulation of the cicada and the house-cricket, in the deep notes of the bell-bird and the howler monkey, in the outpoured song of the linnet, the sky-lark, and the nightingale.
This close restriction of the æsthetic feeling to those objects which most nearly concern the individual, and through him the species, is only what we should naturally expect among the lower animals. We could hardly fancy them interesting themselves in anything so remote from their own personal wants as the rainbow or the sunset, the blue hills and the belted sea. They and their ancestors before them could not have gained any advantage by turning aside their attention from the practical pursuit of food or mates, to the otiose contemplation of that which profiteth nothing. Our own disinterested love for things so distant from our substantial needs has arisen gradually through a long process of ever-widening sympathies and ever-multiplying associations. But two things the insect, the bird, or the mammal could notice, and gain an advantage for itself or its race by noticing. It could pick out by its eye the forms and colors of edible foodstuffs among the unedible and relatively useless mass of foliage upon—earth the red berry or blossom from the green leaves, the fat white grub from the brown soil, the lurking caterpillar from the stalk whose lines and hues it so exactly imitates. It could distinguish by its ear the chirp of the savory grasshopper from the click of the hard or bitter beetle, the pretty note of the harmless sparrow from the deep cry of the dangerous hawk or the greedy jay. Thus eye and ear alike became educated among the superior articulates and vertebrates, in anticipation, as it were, of their higher aesthetic functions.
In the choice of mates, however, the powers so gained were exercised in a way which we can not consider as falling short of the true aesthetic level. Even the lowest animals (among those in which the sexes are different) seem instinctively to distinguish their fellows from all other species. In the higher classes, where the eye and ear have been so educated as to discriminate minutely between various forms, colors, shades, and notes, the instinct must almost certainly operate through the senses of sight and hearing. Even among those races of insects, birds, and mammals in which no distinct marks of sexual selection exist, I believe the sight of beautiful members of their own kind must necessarily excite pleasurable feelings worthy of being ranked in the aesthetic class. In other words, I believe every crow must think its own mate beautiful—not merely inferentially pleasant, but in the truest sense beautiful. There must be, it seems to me, such an intimate correspondence between the needs and the tastes of each species, that the sight and voice of a healthy, normal, well-formed mate must have become intrinsically pleasing for its own sake, as well as indirectly for its associations. The nervous centers of each species must, I conceive, be so constructed hereditarily as to answer congenitally to certain typical shapes and sounds often experienced ancestrally, and always with ultimate benefit to the race. Though the emotions require experience of the object to arouse them, when the object occurs the emotions naturally arise. Just as man has special cerebral structures—existing, though dormant, even in deaf-mutes—for the perception and production of human language, so, I can not but believe, every species of higher animal has special cerebral structures, with special corresponding blank forms of perception, for the intellectual recognition and appropriate emotional reception of its fellows and its mates. These feelings are innate in the sense that they occur spontaneously at sight of the proper objects. When Miranda falls in love at first sight with Ferdinand, the only young man she has ever seen, it seems to me that the poet has truly depicted a genuine psychological fact. At any rate, it is indubitable that, so far as man is concerned, the human voice has certain points of emotional and technical superiority over every other kind of musical instrument, and that the beauty of woman and of the human form is now and must always remain the central standard of beauty for all humanity.
The heart and core of such a fixed hereditary taste for each species must consist in the appreciation of the pure and healthy typical specific form. The ugly for every, kind, in its own eyes, must always be (in the main) the deformed, the aberrant, the weakly, the unnatural, the impotent. The beautiful for every kind must similarly be (in the main) the healthy, the normal, the strong, the perfect, and the parentally sound. Were it ever otherwise—did any race or kind ever habitually prefer the morbid to the sound, that race or kind must be on the high-road to extinction. The more every individual shares the healthiest tastes of its kind, and puts them in practice in the choice of a mate, the more is he or she insuring for descendants a healthy and a successful life whereby it hands on its own sound taste to future generations. But, besides this fundamental typical beauty—the beauty which consists in full realization of the normal specific form—there is another source of personal beauty on which sexual selection may act, and through which it has produced the greater number of its most striking effects. This source may be found in the exercise of tastes otherwise acquired upon relatively unimportant details of form, color, or musical abilities. The taste for bright hues, acquired through the search for food in blossoms, berries, or brilliant insects, may be transferred to the search for mates, so that those mates will be most preferred which happen to vary most from the original typical coloration in the direction of more brilliant hues. The taste for musical sound, implied, as I have elsewhere tried to show on the lines laid down by Helmholtz, in the very structure of the auditory apparatus (at least in birds and mammals), may be exercised in the preference given among birds to the sweetest or the loudest singers. Unimportant ornamental points may thus be constantly developed by continual selection of small gradations, when they do not interfere with the general efficiency of the organism, till at length we get such highly evolved aesthetic products as the waving plumage of the bird-of-paradise, the sculptured antlers of the gazelle, and the varied song of the mockingbird. And since, as Mr. Wallace has shown (he himself believes in opposition to, but I rather fancy in confirmation of, Mr. Darwin's theory), these ornamental adjuncts or faculties are most likely to coexist with the highest sexual efficiency, it must happen that in the main sexual selection and natural selection will reënforce one another, the strongest and best being always on an average the most beautiful, and hence the most pleasing to all possible mates.
