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The Psychology of Beauty

by Ethel D. Puffer


THE human being who thrills to the experience of beauty in
nature and in art does not forever rest with that experience
unquestioned. The day comes when he yearns to pierce the
secret of his emotion, to discover what it is, and why, that
has so stung him--to defend and to justify his transport to
himself and to others. He seeks a reason for the faith that
is in him. And so have arisen the speculative theories of
the nature of beauty, on the one hand, and the studies of
concrete beauty and our feelings about it, on the other.
Speculative theory has taken its own way, however, as a
part of philosophy, in relating the Beautiful to the other
great concepts of the True and the Good; building up an
architectonic of abstract ideas, far from the immediate
facts and problems of the enjoyment of beauty. There has
grown up, on the other hand, in the last years, a great
literature of special studies in the facts of aesthetic
production and enjoyment. Experiments with the aesthetic
elements; investigations into the physiological psychology
of aesthetic reactions; studies in the genesis and development
of art forms, have multiplied apace. But these are still
mere groups of facts for psychology; they have not been taken
up into a single authoritative principle. Psychology cannot
do justice to the imperative of beauty, by virtue of which,
when we say "this is beautiful," we have a right to imply
that the universe must agree with us. A synthesis of these
tendencies in the study of beauty is needed, in which the
results of modern psychology shall help to make intelligible
a philosophical theory of beauty. The chief purpose of this
book is to seek to effect such a union.

A way of defining Beauty which grounds it in general principles,
while allowing it to reach the concrete case, is set forth in
the essay on the Nature of Beauty. The following chapters aim
to expand, to test, and to confirm this central theory, by
showing, partly by the aid of the aforesaid special studies,
how it accounts for our pleasure in pictures, music, and

The whole field of beauty is thus brought under discussion;
and therefore, though it nowhere seeks to be exhaustive in
treatment, the book may fairly claim to be a more or less
consistent and complete aesthetic theory, and hence to
address itself to the student of aesthetics as well as to the
general reader. The chapter on the Nature of Beauty, indeed,
will doubtless be found by the latter somewhat technical, and
should be omitted by all who definitely object to professional
phraseology. The general conclusions of the book are
sufficiently stated in the less abstract papers.

Of the essays which compose the following volume, the first,
third, and last are reprinted, in more or less revised form,
from the "Atlantic Monthly" and the "International Monthly."
Although written as independent papers, it is thought that
they do not unduly repeat each other, but that they serve to
verify, in each of the several realms of beauty, the truth
of the central theory of the book.

The various influences which have served to shape a work of
this kind become evident in the reading; but I cannot refrain
from a word of thanks to the teachers whose inspiration and
encouragement first made it possible. I owe much gratitude
to Professor Mary A. Jordan and Professor H. Norman Gardiner
of Smith College, who in literature and in philosophy first
set me in the way of aesthetic interest and inquiry, and to
Professor Hugo Munsterberg of Harvard University, whose
philosophical theories and scientific guidance have largely
influenced my thought.

WELLESLEY COLLEGE, April 24, 1905.

I. CRITICISM AND AESTHETICS.............................1
II. THE NATURE OF BEAUTY................................27
III. THE AESTHETIC REPOSE................................57
IV. THE BEAUTY OF FINE ART..............................89
A. THE BEAUTY OF VISUAL FORM.....................91
V. THE BEAUTY OF MUSIC................................149
VI. THE BEAUTY OF LITERATURE...........................203
VIII. THE BEAUTY OF IDEAS................................263




IT is not so long ago that the field of literary criticism
was divided into two opposing camps. France being the only
country in the world where criticism is a serious matter,
the battle waged most fiercely there, and doubtless greatly
served to bring about the present general interest and
understanding of the theoretical questions at issue. The
combatants were, of course, the impressionistic and scientific
schools of criticism, and particularly enlightening were the
more or less recent controversies between MM. Anatole France
and Jules Lemaitre as representatives of the first, and M.
Brunetiere as the chief exponent of the second. They have
planted their standards; and we see that they stand for
tendencies in the critical activity of every nation. The
ideal of the impressionist is to bring a new piece of
literature into being in some exquisitely happy characterization,--
to create a lyric of criticism out of the unique pleasure of
an aesthetic hour. The stronghold of the scientist, on the
other hand, is the doctrine of literary evolution, and his
aim is to show the history of literature as the history of
a process, and the work of literature as a product; to explain
it from its preceding causes, and to detect thereby the general
laws of literary metamorphosis.

Such are the two great lines of modern criticism; their purposes
and ideals stand diametrically opposed. Of late, however, there
have not been wanting signs of a spirit of reconciliation, and
of a tendency to concede the value, each in its own sphere, of
different but complementary activities. Now and again the
lion and the lamb have lain down together; one might almost say,
on reading a delightful paper of Mr. Lewis E. Gates on
Impressionism and Appreciation,<1> that the lamb had assimilated
the lion. For the heir of all literary studies, according to
Professor Gates, is the appreciative critic; and he it is who
shall fulfill the true function of criticism. He is to
consider the work of art in its historical setting and its
psychological origin, "as a characteristic moment in the
development of human spirit, and as a delicately transparent
illustration of aesthetic law." But, "in regarding the work
of art under all these aspects, his aim is, primarily, not to
explain, and not to judge or dogmatize, but to enjoy; to
realize the manifold charms the work of art has gathered unto
itself from all sources, and to interpret this charm imaginatively
to the men of his own day and generation."

<1> Atlantic Monthly, July, 1900.

Thus it would seem that if the report of his personal reactions
to a work of literary art is the intention of the impressionist,
and its explanation that of the scientist, the purpose of the
appreciative critic is fairly named as the illuminating and
interpreting reproduction of that work, from material furnished
by those other forms of critical activity. Must, then, the
method of appreciation, as combining and reconciling the two
opposed views, forthwith claim our adherence? To put to use
all the devices of science and all the treasures of scholarship
for the single end of imaginative interpretation, for the sake
of giving with the original melody all the harmonies of subtle
association and profound meaning the ages have added, is, indeed,
a great undertaking. But is it as valuable as it is vast? M.
Brunetiere has poured out his irony upon the critics who believe
that their own reactions upon literature are anything to us in
the presence of the works to which they have thrilled. May it
not also be asked of the interpreter if its function is a
necessary one? Do we require so much enlightenment, only to
enjoy? Appreciative criticism is a salt to give the dull
palate its full savor; but what literary epicure, what real
boo-lover, will acknowledge his own need of it? If the whole
aim of appreciative criticism is to reproduce in other
arrangement the contents, expressed and implied, and the
emotional value, original and derived, of a piece of literature,
the value of the end, at least to the intelligent reader, is
out of all proportion to the laboriousness of the means. Sing,
reading's a joy! For me, I read.

But a feeling of this kind is, after all, not a reason to be
urged against the method. The real weakness of appreciative
criticism lies elsewhere. It teaches us to enjoy; but are we
to enjoy everything? Since its only aim is to reveal the
"intricate implications" of a work of art; since it offers,
and professes to offer, no literary judgments,--having indeed
no explicit standard of literary value,--it must, at least
on its own theory, take its objects of appreciation ready-made,
so to speak, by popular acclaim. It possesses no criterion;
it likes whate'er it looks on; and it can never tell us what
we are not to like. That is unsatisfactory; and it is worse,--
it is self-destructive. For, not being able to reject,
appreciation cannot, in logic, choose the objects of its
attention. But a method which cannot limit on its own principles
the field within which it is to work is condemned from the
beginning; it bears a fallacy at its core. In order to make
criticism theoretically possible at all, the power to choose
and reject, and so the pronouncing of judgment, must be an
integral part of it.

To such a task the critic may lend himself without arousing
our antagonism. We have no pressing need to know the latent
possibilities of emotion for us in a book or a poem; but whether
it is excellent or the reverse, whether "we were right in being
moved by it," we are indeed willing to hear, for we desire to
justify the faith that is in us.

If, then, the office of the judge be an essential part of the
critical function, the appreciative critic, whatever his other
merits,--and we shall examine them later,--fails at least of
perfection. His scheme is not the ideal one; and we may turn
back, in our search for it, to a closer view of those which
his was to supersede. Impressionism, however, is at once out
of the running; it has always vigorously repudiated the notion
of the standard, and we know, therefore, that no more than
appreciation can it choose its material and stand alone. But
scientific criticism professes, at least, the true faith M.
Brunetiere holds that his own method is the only one by which
an impersonal and stable judgment can be rendered.

The doctrine of the evolution of literary species is more or
less explained in naming it. Literary species, M. Brunetiere
maintains, do exist. They develop and are transformed into
others in a way more or less analogous to the evolution of
natural types. It remains to see on what basis an objective
judgment can be given. Although M. Brunetiere seems to make
classification the disposal of a work in the hierarchy of
species, and judgment the disposal of it in relation to others
of its own species, he has never sharply distinguished between
them; so that we shall not be wrong in taking his three
principles of classification, scientific, moral, and aesthetic,
as three principles by which he estimates the excellence of a
work. His own examples, indeed, prove that to him a thing is
already judged in being classified. The work of art is judged,
then, by its relation to the type. Is this position tenable?
I hold that, on the contrary, it precludes the possibility of
a critical judgment; for the judgment of anything always means
judgment with reference to the end for which is exists. A bad
king is not the less a bad king for being a good father; and
if his kingship is his essential function, he must be judged
with reference to that alone. Now a piece of literature is,
with reference to its end, first of all a work of art. It
represents life and it enjoins morality, but it is only as a
work of art that it attains consideration; that, in the words
of M. Lemaitre, it "exists" for us at all. Its aim is beauty,
and beauty is its excuse for being.

The type belongs to natural history. The one principle at the
basis of scientific criticism is, as we have seen, the
conception of literary history as a process, and of the work
of art as a product. The work of art is, then, a moment in a
necessary succession, governed by laws of change and adaptation
like those of natural evolution. But how can the conception of
values enter here? Excellence can be attributed only to that
which attains an ideal end; and a necessary succession has no
end in itself. The "type," in this sense, is perfectly hollow.
To say that the modern chrysanthemum is better than that of
our forbears because it is more chrysanthemum-like is true only
if we make the latter form the arbitrary standard of the
chrysanthemum. If the horse of the Eocene age is inferior to
the horse of to-day, it is because, on M. Brunetiere's principle,
he is less horse-like. But who shall decide which is more like
a horse, the original or the latter development? No species
which is constituted by its own history can be said to have
an end in itself, and can, therefore, have an excellence to
which it shall attain. In short, good and bad can be applied
to the moments in a necessary evolution only by imputing a
fictitious superiority to the last term; and so one type cannot
logically be preferred to another. As for the individual
specimens, since the conception of the type does not admit the
principle of excellence, conformity thereto means nothing.

