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The Psychology of Beauty by Ethel D. Puffer

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_Phil. Studien_, vol. x.

Attention itself is ultimately a motor phenomenon. Thus: the
sensory aspect of attention is vividness, and vividness is
explained physiologically as a brain-state of readiness for motor
discharge;<1> in the case of a visual stimulus, for instance, a
state of readiness to carry out movements of adjustment to the
object; in short, the motor path is open. Now attention, or
vividness, is found to fluctuate periodically, so that in a
series of objectively equal stimuli, certain ones, regularly
recurring, would be more vividly sensed. This is exemplified
in the well-known facts of the fluctuation of the threshold of
sensation, of the so-called retinal rivalry, and of the subjective
rhythmizing of auditory stimuli, already mentioned. There is a
natural rhythm of vividness. Here, therefore, in the very
conditions of consciousness itself, we have the conditions of
rhythm too. The case of subjective motor rhythm would be still
clearer, since vividness is only the psychical side of readiness
for motor discharge; in other words, increased readiness for
motor discharge occurs periodically, giving motor rhythm.

<1> Munsterberg, _Grundzuge d. Psychologie_, 1902,. P. 525.

It has been said<1> that this periodicity of the brain-wave
cannot furnish the necessary condition for rhythm, inasmuch as
it is itself a constant, and could at most be applied to a series
which was adapted to its own time. But this objection does not
fit the facts. The "brain-wave," or "vividness," or attention
period, is not a constant, but attaches itself to the contents
of consciousness. In other words, it does not function without
material. It is itself conditioned by its occasion. In the
case of a regularly repeated stimulus, it is simply adjusted
to what is there, and out of the series chooses, as it were,
one at regular periods.<2>

<1> J.B. Miner, "Motor, Visual, and Applied Rhythms," _Psychol.
Rev., Mon. Suppl._, No. 21.
<2> Facts, too technical for reproduction here, quoted by R.H.
Stetson (_Harvard Psychol. Studies_, vol. i, 1902) from Cleghorn's
and Hofbauer's experiments seem to be in harmony with this view.

Closely connected with these facts, perhaps only a somewhat
different aspect of them, is the phenomenon of motor mechanization.
Any movement repeated tends to become a circular reaction, as it
is called; that is, the end of one repetition serves as a cue
for the beginning of the next. Now, in regularly recurring
stimuli, giving rise, as will be later shown, to motor reactions,
which are differentiated through the natural periodicity of the
attention (physiologically the tendency to motor discharge), we
have the best condition for this mechanization. In other words,
a rhythmical grouping once set up naturally tends to persist.
The organism prepares itself for shocks at definite times, and
shocks coming at those times are pleasant because they fulfill
a need. Moreover, every further stimulus reinforces the original
activity; so that rhythmical grouping tends not only to persist,
but to grow more distinct,--as, indeed, all the facts of
introspection show.

All this, however, is true of the repetition of objectively
equal stimuli. It shows how an impulse to rhythm would arise
and persist subjectively, but does not of itself explain the
pleasure in the experience of objective rhythm. It may be said
in general, however, that changes which would occur naturally
in an objectively undifferentiated content give direct pleasure
when they are artificially introduced,--when, that is, the
natural disposition is satisfied. This we have seen to be true
in the of color contrast; and it is perhaps even more valid in
the realm of motor activity. Whatever in sense stimulation
gives the condition for, helps, furthers, enhances the natural
function, is felt both as pleasing and as furthering the particular
activity in question. Now, the objective stress in rhythm is but
emphasis on a stress that would be in any case to some degree
subjectively supplied. Rhythm in music, abstracting from all
other pleasure-giving factors, is then pleasurable because it
is in every sense a favorable stimulation.

In accordance with the principle that complete explanation of
psychical facts is possible only through the physiological
substrate, we have so far kept rather to that field in dealing
with the foundations of our pleasure in rhythm. But further
description of the rhythmical experience is most natural in
psychological terms. There seems, indeed, on principle no
ground for the current antithesis, so much emphasized of late,
of "psychical" and "motor" theories of rhythm. Attention and
expectation are not "psychical" as opposed to "motor." Granting,
as no doubt most psychologists would grant, that attention is
the psychical analogue of the physiological tendency to motor
discharge, then a motor automatism of which one is fully
conscious could be described as expectation and its satisfaction.
Indeed, the impossibility of a sharp distinction between ideas
of movement and movement sensations confirms this view. When
expectation has reference to an experience with a movement
element in it, the expectation itself contains movement
sensations of the kind in question.<1> To say, then, that
rhythm is expectation based on the natural functioning of the
attention period, is simply to clothe our physiological
explanation in terms of psychological description. The usual
motor theory is merely one which neglects the primary disposition
to rhythm through attention variations, in favor of the
sensations of muscular tension (kinaesthetic sensations) which
arise IN rhythm, but do not cause it. To say that the impression
of rhythm arises only in kinaesthetic sensations begs the
question in the way previously noted. Undoubtedly, the period
once established, the rhythmic group is held together, felt as
a unit, by means of the coordinated movement sensations; but
the main problem, the possibility of this first establishment,
is not solved by such a motor theory. In other words, the
attention theory is the real motor theory.

<1> C.M. Hitchcock, "The Psychol. Of Expectation," _Psychol.
Rev., Mon. Suppl._, No. 20.

Expectation is the "set" of the attention. Automatism is the
set of the motor centres. Now as attention is parallel to the
condition of the motor centres, we are able to equate expectation
and automatic movement. Rhythm is literally embodied expectation,
fulfilled. It is therefore easily to be understood that whatever
other emotions connect themselves with satisfied expectation are
at their ideal poignance in the case of rhythm.