In this way, I take it, a sense of beauty in the contemplation of their own mates must have grown up among all the higher animals, and must have became strongest and most discriminative among those whose mates have undergone the greatest amount of ornamental differentiation. And as the secondary differences between man and woman as to beard, hair, and features, are greater than between the two sexes of almost any other quadrumanous animal, we may conclude that man's aesthetic appreciation of beauty in his own species has always been very considerable. Of this æsthetic appreciation, the secondary differences in question are at once the proof, the cause, and the effect. For, in the constant action and reaction of heredity and adaptation, it must happen that the greater the original taste, the more will it be exerted in the choice of mates; and, the more it is exerted in each generation, the greater will be its effects, and the more will the taste be strengthened in all future generations.
This, then, would seem to be the primitive starting-point of which we are in search. Man in his earliest human condition, as he first evolved from the undifferentiated anthropoidal stage, must have possessed certain vague elements of æsthetic feeling: but they can have been exerted or risen into conscious prominence only, it would seem, in the relation of primeval courtship and wedlock. He must have been already endowed with a sense of beauty in form and symmetry, a sense which, in spite of its wide expansion and generalization in subsequent ages, still attaches itself above every other object, even with Hellenic or modern sculptors, to the human face and figure. He must also have been sensible to the beauty of color and luster, rendered faintly conscious in the case of flowers, fruits, and feathers, but probably attaining its fullest measure only in the eyes, hair, teeth, lips, and glossy black complexion of his early mates. And he must have been moved, as Mr. Darwin argues, by musical tones and combinations, though chiefly in the form of human song or rhythm alone. In short, the primitive human conception of beauty must, I believe, have been purely anthropinistic—must have gathered mainly around the personality of man or woman; and all its subsequent history must be that of an apanthropinization (I apologize for the ugly but convenient word), a gradual regression or concentric widening of aesthetic feeling around this fixed point which remains to the very last its natural center. By the common consent of poets, painters, sculptors, and the World at large, the standard of beauty for mankind is still to be found in the features and figure of a lovely woman.
Probably primitive man admired his pre-glacial Phyllis or Neæra, admired himself, and perhaps also admired his fellow-man. So far as I can learn, there are no savages so low that they do not discriminate between pretty squaws or gins and plain ones, between handsome men and ugly ones. Our own children appear to me to make the distinction among their playmates from a very early age. And, in both cases, I am satisfied that their judgment in the main agrees with our own. But it does not seem likely that primitive man took much notice of scenery, of organic beauty as a whole, or even very largely of beauty in flowers, berries, butterflies, and shells. Yet there was an obvious link, a simple stepping-stone, by which nascent aesthetic feeling might easily pass from the one stage to the other. That link is given us in the love for personal decoration.
Not only does every unsophisticated man wish to find a pretty mate, but he also wishes to look to advantage in her eyes and those of his rivals. Similarly, every woman wishes to look pleasing toward all men. The most naked savages take immense pains with their fantastic coiffures. Even birds display their beauty to the best advantage, and sing in emulation with one another till their strength fails them. But birds and mammals generally go no further than this: man can take one step in advance, and add to his natural beauty, or conceal his natural defects, by borrowed plumes. So the earliest evidence of derivative æsthetic feeling which we possess is that of the personal ornaments worn by palaeolithic men. Perforated shells, apparently used for necklaces; teeth of deer and other animals; pebbles of rose-quartz and other ornamental stones; wrought pieces of bone or mammoth ivory—all of them obviously intended for personal decoration—are found in the earliest cave-dwellings and rock-shelters. Feathers and flowers we can not of course expect to find in such situations; but we can hardly doubt, from the analogy of almost all modern savages, that palaeolithic men must have used them as much as they used those other decorative objects. Now, the fact that any such shells or plumes are sought as ornaments proves of course that they were first admired; but the vague admiration originally bestowed upon them would naturally be much quickened and increased by their employment for the decoration of the person. From being vague and indefinite it would become vivid and purposive. Our own children and modern savages take comparatively little interest in flowers in the abstract, flowers as they grow upon the bush or in the field: but they begin to admire them when they pick them by handfuls, and still more when they are woven into a wreath, arranged in a bouquet, or stuck into the hair. Nay, is not this ultimate decorative intent one of the chief raisons d'être for many of our European conservatories and florists' shops? Is not a camellia largely admired because it looks so well in a ball-dress, and a stephanotis because it fits so easily in a button-hole? And is it not a fact that many of our ladies and most of our seyants admire artificial flowers, with all their stiffness and vulgarity, far more genuinely than they admire living roses or lilies-of-the-valley? We have all known women whose most real æsthetic feelings were obviously aroused by a bonnet or a head-dress.