The work of art, on the other hand, as a thing of beauty, is
an attainment of an ideal, not a product, and, from this point
of view, is related not at all to the other terms of a succession,
its causes and its effects, but only to the abstract principles
of that beauty at which it aims. Strangely enough, the whole
principle of this contention has been admitted by M. Brunetiere
in a casual sentence, of which he does not appear to recognize
the full significance. "We acknowledge, of course," he says,
"that there is in criticism a certain difference from natural
history, since we cannot eliminate the subjective element if
the capacity works of art have of producing impressions on us
makes a part of their definition. It is not in order to be
eaten that the tree produces its fruit." But this is giving
away his whole position! As little as the conformity of the
fruit to its species has to do with our pleasure in eating it,
just so little has the conformity of a literary work to its
genre to do with the quality by virtue of which it is defined
as art.

The Greek temple is a product of Greek religion applied to
geographical conditions. To comprehend it as a type, we must
know that it was an adaptation of the open hilltop to the
purpose of the worship of images of the gods. But the most
penetrating study of the slow moulding of this type will never
reveal how and why just those proportions were chosen which
make the joy and the despair of all beholders. Early Italian
art was purely ecclesiastical in its origin. The exigencies
of adaptation to altars, convent walls, or cathedral domes
explain the choice of subjects, the composition, even perhaps
the color schemes (as of frescoes, for instance); and yet all
that makes a Giotto greater than a Pictor Ignotus is quite
unaccounted for by these considerations.

The quality of beauty is not evolved. All that comes under
the category of material and practical purpose, of idea or of
moral attitude, belongs to the succession, the evolution, the
type But the defining characters of the work of art are
independent of time. The temple, the fresco, and the symphony,
in the moment they become objects of the critical judgment,
become also qualities of beauty and transparent examples of
its laws.

If the true critical judgment, then, belongs to an order of
ideas of which natural science can take no cognizance, the
self-styled scientific criticism must show the strange paradox
of ignoring the very qualities by virtue of which a given work
has any value, or can come at all to be the object of aesthetic
judgment. In two words, the world of beauty and the world of
natural processes are incommensurable, and scientific criticism
of literary art is a logical impossibility.

But the citadel of scientific criticism has yet one more
stronghold. Granted that beauty, as an abstract quality, is
timeless; granted that, in the judgment of a piece of literary
art, the standard of value is the canon of beauty, not the
type; yet the old order changeth. Primitive and civilized man,
the Hottentot and the Laplander, the Oriental and the Slav,
have desired differing beauties. May it, then, still be said
that although a given embodiment of beauty is to be judged
with reference to the idea of beauty alone, yet the concrete
ideal of beauty must wear the manacles of space and time,--
that the metamorphoses of taste preclude the notion of an
objective beauty? And if this is true, are we not thrown
back again on questions of genesis and development, and a
study of the evolution, not of particular types of art, but
of general aesthetic feeling; and, in consequence, upon a
form of criticism which is scientific in the sense of being
based on succession, and not on absolute value?

It is indeed true that the very possibility of a criticism
which shall judge of aesthetic excellence must stand or fall
with this other question of a beauty in itself, as an objective
foundation for criticism. If there is an absolute beauty, it
must be possible to work out a system of principles which shall
embody its laws,--an aesthetic, in other words; and on the basis
of that aesthetic to deliver a well-founded critical judgment.
Is there, then, a beauty in itself? And if so, in what does
it consist?

We can approach such an aesthetic canon in two ways: from the
standpoint of philosophy, which develops the idea of beauty as
a factor in the system of our absolute values, side by side
with the ideas of truth and of morality, or from the standpoint
of empirical science. For our present purpose, we may confine
ourselves to the empirical facts of psychology and physiology.

When I feel the rhythm of poetry, or of perfect prose, which
is, of course, in its own way, no less rhythmical, every
sensation of sound sends through me a diffusive wave of nervous
energy. I am the rhythm because I imitate it in myself. I
march to noble music in all my veins, even though I may be
sitting decorously by my own hearthstone; and when I sweep with
my eyes the outlines of a great picture, the curve of a Greek
vase, the arches of a cathedral, every line is lived over again
in my own frame. And when rhythm and melody and forms and
colors give me pleasure, it is because the imitating impulses
and movements that have arisen in me are such as suit, help,
heighten my physical organization in general and in particular.
It may seem somewhat trivial to say that a curved line is
pleasing because the eye is so hung as to move best in it;
but we may take it as one instance of the numberless conditions
for healthy action which a beautiful form fulfills. A well-
composed picture calls up in the spectator just such a balanced
relation of impulses of attention and incipient movements as
suits an organism which is also balanced--bilateral--in its
own impulses to movement, and at the same time stable; and it
is the correspondence of the suggested impulses with the
natural movement that makes the composition good. Besides the
pleasure from the tone relations,--which doubtless can be
eventually reduced to something of the same kind,--it is the
balance of nervous and muscular tensions and relaxations, of
yearnings and satisfactions, which are the subjective side of
the beauty of a strain of music. The basis, in short, of any
aesthetic experience--poetry, music, painting, and the rest--
is beautiful through its harmony with the conditions offered
by our senses, primarily of sight and hearing, and through
the harmony of the suggestions and impulses it arouses with
the whole organism.

But the sensuous beauty of art does not exhaust the aesthetic
experience. What of the special emotions--the gayety or
triumph, the sadness or peace or agitation--that hang about
the work of art, and make, for many, the greater part of their
delight in it? Those among these special emotions which belong
to the subject-matter of a work--like our horror at the picture
of an execution--need not here be discussed. To understand the
rest we may venture for a moment into the realm of pure
psychology. We are told by psychology that emotion is dependent
on the organic excitations of any given idea. Thus fear at the
sight of a bear is only the reverberation in consciousness of
all nervous and vascular changes set up instinctively as a
preparation for flight. Think away our bodily feelings, and
we think away fear, too. And set up the bodily changes and the
feeling of them, and we have the emotion that belongs to them
even without the idea, as we may see in the unmotived panics
that sometimes accompany certain heart disturbances. The same
thing, on another level, is a familiar experience. A glass of
wine makes merriment, simply by bringing about those organic
states which are felt emotionally as cheerfulness. Now the
application of all this to aesthetics is clear. All these
tensions, relaxations,--bodily "imitations" of the form,--have
each the emotional tone which belongs to it. And so if the
music of a Strauss waltz makes us gay, and Handel's Largo
serious, it is not because we are reminded of the ballroom or
of the cathedral, but because the physical response to the
stimulus of the music is itself the basis of the emotion.
What makes the sense of peace in the atmosphere of the Low
Countries? Only the tendency, on following those level lines
of landscape, to assume ourselves the horizontal, and the
restfulness which belongs to that posture. If the crimson of
a picture by Bocklin, or the golden glow of a Giorgione, or
the fantastic gleam of a Rembrandt speaks to me like a human
voice, it is not because it expresses to me an idea, but
because it impresses that sensibility which is deeper than
ideas,--the region of the emotional response to color and to
light. What is the beauty of the "Ulalume," or "Kubla Khan,"
or "Ueber allen Gipfeln"? It is the way in which the form
in its exquisite fitness to our senses, and the emotion
belonging to that particular form as organic reverberation
therefrom, in its exquisite fitness to thought, create in us
a delight quite unaccounted for by the ideas which they
express. This is the essence of beauty,--the possession of
a quality which excites the human organism to functioning
harmonious with its own nature.

We can see in this definition the possibility of an aesthetic
which shall have objective validity because founded in the
eternal properties of human nature, while it yet allows us to
understand that in the limits within which, by education and
environment, the empirical man changes, his norms of beauty
must vary, too. Ideas can change in interest and in value,
but these energies lie much deeper than the idea, in the
original constitution of mankind. They belong to the
instinctive, involuntary part of our nature. They are
changeless, just as the "eternal man" is changeless; and as
the basis of aesthetic feeling they can be gathered into a
system of laws which shall be subject to no essential
metamorphosis. So long as we laugh when we are joyful, and
weep when we are sick and sorry; so long as we flush with
anger, or grow pale with fear, so long shall we thrill to a
golden sunset, the cadence of an air, or the gloomy spaces
of a cathedral.

The study of these forms of harmonious functioning of the
human organism has its roots, of course, in the science of
psychology, but comes, nevertheless, to a different flower,
because of the grafting on of the element of aesthetic value.
It is the study of the disinterested human pleasures, and,
although as yet scarcely well begun, capable of a most
detailed and definitive treatment.

This is not the character of those studies so casually alluded
to by the author of "Impressionism and Appreciation," when he
enjoins on the appreciative critic not to neglect the literature
of aesthetics: "The characteristics of his [the artist's]
temperament have been noted with the nicest loyalty; and
particularly the play of his special faculty, the imagination,
as this faculty through the use of sensations and images and
moods and ideas creates a work of art, has been followed out
with the utmost delicacy of observation." But these are not
properly studies in aesthetics at all. To find out what is
beautiful, and the reason for its being beautiful, is the
aesthetic task; to analyze the workings of the poet's mind,
as his conception grows and ramifies and brightens, is no part
of it, because such a study takes no account of the aesthetic
value of the process, but only of the process itself. The
same fallacy lurks here, indeed, as in the confusion of the
scientific critic between literary evolution and poetic
achievement, and the test of the fallacy is this single fact:
the psychological process in the development of a dramatic
idea, for instance, is, and quite properly should be, from
the point of view of such analysis, exactly the same for a
Shakespeare and for the Hoyt of our American farces.

The cause of the production of a work of art may indeed by
found by tracing back the stream of thought; but the cause
of its beauty is the desire and the sense of beauty in the
human heart. If a given combination of lines and colors is
beautiful, then the anticipation of the combination as
beautiful is what has brought about its incarnation. The
artist's attitude toward his vision of beauty, and the art
lover's toward that vision realized, are the same. The only
legitimate aesthetic analysis is, then, that of the relation
between the aesthetic object and the lover of beauty, and all
the studies in the psychology of invention--be it literary,
scientific, or practical invention--have no right to the
other name.

Aesthetics, then, is the science of beauty. It will be
developed as a system of laws expressing the relation between
the object and aesthetic pleasure in it; or as a system of
conditions to which the object, in order to be beautiful,
must conform. It is hard to say where the task of the
aesthetician ends, and that of the critic begins; and for
the present, at least, they must often be commingled. But
they are defined by their purposes: the end and aim of one
is a system of principles; of the other, the disposal of a
given work with reference to those principles; and when the
science of aesthetics shall have taken shape, criticism will
confine itself to the analysis of the work into its aesthetic
elements, to the explanation (by means of the laws already
formulated) of its especial power in the realm of beauty,
and to the judgment of its comparative aesthetic value.

