The Sources And Significance Of Beauty
( Originally Published 1896 )
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.-Emerson.
The good is always beautiful; The beautiful is good. -Whittier.
Man admires beauty. He seems to have been created with an aesthetic faculty, an original sensibility to the beautiful-in colors, in forms, in sounds, in movement. Tastes may differ as to what constitutes the beautiful, yet no one can be found to whom some things are not pleasing or agreeable. There are certain circumstances of color and design which are universally admired by the eye of man. Is there a human being that would not be delighted with seeing the blossoming plants and trees, or to whom the rainbow would not be an object of beauty as it is thrown like a scarf over the shoulder of the storm-cloud?
The savage has his rude notion of beauty which leads him to adorn his person with feathers and paint and beads, and to carve and polish the handle of his war-club. All little children seem to behold with ecstacy objects of bright colors-gay flowers, butterflies, and the brilliant plumage of birds. The aesthetic faculty in man is that which appreciates the beautiful. The causes or antecedents of aesthetic emotions are fixed as an ultimate principle of our mental constitution. The mind can hardly remain unmoved when an object is presented to it that conforms to its ideas of beauty.
Beauty-What is it in its nature and laws?
"Beautiful" is becoming one of the commonest words in the language. We speak of a beautiful life, a beautiful character, a beautiful youth, a beautiful old age, a beautiful home-deed, gift, dream, and even death. The term has come to have so broad a meaning and application as to be extended to almost every department of nature and human life. An illustration is called beautiful, and the same is remarked of an experiment, a theorem, a thought, a design, a system, a poem or song, referring to the delightful sentiment of beauty experienced by the person, the artist, or workman in contemplating his work.
There have been many theories and hypotheses and much controversy concerning the nature and principles of beauty.
Beauty is an element of delight. A beautiful object occupies the mind in an agreeable activity. We call things beautiful that are pleasant to our senses, that excite within us delightful emotions; but what makes "beautiful" things pleasing and agreeable? What are the real secrets of the varied phenomena of beauty? Some highly beautiful objects fairly charm us, while other things utterly disgust us by their ugliness. What causes these widely different impressions? Where are their subtle sources? On what does natural and artistic beauty. depend?
The occasions of the emotions of beauty are various. The sources of beauty seem to be as numerous as the sources of human happiness. It has long been in dispute whether beauty has a real objective existence or is only subjective in the mind. Shall we regard beauty as originally in the object of sense, or simply reflected on that object from the mind? Take the rainbow, for example, or a three-cornered piece of clear, uncolored glass which I hold up to the light and at once behold all the colors of the rainbow,-is the beautiful object in the prism or in my mind merely? Beauty will appear suddenly as by magic in the dishpan of the kitchen-maid when a multitude of inimitable soapbubbles glisten and delight the eye with their exquisite colors and forms, -but all their beauty is gone in a moment-gone where? and whence came it? It seems as empty and fleeting as the honors of mankind. Hold against the grindstone or strike with a coarse file that polished sea-shell of variegated hues and delicate pearly tints, and instantly all its surpassing beauty falls upon the floor in dull, gray lime-dust, without a vestige of its former delightful colors. Was the beauty in the shell, in the light reflected, or in your mind alone?
Is there an independent beauty inherent in objects, some one determining principle present in all forms of the beautiful? Is beauty such a property of the object beheld as to be inseparable from matter, or is it something superior to matter and revealed through it an extraneous principle, the "conscious product of aesthetic intuition in the human mind?"
It is claimed that matter in itself is devoid of beauty and even ugly, as the ungainly lime filings of the sea-shell. What subtle principle is it, then, that imparts beauty to matter, or that enables matter to produce in man the sensation or perception of beauty, as when he looks upon a fine landscape or statue or painting?
Some have held that beauty is a simple force, distinct from matter, yet giving it life, form, and motion.
Others have claimed it to be a divine being " whose volition directly invests material objects with all their beautiful aspects." Plato taught that the beauty of objects consists in "self-existent forms or ideas super-induced upon matter." Another theory is that beauty is subjective-its source existing in the inner life of the mind itself, "in certain ideas and emotions which have become reflected on external objects by association;" while others again would have us believe that beauty is objective in its source, as when by sensation we distinctly perceive a certain proportion, symmetry, and harmony among the forms and colors of objects.