Flowers are very favorite decorations with the South-Sea Islanders, and those who have read Miss Bird's and Mrs. Brassey's pleasant accounts of their stay among the Polynesians must have noticed the air of refinement, the vague aesthetic atmosphere thrown over the whole story by their profuse employment of tropical blossoms upon all occasions. Feathers, symmetrically arranged, were the ordinary head-dress of the North American Indians; and they were woven into splendid cloaks by the Hawaiians. Corals, pebbles, precious stones, gold and silver jewelry, cowries, wampum beads, furs, silks, and so forth, follow in due order. Ochre and woad, for dyeing or staining the body, are employed from a very early period. Henna, indigo, and other cosmetics come a little later Among many existing lowest races, the only sign of aesthetic feeling, beyond the sense of personal beauty and the very rudest songs or dances, is shown in the employment of dyes or ornaments for the person. Such are many of the Indian Hill tribes, the Andamanese, the Digger Indians of California, and the Botocudos of Brazil. The Bushmen, and to a less extent the Australians, generally ranked in the lowest order, reach a decidedly higher æsthetic level.
In most savage communities, the men, not the women, monopolize the handsomest costumes, which are worn as marks of distinction, not merely as ornaments. But the former use must be necessarily derivative and secondary, not original. Mr. Herbert Spencer has gathered together a large and interesting collection of cases in his "Ceremonial Institutions" (chapter ix). Nevertheless, the original aesthetic intent of most of such decorations is obvious from the fact that they are universal among women, whenever they do not arise from the habit of trophy taking, as with the use of flowers with the Polynesians generally. So, too, tattooing and other mutilative practices, originally subordinative in their intention, becoming at last merely æsthetic, are prized by women as increasing their natural attractions. Every one must remember the plea of the New Zealand girls, quoted by Mr. Darwin, who answered the remonstrances of the missionary against tattooing by saying, "We must have just a few lines upon our lips, or else when we grow old we shall be so very ugly." Similarly, Central African women admire their own pelelé, the piece of wood inserted in their mutilated lips. I notice in many works of travel that, even where the men almost or entirely monopolize the ornaments, the women are always described as displaying great admiration for the beads, red cloth, and other finery taken about by travelers. I may add that I am often struck by the extraordinary folly of missionaries, who habitually preach down the love of ornament on the part of savages or of emancipated slaves (especially the women), when in reality this love is the first step in aesthetic progress, and the one possible civilizing element in their otherwise purely animal lives. It ought rather to be used as a lever, by first making them take a pride in their dress, and then passing on the feeling so acquired to their children, their huts, their gardens, and their other belongings.
Such in fact has been, I believe, the actual course of our aesthetic evolution. The feelings vaguely aroused by beautiful objects in the non-practical environment become whetted and strengthened by  and I shall endeavor still further in the present paper to illustrate its progress in a somewhat different direction.upon ornaments and pigments, and so extend themselves with increased vividness into new channels. Art, however rude, has especially helped on this primitive progress. The appreciation for the beautiful in man's handicraft leads on to the appreciation of the corresponding beauty in natural objects. I have attempted to trace this reaction, so far as regards the sense of symmetry, in a previous number of this journal,
From delight in the beauty of ornaments to delight in the beauty of weapons or other utensils is but a step. What a man carries in his hands is almost as much a matter for personal pride as what he wears around his neck or his waist. From the very earliest ages, the material for palæolithic stone hatchets seems to have been intentionally chosen with conscious reference to beauty of color. Among the minerals so employed were "red or other colored jasper"; "greenstone, mottled jade, and green jasper"; "quartz, agate, flint, obsidian, fibrolite, chloromelanite, aphanite, diorite, saussurite, and staurotide." The bone knife-handles and other utensils from the rock shelters of the Dordogne (of palæolithic date) are admirably carved into the forms of animals, or decorated with ornamental patterns. Indeed, both in outline and detail, most works of art of the chipped-flint period show very distinct æsthetic care, which is often marvelous when one considers the extremely rude nature of the tools in use, and the immense extra labor entailed upon the maker by any attempt at unnecessary ornamentation. The weapons of all but the very lowest existing savages show similar marks of æsthetic care. Their stone hatchets, besides being exquisitely polished, like those of the European neolithic age, are fitted in smooth wooden handles, and bound to the shaft by pretty twisted strings of red and yellow fiber. The Australian boomerangs are beautifully worked in hard wood. The staves or clubs of the Admiralty Island chiefs are wrought with the most exquisite and laborious tracery, which puts to shame our careless European woodcarving. The canoe-paddles of other Polynesian and Melanesian tribes are models of graceful and effective ornamentation. Among many savages belonging to the second rank, I find few works of art except weapons or like personal utensils on which any high degree of pains has been expended. We may therefore fairly regard this as the second human stage of aesthetic development.