The other forms of critical activity will then find their
true place as preliminaries or supplements to the essential
function of criticism. The study of historical conditions,
of authors' personal relations, of the literary "moment,"
will be means to show the work of art "as in itself it really
is." Shall we then say that the method of appreciation, being
an unusually exhaustive presentment of the object as in itself
it really is, is therefore an indispensable preparation for
the critical judgment? The modern appreciator, after the
model limned by Professor Gates, was to strive to get, as it
were, the aerial perspective of a masterpiece,--to present it
as it looks across the blue depths of the years. This is
without doubt a fascinating study; but it may be questioned
if it does not darken the more important issue. For it is
not the object as in itself it really is that we at last
behold, but the object disguised in new and strange trappings.
Such appreciation is to aesthetic criticism as the sentimental
to the naive poet in Schiller's famous antithesis. The virtue
of the sentimental genius is to complete by the elements which
it derives from itself an otherwise defective object. So the
aesthetic critic takes his natural need of beauty from the
object; the appreciative critic seeks a further beauty outside
of the object, in his own reflections and fancies about it.
But if we care greatly for the associations of literature, we
Are in danger of disregarding its quality. A vast deal of
pretty sentiment may hang about and all but transmute the most
prosaic object. A sedan chair, an old screen, a sundial,--to
quote only Austin Dobson,--need not be lovely in themselves to
serve as pegs to hang a poem on; and all the atmosphere of the
eighteenth century may be wafted from a jar of potpourri. Read
a lyric instead of a rose jar, and the rule holds as well. The
man of feeling cannot but find all Ranelagh and Vauxhall in
some icily regular effusion of the eighteenth century, and will
take a deeper retrospective thrill from an old playbill than
from the play itself. And since this is so,--since the interest
in the overtones, the added value given by time, the value for
us, is not necessarily related to the value as literature of the
fundamental note,--to make the study of the overtones an
essential part of criticism is to be guilty of the Pathetic
Fallacy; that is, the falsification of the object by the
intrusion of ourselves,--the typical sentimental crime.

It seems to me, indeed, that instead of courting a sense for
the aromatic in literature, the critic should rather guard
himself against its insidious approaches. Disporting himself
in such pleasures of the fancy, he finds it easy to believe,
and to make us believe, that a piece of literature gains in
intrinsic value from its power to stimulate his historical
sense. The modern appreciative critic, in short, is too likely
to be the dupe of his "sophisticated reverie,"--like an epicure
who should not taste the meat for the sauces. A master work,
once beautiful according to the great and general laws, never
becomes, properly speaking, either more or less so. If a piece
of art can take us with its own beauty, there is no point in
superimposing upon it shades of sentiment; if it cannot so
charm, all the rose-colored lights of this kind of appreciative
criticism are unavailing.

The "literary" treatment of art, as the "emotional" treatment of literature,--for that is what "appreciation" and "interpretation"
really are,--can completely justify itself only as the crowning
touch of a detailed aesthetic analysis of those "order of
impression distinct in kind" which are the primary elements in
our pleasure in the beautiful. It is the absence--and not only
the absence, but the ignoring of the possibility--of such
analysis which tempts one to rebel against such phrases as those
of Professor Gates: "the splendid and victorious womanhood of
Titian's Madonnas," "the gentle and terrestrial grace of
motherhood in those of Andrea del Sarto," the "sweetly ordered
comeliness of Van Dyck's." One is moved to ask if the only
difference between a Madonna of Titian and one of Andrea is a
difference of temper, and if the important matter for the
critic of art is the moral conception rather than the visible

I cannot think of anything for which I would exchange the
enchanting volumes of Walter Pater, and yet even he is not the
ideal aesthetic critic whose duties he made clear. What he has
done is to give us the most exquisite and delicate of
interpretations. He has not failed to "disengage" the subtle
and peculiar pleasure that each picture, each poem or
personality, has in store for us; but of analysis and explanation
of this pleasure--of which he speaks in the Introduction to "The
Renaissance"--there is no more. In the first lines of his paper
on Botticelli, the author asks, "What is the peculiar sensation
which his work has the property of exciting in us?" And to
what does he finally come? "The peculiar character of Botticelli
is the result of a blending in him of a sympathy for humanity
in its uncertain conditions...with his consciousness of the
shadow upon it of the great things from which it sinks." But
this is not aesthetic analysis! It is not even the record of
a "peculiar sensation," but a complex intellectual interpretation.
Where is the pleasure in the irrepressible outline, fascinating
in its falseness,--in the strange color, like the taste of
olives, of the Spring and the Pallas? So, also, his great
passage on the Mona Lisa, his "Winckelmann," even his "Giorgione"
itself, are merely wonderful delineations of the mood of
response to the creations of the art in question. Such
interpretation as we have from Pater is a priceless treasure,
but it is none the less the final cornice, and not the corner
stone of aesthetic criticism.

The tendency to interpretation without any basis in aesthetic
explanation is especially seen in the subject of our original
discussion,--literature. It is indeed remarkable how scanty
is the space given in contemporary criticism to the study of
an author's means to those results which we ourselves
experience. Does no one really care how it is done? Or are
they all in the secret, and interested only in the temperament
expressed or the aspect of life envisaged in a given work?
One would have thought that as the painter turned critic in
Fromentin at least to a certain extent sought out and dealt
with the hidden workings of his art, so the romancer or the
poet-critic might also have told off for us "the very pulse
of the machine." The last word has not been said on the
mysteries of the writer's art. We know, it may be, how the
links of Shakespeare's magic chain of words are forged, but
the same cannot be said of any other poet. We have studied
Dante's philosophy and his ideal of love; but have we found
out the secrets of his "inventive handling of rhythmical
language"? If Flaubert is univerally acknowledged to have
created a masterpiece in "Madame Bovary," should there not
be an interest for criticism in following out, chapter by
chapter, paragraph by paragraph, word by word, the meaning
of what it is to be a masterpiece? But such seems not to
be the case. Taine reconstructs the English temperament out
of Fielding and Dickens; Matthew Arnold, although he deals
more than others in first principles, never carries his
analysis beyond the widest generalizations, like the
requirement for "profound truth" and "high seriousness,"
for great poetry. And as we run the gamut of contemporary
criticism, we find ever preoccupation with the personality
of the writers and the ideas of their books. I recall only
one example--the critical essays of Henry James--where the
craftsman has dropped some hints on the ideals of the
literary art; and even that, if I maybe allowed the bull,
in his novels rather than in his essays, for in critical
theory he is the most ardent of impressionists. Whatever
the cause, we cannot but allow the dearth of knowledge of,
and interest in, the peculiar subject-matter of criticism,--
the elements of beauty in a work of literature.

But although the present body of criticism consists rather
of preliminaries and supplements to what should be its real
accomplishment, these should not therefore receive the less
regard. The impressionist has set himself a definite task,
and he has succeeded. If not the true critic, he is an
artist in his own right, and he has something to say to the
world. The scientific critic has taken all knowledge for his
province; and although we hold that it has rushed in upon and
swamped his distinctly critical function, so long as we may
call him by his other name of natural historian of literature,
we can only acknowledge his great achievements. For the
appreciative critic we have less sympathy as yet, but the
"development of the luxurious intricacy and the manifold
implications of our enjoyment" may fully crown the edifice of
aesthetic explanation and appraisal of the art of every age.
But all these, we feel, do not fulfill the essential function;
the Idea of Criticism is not here. What the idea of criticism
is we have tried to work out: a judgment of a work of art on
the basis of the laws of beauty. That such laws there are,
that they exist directly in the relation between the material
form and the suggested physical reactions, and that they are
practically changeless, even as the human instincts are
changeless, we have sought to show. And if there can be a
science of the beautiful, then an objective judgment on the
basis of the laws of the beautiful can be rendered. The true
end of criticism, therefore, is to tell us whence and why the
charm of a work of art: to disengage, to explain, to measure,
and to certify it. And this explanation of charm, and this
stamping it with the seal of approval, is possible by the help,
and only by the help, of the science of aesthetics,--a science
now only in its beginning, but greatly to be desired in its
full development.

How greatly to be desired we realize in divining that the
present dearth of constructive and destructive criticism, of
all, indeed, except interpretations and reports, is responsible
for the modern mountains of machine-made literature. Will not
the aesthetic critic be for us a new Hercules, to clear away
the ever growing heap of formless things in book covers? If
he will teach us only what great art means in literature; if
he will give us never so little discussion of the first
principles of beauty, and point the moral with some "selling
books," he will at least have turned the flood. There are
stories nowadays, but few novels, and plenty of spectacles,
but no plays; and how should we know the difference, never
having heard what a novel ought to be? But let the aesthetic
critic give us a firm foundation for criticism, a real
understanding of the conditions of literary art; let him teach
us to know a novel or a play when we see it, and we shall not
always mingle the wheat and the chaff.



EVERY introduction to the problems of aesthetics begins by
acknowledging the existence and claims of two methods of
attack,--the general, philosophical, deductive, which starts
from a complete metaphysics and installs beauty in its place
among the other great concepts; and the empirical, or inductive,
which seeks to disengage a general principle of beauty from
the objects of aesthetic experience and the facts of aesthetic
enjoyment: Fechner's "aesthetics from above and from below."

The first was the method of aesthetics par excellence. It was
indeed only through the desire of an eighteenth-century
philosopher, Baumgarten, to round out his "architectonic" of
metaphysics that the science received its name, as designating
the theory of knowledge in the form of feeling, parallel to
that of "clear," logical thought. Kant, Schelling, and Hegel,
again, made use of the concept of the Beautiful as a kind of
keystone or cornice for their respective philosophical edifices.
Aesthetics, then, came into being as the philosophy of the
Beautiful, and it may be asked why this philosophical aesthetics
does not suffice--why beauty should need for its understanding
also an aesthetics "von unten."

The answer is not that no system of philosophy is universally
accepted, but that the general aesthetic theories have not, as
yet at least, succeeded in answering the plain questions of
"the plain man" in regard to concrete beauty. Kant, indeed,
frankly denied that the explanation of concrete beauty, or
"Doctrine of Taste," as he called it, was possible, while the
various definers of beauty as "the union of the Real and the
Ideal" "the expression of the Ideal to Sense," have done no
more than he. No one of these aesthetic systems, in spite of
volumes of so-called application of their principles to works
of art, has been able to furnish a criterion of beauty. The
criticism of the generations is summed up in the mild remark
of Fechner, in his "Vorschule der Aesthetik," to the effect
that the philosophical path leaves one in conceptions that,
by reason of their generality, do not well fit the particular
cases. And so it was that empirical aesthetics arose, which
does not seek to answer those plain questions as to the
enjoyment of concrete beauty down to its simplest forms, to
which philosophical aesthetics had been inadequate.

But it is clear that neither has empirical aesthetics said
the last word concerning beauty. Criticism is still in a
chaotic state that would be impossible if aesthetic theory
were firmly grounded. This situation appears to me to be
due to the inherent inadequacy and inconclusiveness of
empirical aesthetics when it stands alone; the grounds of
this inadequacy I shall seek to establish in the following.