It is from this point of view that we must understand the
helpfulness of rhythm in work. That all definite stimulus, and
especially sound stimulus, rhythmical or not, sets up a diffusive
wave of energy, increasing blood circulation, dynamogenic
phenomena, etc., is another matter, which has later to be
discussed. But the essential is that this additional stimulus
is rhythmical, and therefore a reinforcement of the nervous
activity, and therefore a lightening and favorable condition of
work itself. So it is, too, that we can understand the tremendous
influence of rhythm just among primitive peoples, and those of a
low degree of culture. Work is hard for savages, not because
bodily effort is hard, but because the necessary concentration
of attention is for them almost impossible; and the more, that
in work they are unskilled, and without good tools, so that
generally every movement has to be especially attended to. Now
rhythm in work is especially directed to lighten that effort which
they feel as hardest; it rests, renews, and frees the attention.
Rhythm is helpful not primarily because it enables many to work
together by making effort simultaneous, but rhythm rests and
encourages the individual, and working together is most naturally
carried out in rhythm.

To this explanation all the other facts of life-enhancement, etc.,
can be attached. Rhythm is undoubtedly favorable stimulation.
Can it be brought under the full aesthetic formula of favorable
stimulation with repose? A rhythm once established has both
retrospective and prospective reference. It looks before and
after, it binds together the first and the last moments of
activity, and can therefore truly be said to return upon itself,
so as to give a sense of equilibrium and repose.

But when we turn from the fundamental facts of simple rhythm
to the phenomena of art we find straightway many other problems.
It is safe to say that no single phrase of music or line of
poetry is without variation; more, that a rhythm without variation
would be highly disagreeable. How must we understand these
facts? It is impossible within the natural limitations of this
chapter to do more than glance at a few of them.

First of all, then, the most striking thing about the rhythmical
experience is that the period, or group, is felt as a unit.
"Of the number and relation of individual beats constituting a
rhythmical sequence there is no awareness whatever on the part
of the aesthetic subject....Even the quality of the organic
units may lapse from distinct consciousness, and only a feeling
of the form of the whole sequence remains."<1> Yet the slightest
deviation from its form is remarked. Secondly, every variation
creates not only a change in its own unit, but a wave of
disturbance all along the line. Also, every variation from
the type indicates a point of accentual stress; the syncopated
measure, for instance, is always strongly accented. All these
facts would seem to be connected with the view of the importance
of movement sensations in building up the group feeling. The
end of each rhythm period gives the cue for the beginning of
the next, and the muscle tensions are coordinated within each
group; so that each group is really continuous, and would
naturally be "felt" as one,--but being automatic, would not be
perceived in its separate elements. On the other hand, it is
just automatic reaction, a deviation from which is felt most
strongly. The syncopated measure has to maintain itself
against pressure, as it were, and thus by making its presence
in consciousness felt more strongly, it emphasizes the
fundamental rhythm form.

<1> R. MacDougall, "The Structure of Simple Rhythm Forms,"
_Harv. Psychol. Studies_, vol. i, p. 332.

This is well shown in the following passage from a technical
treatise on expression in the playing of music. "The efforts
which feeling makes to hold to...the shape of the first rhythm,
the force which it is necessary to use to make it lose its
desires and its habits, and to impose others on it, are
naturally expressed by an agitation, that is, by a crescendo
or greater intensity of sound, by an acceleration in movement."<1>
If a purely technical expression may be pardoned here, it could
be said that the motor image,<2> that is, the coordinated
muscular tensions which make the group feeling of the fundamental
rhythm, is always latent, and becomes conscious whenever anything
conflicts with it. Thus it is that we can understand the
tremendous rhythmical consciousness in that music which seems
most to contradict the fundamental rhythm, as in negro melodies,
and rag-time generally; and in general, the livening effect of
variation. The motor tension, the "set" becomes felt the
moment there is objective interference--just as we feel the
rhythm of our going downstairs only when we fail to get the
sensation we expect.

<1> M. Lussy, _Traite de l'Expression Musicale_, Paris, 1874, p. 7.
<2> _Gestaltsqualitat_, literally form-quality.

This principle of the motor image is of tremendous significance,
as we shall see, for the whole theory of music. Let it be
sufficient to note here that expression, in the form of
Gestaltsqualitat, or motor image, is, as a principle, sufficient
for the explanation of the most important factors in the experience
of rhythm.


But we have dwelt too long on the general characteristics.
Although our examples have been drawn mostly from the field of
music, the preceding principles apply to all kinds of rhythm,
tactual and visual as well as auditory. It is time to show why
the rhythm out of all comparison the strongest, most compelling,
most full of emotional quality, is the rhythm of music.

It has long been known that there is especially close connection
between sounds and motor innervations. All sorts of sensorial
stimuli produce reflex contractions, but the auditory, apparently,
to a much higher degree. Animals are excited to all sorts of
outbreaks by noise; children are less alarmed by visual than by
auditory impressions. The fact that we dance to sound rather
than to the waving of a baton, or rhythmical flashes of light
for instance--the fact that this second proposition is felt at
once to be absurd, shows how intimately the two are bound
together. The irresistible effects of dance, martial music,
etc., are trite commonplaces; and I shall therefore not heap
up instances which can be supplied by every reader from his
own experience. Now all this is not hard to understand,
biologically. The eye mediated the information of what was
far enough away to be fled from, or prepared for; the ear what
was likely to be nearer, unseen, and so more ominous. As more
ominous, it would have to be responded to in action more
quickly. So that if any sense was to be in especially close
connection with the motor centres, it would naturally be

The development of the auditory functions points to the same
close connection of sound and movement. Sounds affect us as
tone, and as impulse. The primitive sensation was one of
impulse alone, mediated by the "shake-organs." These shake-
organs at first only gave information about the attitude and
movements of the body, and were connected with motor centres
so as to be able to reestablish equilibrium by means of
reflexes. The original "shake-organ" developed into the
organs of hearing and of equilibrium (that is, the cochlea
and the semicircular canals respectively), but these were
still side by side in the inner ear, and the close connection
with the motor centres was not lost. Anatomically, the
auditory nerve not only goes to those parts of the brain
whence the motor innervation emanates, and to the reflex
centres in the cerebellum, but passes close by the vagus or
pneumogastric nerve, which rules the heart and the vasomotor
functions. We have then multiplied reasons for the singular
effect of sound on motor reactions, and on the other organic
functions which have so much to do with feeling and emotion.