Some objects seem to be beautiful in themselves, others depend for their beauty on certain laws of association. Hence, beauty may be regarded as intrinsic and associated.
Intrinsic beauty is that of the circle, or waving line, the rainbow's arch, the bending river, the curving stems of plants, or windings of vines, and other objects of constantly varying outline. The serpentine or gentle curve is the line of grace and beauty, according to Hogarth. There is also a degree and sometimes a high degree of beauty in angular and triangular and pyramidal forms, and fine architecture has so employed even the square as to excite the emotion of pleasure. Agreeable sounds as well as sights produce emotions of beauty. There is hardly a doubt that certain colors as well as certain sounds possess original or intrinsic beauty. Is there not real beauty in the delicate blue of the robin's egg? That exquisite pink tint on the ripe peach, that deep red of the cherry, that purple lustre of the grape, that "maiden blush" of the apple, make them, as we sometimes feel, too beautiful to eat. The Creator has so ordered many things in nature, as the flowers, precious stones, the color of blue, the arched ending of leaves, as to be in themselves a perpetual source of pleasure to the human soul.
Kant, the German philosopher, denies to any object intrinsic beauty, and if we call it beautiful, he says it is because it conforms to a preexisting notion of beauty in our mind. The mind is made to comprehend mat-ter. There is a mutual adaptation between our internal nature and the external world, and if an object, as a fair face or a graceful form, has agreeable qualities - agrees with our innate and antecedent ideas of beauty, we call it beautiful. Yet, is not Kant's definition partial, limited to notions of beauty that have been acquired by culture and such as belong to a more refined aesthetic taste? What I saw beautiful today was beautiful before I saw it, or before I could appreciate it, perhaps. May not beauty exist for its own sake or at least for the Creator's sake? Have we not reason to believe that God loves beauty, that there is beauty that man never saw and probably never will see? Is it not common sense that beauty exists in objects themselves independent of our mental faculties? In the original constitution of things God seems to have fashioned some objects or qualities of beauty on purpose to excite in us pleasure or delight at the very sight of them. The lovely shapes and colors as well as fragrance of flowers and fruits make them delightful.
There are certain graceful movements that give pleasure and an impression of beauty, as the waving grain, flowing river, curling smoke and flames, rolling waves, falling cascades, moving ships and floating fleecy clouds. A fountain playing is a beautiful object. Sea-shore sand is not particularly beautiful in great heaps, but it becomes beautiful where it shows the graceful lines of the motion and ripples of the waters. The real beauty of all objects depends on certain fixed laws of form and expression. The principles of form, color and beauty are eternal. The saying of Keats is now trite but true-" A thing of beauty is a joy for-ever."
Beauty depends often on association, as in a proper combination of colors and adjustment of lines, angles, and arrangement of forms. There is beauty in unity and there is beauty in variety. It has been held even that it is only the association of colors, or of sounds and outlines that occasions emotions of beauty. Matter itself may be coarse and ungainly, but its forms, its blended colors, and nature's harmonious sounds may be transcendantly beautiful. Simple beauty of outline is the foundation of all beauty of architecture, as may find illustration in the exterior of Salisbury cathedral. A pile of rough lumber or stone has no beauty, but the cunning architect may so fashion and arrange that coarse, unshapely, identical material that it will become a fair and lovely building. Why is fine architecture pleasant to look upon, and hence beautiful? Because it is composed of graceful forms. Why is choice painting beautiful? Because of its fair colors nicely blended. Why is music delightful? Because of its sweet harmonious sounds.
A person may have a perception of the beautiful without any material object present at all to the external senses, as a beautiful idea, thought, or principle. He may see beauty in a dream at night. Emotions of beauty may be caused by creations of the imagination. To create some kinds of beauty, we must first think beauty.
