« IndietroContinua »
improbable but æsthetically probable, or, finally, æsthetically improbable but on the whole probable or that whose improbability is not evident. So we reach the admission of the impossible and absurd, the αδύνατον and άτοπον of Aristotle.
If after reading these paragraphs, highly important as revealing the true thought of Baumgarten, we turn once more to the Introduction to his work, we notice at once his commonplace and erroneous conception of the poetic faculty. To a friend who suggested that there was no need for him to concern himself with confused or inferior consciousness both because "confusio mater erroris" and because “ facultate inferiores, caro, debellandae potius sunt quam excitandae et confirmandae,” Baumgarten replied that confusion is a condition wherein to find truth : that nature makes no sudden leap from obscurity to clarity: that noonday light is reached from night-time through the dawn (ex nocte per auroram meridies) : that in the case of the inferior faculties a guide, not a tyrant, is needed (imperium in facultates inferiores poscitur, non tyrannis). This is still the attitude of Leibniz, Trevisano and Bülffinger. Baumgarten is terrified lest he should be accused of treating subjects unworthy a philosopher. “Quousque tandem” (says he to himself), “dost thou, professor of theoretic and moral philosophy, dare to praise lies and mixtures of true and false as though they were noble works? And if there is one thing above all others from which he is anxious to guard himself it is sensualism, unbridled and non-moralized. The sensitive perfection of Cartesianism and Wolffianism was liable to be confused with simple pleasure, with the feeling of the perfection of our organism : 4 but Baumgarten falls into no such confusion. When in 1745 one Quistorp combated his æsthetic theory by saying that if poetry consisted in sensuous perfection it was a thing hurtful to men, Baumgarten answered disdainfully that he did not expect he should ever find time to reply to a critic of such calibre as to mistake his " oratio perfecta sensitiva" for an “oratio perfecte (that is omnino) sensitiva.” 1
1 Æsth. $$ 485, 486. 3 Op. cit. $$ 7, 12. 3 Op. cit. $ 478.
• Cf. Wolff, Psych. empir. $ 511, and the passage there quoted from Descartes; also SS 542, 550.
Save in its title and its first definitions Baumgarten's Æsthetic is covered with the mould of antiquity and commonplace. We have seen that he refers back to Aristotle and Cicero for the first principles of his science; in another instance he attaches his Æsthetic to the Rhetoric of antiquity, quoting the truth enunciated by Zeno the Stoic, “esse duo cogitandi genera, alterum perpetuum et latius, quod Rhetorices sit, alterum concisum et contractius, quod Dialectices,” and identifying the former with the æsthetic horizon, the latter with the logical.2 In his Meditationes he rests upon Scaliger and Vossius ; 3 of modern writers beside the philosophers (Leibniz, Wolff, Bülffinger) he quotes Gottsched, Arnold, 4 Werenfels, Breitinger 5; by means of these latter he is able to make acquaintance with discussions upon taste and imagination, even without direct acquaintance with Addison and Du Bos, as well as the Italians, whose writings had immense vogue in Germany in his day, and with whom his resemblances leap to the eye. Baumgarten always feels himself to be in perfect accord with his predecessors; never at variance with them. He never felt himself to be a revolutionary; and though some have been revolutionaries without knowing it, Baumgarten was not one of them. Baumgarten's works are but another presentation of the problem of Æsthetic still clamouring for solution in a voice so much the stronger as it uttered a commonplace : he proclaims a new science and presents it in conventional scholastic form; the babe about to be born receives the name of Æsthetic by premature baptism at his hands : and the name remains. But the new name is devoid of new matter; the philosophical armour covers no muscular body. Our good Baumgarten, full of ardour and conviction, and often curiously brisk and vivacious in his scholastic Latinism, is a most sympathetic and attractive figure in the history of Æsthetic : of the science in formation, that is to say, not of the science brought to completion : of Æsthetic condenda not condita.
New names and old meanings.
1 Th. Joh. Quistorp, in Neuen Bücher-Saal, 1745, fasc. 5; Erweis dass die Poesie schon für sie selbst ihre Liebhaber leichtlich unglücklich machen könne ; and A. G. Baumgarten, Metaphysica, 2nd ed., 1748, preface ; cf. Danzel, ched, pp. 215, 221.
2 Aesth. § 122.
6 Aesth. § II.
3 Med. $ 9.
Vico as inventor of esthetic science.
The real revolutionary who by putting aside the concept of probability and conceiving imagination in a novel manner actually discovered the true nature of poetry and art and, so to speak, invented the science of Æsthetic, was the Italian Giambattista Vico.
Ten years prior to the publication in Germany of Baumgarten's first treatise, there had appeared in Naples (1725) the first Scienza nuova, which developed ideas on the nature of poetry outlined in a former work (1721), De constantia iurisprudentis, outcome of " twenty-five years' continuous and harsh meditation."1 In 1730 Vico republished it with fresh developments which gave rise to two special books (Della sapienza poetica and Della discoperta del vero Omero) in the second Scienza Nuova. Nor did he ever tire of repeating his views and forcing them upon the attention of his hostile contemporaries at every opportunity, seizing such occasion even in prefaces and letters, poems on the occasion of weddings or funerals, and in such press notices as fell to his duty as public censor of literature.
And what were these ideas? Neither more nor less, we may say, than the solution of the problem stated by Plato, attacked but not solved by Aristotle, and again vainly attacked during the Renaissance and afterwards : is poetry rational or irrational, spiritual or brutal ? and, if spiritual, what is its special nature and what distinguishes it from history and science ?
1 Scienza nuova prima, bk. iii. ch. 5 (Opere di G. B. Vico, edited by G. Ferrari, 2nd ed., Milan, 1852–1854).
As we know, Plato confined it within the baser part of the soul, the animal spirits. Vico re-elevates it and makes of it a period in the history of humanity: and since history for him means an ideal history whose periods consist not of contingent facts but of forms of the spirit, he makes it a moment in the ideal history of the spirit, a form of consciousness. Poetry precedes intellect, but follows sense ; through confusing it with the latter, Plato failed to grasp the position it should really occupy and banished it from his Republic. “Men at first feel without being aware; next they become aware with a perturbed and agitated soul ; finally they reflect with an undisturbed mind. This Aphorism is the Principle of poetical sentences which are formed by the sense of passions and affections; differing thereby from philosophical sentences which are formed by reflexion through ratiocination; whence the latter approach more nearly to truth the more they rise towards the universal, while the former have more of certainty the more they approach the individual.” 1 An imaginative phase of consciousness, but one possessed of positive value.
The imaginative phase is altogether independent and Poetry and autonomous with respect to the intellectual, which is not Philosophy:
imagination only incapable of endowing it with any fresh perfection and intellect. but can only destroy it. “ The studies of Metaphysics and Poetry are in natural opposition one to the other ; for the former purges the mind of childish prejudice and the latter immerses and drowns it in the same : the former offers resistance to the judgement of the senses, while the latter makes this its chief rule : the former debilitates, the latter strengthens, imagination : the former prides itself in not turning spirit into body, the latter does its utmost to give a body to spirit : hence the thoughts of the former must necessarily be abstract, while the concepts of the latter show best when most clothed with matter : to sum up, the former strives that the learned
1 Scienza nuova seconda, Elementi, liii.