Every sound-stimulus is then much more than sound-sensation.
It causes reflex contractions in the whole muscular system;
it sets up some sort of cardiac and vascular excitation.
This reaction is in general in the direction of increased
amplitude of respiration, but diminution of the pulse,
depending on a peripheral vaso-constriction. Moreover, this
vasomotor reaction is given in a melody or piece of music,
not by its continuity, but for every one of the variations
of rhythm, key, or intensity,--which is of interest in the
light of what has been said of the latent motor image. The
obstacle in syncopated rhythm is physiologically translated
as vaso-constriction. In general, music induces cardiac

All this is of value in showing how completely the attention-
motor theory of rhythm applies to the rhythm of sounds. Since
sound is much more than sound, but sound-sensation, movement,
and visceral change together, we can see that the rhythmical
experience of music is, even more literally and completely
than at first appeared, an EMBODIED expectation. No sensorial
rhythm could be so completely induced in the psychological
organism as the sound-rhythm. In listening to music, we see
how it is that we ourselves, body and soul, seem to be IN the
rhythm. We make it, and we wait to make it. The satisfaction
of our expectation is like the satisfaction of a bodily desire
or need; no, not like it, it IS that. The conditions and
causes of rhythm and our pleasure in it are more deeply seated
than language, custom, even instinct; they are in the most
fundamental functions of life. This element of music, at least,
seems not to have arisen as a "natural language."


The facts of the relations of tones, the elements, that is,
of melody and harmony, are as follows. We cannot avoid the
observation that certain tones "go together," as the phrase
is, while others do not. This peculiar impression of belonging
together is known as consonance, or harmony. The intervals of
the octave, the fifth, the third, for instance, that is, C-C',
C-G, C-E, in the diatonic scale, are harmonious; while the
interval of the second, C-D, is said to be dissonant.
Consonance, however, is not identical with pleasingness, for
different combinations are sometimes pleasing, sometimes
displeasing. In the history of music we know that the octave
was to the Greeks the most pleasing combination, to medieval
musicians the fifth, while to us, the third, which was once
a forbidden chord, is perhaps most delightful. Yet we should
never doubt that the octave is the most consonant, the fifth
and the third the lesser consonant of combinations. We see,
thus, that consonance, whatever its nature, is independent
of history; and we must seek for its explanation in the nature
of the auditory process.

Various theories have been proposed. That of Helmholtz has
held the field so long that, although weighty objections have
been raised to it, it must still be treated with respect. In
introducing it a short review of the familiar facts of the
physics and physiology of hearing may not be out of place.

The vibration rates per second of the vibrating bodies, strings,
steel rods, etc., which produce those musical tones which are
consonant, are in definite and small mathematical ratios to
each other. Thus the rates of C-C' are as 1:2; of C-G, C-E,
as 2:3, 4:5. In general, the simpler the fraction, the
greater the consonance.

But no sonorous body vibrates in one single rate; a taut
string vibrates as a whole, which gives its fundamental tone,
but also in halves, in fourths, etc., each giving out a
weaker partial tone, in harmony with the fundamental. And
according to the different ways in which a sonorous body
divides, that is, according to the different combination of
partial tones peculiar to it, is its especial quality of tone,
or timbre. The whole complex of fundamental and partial tones
is what we popularly speak of as a tone,--more technically a
clang. These physical agitations or vibrations are transmitted
to the air. Omitting the account of the anatomical path by
which they reach the inner ear, we find them at last setting
up vibrations in a many-fibred membrane, the basilar membrane,
which is in direct connection with the ends of the auditory
nerve. It is supposed that to every possible rate of
vibration, that is, every possible tone, or partial tone, there
corresponds a fibre of the basilar membrane fitted by its
length to vibrate synchronously with the original wave-elements.
The complex wave is thus analyzed into its constituents. Now
when two tones, which we will for clearness suppose to be
simple, unaccompanied by partial tones, sounding together,
have vibration rates in simple ratios to each other, the air-
waves set in motion do not interfere with each other, but
combine into a complex but homogeneous wave. If they have
to each other a complicated ratio, such as 500:504, the air-
waves will not only not coalesce, but four times in the second
the through of one wave will meet the crest of the other, thus
making the algebraic sum zero, and producing the sensation of
a momentary stoppage of the sound. When these stoppages, or
beats, as they are called, are too numerous to be heard
separately, as in the interval, say, 500:547, the effect is
of a disagreeable roughness of tone, and this we call discord.
In other words, any tones which do not produce beats are
harmonious, or harmony is the absence of discord. In the
words of Helmholtz,<1> consonance is a continuous, dissonance
an intermittent, tone-sensation.

<1> _Lehre v.d. Tonempfindungen_, p. 370, in 4th edition.

Aside from the fact that consonance, as a psychological fact,
seems positive, while this determination is negative, two very
important facts can be set up in opposition. As a result of
experimental investigation, we know that the impression of
consonance can accompany the intermittent or rough sound-
sensations we know as beating tones; and, conversely, tones
can be dissonant when the possibility of beats is removed.
Briefly, it is possible to make beats without dissonance,
and dissonance without beats.

The other explanation makes consonance due to the identity
of partial tones. When two tones have one or more partial
tones in common they are said to be related; the amount
of identity gives the degree of relationship. Physiologically,
one or more basilar membrane fibres are excited by both, and
this fact gives the positive feeling of relationship or
consonance. Of course the obvious objection to this view
is that the two tones should be felt as differently consonant
when struck on instruments which give different partial tones,
such as organ and piano, while in fact they are not so felt.

But it is not after all essential to the aesthetics of music
that the physiological basis of harmony should be fully
understood. The point is that certain tones do indeed seem to
be "preordained to congruity," preordained either in their
physical constitution or their physiological relations, and not
to have achieved congruity by use or custom. Consonance is an
immediate and fundamental impression,--psychologically an
ultimate fact. That it is ultimate is emphasized by Stumpf<1>
in his theory of Fusion. Consonance is fusion, that is, unitary
impression. Fusion is not identical with inability to distinguish
two tones from each other in a chord, although this may be used
as a measure of fusion. Consonance is the feeling of unity, and
fusion is the mutual relation of tones which gives that feeling.