Hardly superior to this second level is the love for decoration on vessels and other domestic utensils. Yet these, as being just one degree less personal than weapons, may be regarded as occupying a slightly higher stage. Calabashes and cocoanuts are almost always carved or decorated. Pottery from the very first is more or less ornamental in form, and even among very undeveloped savages is often prettily molded with lines or string-courses. Many of Dr. Schweinfurth's Central African specimens are extremely graceful; while several of the exquisitely simple prehistoric forms unearthed by Dr. Schliemann at Troy and Mycenae have been adopted as effective models for the modern artistic Vallauris ware. France itself can produce nothing more beautiful in its own kind.
Decoration of the home is one degree more disinterested than decoration of the person or personal implements. The palæolithic savages who carved the knife-handles and etched the pictures of reindeer or mammoths, in southwestern France, still lived in caves and holes of the rock. But as soon as man began to dwell in a hut, that hut began to take the impress of his growing æsthetic tastes. Swiss lake-dwellings present regular square or circular ground-plans. Esquimau snow houses are finished with as much regularity and neatness as if they were built in the most durable material. Almost all savage huts are picturesque in shape, and some are even artistic in their simple style of architecture. The rudest tribes care for little but the exterior of their dwellings, since the interior is only used as a shelter for sleeping or a retreat from wet weather, not as a place of reception. Pride in personal possessions, we must always remember, has uniformly formed the stepping-stone on which our nature has slowly risen to a higher æsthetic level. So, we find houses beginning to be ornamented internally just in proportion as they are used for purposes of display. Even our own homes usually have the drawing-and dining-rooms much more elaborately decorated and furnished than the other parts of the house. The state-apartments of halls and palaces contain all the best pictures and the handsomest mosaic tables that their owners possess.
At this stage, the governmental and ecclesiastical impetus begins to be strongly felt. From the very beginning, indeed, aesthetic products are specially the attributes of royalty and divinity. The clubs and paddles noted above are those of chiefs alone: the Hawaiian feather mantles were taboo to the royal family: the ivory scepter and the vermilion-painted face "belonged alike to the Roman god and to the Roman king." But, when we reach a state of culture at which the royal palace and the temple are widely different from the huts of the subject, we find a great æsthetic advance. Architecture is indeed a specially regal and religious art. All early buildings of any pretensions are either palaces or shrines: only at a comparatively late stage of evolution, and under an industrial régime, do handsome mansions of commoners begin to exist. Even in our own day, if we see an exceptionally large and pretentious house, we take it for granted that it is, if not a palace, at least a public building. In India, all the great architectural works are either mosques and temples or palaces and mausoleums of native or foreign rulers. In Egypt, they are either pyramids of dead kings or fanes of still earlier gods. So, too, in Mexico, Peru, Central America. The catalogue of the works of art in Solomon's temple and Solomon's house, whether authentic or not (and good authorities accept it as historical), represents at any rate the æsthetic status of the Hebrews at the date at which it was committed to writing.
The king, then, from the first surrounds himself with such natural or artistic products as add to his impressiveness and dignity. Trophies and other decorations of warlike origin, badges and costumes, paint and ointment, have been so fully treated in this connection by Mr. Herbert Spencer in his "Ceremonial Institutions" that I need not dwell upon them further here. But a few words as to later and more developed stages may not be out of place. Architecture is the central royal art, and its first object is to "beautify the house of the king." Beginning with the regal hut, it goes on to the frail and gilded palaces of China and Burmah, the house of cedar which King Solomon builded, the vast piles of brick erected by Assyrians and Babylonians in the alluvial valley of the Euphrates, the solid granite colonnades of Thebes and Memphis, the huge marble domes of Agra and Delhi, the stucco monstrosities of Mohammedan Lucknow, Sculpture first grows up as the handmaid of architecture, and begins its modern form with the bas reliefs of Egypt and Assyria, or the rock-hewn colossi of Elephanta. We still see the conjunction between royalty and these two sister arts in the beautiful Renaissance façade of the Louvre and the tasteless gilding of the Albert Memorial. Beside the ancient Nile or in the courtyards of Nineveh, we find the subjects ever the same—the king conquering his enemies; the king hunting and slaying a lion; the king driving a herd of naked captives to his capital city. Thus the aggrandizement of royalty becomes at the same time the opportunity for the exercise and development of plastic skill, while it affords models of the beautiful in art for the admiration and the æsthetic education of the subject throng.