The pleasures awakened by the fine arts are not altogether dependent on representations of natural facts. These pleasures are sometimes afforded by abstract properties of objects-light, shade, color, geometrical and decorative lines, figures, and ornaments that have particular meaning or resemblance to definite forms. Diderot observes tbat beauty is a perception of relations. Hegel defines beauty as the "shining of the idea through a sensuous medium," and its life is in shining and appearance. The subtle power of association in the elements that constitute certain types of beauty is not fully appreciated, it would seem, even by such distinguished art critics as Mr. Ruskin.
Alison holds association to be the only source of the beautiful. He attributes the impression of beauty to the flowing through the mind of a train of ideas which always correspond to some emotion awakened by the aesthetic object, natural or artistic. He denies that aesthetic pleasure ever arises from the "simple impressions of the senses," or that the emotion of beauty is ever experienced as the immediate effect of music, visible form, or color.
Objects become beautiful by association. A fine garment hanging on a peg, all wrinkled and shapeless, would hardly be called beautiful, but put that garment on the person to whom it belongs and was artistically fitted, and it is now transfigured into a thing of beauty. An object or scene may seem beautiful to one person and not to another, because of difference of association, -it may be one's old homestead in youth, recalling pleasing recollections and endearing faces and precious, tender ties. Those deep furrows and wrinkles on the face of your aged father are not homely to you, but the vcry lines of grace and loveliness. A plain slab of cold stone may be anything but beautiful, yet if that slab stands at the head of your mother's grave, ah! nothing is so beautiful for the cherished memories it awakens. The American flag never looked so beautiful to ns as, after many weeks of weary travel in the Orient amid strange peoples, scenes and foreign banners, we sailed into the harbor of Smyrna and saw there the glorious stars and stripes floating gracefully from the mast-head of a United States man-of-war. That flag is beautiful to every loyal American heart, not because of its bunting or silk, or red, white and blue colors, but because of the precious story that is woven into it; because it speaks of Bunker Hill and Valley Forge, of Lexington and Saratoga. That starry ensign is dear to us because it makes us think of Washington and Lincoln, of Grant and Sheridan. The sight of its folds revives the thrilling scenes and great achievements of Vicksburg and Chickamauga, of Chattanooga and Gettysburg. We love and admire that flag because it has become "Old Glory" to us Americans, because it still stands for something-for lofty sentiment, for patriotism, for liberty, for a blood-bought union of states, for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, for the permanence of civil institutions, and for the land of the free and the home of the bravc. There is not much intrinsic beauty in the simple Murphy temperance badge
" Just a little bit of ribbon, just a little knot of blue,
No one would pronounce the scenery around Plymouth Rock to be beautiful in itself, but on the contrary wild, stormy, rugged, and forbidding. But why is it a " scene of touching loveliness and beauty " to every loyal American heart? Because there is a " moral power, the spirit of great achievement hovering around the spot, which spreads itself over the hard features of the soil, and illuminates the blackness of the sky." There are pleasures and beauties of memory,
" And hence the charms historic scenes impart ; Hence Tiber awes, and Avon melts the heart."
Plato believed in an absolute beauty-an eternal, perfect, self-existing form, but he does not tell us in what particular forms his notion of beauty reveals itself. He would call an object beautiful when there is unity and harmony among all its parts. He seems to teach that the highest beauty is seen in the union of a beautiful mind with a beautiful body, that beauty is the sensible representation of moral and physical perfection and hence, that it is " one with truth and goodness, and inspires love, which leads to virtue."
There are higher sources of human pleasure than the senses, even the intellectual, moral, and religious nature. The mind kindles with delight at the sight of certain material objects in nature-sunsets, landscapes, woods, waters, flowers, gems, shells, faces, and animal forms; but as mind and soul are above matter, so there are higher sources or occasions of the emotions of beauty than the mere material, such as the intellectual and moral. Physical beauty, as in the human face, is attractive, but is it not made more beautiful when that countenance is lighted up with intelligence and amiability? There is a beauty of mind and spirit, a beauty character and conduct, a beauty in wisdom, truth, justice, honor, benevolence, charity, a moral beauty, a beauty of holiness.