Granting that the aim of every aesthetics is to determine
the Nature of Beauty, and to explain our feelings about it,
we may say that the empirical treatments propose to do this
either by describing the aesthetic object and extracting the
essential elements of Beauty, or by describing the aesthetic
experience and extracting the essential elements of aesthetic
feeling, thereby indicating the elements of Beauty as those
which effect this feeling.

Now the bare description and analysis of beautiful objects
cannot, logically, yield any result; for the selection of
cases would have to be arbitrary, and would be at the mercy
of any objection. To any one who should say, But this is
not beautiful, and should not be included in your inventory,
answer could be made only by showing that it had such and
such qualities, the very, by hypothesis, unknown qualities
that were to be sought. Moreover, the field of beauty
contains so many and so heterogeneous objects , that the
retreat to their only common ground, aesthetic feeling,
appears inevitable. A statue and a symphony can be reduced
to a common denominator most easily if the states of mind
which they induce are compared. Thus the analysis of objects
passes naturally over to the analysis of mental states--the
point of view of psychology.

There is, however, a method subsidiary to the preceding, which
seeks the elements of Beauty in a study of the genesis and the
development of art forms. But this leaves the essential
phenomenon absolutely untouched. The general types of aesthetic
expression may indeed have been shaped by social forces,--
religious, commercial, domestic,--but as social products, not
as aesthetic phenomena. Such studies reveal to us, as it were,
the excuse for the fact of music, poetry, painting--but they
tell us nothing of the reason why beautiful rather than ugly
forms were chosen, as who should show that the bird sings to
attract its mate, ignoring the relation and sequence of the
notes. The decorative art of most savage tribes, for instance,
is nearly all of totemic origin, and the decayed and degraded
forms of snake, bird, bear, fish, may be traced in the most
apparently empty geometric patterns;--but what does this
discovery tell us of the essentially decorative quality of such
patterns or of the nature of beauty of form? The study of the
Gothic cathedral reveals the source of its general plan and of
its whole scheme of ornament in detailed religious symbolism.
Yet a complete knowledge of the character of the religious
feeling which impelled to this monumental expression, and of
the genesis of every element of structure, fails to account
for the essential beauty of rhythm and proportion in the
finished work. These researches, in short, explain the
reason for the existence, but not for the quality, of works
of art.

Thus it is in psychology that empirical aesthetics finds its
last resort. And indeed, our plain man might say, the
aesthetic experience itself is inescapable and undeniable.
You know that the sight or the hearing of this thing gives
you a thrill of pleasure. You may not be able to defend the
beauty of the object, but the fact of the experience you have.
The psychologist, seeking to analyze the vivid and unmistakable
Aesthetic experience, would therefore proceed somewhat as
follows. He would select the salient characteristics of his
mental state in presence of a given work of art. He would then
study, by experiment and introspection, how the particular
sense-stimulations of the work of art in question could become
the psychological conditions of these salient characteristics.
Thus, supposing the aesthetic experience to have been described
as "the conscious happiness in which one is absorbed, and, as
it were, immersed in the sense-object,"<1> the further special
aim, in connection with a picture, for instance, would be to
show how the sensations and associated ideas from color, line,
composition, and all the other elements of a picture may, on
general psychological principles, bring about this state of
happy absorption. Such elements as can be shown to have a
direct relation to the aesthetic experience are then counted
as elements of the beauty of the aesthetic object, and such
as are invariable in all art forms would belong to the general
formula or concept of Beauty.

<1> M.W. Calkins: An Introduction to Psychology, 1902, p. 278.

This, it seems to me, is as favorable a way as possible of
stating the possibilities of an independent aesthetic psychology.

Yet this method, as it works out, does not exhaust the problem
the solution of which was affirmed to be the aim of every
aesthetics. The aesthetic experience is very complex, and the
theoretical consequences of emphasizing this or that element
very great. Thus, if it were held that the characteristics of
the aesthetic experience could be given by the complete analysis
of a single well-marked case,--say, our impressions before a
Doric column, or the Cathedral of Chartres, or the Giorgione
Venus,--it could be objected that for such a psychological
experience the essential elements are hard to isolate. The
cathedral is stone rather than staff; it is three hundred
rather than fifty feet high. Our reaction upon these facts
may or may not be essentials to the aesthetic moment, and we
can know whether they are essentials only by comparison and
exclusion. It might be said, therefore, that the analysis of
a single, though typical, aesthetic experience is insufficient;
a wide induction is necessary. Based on the experience of many
people, in face of the same object? But to many there would
be no aesthetic experience. On that of one person, over an
extensive field of objects? How, then, determine the limits
of this field? Half of the dispute of modern aesthetics is
over the right to include in the material for this induction
various kinds of enjoyment which are vivid, not directly
utilitarian, but traditionally excluded from the field. Guyan,
for instance, in a charming passage of his "Problemes de
l'Esthetique Contemporaine," argues for the aesthetic quality
of the moment when, exhausted by a long mountain tramp, he
quaffed, among the slopes of the Pyrenees, a bowl of foaming
milk. The same dispute appears, in more complicated form, in
the conflicting dicta of the critics.

If we do not know what part of our feeling is aesthetic feeling,
how can wee go farther? If the introspecting subject cannot
say, This is aesthetic feeling, it is logically impossible to
make his state of mind the basis for further advance. It is
clear that the great question is of what one has a right to
include in the aesthetic experience. But that one should have
such a "right" implies that there is an imperative element in
the situation, an absolute standard somewhere.

It seems to me that the secret of the difficulty lies in the
nature of the situation, with which an empirical treatment
must necessarily fail to deal. What we have called "the
aesthetic experience" is really a positive toning of the
general aesthetic attitude. This positive toning corresponds
to aesthetic excellence in the object. But wherever the
concept of excellence enters, there is always the implication
of a standard, value, judgment. But where there is a standard
there is always an implicit a priori,--a philosophical foundation.

If, then, a philosophical method is the last resort and the
first condition of a true aesthetics, what is the secret of its
failure? For that it has failed seems to be still the consensus
of opinion. Simply, I believe and maintain, the unreasonable
and illogical demand which, for instance, Fechner makes in the
words I have quoted, for just this immediate application of a
philosophical definition to concrete cases. Who but an Hegelian
philosopher, cries Professor James, ever pretended that reason
in action was per se a sufficient explanation of the political
changes in Europe? Who but an Hegelian philosopher, he might
add, ever pretended that "the expression of the Idea to Sense"
was a sufficient explanation of the Sistine Madonna? But I
think the Hegelian--or other--philosopher might answer that he
had no need so to pretend. Such a philosophical definition,
as I hope to show, cannot possibly apply to particular cases,
and should not be expected to do so.

Beauty is an excellence, a standard, a value. But value is
in its nature teleological; is of the nature of purpose.
Anything ha value because it fulfills an end, because it is
good for something in the world. A thing is not beautiful
because it has value,--other things have that,--it has value
because it is beautiful, because it fulfills the end of Beauty.
Thus the metaphysical definition of Beauty must set forth what
this end of Beauty is,--what it serves in the universe.

But to determine what anything does, or fulfills, or exemplifies,
is not the same as to determine what it is in itself. The most
that can be said is that the end, or function, shapes the means
or constitution. The end is a logical imperative. Beauty does,
and must do, such things. To ask how, is at once to indicate
an ultimate departure from the philosophical point of view; for
the means to an end are different, and to be empirically

Now the constitution of Beauty can be only the means to the
end of Beauty,--that combination of qualities in the object
which will bring about the end fixed by philosophical definition.
The end is general; the means may be different kinds. Evidently,
then, the philosophical definition cannot be applied directly to
the object until the possibilities, conditions, and limitations
of that object's fitness for the purpose assigned are known. We
cannot ask, Does the Sistine Madonna express the Idea of Sense?
until we know all possibilities and conditions of the visual for
attaining that expression. But, indeed, the consideration of
causes and effects suggests at once that natural science must
guide further investigation. Philosophy must lay down what
Beauty has to do, but since it is in our experience of Beauty
that its end is accomplished, since the analysis of such
experience and the study of its contributing elements is a work
of the natural science of such experience--it would follow that psychology must deal with the various means through which this
end is to be reached.

Thus we see that Fechner's reproach is unjustified. Those concepts
which are too general to apply to particular cases are not meant
to do so. If a general concept expresses, as it should, the place
of Beauty in the hierarchy of metaphysical values, it is for the
psychologist of aesthetics to develop the means by which that end
can be reached in the various realms in which works of art are

Nor can we agree with Santayana's dictum<1> that philosophical
aesthetics confuses the import of an experience with the
explanation of its cause. It need not. The aesthetic experience
is indeed caused by the beautiful object, but the beautiful object
itself is caused by the possibility of the aesthetic experience,--
beauty as an end under the conditions of human perception. Thus
the Nature of Beauty is related to its import, or meaning, or
end, as means to that end; and therefore the import of an
experience may well point out to us the constitution of the cause
of that experience. A work of art, a piece of nature, is judged
by its degree of attainment to that end; the explanation of its
beauty--of its degree of attainment, that is--is found in the
effect of its elements, according to psychological laws, on the
aesthetic subject.

<1> The Sense of Beauty, 1898. Intro.

Such a psychological study of the means by which the end of
Beauty is attained is the only method by which we can come to
an explanation of the wealth of concrete beauty. The concept
of explanation, indeed, is valid only within the realm of
causes and effects. The aim of aesthetics being conceded, as
above, to be the determination of the Nature of Beauty and the
explanation of our feelings about it, it is evident at this
point that the Nature of Beauty must be determined by philosophy;
but the general definition having been fixed, the meaning of the
work of art having been made clear, the only possible explanation
of our feelings about it--the aesthetic experience, in other
words--must be gained from psychology. This method is not open
to the logical objections against the preceding. No longer need
we ask what has a right to be included in the aesthetic experience.
That has been fixed by the definition of Beauty. But how the
beautiful object brings about the aesthetic experience, the
boundaries of which are already known, is clearly matter for

The first step must then be to win the philosophical definition
of Beauty. It was Kant, says Hegel, who spoke the first rational
word concerning Beauty. The study of his successors will reveal,
I believe, that the aesthetic of the great system of idealism
forms, on the whole, one identical doctrine. It is worth while
to dwell somewhat on this point, because the traditional view of
the relation of the aesthetic of Kant, Schiller, Schelling, and
Hegel is otherwise. Kant's starting-point was the discovery of
the normative, "over-individual" nature of Beauty, which we have
just found to be the secret of the contradictions of empirical
aesthetics. Yet he came to it at the bidding of quite other

Kant's aesthetics was meant to serve as the keystone of the
arch between sense and reason. The discovery of all that is
implicit in the experience of the senses had led him to deny
the possibility of knowledge beyond the matter of this experience.
Yet the reason has an inevitable tendency to press beyond this
limit, to seek all-embracing, absolute unities,--to conceive
an unconditioned totality. Thus the reason presents us with
the ideas--beyond all possibility of knowledge--of the Soul,
the World, and God. In the words of Kant, the Ideas of Reason
lead the understanding to the consideration of Nature according
to a principle of completeness, although it can never attain
to this. Can there be a bridge across this abyss between sense
and reason? then asks Kant; which bridge he believes himself
to have found in the aesthetic faculty. For on inquiring what
is involved in the judgment, "This is beautiful," he discovers
that such a judgment is "universal" and "necessary," inasmuch
as it implies that every normal spectator must acknowledge its
validity, that it is "disinterested" because it rests on the
"appearance of the object without demanding its actual
existence," and that it is "immediate" or "free," as it
acknowledges the object as beautiful without definite purpose,
as of adaptation to use. But how does this judgment constitute
the desired bond between sense and reason? Simply in that,
though applied to an object of the senses, it has yet all the
marks of the Idea of Reason,--it is universal, necessary, free,
unconditioned; it is judged as if it were perfect, and so
fulfills those demands of reason which elsewhere in the world
of sense are unsatisfied.