Similarly with painting. Beginning with the rude decoration of the savage cloak and girdle, it advances to the smearing and gilding of the royal hut. Thence it progresses to the brilliant coloration of Egyptian columns and frescoes, and to all the Memphian wealth of blue, green, crimson, and gold with which so many modern restorations have made us familiar. In India, debarred from imitation by Moslem restrictions, it produces the exquisite decoration of the Taj and the Delhi palaces: in western Islam, it gives us the gorgeous Moresque tracery of the Alhambra. In its regular European development, becoming mainly ecclesiastical during the early middle ages, it reasserts its original governmental connection in the palaces of Florence and Venice, in the Vatican, in the Louvre and the Luxembourg, in Whitehall and Hampton Court, in Dresden and Munich, in modern Berlin and St. Petersburg. Sèvres and Gobelins were originally royal factories: Giotto, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Holbein, Rubens, Vandyke, all produced their masterpieces for popes or kings—Leo X, Henri IV, Charles I. Conversely, American artists have often noted the chilling effect of the want of a court upon the aesthetic susceptibilities and creativeness of their countrymen generally. Europe has, on the whole, purchased its art at the hard price of its long apprenticeship to despotism. In India, native art has steadily died out with the gradual extinction of the native courts. In Hellas and Italy it happily survived royalty because pressed into the double service of religion and of the sovereign people in its corporate capacity. What the house of Pharaoh was to Egypt, that was the house of Athene to Athens.
The gods, indeed, have done almost more for the expansion of the aesthetic faculty than even the kings. If the savage decorates the living chief and his house, how much more must he decorate and beautify the image and the house of that greater dead chief, the o-od—that ancestral ghost whom even the living chief dreads and venerates exceedingly! Hence, from the very first, while the ornaments of the king and the god are the same in kind, those of the god are the finest in degree. As the ghost gradually expands into the vaguer grandeur of the deity, his worship is surrounded with increasing magnificence. It is the temples of Heliopolis and Benares which naturally occur to our minds when we think of Egyptian or Indian architecture. It is the pyramids and mausoleums that form the initial stage of ecclesiastical buildings. All the world over, the shrines of the gods are the most splendid of all erections: only where faith is on the decline do we find the palace or the mansion outvying the cathedral and the chapel. In architecture, in sculpture, in painting, in music, the homes of the gods are the highest expression of national aesthetic feeling. Passing from the painted pillars of Karnak to the temples of Khorsabad and the mosques of Agra, we find the same care everywhere bestowed upon the service of the deities. In Hellas, we have the Parthenon and the Theseum; we have the chryselephantine statues of Phidias, and the votive tablets of Praxiteles. The marbles of Pentelicus or Paros permitted the Hellenic Aphrodite to assume a graceful and natural pose, which would have been impossible with the stiff granite limbs of a Pasht carved out from the quarries of Syene. At Rome, we have the Capitoline Jove, yielding place at last to the palace of the Divus Cæsar and to the basilica of the Christian apostle. All classical architecture, all classical sculpture, the larger part of classical painting, and no small part of classical poetry, are directly due to the influence of the old Helleno-Italian religions. And whatever little information we can gather of the æsthetic status of the Hebrews is to be derived from the story of the hangings and vessels of the tabernacle, and the molten sea, the pillars, the bases, the lavers, and the cedar ceiling of Solomon's temple. Hebrew poetry is almost without exception devotional.
In Christian times, the connection between art and religion has been even more noticeable. Our music is directly affiliated upon the Gregorian chant, and derives its notation from ecclesiastical usages. Masses and oratorios still compose its masterpieces. Our painting has come down to us from Byzantine and early Italian models, and found its home during the whole mediæval period in the great cathedrals and churches of Italy, whence it spread to the palaces of the Florentine Medici, of the Venetian doges, and of the Genoese merchant princes, and so ultimately to northwestern Europe. The whole character of pictorial art up to the Renaissance was entirely ecclesiastical and devotional. We have fed and nursed our taste upon Madonnas and Holy Families, upon Crucifixions and Assumptions, upon St. Sebastians, St. Johns, and St. Cecilias. Our architecture is based upon the Romanesque Christian church, whose rounded forms melt into the pointed arches of the Gothic cathedral. It finds its noblest expression in Pisa and Poitiers, Milan and Venice, Cologne and Chartres, Lincoln and Salisbury. And, when the classical revival comes to restore the older schools, it produces the masterpiece of its newer style in the vast dome of St. Peter's, where the four chief arts, architecture and sculpture, painting and music, all alike find their chosen home in the central point and focus of Catholic Christendom.