The one great original sourcc of the beautiful is God, who made all things. Beauty is "God's hand-writing," and everything that God does is full of purpose and design. Kant says that the highest meaning of beauty is to. symbolize moral good. To regard the impressions of beauty as simply intellectual is to disregard that which is the very "soul of the aesthetic impressions," -namely, emotion, feeling. The contemplation of. high intellectual and moral excellence awakens emotions of beauty in a cultivated and good heart. There is high authority for believing that there is a spiritual element in aesthetic perceptions. Human nature has the three-fold capacities of knowing, feeling, and willing, or of intellect, susceptibility, and will. With intellect man appreciates the true, with susceptibility the beautiful, and with will the good.
Socrates regarded the beautiful as coincident with the good. An object was called beautiful because it served some rational end. Whittier sings
"The good is always beautiful;
The ancients had but one word for the beautiful and" virtue. Beauty without virtue is a flower without per-fume. Nothing that is not good is admirable, and everything that is truly admirable is good. Honesty has a beauty all its own, and you have only to see it to admire it. Moral honesty, downright honesty-what is more admirable! Sacred, inviolable, clean-cut truth-what is more beautiful! "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," says one, and we may add that the perfection of beauty is perfect truth.
Virtue is always beautiful. There's beauty in the line of duty.
" Curved is the line of beauty;
Beauty may roam abroad through earth and sea and sky and spread itself over the face and form, but its home is in the regenerated heart of man. Emerson has written: The fountain of beauty is the heart, and every generous thought illustrates the walls of your chamber. Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we mast carry it with us or we find it not.
As to whether we appreciate a thing depends on what is already in our hearts-on our education, perhaps, or our nationality, our interests, our prejudices. Some people have eyes in their head, but none in their heart. They care only for gay colors, for what pleases the eye. They go into ecstacies over fancy scenes and highly-wrought paintings. There are some works of art that can only be read with the heart in order to grasp their deep meaning.
"They, my child, who idly sing of beauty,
It requires the moral sense to detect true beauty. Some are quick to discern physical beauty who are totally blind to moral beauty. A morally healthful soul soon discovers the faintest discord of evil. What is sadder than to see a spirit out of tune with God! We should keep our sense of the harmony of character keen and tender. Some persons have no moral taste, just as some seem to have no ear for music. A man's pleasures are the index of his character. Our great aim in life is not simply to please or to be pleased without reference to moral ends. You could not please some people unless you would roll in the mire with them. They delight in evil and in kindred companions. Oh, how sin mars the beauty and glory of the most beautiful and glorious things of earth! " Who has not felt, both in man and woman, that a single crime, that even one unhappy deed of meanness or dishonor, is capable of throwing a darkness and distortion over the charms of the most beautiful form?"
The world has been made beautiful for intelligent, percipient minds to behold and contemplate. That is beautiful to us which we perceive to be beautiful. What charms has a lovely landscape or painting for a blind man! So in the moral world. "Unto the pure, all things are pure." Bishop Simpson once wrote these words to his wife: " Be careful of your health; be cheerful. Look aloft. The stars display their beauty -to us only when we look at them, and if we look down at the earth our hearts are never charmed."
The soul is limited or hampered by its union with the senses. It is not always easy to distinguish between our conceptions of the beautiful and the good, for what is truly beautiful is good and the good is truly beautiful in the highest or moral sense. It will hardly be contended that the animals have any sense of the beautiful; but they have all of the five senses, hence the perception of the beautiful comes not alone through the outer senses, but through the added moral sense. It is the moral sense in man which alone perceives moral beauty-the good. Such perception yields spiritual enjoyment, the only true and worthy delight. God, the Good, is the only source whence come all beautiful forms, animate and inanimate. Though there be no beauty in matter-formless matter, yet there is beauty in the world's order which is "a spiritual principle, all motion and life being the product of spirit." Emerson makes truth and goodness and beauty but different faces of the same all-fair one -God. He says: "Beauty in nature is not ultimate. It is the herald of inward and eternal beauty, and is not alone a satisfactory and solid good. It must stand as a part, and not as yet the last or highest expression of the final cause of nature."