The two important factors, then, of Kant's aesthetics are its
reconciliation of sense and reason in beauty, and its reference
of the "purposiveness" of beauty to the cognitive faculty.

Schiller has been given the credit of transcending Kant's
"subjective" aesthetic through his emphasis on the significance
of the beautiful object. It is not bound by a conception to
which it must attain, so that it is perceived as if it were
free. Nor do we desire the reality of it to use for ourselves
or for others; so that we are free in relation to it. It, the
object, is thus "the vindication of freedom in the world of
phenomena," that world which is otherwise a binding necessity.
But it would seem that this had been already taught by Kant
himself, and that Schiller has but enlivened the subject by
his two illuminating phrases, "aesthetic semblance" and the
"play-impulse," to denote the real object of the aesthetic
desire and the true nature of that desire; form instead of
material existence, and a free attitude instead of serious
purpose. Still, his insistence on Beauty as the realization
of freedom may be said to have paved the way for Schelling's
theory, in which the aesthetic reaches its maximum of

The central thought of the Absolute Idealism of Schelling is
the underlying identity of Nature and the Self. In Nature,
from matter up to the organism, the objective factor
predominates, or, in Schelling's phrase, the conscious self
is determined by the unconscious. In morality, science, the
subjective factor predominates, or the unconscious is
determined by the conscious. But the work of art is a natural
appearance and so unconscious, and is yet the product of a
conscious activity. It gives, then, the equilibrium of the
real and ideal factors,--just that repose of reconciliation
or "indifference" which alone can show the Absolute. But--
and this is of immense importance for our theory--in order
to explain the identity of subject and object, the Ego must
have an intuition, through which, in one and the same
appearance, it is in itself at once conscious and unconscious,
and this condition is given in the aesthetic experience. The
beautiful is thus the solution of the riddle of the universe,
for it is the possibility of the explicit consciousness of
the unity of Nature and the Self--or the Absolute.

So Beauty is again the pivot on which a system turns. Its
place is not essentially different from that which it held
in the systems of Kant and Schiller. As the objective
possibility for the bridge between sense and reason, as the
vindication of freedom in the phenomenal world, and as
vindication of the possible unity of the real and the ideal,
or nature and self, the world-elements, its philosophical
significance is nearly the same.

With Hegel Beauty loses little of its commanding position.
The universe is in its nature rational; Thought and Being
are one. The world-process is a logical process; and nature
and history, in which spirit of the world realizes itself,
are but applied logic. The completely fulfilled or expressed
Truth is then the concrete world-system; at the same time the
life or self of the universe; the Absolute. This Hegel calls
the Idea, and he defines Beauty as the expression of the Idea
to sense.

This definition would seem to be as to the letter in accord
with the general tendency as have already outlined. It might
be said that it is but another phrasing of Schelling's thought
of the Absolute as presented to the Ego in Beauty. But not
so. For Schelling, the aesthetic is a schema or form,--that
is, the form of balance, equilibrium, reconciliation of the
rational ideal,--not a content. But Hegel's Beauty expresses
the Idea by the way of information or association. That this
is true any one of his traditional examples makes evident.
Correggio's Madonna of the St. Sebastian is found by him
inferior to the Sistine Madonna. Why? "In the first picture
we have the dearest and loveliest of human relations consecrated
by contrast with what is Divine. In the second picture we have
the Divine relation itself, showing itself under the limitations
of the human."<1> Dutch painting, he tells us, ought not to
be despised; "for it is this fresh and wakeful freedom and
vitality of mind in apprehension and presentation that forms
the highest aspect of these pictures." And a commentator adds,
"The spontaneous joy of the perfect life is figured to this
lower sphere." His whole treatment of Art as a symbol confirms
this view, as do all his criticisms. Art or Beauty shall
reveal to our understanding the eternal Ideal.

<1> Kedney's Hegel's _Aesthetics_, 1892, p. 158.

On comparing this with what we have won from Kant, Schiller,
and Schelling, the divergence becomes apparent. I have tried
to show that there is no essential difference between these
three either in their general view of the aesthetic experience,
or in the degree of objectivity of their doctrine of Beauty.
They do not contradict one another. They merely emphasize
now the unity, now the reconciliation of opposites, in the
aesthetic experience. The experience of the beautiful
constitutes a reconciliation of the warring elements of
experience, in a world in which the demands of Reason seem
to conflict with the logic of events, and the beautiful object
is such that it constitutes the permanent possibility for this

But the attempt to include Hegel within this circle reveals
at once the need of further delimitation. The beautiful is
to reveal, and to vindicate in revealing, the union of the
world-elements, that is, the spirit of the world. On Hegel's
own principles, the Idea should be "expressed to sense." Now
if this expression is not, after all, directly to sense, but
the sense gives merely the occasion for passing over to the
thought of the Divine, it would seem that the Beauty is not
after all in the work of art, but out of it. The Infinite,
or the Idea, or the fusion of real and ideal, must be shown
to sense.

Is there any way in which this is conceivable? We cannot
completely express to sense Niagara Falls or the Jungfrau,
for they are infinitely beyond the possibilities of imitation.
Yet the particular contour of the Jungfrau is never mistaken
in the smallest picture. In making a model of Niagara we
should have to reproduce the relation between body of water,
width of stream, and height of fall, and we might succeed in
getting the peculiar effect of voluminousness which marks
that wonder of Nature. The soaring of a lark is not like
the pointing upward of a slender Gothic spire, yet there is
a likeness in the attitudes with which we follow them. All
these cases have certain form-qualities in common, by virtue
of which they resemble each other. Now it is these very
form-qualities which Kant is using when he takes the aesthetic
judgment as representative of reason in the world of sense
because it shows the qualities of the ideas of reason,--that
is, unconditional totality or freedom. And we might, indeed,
hope to "express the Idea to sense" if we could find for it
a form-quality, or subjectively, in the phrase of Kant, a
form of reflection.

What is the form of reflection for the Absolute, the Idea?
It would appear to be a combination of Unity and Totality--
self-completeness. An object, then, which should be self-
complete from all possible points of view, to which could
be applied the "form of reflection" for the Absolute, would,
therefore, alone truly express it, and so alone fulfill the
end of Beauty. The Idea would be there in its form; it
would be shown to sense, and so first full expressed.

With this important modification of Hegel's definition of
Beauty, which brings it into line with the point of view
already won, I believe the way is at last opened from the
traditional philosophy of aesthetics to a healthy and concrete
psychological theory.

But must every self-complete object give rise to the aesthetic
experience? An object is absolutely self-complete only for
the perceiving subject; it is so, in other words, only when
it produces a self-complete experience for that subject. If
reconciliation of the warring elements of the universe is the
end of Beauty it must take place not for, but in, the human
personality; it must not be understood, but immediately,
completely experienced; it should be realized in the subject
of the aesthetic experience, the lover of beauty. The
beautiful object would be not that which should show in
outline form, or remind of, this Unity of the World, but
which should create for the subject the moment of self-
completeness; which should inform the aesthetic subject with
that unity and self-completeness which are the "forms of
reflection" of the Infinite. The subject should be not a
mirror of perfection, but a state of perfection. Only in
this sense does the concept of reconciliation come to its
full meaning. Not because I see freedom, but because I am
free; not because I think of God, or the Infinite, or the
one, but because I am for the moment complete, at the
highest point of energy and unity, does the aesthetic
experience constitute such a reconciliation.

Not because I behold the Infinite, but because I have, myself,
a moment of perfection. Herein it is that our theory constitutes
a complete contradiction to all "expression" or "significant"
theories of the Beautiful, and does away with the necessity those
theories are under of reading sermons into stones. The yellow
primrose needs not to remind us of the harmony of the universe,
or to have ulterior significance whatever, if it gives by its
own direct simple stimulation a moment of Unity and Self-
completeness. That immediate experience indeed contains in
itself the "form of reflection" of the Absolute, and it is
through this that we so often pass, in the enjoyment of Beauty,
to the thought of the divine. But that thought is a corollary,
a secondary effect, not an essential part of the aesthetic
moment. There is a wonderful bit of unconscious aesthetics in
the following passage from Senancour, touching the "secret of
relation" we have just analyzed.

"It was dark and rather cold. I was gloomy, and walked because
I had nothing to do. I passed by some flowers placed breast-
high upon a wall. A jonquil in bloom was there. It is the
strongest expression of desire: it was the first perfume of
the year. I felt all the happiness destined for man. This
unutterable harmony of souls, the phantom of the ideal world,
arose in me complete. I never felt anything so great or so
instantaneous. I know not what shape, what analogy, what
secret of relation it was that made me see in this flower a
limitless beauty.... I shall never inclose in a conception this
power, this immensity that nothing will express; this form that
nothing will contain; this ideal of a better world which one
feels, but which it would seem that nature has not made."<1>

<1> Translation by Carleton Noyes: _The Enjoyment of Art_, 1903,
p. 65.

Our philosophical definition of Beauty has thus taken final
shape. The beautiful object possesses those qualities which
bring the personality into a state of unity and self-completeness.
Lightly to case aside such a definition as abstract, vague,
Empty, is no less short sighted than to treat the idea of the
Absolute Will, of the Transcendental Reason, of the Eternal
Love, as mere intellectual factors in the aesthetic experience.
It should not be criticised as giving "no objective account of
the nature and origin of Beauty." The nature of Beauty is
indicated in the definition; the origin of Beauty may be studied
in its historical development; its reason for being is simply
the desire of the human heart for the perfect moment.

Beauty is to bring unity and self-completeness into the
personality. By what means? What causes can bring about this
effect? When we enter the realm of causes and effects, however,
we have already left the ground of philosophy, and it is fitting
that the concepts which we have to use should be adapted to the
empirical point of view. The personality, as dealt with in
psychology, is but the psychophysical organism; and we need to
know only how to translate unity and self-completeness into
psychological terms.