Nor is it only in these more notable forms that royalty and religion influence aesthetic taste. The purple and fine linen of kings' palaces; the inlaid cabinets and parquetry floors; the jade vases and painted porcelain; the Dresden statuettes and bronze candelabra; the frescoed ceiling, tapestry wall-covers, and carved wood-work—all these belong to the royal home. Even in poetry, the Queen still keeps her laureate; and the drama, originally a sort of royal specialty, is still performed at Drury Lane by "her Majesty's servants." Similarly with religion: the stained-glass window and the marble or mosaic altar; the costly vestments and sweet-perfumed incense; the fretted roof and the sculptured reredos—these in their turn belong to the worship of God. Such royal decorations and sacred ornaments react again upon the popular taste, both actively and passively. As an active effect, they give rise to and foster artistic workmanship: as a passive effect, they educate and strengthen the aesthetic faculties of the mass. Among the lower races, the æsthetic feelings have been closely linked with the sense of proprietorship: among the higher races, they gain more and more with every step in abstractness and remoteness from the personality of the individual. It was in the vast cathedrals of mediæval Europe that modern esthetic feeling received its early education.
So far we have treated little of beauty in nature: beauty in art has occupied almost our whole attention. The latter prepared the human mind for the appreciation of the former. Of the manner in which the love for art passes into the love for smaller natural objects, which exhibit minute beauty of workmanship, I have already treated elsewhere: but the taste for scenery demands a few words here. Children and early races care little for nature: it is only among the most cultivated classes of the most advanced types that the aesthetic faculty reaches this its highest and most disinterested stage. All art is at first frankly anthropinistic. Early painting, such as that of the Egyptians and Assyrians, dealt only with human and animal figures: it represented men and women, kings and queens, gods and goddesses, hunters and lions, herdsmen and cattle: but it never attempted landscape or scenery. Mediæval art in its early stages only changed its characters to saints and angels, priests and bishops. But, as it progressed from its Byzantine type, it also gradually gave more and more importance to accessories in the background, in which hills, cities, rocks, and trees, began to play a conspicuous part. At last, after the Renaissance, landscape painting became a recognized and separate branch of pictorial art, first with an admixture of figures, wild animals, or still life, but afterward in a more fully differentiated form, with all its varieties of marine, architectural, forestine, or river subjects, its waterfalls, its clouds, its rocks, its valleys, and its heather-clad hills. Even in our own day, very young people and the uncultivated classes care little for any but figure-painting: children pass over the landscapes in their picture books, and fasten at once upon the man on horseback or the boy with a top. The first object they try to draw for themselves is a human face. So, too, with literature. All primeval literary works consist of a legend, a story historical or mythical, the tale of what some man or some god has done. To the very end, novels, plays, and biography, the most human in their interest, are the favorite forms of literature. Poetry at first is all epic or narrative: lyric and descriptive verse only come in at a much later point of evolution, and are seldom thoroughly relished by any but the most cultivated. "Tell me a story," says the youngest child. "History is the most delightful of studies," says the Roman philosopher.
We may take the Homeric poems as an excellent illustration of human aesthetic feeling in this its naively anthropinistic stage. In them we find human beauty abundantly recognized and admired: Helen, for whose sake Trojans and Achaians may well contend through ten long years; Paris, on whose eyes and hair Aphrodite pours the gift of loveliness; the golden locks of Achilles, the white arms of Here, the hazel eyes of Athene, the fair cheeks of Briseis. There is much admiration, too, for works of primitive art—the golden-studded scepter, the polished silver-tipped bow of horn, the jeweled girdle of Aphrodite, the wrought figures on Achilles's shield, the embroidered pattern on the many-colored peplum which Theanô offers on the knees of Athene. The palaces of Priam and of the Phæacians excite the warmest praise of the rhapsodist. But of scenery there is little said, as is also the case in the Hebrew poets. The garden of Alcinous is, after all, but a well-ordered fruit-orchard. Nature is only alluded to as a difficulty to be overcome by man—the barren, harvestless sea; the high, impassable mountains; the forests where roam the savage wild beasts. In the Periclean age, we have a higher but still not a very exalted standard as regards natural beauty; the "Bacchæ" of Euripides being the high-water mark of Athenian love for the picturesque, and standing out in this respect as a solitary example among its contemporaries. With the greater security of Roman rule, life became less confined to the immediate neighborhood of cities; mountains and forests and waterfalls became more easy to visit; and in the "Georgics" we see the result of the change. Yet even in the "Georgics" the view of nature is still very anthropinistic, and the feeling for scenery decidedly urban. What should Ave say of a poet nowadays who should apostrophize the beauties of an Italian lake "Fluctibus et fremitu assurgens, Benace, marino"? Would he not seem in our eyes to have missed entirely the whole spirit of the scene? The words might do for Huron or Ontario, but fancy applying them to Como or Garda! Nevertheless, the Roman mind had decidedly advanced in the love of nature. The Alps were still to Juvenal mere masses of snow barring the way from Gaul to Italy; the ocean was still to Tacitus a boundless waste of western waters; but the falls of Tivoli, the little fountain-head of Bandusia, the sweeping coast-line of Baiæ, the beetling crags of Terraciha, the deep volcanic basin of the Alban lake—all these could rouse aesthetic admiration and delight in the eyes of a Horace, a Virgil, or a Claudian. With the recession of the middle ages, when men were again confined to the narrow limits of towns, aesthetic feeling went back once more to the naïve anthropinism of an earlier age; but, since the Renaissance, the love of scenery has grown perpetually, and it now probably reaches the farthest development that it has ever yet attained.