<1> _Beitrage zur Akustik u. Musikwissenschaft_, Heft I,
Konsonanz u. Dissonanz, 1898.

The striking fact of modern music is the principle of tonality.
Tonality is said to be present in a piece of music when every
element in it is referred to, gets its significance from its
relation to, a fundamental tone, the tonic. The tonic is the
beginning and lowest note in the scale in question, and all
notes and chords are understood according to their place in
that scale. But the conception of the scale of course does not
cover the ground, it merely furnishes the point of departure,--
the essential is in the reference of every element to the
fundamental tone. The tonic is the centre of gravity of a

The feeling of tonality grew up as follows. Every one was
referred to a fundamental, whether or not it made with it an
harmonious interval. The fundamental was imaged TOGETHER WITH
every other note, and when a group of such references often
appeared together, the feelings bound up with the single
reference (interval-feelings) fused into a single feeling,--
the tonality-feeling. When this point is once reached, it is
clear that every tone is heard not as itself alone, but in its
relations; it is not that we judge of tonality, it is a direct
impression, based on a psychological principle that we have
already touched on in the theory of rhythm. The tonality-
feeling is a feeling of form, or motor image, just as the
shape of objects is a motor image. We do not now need to go
through all possible experiences in relation to these objects,
we POSSESS their form in a system of motor images, which are
themselves only motor cues for coordinated movements. So
every tone is felt as something at a certain distance from,
with a certain relation to, another tone which is dimly
imagined. In following a melody, the notes are able to belong
together for us by virtue of the background of the tone to
which they are related, and in terms of which they are heard.
The tonality is indeed literally a "funded content,"--that is,
a funded capital of relation.

These are the general facts of tonality. But what is its
meaning for the nature of music? Why should all notes be
referred to one? Is this, too, an ultimate psychological fact?
In answer there may be pointed out the original basic quality
of certain tones, and the desire we have to return to them.
Of two successive tones, it is always the one which is, in the
ratio of their vibration rates, a power of two, with which we
wish to end.<1> When neither of two successive tones contains
a power of two, we have no preference as to the ending. Thus
denoting any tone by 1, it is always to 1 or 2, or 2n that we
wish to return, from any other possible tone; while 3 and 5, 5
and 7, leave us indifferent as to their succession. In general,
when two tones are related, as 2n:3, 5, 7, 9, 15--in which 2n
denotes every power of two, including 2o=1, with the progression
from the first to the second, there is bound up a tendency to
return to the first. Thus the fundamental fact of melodic
sequence may be said to be the primacy of 2 in vibration rates.
But 2n, in a scale containing 3, 5, etc., is always what we
know as the tonic. The tonic, then, gives a sense of
equilibrium, of rest, of finality, while to end on another tone
gives a feeling of restlessness or striving.

Now tone-relationship alone, it is clear, would not of itself
involve this immediate impulse to end a sequence of notes on
one rather than on another. Nor is tonality, in the all-
pervasive sense in which we understand it, a characteristic of
ancient, or of mediaeval music, while the tendency to end on a
certain tone, which we should to-day call the tonic, was always
felt. Thus, since complete tonality was developed late in the
history of music, while the closing on the tonic was certainly
prior to it, the finality of the tonic would seem to be the
primary fact, out of which the other has been developed.

We speak to-day, for instance, of dissonant chords, which call
for a resolution--and are inclined to interpret them as
dissonant just because they do so call. But the desire for
resolution is historically much later than the distinction
between consonance and dissonance.... "What we call resolution
is not change from dissonant to consonant IN GENERAL, but the
transition of definite tones of a dissonant interval into
DEFINITE TONES of a consonant."<1> The dissonance comes from
the device of getting variety, in polyphonic music, by letting
some parts lag behind, and the discords which arose while they
were catching up were resolved in the final coming together;
but the STEPS were all PREDETERMINED.<2> Resolution was
inevitably implied by the very principle on which the device
is founded. That is, the understanding of a chord as something
TO BE RESOLVED, is indeed part of the feeling of tonality; but
the ending on the tonic was that out of which this resolution-
feeling grew.

<1> Stumpf, op. Cit., p. 33.
<2> Grove, _Dict. Of Music and Musicians_. Art. "Resolution."

Must we, then, say that the finality of the tonic is a unique, inexplicable phenomenon? giving up the nature of melody as a
problem if not insoluble, at least unsolved?

The feeling of finality in the return to 2n is explained by
Lipps and his followers, from the fact that the two-division
is most natural, and so tones of 2n vibrations would have the
character of rest and equilibrium. This explanation might hold
if we were ever conscious of the two-division as such, in tones
--which we are not; so that it would seem to depend on the
restful character of a perception which by hypothesis is never
present to the mind at all.

The experience is, on the contrary, immediate,--an impression,
not a perception; and this immediacy points to the one ultimate
fact in musical feeling we have so far discovered. The whole
development of the scale, and the complex feeling of tonality,
is an expression of the desire for consonance. Every change
and correction in the scale has gone to make every note more
consonant with its neighbors. And naturally the tonic is the
tone with which all other tones have the most unity. Now this
"return" phenomenon is a simpler case of the desire for the
feeling of unity. The tonic is the epitome of all the most
perfect feelings of consonance or unity which are possible in
any particular sequence of tones, and is therefore the goal
or resting-place after an excursion. The undoubted feeling
of equilibrium or repose which we have in ending on the tonic
is thus explained. Not that consonance itself, the feeling of
unity, is explained. But at any rate consonance is the root
of the "return," and of its development into complete tonality.

The history of music is then the explicit development of
acoustic laws implicit in every stage of musical feeling. That
feeling covers an ever wider field. When Mr. Hadow says that
the terms concord and discord are wholly relative to the ear
of the listener,<1> and that the distinction between them is
not to be explained on any mathematical basis, or by any a
priori law of acoustics,--that it is not because a minor
second is ugly that we dislike it, for it will be a concord
some day,--he is only partly right. The minor second may be
a "concord," that is, we may like it, some day; but that will
be because w have extended our feeling of tonality to include
the minor second. When that day comes the minor second will
be so closely linked with other fully consonant combinations
that we shall hear it in terms of them, just as to-day we
hear the chord of the dominant seventh in terms of its
resolution. But the basis will not be convention or custom,
except in so far as custom is the unfolding of natural law.
The course of music, like that of every other art, is away
from arbitrary--though simple--convention, to a complexity
which satisfies the natural demands of the organism. The
"natural persuasion" of the ear is omnipotent.