The psychological organism is in a state of unity either when
it is in a state of virtual congealment or emptiness, as in a
trance or ecstasy; or when it is in a state of repose, without
tendency to change. Secondly, the organism is self-complete when
it is at the highest possible point of tone, of functional
efficiency, of enhanced life. Then a combination of favorable
stimulation and repose would characterize the aesthetic feeling.

But it may be said that stimulation and repose are contradictory
concepts, and we must indeed admit that the absolute repose of
the hypnotic trance is not aesthetic, because empty of stimulus.
The only aesthetic repose is that in which stimulation resulting
in impulse to movement or action is checked or compensated for
by its antagonistic impulse; inhibition of action, or action
returning upon itself, combined with heightening of tone. But
concept is familiar in pictorial composition and to some extent
also in music and poetry, but here first appears as grounded in
the very demand for the union of repose with activity.

Moreover, this requirement, which we have derived from the
logical concepts of unity and totality, as translated into
psychological terms, receives confirmation from the nature of
organic life. It was the perfect moment that we sought, and we
found it in the immediate experience of unity and self-completeness;
and unity for a living being CAN only be equilibrium. Now it
appears that an authoritative definition of the general nature of
an organism makes it "so built, whether on mechanical principles
or not, that every deviation from the equilibrium point sets up
a tendency to return to it."<1> Equilibrium, in greater or less
excursions from the centre, is thus the ultimate nature of
organic life. The perfect equilibrium, that is, equilibrium with
heightened tone, will then give the perfect moment.

<1> L.T. Hobhouse, _Mind in Evolution_.

The further steps of aesthetics are then toward analysis of the
psychological effect of all the elements which enter into a
work of art, with reference to their effect in producing
stimulation or repose. What colors, forms, tones, emotions,
ideas, favorably stimulate? What combinations of these bring
to repose? All the modern studies in so-called physiological
aesthetics, into the emotional and other--especially motor--
effects of color, tone-sensation, melodic sequence, simple
forms, etc., find here there proper place.

A further important question, as to the fitting psychological
designation of the aesthetic state, is now suggested. Some
authorities speak of the aesthetic attitude or activity,
describing it as "sympathetic imitation" or "absorption;"
others of the aesthetic pleasure. But, according to our
definition of the aesthetic experience as a combination of
favorable stimulation with repose, this state, as involving
"a distinctive feeling-tone and a characteristic trend of
activity aroused by a certain situation,"<1> can be no other
than an emotion. This view is confirmed by introspection; we
speak of aesthetic activity and aesthetic pleasure, but we
are conscious of a complete arrest, and sometimes of a very
distinct divergence from pure pleasure. The experience is
unique, it seems to defy description, to be intense, vivid,
and yet--like itself alone. Any attempt to disengage special,
already known emotions, even at the play or in hearing music,
is often in vain, in just those moments when our excitement is
most intense. But the hypothesis of a unique emotion, parallel
to those of joy, fear, etc., and with a psychological basis as
outlined, would account for these facts. The positive toning
of the experience--what we call aesthetic pleasure--is due not
only to the favorable stimulation, but also to the fact that
the very antagonism of impulses which constitutes repose
heightens tone while it inhibits action. Thus the conditions
of both factors of aesthetic emotion tend to induct pleasure.

<1> Baldwin's _Dict. Of Phil. And Psychol._ Art. "Emotion."

It is, then, clear that no specific aesthetic pleasure need be
sought. The very phrase, indeed, is a misnomer, since all
pleasure is qualitatively the same, and differentiated only
by the specific activities which it accompanies. It is also
to be noted that those writers on aesthetics who have dwelt
most on aesthetic pleasure have come in conclusion only to
specific activities, like the "imitation" of Groos, for instance.
In the light of the just-won definition of aesthetic emotion,
it is interesting to examine some of the well-known modern
aesthetic theories.

Lipps defines the aesthetic experience as a "thrill of sympathetic
feeling," Groos as "sympathetic imitation," evidently assuming
that pleasure accompanies this. But there are many feelings of
sympathy, and joyful ones, which do not belong to the aesthetic
realm. In the same way, not all "imitation" is accompanied by
pleasure, and not all of that falls within the generally accepted
aesthetic field. If these definitions were accepted as they
stand, all our rejoicings with friends, all our inspiration from
a healthy, magnetic presence must be included in it. It is clear
that further limitation is necessary; but if to this sympathetic
imitation, this living through in sympathy, we add the demand
for repose, the necessary limitation is made. Physical exercise
in general, or the instinctive imitation of energetic, or easy
(in general FAVORABLE) movements, is pleasurable, indeed, but
the experience is not aesthetic,--as is quite clear, indeed, to
common sense,--and it is not aesthetic because it is the
contradiction of repose. A particular case of the transformation
of pleasurable physical exercise into an aesthetic activity is
seen in the experience of symmetrical or balanced form; any
moderate, smooth exercise of the eye is pleasurable, but this
alone induces a state of the whole organism combining repose with

The theories of Kulpe and Santayana, while they definitely mark
out the ground, seem to me in need of addition. "Absorption in
the object in respect to its bare quality and conformation" does
not, of course, give the needed information, for objective beauty,
of the character of this conformation or form. But yet, it might
be said that the content of beauty might conceivably be deduced
from the psychological conditions of absorption. In the same
way, Santayana's "Beauty as objectified pleasure," or pleasure as
the quality of a thing, is neither a determination of objective
beauty nor a sufficient description of the psychological state.
Yet analysis of those qualities in the thing that cause us to
make our pleasure a quality of it would supplement the definition
sufficiently and completely in the sense of our own formula. Why
do we regard pleasure as the quality of a thing? Because there
is something in the thing that makes us spread, as it were, our
pleasure upon it. This is that which fixates us, arrests us,
upon it,--which can be only the elements that make for repose.

Guyau, however, comes nearest to our point of view. "The beautiful
is a perception or an action which stimulates life within us under
its three forms simultaneously (i.e., sensibility, intelligence,
and will) and produces pleasure by the swift consciousness of this
general stimulation."<1> It is from this general stimulation that
Guyau explains the aesthetic effect of his famous drink of milk
among mountain scenes. But such general stimulation might
accompany successful action of any kind, and thus the moral and
the aesthetic would fall together. That M. Guyau is so successful
in his analysis is due rather to the fact that just this diffused
stimulation is likely to come from such exercise as is
characterized by the mutual checking of antagonistic impulses
producing an equilibrium. The diffusion of stimulation would be
our formula for the aesthetic state only if interpreted as
stimulation arresting action.

<1> _Problemes de l'Esthetique Contemporaine_ 1902, p. 77.

The diffusion of stimulation, the equilibrium of impulses, life-
enhancement through repose!--this is the aesthetic experience.
But how, then, it will be asked, are we to interpret the temporal
arts? A picture or a statue maybe understood through this formula,
but hardly a drama or a symphony. If the form of the one is
symmetry, hidden or not, would not the form of the other be
represented by a straight line? That which has beginning, middle,
and end is not static but dynamic.

Let us consider once more the concept of equilibrium. Inhibition
of action through antagonistic impulses, or action returning upon
itself, we have defined it; and the line cannot be drawn sharply
between these types. The visual analogue for equilibrium may be
either symmetrical figure or circle; the excursion from the
centre may be either the swing of the pendulum or the sweep of
the planet. The RETURN is the essential. Now it is a commonplace
of criticism--though the significance of the dictum has never been
sufficiently seen--that the great drama, novel, or symphony does
return upon itself. The excursion is merely longer, of a different
order of impulses from that of the picture. The last note is the
only possible answer to the first; it contains the first. The
last scene has meaning only as the satisfaction of the first. The
measure of the perfection of a work of temporal art is thus its
IMPLICIT character. The end is contained in the beginning--that
is the meaning of "inevitableness."

That the constraining power of drama or symphony is just this
sense of urgency, of compulsion, from one point to another, is
but confirmation of this view. The temporal art tries ever to
pass from first to last, which is first. It yearns for unity.
The dynamic movement of the temporal arts is cyclic, which is
ultimately static, of the nature of equilibrium. It is only in
the wideness of the sweep that the dynamic repose of poetry and
music differs from the static activity of picture and statue.

Thus the Nature of Beauty is in the relation of means to an end;
the means, the possibilities of stimulation in the motor, visual,
auditory, and purely ideal fields; the end, a moment of perfection,
of self-complete unity of experience, of favorable stimulation
with repose. Beauty is not perfection; but the beauty of an
object lies in its permanent possibility of creating the perfect
moment. The experience of this moment, the union of stimulation
and repose, constitutes the unique aesthetic emotion.



THE popular interest in scientific truth has always had its
hidden spring in a desire for the marvelous. The search for
the philosopher's stone has done as much for chemistry as the
legend of the elixir of life for exploration and geographical
discovery. From the excitements of these suggestions of the
occult, the world settled down into a reasonable understanding
of the facts of which they were but the enlarged and grotesque

So it has been with physics and physiology, and so also,
preeminently, with the science of mental life. Mesmerism,
hypnotism, the facts of the alteration, the multiplicity, and
the annihilation of personality have each brought us their
moments of pleasurable terror, and passed thus into the field
of general interest. But science can accept no broken chains.
For all the thrill of mystery, we may not forget that the
hypnotic state is but highly strung attention,--at the last
turn of the screw,--and that the alternation of personality is
after all no more than the highest power of variability of
mood. In regard to the annihilation of the sense of personality,
it may be said that no connection with daily experience is at
first apparent. Scientists, as well as the world at large,
have been inclined to look on the loss of the sense of personality
as pathological; and yet it may be maintained that it is
nevertheless the typical form of those experiences we ourselves
regard as the most valuable.

The loss of personality! In that dread thought there lies, to
most of us, all the sting of death and the victory of the grave.
It seems, with such a fate in store, that immortality were
futile, and life itself a mockery. Yet the idea, when dwelt
upon, assumes an aspect of strange familiarity; it is an old
friend, after all. Can we deny that all our sweetest hours are
those of self-forgetfulness? The language of emotion, religious,
aesthetic, intellectually creative, testifies clearly to the
fading of the consciousness of self as feeling nears the white
heat. Not only in the speechless, stark immobility of the
pathological "case," but in all the stages of religious ecstasy,
aesthetic pleasure, and creative inspiration, is to be traced
what we know as the loss of the feeling of self. Bernard of
Clairvaux dwells on "that ecstasy of deification in which the
individual disappears in the eternal essence as the drop of
water in a cask of wine." Says Meister Eckhart, "Thou shalt
sink away from they selfhood, though shalt flow into His self-
possession, the very thought of Thine shall melt into His Mine;"
and St. Teresa, "The soul, in thus searching for its God,
feels with a very lively and very sweet pleasure that is is
fainting almost quiet away."