But we must never forget that the taste for scenery on a large scale is confined to comparatively few races, and comparatively few persons among them. Thus, to the Chinese, according to Captain Gill, in spite of their high artistic skill, "the beauties of nature have no charm, and in the most lovely scenery the houses are so placed that no enjoyment can be derived from it." The Hindoos, "though devoted to art, care but little, if at all, for landscape or natural beauty." The Russians "run through Europe with their carriage-windows shut." Even the Americans in many cases seem to care little for wild or beautiful scenery: they are more attracted by smiling landscape gardening, and, as it seems to us, flat or dull cultivation. I have heard an American just arrived in Europe go into unfeigned ecstasies over the fields and hedges in the flattest part of the Midlands.
The reason for this slow development may be briefly traced. The minor component elements of scenery must always have been to a great extent beautiful on their own account even to children and savages. Thus, the same bright color which gave attractiveness to flowers and gems must also have given it, though more vaguely, to the rainbow and the sunset clouds, which could not similarly be utilized for purposes of ornament. Color must also always have formed an element of beauty in blue sky and sea, red-sandstone cliffs, white chalk, green meadows, and golden corn-fields. All these objects, however, being comparatively remote from personal interest, would be little regarded by the primitive mind. But, when cultivation began, the care of the husbandman and the aesthetic interest aroused by his regular neatness would naturally set up a new feeling. Straight rows of vines or olives, trim meadows, well-kept hedges, level fields of corn, excite the farmer's admiration. This is about the level ordinarily reached (though often surpassed) by the "Georgics." In the "Iliad," when a place is mentioned with any allusion to scenery, it is generally because it is "fertile," "horse-feeding," or "rich in corn"; with Virgil, it is the careful tillage of Italian peasants that provokes attention. But wild hills and rocks are mere barren, good-for-nothing wastes to the agricultural eye. A few days before writing this paper I was wandering among the beautiful wooded heights of the Maurettes near Hyères, when I came across a party of peasants taking their lunch on a little plateau outside their cottage. Wishing to apologize for my intrusion, I said a few words about the singularly lovely view which their house commanded across the mountains and the sea. "Ah, yes," said one of the peasants in his Provençal patois, "there isn't much to see this way except the forest; but down there," pointing behind him in the opposite direction, toward the great cabbage-garden which covers the alluvial plain of Hyères—"down there one sees a magnificent country." The one view was like a bit of miniature Switzerland; the other, like a huge market-garden, as flat as this page.
Even in our own time and place, among our own race, one may see a similar æsthetic level with farmers and laborers. "So you're going to Devonshire," said a Lincolnshire yeoman to his minister (from whom I have the story); "you'll find it a poor sort of country after this. You'll never see a field of corn like ours down there, I take it." "Your country, sir," says a distinguished American visitor in England, "is very beautiful. In many parts you may go for miles together, and never see a tree except in a hedge. Nothing more beautiful can be conceived." (I take the words down from the report of an "interviewer.") To the farmer, hills like those of Devonshire were mere obstructions to ploughing: in the eyes of the practical American, trees were simply objects to be stumped and annihilated in the interest of good farming.
So long as communications are difficult and roads bad, this agricultural aspect of natural beauty will remain uppermost. It is difficult to appreciate scenery in the midst of practical discomforts. The Alps were naturally mere barriers of snow to Hannibal and Cæsar. The Scotch Highlands were less beautiful to Lowlanders when they were inhabited by hostile clansmen with a taste for cattle-lifting. Even in the last century, one is struck by the many serious discomforts which Johnson suffered in going to the Hebrides or traveling through Wales. Telford's Holyhead road must have done much to quicken the æsthetic sensibilities of the eighteenth century in England. I have myself noted in Jamaica how much the appreciation of really beautiful scenery is spoiled by the discomforts of the climate and the difficulties of transport. In such circumstances, an æsthetic feeling for scenery can hardly develop itself. Still less could it do so during the perpetual state of siege in the middle ages, or the constant warfare of the little Hellenic republics, when no man could travel a few miles from home save on urgent business and with due precautions. A lovely pass or a frowning gorge can hardly become beautiful in the eyes of those who see in it everywhere a lurking brigand.