Where there is no blemish, but perfect purity, there is perfect beauty. You cannot make impurity beautiful, even though you legalize it. " Parity is a sixth sense, opening to us what the material senses can never discern-the vision of God. The most beautiful things open not to the eye, but to the soul fitted to understand them. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they see what the artistic eye of no Turner or Titian or Reynolds can detect. To see God is a higher gift than to discern the beauties his hand has diffused through nature. To a. man of materialistic tastes a poor poet-painter said:
When the sun rises you see something like a golden guinea coming out of the sea. I see, aud hear likewise, something like an innumerable company of angels praising God." Form and color in God's creation have a meaning. Perhaps we have not yet a conception of His meaning. It is not every one that perceives the unparalleled and inimitable subtleties of color and inorganic form which God paints on a pleasant morning or evening sky, or ever pauses to think that the splendid scene may be meant to be a hint to man of something far more magnificent beyond the sky.
When we are pleased by the contemplation of a thing of beauty, we are more or less happy. The true empire of beauty is to make happy in the most exalted sense. God made man lord of this world and meant that he should have an exquisite enjoyment of the beauties of nature and the bounties of providence,-not that his choicest affections were to be set on created and perishable things, but upon the God of nature and of grace. As we behold everywhere the surprising variety of the sources of natural beauty, produced by form or color, or by both combined, we cannot but regard it as meant to he one of the revelations of God, of his own beauty of character. The Creator was to be admired and loved, and he implanted in his creature man a love of the beautiful, and by our admiration and love for the beauty of God's visible works, we would love and adore the all-beautiful Author of them. By these delightful demonstrations in nature of God's character, we are to see and judge of Him. " God made us to love and crave variety. He seeks to win our love by the changing scenes he daily presents in varied form and color to the eyes of men. In the shifting scenes above and around us-in clouds and fields, in flowers, fruits and trees that form a colored and moving panorama. Now and then God speaks to man's ear in thunder, but more generally and frequently to the eye in silent pictures."
The beautiful external qualities of objects are typical of the spiritual, of the Divine attributes. The beauty of nature-speaks of God-a witness of his harmonious perfections. Absolute perfection, perfect beauty, are not found in this world. Everything earthly is marred by defect and disproportion. This great, undeniable fact in nature does not reflect on the absolute perfection and beauty of God's character. Man's unbeautiful con-duct has forced God to create some misshapen, repulsive things to reflect as in a mirror man's depraved and deformed nature, and show him the hideousness of sin.
If nature were not sparing of the absolutely beautiful, man might weary of it and perhaps come to loathe it. Things very beautiful and things very ugly are rare in nature. There is an average beauty in the world.
Who will say that if the leaves on the trees were all :square-headed instead of pointed arches, they would be more beautiful! There are a great many beautiful faces as well as landscapes, but among the many we have seen, we can single out and remember but a very few that were so perfectly charming that their image is a joy forever. God has made it man's nature to love such characters of beauty as He has stamped upon the familiar everyday world,-flowers, ferns, leaves, trees, plumage, animals, rocks, crystals, rivers, lakes, mountains, vales, stars, sunsets, clouds, dew-drops, waterfalls. It is not in the nature of man to admire ugliness and monstrosity.
Ruskin says: "Beauty has been appointed by the Deity to be one of the elements by which the human soul is continually sustained; it is therefore to be found more or less in all natural objects." As beauty in nature is "associated with what has the nature of virtue and of life," so ugliness is "associated with whatever has the nature of death and sin." What a picture of ugliness is the bloated-faced, blear-eyed drunkard! When young people of either sex begin to lead a fast life, spending much of their time in dissipation and intemperate festivity, how soon do they lose their fair countenance and the bloom and vigor and grace of youth! Sin blights and withers beauty and loveliness. Sin is ugliness itself. Violation of natural laws produces ugliness, while their fulfillment produces and preserves the beautiful.