Still more striking is the language of aesthetic emotion.
Philosopher and poet have but one expression for the universal
experience. Says Keats in the "Ode to a Nightingale:"--

"My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethewards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thy happiness."

And in Schopenhauer we read that he who contemplates the
beautiful "forgets even his individuality, his will, and only
continues to exist as the pure subject, the clear mirror of
the object."

But not only the religious enthusiast and the worshiper of
beauty "lose themselves" in ecstasy. The "fine frenzy" of the
thinker is typical. From Archimedes, whose life paid the
forfeit of his impersonal absorption; from Socrates, musing in
one spot from dawn to dawn, to Newton and Goethe, there is but
one form of the highest effort to penetrate and to create.
Emerson is right in saying of the genius, "His greatness
consists in the fullness in which an ecstatic state is realized
in him."

The temporary evaporation of the consciousness of one's own
Personality is then decidedly not a pathological experience.
It seems the condition, indeed, and recognized as such in
popular judgment, of the deepest feeling and the highest
achievement. Perhaps it is the very assumption of this condition
in our daily thoughts that has veiled the psychological problem
it presents. We opine, easily enough, that great deeds are done
in forgetfulness of self. But why should we forget ourselves
in doing great deeds? Why not as well feel in every act its
reverberation on the self,--the renewed assurance that it is
I who can? Why not, in each aesthetic thrill, awake anew to
the consciousness of myself as ruler in a realm of beauty? Why
not, in the rush of intellectual production, glory that "my
mind to me a kingdom is"? And yet the facts are otherwise:
in proportion to the intensity and value of the experience is
its approach to the objective, the impersonal, the ecstatic
state. Then how explain this anomaly? Why should religious,
aesthetic, and intellectual emotion be accompanied in varying
degrees by the loss of self-consciousness? Why should the
sense of personality play us so strange a trick as to vanish,
at the moment of seemingly greatest power, in the very shadow
of its own glory?

If now we put the most obvious question, and ask, in explanation
of its escapades, what the true nature of this personality is,
we shall find ourselves quite out of our reckoning on the vast
sea of metaphysics. To know what personality IS, "root and all,
and all in all," is to "know what God and man is." Fortunately,
our problem is much more simple. It is not the personality,
its reality, its meaning, that vanishes; no, nor even the
psychological system of dispositions. We remain, in such a
moment of ecstasy, as persons, what we were before. It is the
FEELING of personality that has faded; and to find out in what
this will-o'-the-wisp feeling of personality resides is a task
wholly within the powers of psychological analysis. Let no one
object that the depth and value of experience seem to disintegrate
under the psychologist's microscope. The place of the full-orbed
personality in a world of noble ends is not affected by the
possibility that the centre of its conscious crystallization may
be found in a single sensation.

The explanation, then, of this apparent inconsistency--the fading
away of self in the midst of certain most important experiences--
must lie in the nature of the feeling of personality. What is
that feeling? On what is it based? How can it be described?
The difficulties of introspection have led many to deny the
possibility of such self-fixation. The fleeting moment passes,
and we grasp only an idea or a feeling; the Ego has slipped away
like a drop of mercury under the fingers. Like the hero of the
German poet, who wanted his queue in front,

"Then round and round, and out and in,
All day that puzzled sage did spin;
In vain; it mattered not a pin;
The pigtail hung behind him,"

when I turn round upon myself to catch myself in the act of
thinking, I can never lay hold on anything but a sensation. I
may peel off, like the leaves of an artichoke, my social self,--
my possessions and positions, my friends, my relatives; my
active self,--my books and implements of work; my clothes; even
my flesh, and sit in my bones, like Sydney Smith,--the I in me
retreating ever to an inner citadel; but I must stop with the
feeling that something moves in there. That is not what my
self IS, but what the elusive sprite feels like when I have got
my finger on him. In daily experience, however, it is
unnecessary to proceed to such extremities. The self, at a
given moment of consciousness, is felt as one group of elements
which form a foreground. The second group is, we say, before
the attention, and is not at that moment felt as self; while
the first group is vague, undifferentiated, not attended to,
but felt. Any element in this background can detach itself
and come into the foreground of attention. I become conscious
at this moment, for instance, of the weight of my shoulders
as they rest on the back of my chair: that sensation, however,
belongs to my self no more than does the sensation of the
smoothness of the paper on which my hand rests. I know I am a
self, because I can pass, so to speak, between the foreground
and the background of my consciousness. It is the feeling of
transition that gives me the negative and positive of my
circuit; and this feeling of transition, hunted to its lair,
reveals itself as nothing more nor less than a motor sensation
felt in the sense organs which adapt themselves to the new
conditions. I look on that picture and on this, and know that
they are two, because the change in the adaptation of my sense
organs to their objects has been felt. I close my eyes and
think of near and far, and it is the change in the sensations
from my eye muscles that tells me I have passed between the
two; or, to express it otherwise, that it is in me the two
have succeeded each other. While the self in its widest sense,
therefore, is co-extensive with consciousness, the distinctive
feeling of self as opposed to the elements in consciousness
which represent the outer world is based on those bodily
sensations which are connected with the relations of objects.
My world--the foreground of my consciousness--would fall in on
me and crush me, if I could not hold it off by just this power
to feel it different from my background; and it is felt as
different through the motor sensations involved in the change
of my sense organs in passing from one to the other. The
condition of the feeling of transition, and hence of the
feeling of personality, is then the presence in consciousness
of at least two possible objects of attention; and the formal
consciousness of self might be schematized as a straight line
connecting two points, in which one point represents the
foreground, and the other the background, of consciousness.

If we now accept this view, and ask under what conditions the
sense of self may be lost, the answer is at once suggested.
It will happen when the "twoness" disappears, so that the line
connecting and separating the two objects in our scheme drops
out or is indefinitely decreased. When background or foreground
tends to disappear or to merge either into the other, or when
background or foreground makes an indissoluble unity or
unbreakable circle, the content of consciousness approaches
absolute unity. There is no "relating" to be done, no
"transition" to be made. The condition, then, for the feeling
of personality is no longer present, and there results a
feeling of complete unity with the object of attention; and if
this object of attention is itself without parts or differences,
there results an empty void, Nirvana.

Suppose that I gaze, motionless, at a single bright light until
all my bodily sensations have faded. Then one of the "points"
in our scheme has dropped out. In my mind there reigns but one
thought. The transition feeling goes, for there is nothing to
be "related." Now "it is one blaze, about me and within me;"
I am that light, and myself no longer. My consciousness is a
unit or a blank, as you please. If you say that I am self-
hypnotized, I may reply that I have simply ceased to feel
myself different from the content of my consciousness, because
that content has ceased to allow a transition between its terms.

This is, however, not the only possible form of the disappearance
of our "twoness," and the resulting loss of the self-feeling.
When the sequence of objects in consciousness is so rapid that
the feeling of transition, expressed in motor terms, drops below
the threshold of sensation, the feeling of self again fades.
Think, for instance, of the Bacchanal orgies. The votary of
Dionysus, dancing, shrieking, tearing at his hair and at his
garments, lost in the lightning change of his sensations all
power of relating them. His mind was ringed in a whirling
circle, every point of which merged into the next without
possibility of differentiation. And since he could feel no
transition periods, he could feel HIMSELF no longer; he was
one with the content of his consciousness, which consciousness
was no less a unit than our bright light aforesaid, just as a
circle is as truly a unit as a point. The priest of Dionysus
must have felt himself only a dancing, shouting thing, one
with the world without, "whirled round in earth's diurnal course
with rocks and stones and trees." And how perfectly the ancient
belief fits our psychophysical analysis! The Bacchic enthusiast
believed himself possessed with the very ecstasy of the spirit
of nature. His inspired madness was the presence of the god
who descended upon him,--the god of the vine, of spring; the
rising sap, the rushing stream, the bursting leaf, the rippling
song, all the life of flowing things, they were he! "Autika ga
pasa zoreusei," was the cry,--"soon the whole earth will dance
and sing!"

Yes, this breaking down of barriers, this melting of the
personality into its surroundings, this strange and sweet self-
abandonment must have its source in just the disappearance of
the sensation of adjustment, on which the feeling of personality
is based. But how can it be, we have to ask, that a principle
so barren of emotional significance should account for the
ecstasy of religious emotion, of aesthetic delight, of creative
inspiration? It is not, however, religion or beauty or genius
that is the object of our inquiry at this moment, but simply
the common element in the experience of each of these which
we know as the disappearance of self-feeling. How the
circumstances peculiar to religious worship, aesthetic appreciation,
and intellectual creation bring about the formal conditions of
the loss of personal feeling must be sought in a more detailed
analysis, and we shall then be able to trace the source of the
intensity of emotion in these experiences. What, then, first
of all, are the steps by which priest and poet and thinker have
passed into the exaltation of selfless emotion? Fortunately,
the passionate pilgrims of all three realms of deep experience
have been ever prodigal of their confessions. The religious
ecstasy, however, embodies the most complete case, and allows
the clearest insight into the nature of the experience; and will
therefore be dealt with at greatest length.

The typical religious enthusiast is the mystic. From Plotinus
to Buddha, from Meister Eckhart to Emerson, the same doctrine
has brought the same fruits of religious rapture. There is one
God, and in contemplation of Him the soul becomes of his
essence. Whether it is held, as by the Neoplatonists, that
Being and Knowledge are one, that the procedure of the world
out of God is a process of self-revelation, and the return of
things into God a process of higher and higher intuition, and
so the mystic experience an apprehension of the highest rather
than a form of worship; or whether it is expressed as by the
humble Beguine, Mechthild,--"My soul swims in the Being of God
as a fish in water,'--the kernel of the mystic's creed is the
same. In ecstatic contemplation of God, and, in the higher
states, in ecstatic union with Him, in sinking the individuality
in the divine Being, is the only true life. Not all, it is
true, who hold the doctrine have had the experience; not all can
say with Eckhart or with Madame Guyon, "I have seen God in my
own soul," or "I have become one with God." It is from the
narratives and the counsels of perfection of these, the chosen,
the initiate, who have passed beyond the veil, that light may
be thrown on the psychological conditions of mystic ecstasy.