On the other hand, when traveling becomes easier, a taste for scenery naturally arises. All the mental elements of the taste are already present; only their combination is wanted to complete the aesthetic growth. Tastes educated and refined by the arts of the city must find beauty ready to hand in much of the country. The garden and park, the Italian terrace and the Versailles avenues, the ornamental grounds and artificial lakes of the last century, formal as they seem to us now, show the gradual growth of the taste. A view from the castle or the hall becomes a desideratum. To look out upon fresh green fields and trees rather than upon the walls and narrow streets of a city must always have been pleasant to all but the most restrictedly anthropinistic minds—though even in our own day there are many townsmen who would find more to interest them in a crowd of people than in the loveliest scenery on earth. Again, only highly cultivated minds can thoroughly enjoy the beauty of places which have been always familiar from childhood: and we can hardly expect a taste for scenery to develop among people who necessarily live (like all but the most civilized) in one narrow place for all their days. Under such circumstances, the perception of its beauty can never arise. The habit of making tours, at first confined to the very wealthy, but gradually spreading down to the middle classes and the mass, has undoubtedly had an immense effect in strengthening the love of nature. Those who only know the stereotyped features of their own suburban fields, often flat and unlovely, can not acquire any deep interest in scenery. But when Wales and Scotland, Auvergne and Brittany, Switzerland and the Tyrol are thrown open for us all, the habit of comparing, observing, and admiring grows upon us unawares. Those railways which Mr. Ruskin so cordially despises have probably done a thousand times more for promoting a love of beauty in nature than the most eloquent word-painting that was ever penned even by his own cunning and graceful hand.
If one may trust an individual experience, it is not the first waterfall that charms the most. Niagara itself, when seen in early youth, does not produce nearly so strong an impression as the little Swallow-Fall at Bettws-y-coed in later years. The more one sees, the more one learns what to expect, what to observe, what to admire. Here it is the wind-shaken foam-streak of the Staubbach; there, the little dancing cascades of the Giesbach; and here again, the vast unbroken emerald-green sheet of the Horseshoe Fall, pouring in ceaseless majesty into the seething turmoil of waters at its mist-begirt feet. . Each, has its own beauties of grace, prettiness, or sublimity, and each is largely apprehended and appreciated by means of half-unconscious recollections of the others. Between the American and Canadian falls at Niagara, a little belt of water forces its way through the gap which severs Goat and Luna Islands, and forms a minor cataract of its own, hardly heeded in the presence of the two great rivers plunging headlong at its side. If one fixes one's attention for a few moments on this little sheet of foam, one recognizes after a while that it is really larger than any cascade in western Europe. And, if you then turn your eyes to the vast semicircle of deep-green water on your right, you feel at once that without that standard of measurement your eye and brain would have failed adequately to grasp the mighty dimensions of Niagara.
Thus, step by step, in our own individual minds, and in the history of our race, the æsthetic faculty has slowly widened with every widening of our interests and affections. Attaching itself at first merely to the human face and figure, it has gone on to embrace the works of man's primitive art, and then the higher products of his decorative and imitative skill. Next, seizing on the likeness between human handicraft and the works of nature, envisaged as the productions of an anthropomorphic creator, it has proceeded to the admiration for the lace-work tracery of a fern or a club-moss, the sculptured surface of an ammonite, the embossed and studded covering of a sea-urchin, the delicate fluting of a tiny shell. Lastly, it has spread itself over a wider field, with the vast expansion of human interests in the last two centuries, and has learned to love all the rocks, and hills, and seas, and clouds, of earth and heaven, for their own intrinsic loveliness. So it has progressed in unbroken order from the simple admiration of human beauty, for the sake of a deeply seated organic instinct, to the admiration of abstract beauty for its own sake alone.—Mind.
- I should like to add parenthetically that, since the appearance of my work "The Color-Sense" and the numerous criticisms to which it gave rise, I have fully reconsidered the whole question of sexual selection in the light of all that has been written about it, and feel only the more convinced of the general truth of Mr. Darwin's views upon the subject. It may be naturally objected that I am not an impartial witness in this matter: but I should like further to state that, on examining the various authorities, pro and con, I find in every case that the persons who are uncommitted to any special theological, quasi-theological, or metaphysical theory of evolution agree in full with Mr. Darwin, while only those differ from him who are bound down, en parti pris, to some more or less supernatural view of evolution, like Mr. Wallace, Professor Mivart, and Mr. J. J. Murphy, and who are therefore averse to any naturalistic explanation of the sense of beauty. I hope hereafter and elsewhere to enter more fully into this important question.
- This doctrine has been admirably illustrated by Mr. Herbert Spencer so far as regards the human species, in his essay on "Personal Beauty," which, though published long before the appearance of the "Descent of Man," really contains the germ of the doctrine of sexual selection.
- I noticed in Jamaica that the negroes generally considered as pretty negresses the same women as we should ourselves have selected among them; and many persons who have traveled among various savage races, and whom I have had an opportunity of questioning, confirm this general conclusion.
- I once asked a West Indian official of great experience and liberal views whether, in his opinion, Christianity had done any practical good to the negroes; and I was much struck by his answering: "Oh, yes! It makes them dress up in good clothes once a week, and so gives them an object in life for which to work and save."
- See an article on "The Origin of the Sense of Symmetry," in "Mind," xv.