We call this a beautiful world, but ala! there is much to mar its attractiveness. There are many things unlovely, disagreeable, wrong, and difficult in the world. Surely God delights not in the unsightly deformities and disgustful things he has created, but we reiterate that man's abominable depravity compelled God to. make this sacrifice of physical beauty for a good moral end, that his own moral beauty might be displayed. Why did God make that beautiful flower? To teach man to be beautiful in his life, to exhale a sweet fragrance and exert a good influence, to benefit others and not be selfish, to smile and scatter sunshine, to reflect. the divine nature of love. So, on the other hand, why did the God of nature permit that foul nest of worms to appear on that now leafless branch of an otherwise beautiful fruit-tree? to show to man what a loathsome,. rotten, ill-odored thing sin is, that it will blight forever the moral beauty of the person who allows the accursed seed to be deposited in the heart.
God would train man into a true moral beauty. We believe that the Creator intended that all the beauty which he has spread over the face of visible nature should express or symbolize to man the importance of intellectual, moral and spiritual beauty. This is the sum of the whole matter. When God creates a beautiful flower or bird, for example, he would thereby express. the wisdom and perfection of its Creator. All physical or visible beauty is designed to teach that there is an invisible and purely spiritual beauty for which we are created and to strive. So where God has created ugliness and deformity in visible nature, he had in view moral ends, and would teach man the distortion and horrible character of sin.
This whole world and every object in it is cast in the moulds of intelligence or supreme Mind. Everything in nature bears evidence of being made to fill its place and purpose. All of God's material works have their physical uses, and back of mere physical utility may be traced their final causes or moral uses. Students of nature who have sought to account for the existence of everything by observing its contrivance to serve only some physical end, have encountered many difficulties, especially in their attempts to reconcile with the perfect goodness and beauty of God's character certain dark things in the world-things unbeautiful, unsightly, misshapen, disgustful,-pains, plagues, pestilences, animal infestations." We are confident that the darkest and most inexplicable mystery in the universe may be cleared up in the light of its moral use which is the final end of all God's creations. Even the physical uses of things are subservient to their moral ends and purposes.
No one but a man blind from his birth would ask why any one should be delighted with the beautiful. The love of it is innate in the human race, and there-fore legitimate and to be cultivated. Beauty having its moral uses, it follows that man as a moral agent should employ it as an educator. Man as an aesthetic being is influenced by the beautiful, and we can often win him by our own attractive character and conduct. Who will say that a coarse, selfish, or evil man can get along as well in life and do so much good to others as the man who is pleasing in his manner and accomplished by reason of his acquaintance with elegant language, refined ways, works of art, and good people? How to make ourselves most useful should be our aim, and we can add to our moral influence and become more potent factors for good by making ourselves more beautiful in mind, sweeter in spirit, diviner in our whole nature.
The cultivation of beauty is a part of our education. It is not a waste, a mere luxury, to spend something in the cultivation of the beautiful. In answer to any one who might ask, how can a man, while the whole world is lying in wickedness, indulgein the beautiful, and spend so much time and money upon himself? we will let another reply: "The world being in wickedness, I am going to educate myself in beauty, that I may be the better fitted to elevate it out of that wickedness. The beautiful is one of the elements with which I am to familiarize myself, in order that I may the more successfully engage in this work. God educates men for laboring in his kingdom on earth by spreading out before them the beauties which He has created in the natural world. The beautiful may, therefore, be made a moral instructor, and it may make the soul of man powerful; so that indulgence in it, instead of being selfish, is a part of one's lawful education."
Man's sense of beauty increases with the enlargement of his intellectual capacity. Our intuitive perception of the beautiful may be intensified and our delight greatly heightened by cultivation. Fine art has a power to intensify feeling and produce a strength and fulness of emotion. Emotions of beauty do not seem to differ materially from those of grandeur and sublimity except in degree. First, there is the pleasing and gentle emotion of beauty; then, as the object or scene intensifies in interest and power, the feeling rises into emotions of grandeur; and if the feeling expands still further and becomes more vivid and powerful, the sublime is reached.
The strength and subtle delights of aesthetic impressions depend on the degree of refined taste and mental and moral culture. One person may discover the charm of an object before another is able to perceive it, or one may come to see beauty that at first he himself failed to discover. A painter was looking with great delight at a beautiful picture, when a friend said to him, "What is there to interest you so long in that picture?" The painter replied: "If you could see this picture as I see it, you would know why I enjoy it. I see a beauty in it which only the eye of an artist can discern." After one studies botany. the flowers are more beautiful; to the student of astronomy the glories of a brilliant night attract as never before; to the delving geologist the rock-crystals, yea, the very stepping-stones and marble table tops and window sills, are now invested with a halo of wondering admiration; and thc scholars in rhetoric learn to appreciate the charms of elegant language which had never before arrested their attention.