The most illuminating account of her actual mystical experiences
is given by Madame Guyon, the first of the sect or school of the
Quietists. This gentle Frenchwoman had a gift for psychological
observation, and though her style is neither poetic nor
philosophical, I may be pardoned for quoting at some length her
naive and lucid revelations. The following passages, beginning
with an early religious experience, are taken almost at random
from the pages of her autobiography:--

"These sermons made such an impression on my mind, and absorbed
me so strongly in God, that I could not open my eyes nor hear
what was said." "To hear Thy name, O my God, could put me into
a profound prayer....I could not see any longer the saints nor
the Holy Virgin outside of God; but I saw them all in Him,
scarcely being able to distinguish them from Him....I could
not hear God nor our Lord Jesus Christ spoken of without being,
as it were, outside of myself [hors de moi]....Love seized me
so strongly that I remained absorbed, in a profound silence and
a peace that I cannot describe. I made ever new efforts, and
I passed my life in beginning my prayers without being able to
carry them through....I could ask nothing for myself nor for
another, nor wish anything but this divine will....I do not
believe that there could be in the world anything more simple
and more unified....It is a state of which one can say nothing
more, because it evades all expression,--a state in which the
creature is lost, engulfed. All is God, and the soul perceives
only God. It has to strive no more for perfection, for growth,
for approach to Him, for union. All is consummated in the unity,
but in a manner so free, so natural, so easy, that the soul
lives from the air which it breathes....The spirit is empty, no
more traversed by thoughts; nothing fills the void, which is no
longer painful, and the soul finds in itself an immense capacity
that nothing can either limit or destroy."

Can we fail to trace in these simple words the shadow of all
religious exaltation that is based on faith alone? Madame Guyon
is strung to a higher key than most of this dull and relaxed
world; but she has struck the eternal note of contemplative
worship. Such is the sense of union with the divine Spirit.
Such are the thoughts and even the words of Dante, Eckhart, St.
Teresa, the countless mystics of the Middle Age, and of the
followers of Buddhism in its various shades, from the Ganges to
the Charles. Two characteristics disengage themselves to view:
the insistence on the unity of God--IN whom alone the Holy
Virgin and the saints are seen--from a psychological point of
view only; and the mind's emptiness of thought in a state of
religious ecstasy. But without further analysis, we may ask,
as the disciples of the mystics have always done, how this
state of blissful union is to be reached. They have always
been minute in their prescriptions, and it is possible to
derive therefrom what may be called the technique of the mystic

"The word mystic," to quote Walter Pater, "has been derived from
a Greek word which signifies to shut, as if one shut one's lips,
brooding on what cannot be uttered; but the Platonists themselves
derive it rather from the act of shutting the eyes, that one may
see the more, inwardly." Of such is the counsel of St. Luis de
Granada, "Imitate the sportsman who hoods the falcon that it be
made subservient to his rule;" and of another Spanish mystic,
Pedro de Alcantara: "In meditation, let the person rouse himself
from things temporal, and let him collect himself within himself
....Here let him hearken to the voice of God...as though there
were no other in the world save God and himself." St. Teresa
found happiness only in "shutting herself up within herself."
Vocal prayer could not satisfy her, and she adopted mental
prayer. The four stages of her experience--which she named
"recollectedness," "quietude" (listening rather than speaking),
"union" (blissful sleep with the faculties of the mind still),
"ecstasy or rapture"--are but progressive steps in the sealing
of the senses. The yoga of the Brahmins, which is the same as
the "union" of the Cabalists, is made to depend upon the same
conditions,--passivity, perseverance, solitude. The novice
must arrest his breathing, and may meditate on mystic symbols
alone, by way of reaching the formless, ineffable Buddha. But
it is useless to heap up evidence; the inference is sufficiently

The body is first brought into a state either of nervous
instability or irritability by ascetic practices, or of nervous
insensibility by the persistent withdrawal of all outer
disturbance; and the mind is fixed upon a single object,--the
one God, the God eternal, absolute, indivisible. Recalling our
former scheme for the conditions of the sense of personality,
we shall see that we have here the two poles of consciousness.
Then, as the tension is sharpened, what happens? Under the
artificial conditions of weakened nerves, of blank surroundings,
the self-background drops. The feeling of transition disappears
with the absence of related terms; and the remaining, the
positive pole of consciousness, is an undifferentiated Unity,
with which the person must feel himself one. The feeling of
personality is gone with that on which it rests, and its loss
is joined with an overwhelming sense of union with the One, the
Absolute, God!

The object of mystic contemplation is the One indivisible. But
we can also think the One as the unity of all differences, the
Circle of the Universe. Those natures also which, like Amiel's,
are "bedazzled with the Infinite" and thirst for "totality"
attain in their reveries to the same impersonal ecstasy. Amiel
writes of a "night on the sandy shore of the North Sea, stretched
at full length upon the beach, my eyes wandering over the Milky
Way. Will they ever return to me, those grandiose, immortal,
cosmogonic dreams, in which one seems to carry the world in one's
breast, to touch the stars, to possess the Infinite!" The
reverie of Senancour, on the bank of the Lake of Bienne, quoted
by Matthew Arnold, reveals the same emotion: "Vast consciousness
of a nature everywhere greater than we are, and everywhere
impenetrable; all-embracing passion, ripened wisdom, delicious
self-abandonment." In the coincidence of outer circumstance--
the lake, the North Sea, night, the attitude of repose--may we
not trace a dissolution of the self-background, similar to that
of the mystic worshiper? And in the Infinite, no less than in
the One, must the soul sink and melt into union with it, because
within it there is no determination, no pause, and no change.

The contemplation of the One, however, is not the only type of
mystic ecstasy. That intoxication of emotion which seizes upon
the negro camp meeting of to-day, as it did upon the Delphic
priestesses two thousand years ago, seems at first glance to
have nothing in common psychologically with the blessed
nothingness of Gautama and Meister Eckhart. But the loss of
the feeling of personality and the sense of possession by a
divine spirit are the same. How, then, is this state reached?
By means, I believe, which recall the general formula for the
Disappearance of self-feeling. To repeat the monosyllable OM
(Brahm) ten thousand times; to circle interminably, chanting
the while, about a sacred ire; to listen to the monotonous
magic drum; to whirl the body about; to rock to and fro on the
knees, vociferating prayers, are methods which enable the
members of the respective sects in which they are practiced
either to enter, as they say, into the Eternal Being, or to
become informed with it through the negation of the self. The
sense of personality, at any rate, is more or less completely
lost, and the ecstasy takes a form more or less passionate,
according as the worshiper depends on the rapidity rather than
on the monotony of his excitations. Here, again, the self-
background drops, inasmuch as every rhythmical movement tends
to become automatic, and then unconscious. Thus what we are
wont to call the inspired madness of the Delphic priestesses
was less the expression of ecstasy than the means of its
excitation. Perpetual motion, as well as eternal rest, may
bring about the engulfment of the self in the object. The
most diverse types of religious emotions, IN SO FAR AS THEY
thus seen to be reducible to the same psychological basis.
The circle, no less than the point, is the symbol of the One,
and the "devouring unity" that lays hold on consciousness
from the loss of the feeling of transition comes in the
unrest of enthusiasm no less than in the blissful nothing of

At this point, I am sure, the reader will interpose a protest.
Is, then, the mystery of self-abandonment to the highest to
be shared with the meanest of fanatics? Are the rapture of
Dante and the trance of the Omphalopsychi sprung from the
same root? There is no occasion, however, for the revolt of
sentiment because we fail to emphasize here the important
differences in the emotional character and value of the states
in question. What interests us is only one aspect which they
have in common, the surrender of the sense of personality.
That is based on formal relations of the elements of
consciousness, and the explanation of its disappearance
applies as well to the whirling dervish as to the converts
of a revivalist preacher.

The mystic, then, need only shut his senses to the world, and
contemplate the One. Subject fuses with object, and he feels
himself melt into the Infinite. But each experience is not
the exclusive property of the religious enthusiast. The
worshiper of beauty has given evidence of the same feelings.
And yet, in his aesthetic rapture, the latter dwells with
deliberation on his delights, and while luxuriating in the
infinite labyrinths of beauty can scarcely be described as
musing on an undifferentiated Unity. So far, at least, it
does not appear that our formula applies to aesthetic feeling.

Aesthetic feeling arises in the contemplation of a beautiful
object. But what makes an object beautiful? To go still
further back, just what, psychologically, does contemplation
mean? To contemplate an object is to dwell on the idea or
image of it, and to dwell upon an idea means to carry it out
incipiently. We may go even further, and say it is the
carrying out by virtue of which we grasp the idea. How do
we think of a tall pine-tree? By sweeping our eyes up and
down its length, and out to the ends of its branches; and if
we are forbidden to use our eye muscles even infinitesimally,
then we cannot think of the visual image. In short, we
perceive an object in space by carrying out its motor
suggestions; more technically expressed, by virtue of a
complex of motor impulses aroused by it; more briefly, by
incipiently imitating it. Contemplation is inner imitation.

Now a beautiful object is first of all a unified object; why
this must be so has been considered in the preceding chapter.
In it all impulses of soul and sense are bound to react upon
one another, and to lead back to one another. And all the
elements, which in contemplation we reproduce in the form of
motor impulses, are bound to make a closed circle of these
suggested energies. The symmetrical picture calls out a set
of motor impulses which "balance,"--a system of energies
reacting on one centre; the sonnet takes us out on one wave
of rhythm and of thought, to bring us back on another to the
same point; the sonata does the same in melody. In the
"whirling circle" of the drama, not a word or an act that is
not indissolubly linked with before and after. Thus the unity
of a work of art makes of the system of suggested energies
which form the foreground of attention an impregnable, an
invulnerable circle.

Not only, however, are we held in equilibrium in the object
of attention; we cannot connect with it our self-background,
for the will cannot act on the object of aesthetic feeling.
We cannot eat the grapes of Apelles or embrace the Galatea of
Pygmalion; we cannot rescue Ophelia or enlighten Juliet; and
of impulse to interfere, to connect the scene with ourselves,
we have none. But this is a less important factor in the
situation. That the house is dark, the audience silent, and
all motor impulses outside of the aesthetic circle stifled, is,
too, only a superficial, and, so to speak, a negative condition.
The real ground of the possibility of a momentary self-
annihilation lies in the fact that all incitements to motor
impulse--except those which belong to the indissoluble ring
of the object itself--have been shut out by the perfection of
unity to which the aesthetic object (here the drama) has been
brought. The background fades; the foreground satisfies,
incites no movement; and with the disappearance of the
possibility of action which would connect the two, fades also
that which dwells in this feeling of transition,--the sense
of personality. The depth of aesthetic feeling lies not in
the worthy countryman who interrupts the play with cries for
justice on the villain, but in him who creates the drama again
with the poet, who lives over again in himself each of the
thrills of emotion passing before him, and loses himself in
their web. The object is a unity or our whirling circle of
impulses, as you like to phrase it. At any rate, out of that
unity the soul does not return upon itself; it remains one
with it in the truest sense.

The loss of the sense of personality is an integral part of
the aesthetic experience; and we have seen how it is a
necessary psychological effect of the unity of the object.
From another point of view it may be said that the unity of
the object is constituted just by the inhibition of all
tendency to movement through the balance or centrality of
impulses suggested by it. In other words, the balance of
impulses makes us feel the object a unity. And this balance
of impulses, this inhibition of movement, corresponding to
unity, is what we know as aesthetic repose. Thus the conditions
of aesthetic repose and of the loss of self-feeling are the

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