<1> W.H. Hadow, _Studies in Modern Music_, 1893.


It has been said that the feeling of tonality is a motor image
or "form-quality" and that the image of the tonic persists
throughout every sequence of tones in a melody. Now these are
not only felt as having a certain relation to the tonic; that
relation is an active one. It was said that we had a positive
desire to end on a certain tone, and that a tendency to pass
to that tone was bound up with the hearing of another tone.
The degree of this tendency is determined by their relation.
The key, the tonality, is determined by the consensus of
intervals which have been felt as more or less consonant.
Then steps in this scale which come near to the great salient
points--that is, the points of greatest consonance, which is
unity, which is rest--are felt as suggesting them. This is
the reason why a semitone progression is felt as so compelling.
In taking the scale upward, C to C', that element in the tone-
Space already clearly foreshadowed by the previous tones is C';
B is so near that it is almost C'--it seems to cry aloud to be
completed by C'. Then the tendency to move from B to C' is
especially strong. In the same way a chromatic note suggests
most strongly the salient point in the scheme to which it is
nearest--and "tends" to it as to a point of comparative rest.
The difference between the major and minor scales may be found
in the lesser definiteness<1> with which the tendency to
progression, in the latter, is felt--"a condition of hovering,
a kind of ambiguity, of doubt, to which side the movement
shall proceed." We may then understand a melody as ever tending
with various degrees of urgency, of strain, to its centre of
gravity, the tonic.

<1> F. Weinmann, _Zeitschr. f. Psychol._, Bd. 35, p. 360.

It is from this point of view that we can see the cogency of
Gurney's remark, that when music seems to be yearning for
unutterable things, it is really yearning only for the next
note. "In this step from the state of rest into movement and
return, the coming again to rest; on what circuitous ways,
with what reluctances and hesitations; whether quick and
decisively or gradually and unnoticed--therein consists the
nature of melody."<1>

<1> Weinmann, op. cit.

Or in Gurney's more eloquent description, "The melody may begin
by pressing its way through a sweetly yielding resistance to a
gradually foreseen climax; whence again fresh expectation is
bred, perhaps for another excursion, as it were, round the same
centre but with a bolder and freer sweep,...to a point where
again the motive is suspended on another temporary goal; till
after a certain number of such involutions and evolutions, and
of delicately poised leanings and reluctances and yieldings,
the forces so accurately measured just suffice to bring it home,
and the sense of potential and coming integration which has
underlain all our provisional adjustments of expectation is
triumphantly justified."<1>

<1> Op. cit., p. 165.

This should not be taken as a more or less poetical account
under the metaphor of motion. These "leanings" are literal
in the sense that one note does imply another as its natural
complement and satisfaction and we seek to reach or make it.
The striving is an intrinsic element, not a by-product for our

There is another point to note. The "sense of potential and
coming integration" is a strong factor of melody. If it cannot
be said that the first note implies the last, it is at least
true that from point to point the next step is dimly foreseen,
and this effect is cumulative. If melody is an ever-hindered
striving for the goal, at least the hindrances themselves are
stations on the way, each one as overcome adding to the final
momentum with which the goal is reached. It is like an
accumulation of evidence, a constellation of associations. AB
foretells C; but ABCDEF rushes yet more strongly upon G. So
it is that the irresistibleness, the "unalterable rightness"
of a piece of music increases from beginning to end.

The significance of this essential internal necessity of
progression cannot be overestimated. The unalterable rightness
of music is founded on natural acoustic laws, and this
"rightness" is fundamental. A melody is not right because it
is beautiful, it is beautiful because it is right. The natural
tendencies point out different paths to the goal; and thus
different ways of being beautiful; but the nature of the
relation between point and point, the nature of the progression,
that is, the nature of melody, is the same.

Up to this point we have consistently abstracted from the
element of rhythm in melody. Strictly speaking, however, it
is impossible to do so. The individuality of a melody is
absolutely dependent on its rhythm, that is, on the relative
time-value of its tones. Gurney has devoted some amusing pages
to showing the trivial, dragging, lustreless tunes that result
from ever so slight a change in the rhythm of noble themes, or
even in the distribution of rhythmical elements within the bar.
The reason for this is evident. The nature of melody in the
sense of sequence consists in the varied answers to the demands
of the ear as felt at each successive point. Now it is clear
that such "answer" can be emphasized, given indifferently, held
in suspense, in short, subjected to all kinds of variation as
well by the rhythmical form into which it is cast, as by the
different choice of possibilities for the tone itself. The
rhythm helps out the melody not only by adding to it an
independently pleasing element, but, and this is indeed the
essential, by reinforcing the intrinsic relations of the notes
themselves. Thus it is in the highest degree true that in
melody and rhythm we do not have content and form, but that,
strictly speaking, the melody is tone-sequence in rhythm.

