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How could we better take a smiling leave of metaphysical Æsthetic in the German manner than by recording this quaint vernacular version of it made by Tari, that kindly little old man, “the last jovial high-priest of an arbitrary and confused Æsthetic”? 1
1 V. Pica, L'Arte dell' Estremo Oriente, Turin, 1894, p. 13.
ÆSTHETIC POSITIVISM AND NATURALISM
Positivism THE ground lost by idealistic metaphysic was conEvolutionism. quered in the latter half of the nineteenth century by
positivistic and evolutionary metaphysic, a confused substitution of natural for philosophical sciences, and a hotch-potch of materialistic and idealistic, mechanical and theological theories, the whole crowned with scepticism and agnosticism. Characteristic of this trend of opinion was its contempt of history, especially the history of philosophy; which prevented its ever making that contact with the unbroken and age-long efforts of thinkers without which it is idle to hope for fertile work and true
progress. Æsthetic of Spencer (the greatest positivist of his day), whilst H. Spencer. discussing Æsthetic, actually did not know that he was
dealing with problems for all, or almost all, of which solutions had been already proposed and discussed. At the beginning of his essay on the Philosophy of Style, he remarks innocently : “I believe nobody has ever sketched a general theory of the art of writing ” (in 1852 !); and in his Principles of Psychology (1855), touching the æsthetic feelings he remarks that he has some recollection of observations concerning the relation of art and play made “by some German author whose name I cannot recall ” (Schiller!). Had his pages on Æsthetic been written in the seventeenth century, they would have won a low position amongst the early crude attempts at æsthetic speculation; in the nineteenth century, one knows not how to judge them. In his essay on The
Useful and the Beautiful (1852–1854), he shows how the useful becomes beautiful when it ceases to be useful, illustrating this by a ruined castle useless for the purposes of modern life, but a suitable scene for picnic parties and a good subject for a picture to hang on a parlour wall; which leads him to identify the principle of evolution from the useful to the beautiful as contrast. In another essay on the Beauty of the Human Face (1852) he explains this beauty as a sign and effect of moral goodness; in that on Grace (1852) he considers the sentiment of the graceful as sympathy for power in conjunction with agility. In the Origin of Architectural Styles (1852–1854) he discovers the beauty of architecture as consisting in uniformity and symmetry, an idea which is aroused in a man looking at the bodily equilibrium of the higher animals or, as in Gothic architecture, by analogy with the vegetable kingdom; in his essay on Style, he places the cause of stylistic beauty in economy of effort; in his Origin and Function of Music (1857) he theorizes on music as the natural language of the passions, adapted to increase sympathy between men. In his Principles of Psychology, he maintains that the æsthetic feelings arise from the overflow of exuberant energy in the organism, and distinguishes various degrees of them, from simple sensation to that accompanied by representative elements, and so on until perception is reached, with more complex elements of representation, then emotion, and, last of all, that state of consciousness which transcends sensation and perception. The most perfect form of æsthetic feeling is attained by the coincidence of the three orders of pleasures, a coincidence produced by the full action of their respective faculties with the least possible subtraction due to the painful effect of excessive activity. But it is very rarely that we experience æsthetic excitement of this kind and strength; almost all works of art are imperfect because they contain a mixture of artistic with anti-artistic effects ; now the technique is unsatisfactory, now the emotion is of a low order. These
1 Essays, Scientific, Political, and Speculative, 1858-1862.
works of art which are universally admired, are found when measured by this criterion to deserve a lower place than that accorded them by popular taste. Beginning with the Greek epic and the representations of analogous legends given by their sculptors, tending to excite egoistic or ego-altruistic sentiments, and passing through the literature of the Middle Ages, equally impregnated with inferior sentiments, then through the works of the old masters, whose ideas and sentiments seldom compensate for the displeasing effect they inflict on our senses overrefined in study of appearances; and coming at last to the vaunted works of modern art, excellent for technical execution in many cases but deplorable for the emotions they arouse and express, such as Gérôme's battle-pieces, alternately sensual and sanguinary ;—they are all far off indeed from the qualities deemed desirable, from the artistic forms corresponding to the highest forms of æsthetic feeling.” 1 These last critical denunciations, like the theories noticed above, are mere substitutions of one word for another; "facility” for "
facility” for “grace"; "economy for “beauty,” and so on. Indeed, when one tries to define the exact philosophical position of Spencer, one can only possibly say that he wavers between sensationalism and moralism, and is never for a moment conscious of art as art.
The same oscillation is noticeable in other English writers such as Sully and Bain, in whom, however, we find more familiarity with works of art. In his numerous essays and in Physiological Æsthetics (1877), Grant Allen collected a great many records of physiological experiments, all of which may be of supreme value to physiology, for aught we know to the contrary, but most assuredly are worthless from the point of view of Æsthetic. He keeps to the distinction between necessary or vital activity
1 Principles of Psychology, *1855; 2nd ed. 1870, part viii. ch. 9, $S 533-540.
* J. Sully, Outlines of Psychology, London, 1884; Sensation and Intuition, Studies in Psychology and Æsthetics, London, 1874; cf. Encycl. Britannica, ed. 9, art. "Æsthetics"; Alex. Bain, The Emotions and the Will, London, 1859, ch. 14.
Physiologists of Æsthetic. Grant Allen, Helmholts, and others.
and the superfluous or that of play, and defines æsthetic pleasure as “the subjective concomitant of the normal sum of activity, not connected directly with the vital functions, in the terminal peripheric organs of the cerebrospinal nervous system.” i Physiological processes considered as causes of pleasure in art are presented under other aspects by later investigators, who assert that such pleasure arises not only “from the activity of the visual organs and the muscular systems associated with them, but also from the participation of some of the more important functions of the organism, as for instance breathing, circulation of the blood, equilibrium and internal muscular accommodation." Art, then, indubitably originated in “ a prehistoric man who was habitually a deepbreather, having no call to rearrange his natural habits when scratching lines on bones or in mud and taking pains to draw them regularly spaced.”? Physical-Æsthetic researches were pursued in Germany by Helmholtz, Brücke and Stumpf, who generally confined themselves to the narrower field of optics and acoustics, giving descriptions of the physical processes of artistic technique and the conditions to which pleasurable visual and auditive impressions must conform, without claiming to merge Æsthetic in Physics, but even pointing out the divergences between them. Degenerate Herbartians hastened to disguise in physiological terms the metaphysical forms and relations of which their master had spoken, and to coquet with the hedonism of the naturalists.
The superstitious cult of natural sciences was often Method of the accompanied (as is frequently the fate of superstition) by natural
1 Physiological Æsthetics, London, 1877; various arts. in Mind, Æsthetic. vols. iii. iv, v. (o.s.).
2 Vernon Lee and C. Anstruther-Thomson, " Beauty and Ugliness," in Contemp. Review, October-November, 1897 : (abstract in Arréat, Dix années de philosophie, pp. 80-85); same author's Le Role de l'élément moteur dans la perception esthétique visuelle, Mémoire et questionnaire soumis au 4me Congrès de Psychologie, reprinted Imola, 1901.
3 H. Helmholtz, Die Lehre von der Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik, 1863, 4th ed., 1877; BrückeHelmholtz, Principes scientifiques des beaux arts, Fr. ed., Paris, 1881; C. Stumpf, Tonpsychologie, Leipzig, 1883.