To appreciate the beautiful with a refined taste and keen sensibility requires a certain activity and culture of the mental faculty that is not commonly witnessed. One beholder may see grace and beauty in a cascade or even grandeur in a glorious waterfall, and another at his side may exclaim as did a son of Erin at his first sight of Niagara, "Surely that water can't help falling. What's to hinder?" The following conversation is reported to have been overheard :
"What pretty flowers !" she exclaimed!
" What ?" growled the man.
"I said what pretty flowers."
" Where ?"
"At the house we passed."
" Well, what of it ?"
A few minutes later she said
" Isn't that a nice baby ? "
" Isn't that a nice baby ?"
" There," pointing to a beautiful little boy on the opposite side of the carriage.
" Looks like a fool."
It was Sunday. A peal of bells could be heard while the train stopped at a station.
" That's nice music," said the woman.
" What ?"
" That's nice music."
" Why, those chimes."
" Sounds like a lot of cowbells."
The most cheering work of art to some people is a government bank note or the likeness on a twenty-dollar gold piece. We have seen persons stand before a masterpiece of painting, who seemed to be more interested in the picture-frame and asked what we supposed that moulding cost a foot. A certain countryman went to purchase an oil painting. He measured the size of the canvas, and calculated the quantity of paint used, and the width of the gilded frame, as the true basis of the picture's worth. A German artist made the cruel remark that he could always tell an American abroad, for whenever one came in front of a fine building or work of art, he would invariably exclaim, "How much did the thing cost ?" It is to be feared that, unless certain extremely mercenary church members are not more thoroughly regenerated, they might ask the same profane question, if they should ever be permitted to stand before the Great White Throne.
We find that the ideas and emotions of beauty vary in different individuals and in the same individual not only according to age, education, and environments, but that these are also largely influenced by some dominant passion of love or hate, bias or prejudice, which betrays itself in their ejaculations of undue praise and flattery, or in their mntterings of opprobrious criticisms. When we find fault with people or artists who offend our notions and tastes, Iet us see well to it that our notions and tastes are not inferior, wrong or offensive to good taste. Many art critics do not touch the real merits or demerits of the work they would describe, but only describe them-selves and their narrow standpoints. Their decision has no effect whatever except to betray what is in themselves of morality or immorality, of culture or ignorance, of refinement or coarseness. It is worth something to have the revelations men make of themselves. If a work of art deserves to live, it will live in spite of all the critics., The anvil remains after many a hammer has been' battered and worn out upon it. When we hear a person severely criticising another, a rival perhaps, we have been able to discover, as by the. searching "X rays" the inner nature of the critic himself- his envy, jealousy, or meanness. We do well to remember that our criticisms will often be interpreted as personal expressions of our own inward characters. When we would estimate criticisms, therefore, we must consider their source as well as the object criticised. What are criticisms but individual opinions liable to- narrow prejudice or exaggeration, falsehood or flattery? Competent and candid critics are rare, while a hypercritical spirit in matters of art and aesthetic taste is far too common.
It must be self-evident to all that our love or dislike for a person or object may affect our ideas of their beauty. Hatred is apt to see only homeliness in its object, and "love is blind." Our admiration of the beautiful and our abhorrence of the ugly can alike be dulled, checked, perverted, and completely reversed by habit, fashion,, and familiarity.
"Vice is a monster of such frightful mien
Many people allow-their moral judgment to get warped too easily. When they fail to see beauty in the truly beautiful, the fault is in themselves. True beauty is not a mere creature of fancy, for it increases on examination, while false beauty lessens. Pat the finest and prettiest artificial flower under the microscope and you are disgusted with its unsightly coarseness, but put now in its place under the same glass the simplest natural flower-one that was woven in the looms of God, and you are astonished and fairly overwhelmed with its increasing beauty and entrancing loveliness.