The intimate bondage of tone-sequence and rhythm is grounded
in the identity of their inner nature; both are varieties of
the objective conditions of embodied expectation. It is not
of the essence of music to satisfy explicit and conscious
expectation--to satisfy the understanding. It meets on the
contrary a subconscious, automatic need which becomes conscious
only in the moment of its contenting. Every moment of progress
in a beautiful melody is hailed like an instinctive action
performed for the first time. Rhythm is the ideal satisfaction
of attention in general with all its bodily concomitants and
expressions. Tone-sequence is the satisfaction of attention
directed to auditory demands. But the form-quality of rhythm,
the form-quality of tonality, is an all but subconscious
possession. Together, reinforcing each other in melody, they
furnish the ideal arrangement of the most poignant of sense-


It is strange that those who would accept the general facts of
musical logic as outlined above do not perceive that they have
thereby cut away the ground from under the feet of the "natural
language" argument. If the principle of choice in the progress
of a melody is tone-relationship, the principle of choice cannot
also be the cadences of the speaking voice. That musical
intervals often RECALL the speaking voice is another matter, as
we have said, and to this it may be added that they much more
often do not. The question here is only of the primacy of the
principle. Thus it would seem that the facts of musical structure
constitute in themselves a refutation of the view we have disputed.
To say that music arose in "heightened speech" is irrelevant; for
the occasion of an aesthetic phenomenon is never its cause. It
might as well be said that music arose in economic conditions,--
as indeed Grosse, in his "Anfange der Kunst," conclusively shows,
without attempting to make this social occasion intrude into the
nature of the phenomenon. Primitive decorative art arose in the
imitation of the totemic or clan symbols, mostly animal forms;
but we have seen that the aesthetic quality of the decoration is
due to the demands of the eye, and appears fully only in the
comparative degradation of the representative form. In exactly
the same way might we consider the "degradation" of speech
cadences into real music,--supposing this were really the origin
of music. As a matter of fact, however, the best authorities
seem to be agreed that the primitive "dance-song" was rather a
monotonous, meaningless chant, and that the original pitch-
elements were mechanically supplied by the first musical
instruments; these being at first merely for noise, and becoming
truly vibrating, sonorous bodies because they were more easily
struck if they were hard or taut. The musical tones which these
hard vibrating bodies gave out were the first determinations of
pitch, and of the elements of the scale, which correspond to the
natural partial vibrations of such bodies. "The human voice,"
Wallaschek<1> tells us, "equally admits of any pentatonic or
heptatonic intervals, and very likely we should never have got
regular scales if we had depended upon the ear and voice only.
The first unique cause to settle the type of a regular scale is
the instrument." To this material we have to apply only that
"natural persuasion of the ear" which we have already explained,
to account for the full development of music.

<1> _Primitive Music_, 1893, p. 156.

The beauty of music, in so far as beauty is identical with
pleasantness, consists in its satisfaction of the demands of
the ear, and of the whole psychophysical organism as connected
with the ear. It is now time to return to a thread dropped at
the beginning. It was said that a common way of settling the
musical experience was to make musical beauty the object of
perception, and musical expression the object, or source, of
emotion. This view seems to attach itself to all shades of
theory. Hanslick always contrasts intellectual activity as
attaching to the form, and emotion as attaching to the sensuous
material (that is, the physical effects of motion, loud or
soft sound, tempo, etc.). He speaks of the aesthetic criterion
of INTELLIGENT gratification. "The truly musical listener" has
"his attention absorbed by the particular form and character of
the composition," "the unique position which the INTELLECTUAL
ELEMENT in music occupies in relation to FORMS and SUBSTANCE
(subject)." M. Dauriac in the same way separates the emotion
of music<1> as a product of nervous excitations, from the
appreciation of it as beautiful. "It is probably that the
pleasure caused by rhythm and color prevails with a pretty
large number, with the greatest number, over the pleasure in
the musical form, pleasure too exclusively PSYCHOLOGICAL for
one to be content with it alone....The musical sense implies
the intelligence....The theory...applies to a great number of
sonorous sensations, and not at all to any musical perceptions."
Mr. W.H. Hadow<2> tells us that it is the duty of the musician
not to flatter the sense with an empty compliment of sound,
but to reach through sensation to the mental faculties within.
And again we read "the art of the composer is in a sense the
discovery and exposition of the INTELLIGIBLE relations in the
multifarious material at his command."<3>

<1> "Le Plaisir et l'Emotion Musicale," _Rev. Philos._, Tome
42, No. 7.
<2> Op. cit., p. 47.
<3> Grove's _Dict._ Art. "Relationship."

Now it is not hard to see how this antithesis has come about.
But that the work of a master is always capable of logical
analysis does not prove that our apprehension of it is a
logical act. And the preceding discussion has wholly failed
to make its point, if it is not now clear that the musical
experience is an impression and not a judgment; that the feeling
of tonality is not a judgment of tonality, and that though the
aesthetic enjoyment of music extends only to those limits within
which the feeling of tonality is active, that feeling is more
likely than not to be quite unintelligible to the listener.
Indeed, if it were not so, we should have to restrict, by
hypothesis, the enjoyment of music to those able to give a
technical report of what they hear,--which is notoriously at
odds with the facts. That psychologist is quite right who
holds<1> that psychology, in laying down a principle explaining
the actual effect of a musical piece, is not justified in
confining itself to skilled musicians and taking no notice of
more than nine tenths of those who listen to the piece. But on
the understanding that the tonality-feeling acts subconsciously,
that our satisfaction with the progression of notes is unexplained
by the laws of acoustics and association, we are enabled to bring
within the circle of those who have the musical experience even
those nine tenths whose intellects are not actively participant.

<1> Lazarus, _Das Leben der Seele_, ii, p. 323.

The fact is that musical form, in the sense of structure, balance,
symmetry, and proportion in the arrangement of phrases, and in
the contrasting of harmonies and keys, is different from the
musical form which is felt intimately, intrinsically, as the
desired, the demanded progress from one note to another. Structure
is indeed perceived, understood, enjoyed as an orderly unified
arrangement. Form is felt as an immediate joy. Structure it is
which many critics have in mind when they speak of form, and it
is the confusion between the two which makes such an antithesis
of musical beauty and sensuous material possible. The real
musical beauty, it is clear, is in the melodic idea; in the
sequence of tones which are indissolubly one, which are felt
together, one of which cannot exist without the other. Musical
beauty is in the intrinsic musical form. And yet here, too, we
must admit, that, in the last analysis, structure and form need
not be different. The perfect structure will be such a unity
that it, too, will be FELT as one--not only "the orderly
distribution of harmonies and keys in such a manner that the
mind can realize the concatenation as a complete and distinct
work of art." The ideal musical consciousness would have an
ideally great range; it would not only realize the concatenation,
but it would take it in as one takes in a single phrase, a simple
tune, retaining it from first not to last. The ordinary musical
consciousness has merely a much shorter breath. It can "feel"
an air, a movement; it cannot "feel" a symphony, it can only
perceive the relation of keys and harmonies therein. With
repeated hearing, study, experience, this span of beauty may be
indefinitely extended--in the individual, as in the race. But
no one will deny that the direct experience of beauty, the
single aesthetic thrill, is measured exactly by the length of
this span. It is only genius--hearer or composer--who can
operate "a longue haleine."

