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OTHER AESTHETIC DOCTRINES OF THE
A GREAT medley of heterogeneous ideas is noticeable among other writers on AEsthetic during the same period. In 1746 appeared a little volume by Abbé Batteux bearing the attractive title of The Fine Arts reduced to a Single Principle, in which the author attempted a unification of all the different rules laid down by the writers of treatises. All such rules (says Batteux) are branches emerging from one trunk; he who possesses the simple principle will be able to deduce the rules one by one without entangling himself in their mass, which can but involve him in endless coils. The author had passed in review the Ars Poetica of Horace and that of Boileau, and the works of Rollin, Dacier, le Bossu and d'Aubignac ; but had found real help only in Aristotle's principle of imitation, which he thought could be easily and strikingly applied to poetry, painting, music and the art of gesture. But suddenly the Aristotelian principle of imitation yields place to a wholly new rendering, namely the “imitation of natural beauty.” The business of art is to “select the most beautiful parts of nature in order to frame them into an exquisite whole which shall be more beautiful than nature's self, without ceasing to be natural.” Now, what may this greater perfection, this beautiful nature, be 2 On one occasion Batteux identifies it with truth : but “with the truth which may be ; with beauty-truth, which is represented as though it really existed with all the perfections it could
Other writers of the eighteenth century : Batteux.
possibly receive,” recalling one example from the ancients in the Helen of Zeuxis, and one from the moderns in the Misanthrope of Molière. In another place he explains that beautiful nature, “tum ipsius (obiecti) naturae, tum nostrae convenit,” i.e. that it has the closest connexion with our own perfection, our advantage and our interest, and is, at the same time, perfect in itself. The aim of imitation is “to please, to move, to soften, in one word, to delight "; so beautiful nature must be interesting and furnished with unity, variety, symmetry and proportion. Embarrassed by the question of artistic imitation of things naturally ugly or objectionable, Batteux falls back on saying, as Castelvetro had said before him, that displeasing objects please when imitated, since imitation, being always imperfect, in comparison with the reality, cannot excite the horror and disgust aroused by the latter. From pleasure he deduces the other aim of utility: if the aim of poetry be to give pleasure, and “pleasure by moving the passions, then in order to give a perfect and enduring pleasure it ought to rouse such passions only as it is well to excite, not those inimical to goodness.” " It is difficult to string together a more insubstantial mass of contradictions. But Batteux is rivalled and outdone by the English philosophers or rather scribblers on AEsthetic or rather on things in general which sometimes accidentally include aesthetic facts. Happening to find in Lomazzo some words attributed to Michael Angelo on the beauty of shapes, Hogarth the artist took into his head the idea that the figurative arts can be regulated by a special principle which can be expressed in a particular line.” Filled with this discovery, in 1745 he designed a frontispiece for a volume of his engravings; it depicted a painter's palette scored across with an undulating line and the words The Line of Beauty. Public curiosity was immediately aroused by this hieroglyphic, to be satisfied a little later by the publication of his book The Analysis
The English :
* Les Beaux Arts réduits à un même principe, Paris, 1746, see esp.
of Beauty (1753)." In this he combated the mistake of
Without dwelling further on the second, he proceeds to a lengthy discussion of the natural qualities which should be found in an object of sensible beauty: “Firstly, comparative smallness; secondly, smooth surface; thirdly, variety in disposition of the parts; fourthly, that it have no angularity, all lines fusing one in another; fifthly, a structure of great delicacy betraying no signs of violence ; sixthly, vivid colouring without glare or harshness; seventhly, if it have any glaring colour, let it be different from the background.” These are the properties of beauty working in harmony with nature and least liable to suffer from caprice and differences of taste." These books of Hogarth and Burke are generally described as classical ; if so, they belong to the type of classic that fails to convince. To a somewhat higher type belongs the Elements of Criticism (1761) of Henry Home, Lord Kaimes, who seeks “the true principles of the fine arts" with the object of converting criticism into “a rational science,” and to this end chooses “the upward path of facts and experiments.” Home confines himself to feelings derived from objects of sight and hearing, which, in so far as unaccompanied by desires, are more truly described as simple feelings (emotions, not passions). These occupy a middle position between mere senseimpressions and intellectual or moral ideas, and are therefore akin to both ; and it is from these that the pleasures of beauty are derived. Beauty is divided into beauty of relation and intrinsic beauty.” Of the latter, Home's only account is that regularity, simplicity, uniformity, proportion, order and other pleasing qualities have been “so disposed by the Author of nature in order to increase our happiness here on earth which, as is clearly shown in numberless instances, is not foreign to his care.” This notion is confirmed when he reflects that “our taste for such details is not accidental, but uniform and universal, being a very part of our nature"; adding that “regularity, uniformity, order and simplicity help to facilitate
* Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, part iii. § 18. * Elements of Criticism, 1761, vol. i. introd. and chs. 1-3.
perception and make it possible for us to form clearer conception of objects than it would be possible to gain by the most earnest attention were such qualities not present.” Proportions are often combined with a view to utility, “ as we see that the best proportioned amongst animals are also the strongest ; but there are also many examples in which this conjunction does not hold good”; wherefore the wisest plan “is to rest content with the final cause just mentioned : that of the increase of our happiness intended by the Author of nature.” ". In his Essay on Taste (1758) and on Genius (1774) Alexander Gerard employs by turns, according to the various forms of art, the principles of association, of direct pleasure, of expression, and even of moral sense : the same kind of explanation reappears in another Essay on Taste by Alison (1792). It is impossible to classify works of such calibre, almost wholly lacking as they are in scientific method; on each page their writers pass from physiological sensationalism to moralism ; from the imitation of nature to mysticism and transcendent finalism without the slightest sense of incongruity. It would be absurd to take them seriously; in comparison it is almost refreshing to come across a frank hedonist in the German, Ernst Platner, who interpreted Hogarth's inquiry into lines after a fashion of his own and was unable to see anything in aesthetic facts except a reverberation of sexual pleasure. Where can we find a beauty, he asks, that is not derived from the female figure, the centre of all beauty 2 Undulating lines are beautiful because found in a woman's body; beautiful are all movements distinctively feminine ; beautiful the tones of music melting one into another; beautiful the poem where one thought embraces another with tenderness and facility.” Condillac's sensationalism had already shown itself wholly incapable of understanding aesthetic productivity; the associationism especially promoted by the work of Hume fared no better. * Elements of Criticism, i. ch. 3, pp. 201-202.
* Neue Anthropologie, Leipzig, 1790, § 814, and the lectures on AEsthetic published posthumously in 1836; cf. Zimmermann, op. cit.
and sensationalism. E. Platner.