God in his wisdom has seen fit to create ugliness and false beauty even among the flowers that will not bear too close inspection, that must be kept aloof,-thus revealing his moral purpose that would have us shun the ways of sin which are deceitful by their seeming sweetness and grace. The cactus blossoms are delightful to look upon, but better not undertake to pluck one. There is a large flower with petals three feet in length growing in tropical countries that when first seen at a distance appears charmingly beautiful, but as you approach near to it, the emotion. of beauty gives place to utter abhorrence, for it is coarse, homely, and illodored-a fitting type of sin's beguiling, but detestable nature. If sin seems delightful, it is because it is deceitful. You would detest it seen in its own deformity. You may be sure that the heart is the worst part of that man who says, "I have my faults, but my heart is right." He is a deceiver. Right hearts do not reveal themselves in gross, unseemly faults. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good." If a man is a man, he will act like a man. "A gentleman in the rough is never rough."
Beauty is a snare sometimes. It has perhaps been the ruin as often as it has been an advantage to woman. It will tempt where gold is powerless. Beauty needs no letters of recommendation to introduce it. The world at once bids it enter and possess. It is all but omnipotent in its influence over the human heart. There is a criminal and crafty art that knows all too well how to use as a decoy the fascinating, seductive power of beauty. The more beautiful the saloon-keeper can make his den, the more deadly it becomes. Satan can seem an angel of light. He would never have a follower but for the lovely mask he wears. Satan smiles as he smites. While he would kiss, he will betray. It is not the low groggeries, with their bare floors and walls, greasy tables, foul air, drunken loafers, and repulsive sights that attract and ruin the clean young men, but the palace-fronted saloon with its plate-glass mirrors, costly pictures of beautiful women, glittering frescos, highly-decorated bar, shining rows of cut-glass -decanters and glasses, elegantly-upholstered easy chairs -all brilliantly illuminated. The walls of one saloon in Chicago are adorned with paintings worth two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. To the soul that has learned how to discriminate and discern the only true beauty-moral beauty, the best side of a saloon or average theatre is the outside.
Beauty, like every other good thing, has too often been counterfeited and perverted to unholy uses. Everywhere the livery of heaven is employed to serve the devil in. It is the fashionable, finely-furnished club-house and the polished vices of the luxurious classes that are the curse of the times. The beautiful is defined to be that which pleases, but that is not beautiful which pleases the. devil. Association has much to do with beauty and ugliness. Red is indeed a beautiful color, but not when the demon of strong drink resorts to nose-painting as a fine art. Prettiness may not be beauty. There is many a " pretty " little ballet-dancer in tights on the theatrical stage or in a low show that is to all pure eyes a veritable monstrosity. We need to call things by their right names. This age is too much given to saying smooth things. No matter how homely the baby is, we want everybody to go into ecstacies over it and call it a little beauty. Beauty sometimes depends on fitness, for nothing is admirable that is not suitablc. A rose is a rose and a cabbage is a. cabbage, and each has its place and purpose; but what if the cabbage takes the prize at a county fair, would anybody claim the charms of beauty for a cabbage?-while the simplest wild rose by the wayside challenges the world of flowers with this royal distinction.
If beauty is a divine principle, is not ugliness an evil principle? If ugliness is ever attractive and pleasurable, it is only to vulgar persons. If nature has given us a plain or homely face, we need not be so ugly in disposition as to displease the good by our deformity and grossness of behavior. O how the all-beautiful One must abhor that vile, polluted character, that crabbed, venomous disposition, that depraved, loathsome nature r No man or woman has this moral beauty who is mean-minded, who indulges in unpleasant moods, surly looks, ungainly frowns, discourteous acts, impolite words-who is over-sensitive, and has to be petted and coddled to be kept good natured. Who would not rather set the world to laughing and loving than to frowning and hating!
The soul of beauty is nobility of soul. That is moral beauty which comes as a good angel to the world and strives to change its immoral configurations, its unsightly and disgustful blemishes, and relieve its dishonored sorrows, and to throw around it the healing robe of Christianity. It is the beauty of the Lord our God upon us.