So it is that we must understand the development in musical
form from the cut and dried sonata form to the wayward yet
infinitely greater beauty of Beethoven; and thence to the
"free forms" of modern music. "Infinite melody" is a
contradiction in terms, because when the first term cannot
be present in consciousness with the last there is nothing to
control and direct the progression; and our musical memory is
limited. Yet we can conceive, theoretically, the possibility
of an indefinite widening of the memory.

It was on some such grounds as these that Poe laid down his
famous "Poetic Principle,"--that a long poem does not exist;
that "a long poem" is simply a flat contradiction in terms.
He says, indeed, that because "elevating excitement," the end
of a poem, is "through a psychical necessity" transient,
therefore no poem should be longer than the natural term of
such excitement. It is clearly possible to substitute for
"elevating excitement," immediate musical feeling of the
individual. What is the meaning of "feeling," "impression,"
here? It is the power of entering into a Gestaltsqualitat--
a motor group, a scheme in which every element is the
mechanical cue to the following. Beauty ceases for the hearer
where this carrying power, the "funded capital" of tone-
linkings ceases. In just the same way, if rhythm were a
perception rather than an impression, we ought to be able to
apprehend a rhythm of which the unit periods were hours. Yet
we may so bridge over the moments of beauty in experience that
we are enabled, without stretching to a breaking-point, to
speak of a symphony or an opera as a single beautiful work of


But what of the difficulties which such a theory must meet?
The most obvious one is the short life of musical works. If
musical beauty is founded in natural laws, why does music so
quickly grow old? The answer is that music is a phenomenon
of expectation as founded on these natural laws. It is the
tendency of one note to progress to another which is the basis
of the vividness of our experience. We expect, indeed, what
belongs objectively to the development of a melody, but only
that particular variety of progression to which we have become
accustomed. So it is that music which presents only the old,
simple progressions gives the greatest sense of ease, but the
least sense of effort--the ideal motion not being hindered on
its way. Intensity, vividness, would be felt where the
progression is less obvious, but felt as "fitting in" when it
is once made; and where it is not obvious at all--where the
link is not felt, a sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness
arises. So it is with music which we know by heart. It is
not that we know each note, and so expect it, but that it is
felt as necessarily issuing out of the preceding. A piece of
poor music, really heterogeneous and unconnected, might be
thoroughly familiar, and yet never, in this sense, felt as
SATISFYING expectation. In the same way, music in which the
progressions were germane to the existing tonality-feeling,
while still not absolutely obvious, would not be less quickening
to the musical sense, even if learned by heart. It is clear
that there is an external and an internal expectation--one,
imposed by memory, for the particular piece; the other constituted
partly by intrinsic internal relations, partly by the degree to
which these internal relations have been exploited. That is,
the possibility of musical expectation, and pleasure in its
satisfaction, is conditioned by the possession of a tonality-
feeling which covers the constituents of the piece of music, but
which has not become absolutely mechanical in its action. Just
as rhythm needs an obstacle to make the structure felt, so
melody needs some variation from the obvious set of relations
already won and possessed. If that possession is too complete,
the melody becomes as stale and uninteresting as would a 3-4
rhythm without a change or a break.

The test of genius in music, of the width and depth of mastery,
is to be able to become familiar without ceasing to be strange.
On the other hand, if in music to be great is always to be
misunderstood, it is no less true, here as elsewhere, that to
be misunderstood is not always to be great. And music may be
merely strange, and pass into oblivion, without ever having
passed that stage of surprised and delighted acceptance which
is the test of its truth to fundamental laws.

But how shall music advance? How shall it set out to win new
relations? It is at least conceivable that it takes the method
of another art which we have just studied. To get new beauties,
it does not say,--Go to, I will add to the beauties I already
have! It makes new occasions, and by way of these finds the
impulse it seeks. Renoir paints the baigneuse of Montmartre,
and finds "the odd, beautiful huddle of lines" in so doing;
Rodin portrays ever new subtleties of situation and mood, and
by way of these comes most naturally to "the unedited poses."
So a musician, we may imagine, comes to new and strange
utterances by way of a new and strange motion or cry that he
imitates. Out of the various bents and impulses that these
give him he chooses the ones that chance to be beautiful. And
in time these new beauties have become worn away like the trite
metaphors that are now no longer metaphors, but part of the
"funded capital." That was a ridiculous device of Schumann's,
who found a motif for one of his loveliest things by using the
letters of his temporary fair one's name--A B E G G; but it
may not be so utterly unlike the procedure by which music grows.


But what provision must be made for the emotions of music? It
cannot be that the majority of musicians, who are strangely
enough the very ones to insist that music is merely the
language of emotion, are utterly and essentially wrong. Nor
has it been attempted to prove them so. The beauty of music,
we have sought to show, grows and flowers out of tone-relations
alone, consists in tone-sequences alone. But it has not been
said that music did not arouse emotion, nor that it might not
on occasion even express it.

It is in fact now rather a commonplace in musical theory, to
show the emotional means which music has at its command; and
I shall therefore be very brief in my reference to them. They
may be shortly classed as expressive by association and by
direct induction. Expressive by association are passages of
direct imitation: the tolling of bells, the clash of arms, the
roar of wind, the hum of spinning wheels, even to the bleating
of sheep and the whirr of windmills; the cadence of the voice
in pleading, laughter, love; from such imitations we are
REMINDED of a fact or an emotion. More intimate is the
expression by induction; emotion is aroused by activities
which themselves form part of the emotions in question. Thus
the differences in tempo, reproduced in nervous response, call
up the gayety, sadness, hesitation, firmness, haste, growing
excitement, etc., of which whole experiences these movement
types form a part.

These emotions, as has often been shown, are absolutely
general and indefinite in their character, and are, on the
whole, even in their intensity, no measure of the beauty of
the music which arouses them. Indeed, we can get intense
emotion from sound which is entirely unmusical. So, too,
loudness, softness, crescendo, diminuendo, volume, piercingness,
have their emotional accompaniments. It is to Hanslick that
we owe the general summing up of these possibilities of
expression as "the dynamic figures of occurrences." How
this dynamic skeleton is filled out through association, or
that special form of association which we know as direct
induction, is not hard to understand on psychological grounds.
It is not necessary to repeat here the reasons for the literally
"moving" appeal of sound-stimulations, which have been already
detailed under the subject of rhythm.

Yet there still remains a residue of emotion not entirely
accounted for. It has been said that these, the emotions
expressed, or aroused, are more or less independent of the
intrinsic musical beauty. But it cannot be denied that there
is an intense emotion which grows with the measure of the
beauty of a piece of music, and which music lovers are yet
loth to identify with the so-called general aesthetic emotion,
or with the "satisfaction of expectation," different varieties
of which, in fusion, we have tried to show as the basis of the
musical experience. The aesthetic emotion from a picture is
not like this, they say, and a mere satisfaction of expectation
is unutterably tame. This is unique, aesthetic, individual!

I believe that the clue to this objection in the natural impulse
of mankind to confuse the intensity of an experience with a
difference in kind. But first of all, there must be added to
our list of definite emotions from music, those which attach
themselves to the internal relations of the notes. Gurney has
said that when we feel ourselves yearning for the next
unutterable, we are really yearning for the next note. That
is the secret! Each one of those tendencies, demands, leanings,
strivings, returns, as between tone and tone in a melody, is
necessarily accompanied by the feeling-tone which belongs to
such an attitude. And it is to be noted that all the more
poignant emotions we get from music are always stated in terms
of urgency, of strain, of effort. That is because these
emotions, and these alone, are inescapable in music since they
are founded on the intrinsic relations of the notes themselves.
It is just for this reason, too, that music, just in proportion
to its beauty, is felt, as some one says, like vinegar on a
wound, by those in grief or anxiety.

"I shall loathe sweet tunes, where a note grown strong
Relents and recoils, and climbs and closes."

It is the yearning that is felt most strongly, the more vividly
are the real musical relations of the notes brought out.

Music expresses and causes tension, strain, yearning, through
its inner, its "absolute" nature. But it does more; it satisfies
these yearnings. It not only creates an expectation to satisfy
it, but the expectation itself is of a poignant, emotional,
personal character. What is the emotion that is aroused by such
a satisfaction?

The answer to this question takes us back again to that old
picturesque theory of Schopenhauer--that music is the
objectification of the will. Schopenhauer meant this in a
metaphysical, and to us an inadmissible sense; but I believe
that the psychological analysis of the musical experience which
we have just completed shows that there is another sense in
which it is absolutely true.

The best psychological theory of the experience of volition
makes it the imaging of a movement or action, followed by
feelings of strain, and then of the movement carried out.
The anticipation is the essential. Without anticipation, as
in the reflex, winking, the action appears involuntary.
Without the feeling of effort or strain, as in simply raising
the empty hand, the self-feeling is weaker. When all these
three elements, IMAGE, EFFORT, SUCCESS, are present most
vividly, the feeling is of triumphant volition. Now my thesis
is--the thesis toward which every though of the preceding has
pointed--that the fundamental facts of the musical experience
are supremely fitted to bring about the illusion and the
exaltation of the triumphant will.

The image, dimly foreshadowed, is given in the half-consciousness
of each note as it appears, and in that sense of coming
integration already recognized. The proof is the shock and
disappointment when the wrong note is sounded; if we had not
some anticipation of the right, the wrong one would not shock.
The strain we have in the effort of the organism to reach the
note, the tendency to which is implicit in the preceding. The
success is given in the coming of the note itself.

All this is no less true of rhythm--but there the expectation
is more mechanical, less conscious, as has been fully shown.
The more beautiful, that is, the more inevitably, irresistibly
right the music, the more powerful the influence to this illusion
of the triumphant will. The exaltation of musical emotion is
thus the direct measure of the perfection of the relations--the
beauty of the music. This, then, is the only intimate, immediate,
intrinsic emotion of music--the illusion of the triumphant will!

One word more on the interpretation of music in general aesthetic
terms. All that has been said goes to show that music possesses
to the very highest degree the power of stimulation. Can we
attribute to it repose in any other sense than that of satisfying
a desire that it arouses? We can do so in pointing out that
music ever returns upon itself--that its motion is cyclic. Music
is the art of auditory implications; but more than this, its
last note returns to its first. It is as truly a unity as if
it were static. We may say that the beauty of a picture is only
entered into when the eye has roved over the whole canvas, and
holds all the elements indirectly while it is fixated upon one
point. In exactly the same way music is not beauty unless it
is ALL there; at every point a fusion of the heard tone with
the once heard tones in the order of their hearing. The melody,
as a set of implications, is as ESSENTIALLY timeless as the
picture. By melody too, then, is given the perfect moment, the
moment of unity and completeness, of stimulation and repose.

The aesthetic emotion for music is then the favorable stimulation
of the sense of hearing and those other senses that are bound up
with it, together with the repose of perfect unity. It has a
richer color, a more intense exaltation in the illusion of the
triumphant will, which is indeed the peculiar moment for the
self in action.




THAT in the practice and pleasure of art for art's sake there
lurks an unworthy element, is a superstition that recurs in
every generation of critics. A most accomplished and modern
disciple of the gay science but yesterday made it a reproach
to the greatest living English novelist, that he, too, was
all for beauty, all for art, and had no great informing
purpose. "Art for art's sake" is clearly, to this critic's
mind, compatible with the lack of something all desirable for
novels. Yet if there is indeed a characteristic excellence
of the novel, if there is something the lack of which in a
novel is rightly deplored, then the real art for art's sake
is bound to include this characteristic excellence. If an
informing purpose is needed, no true artist can dispense
with it. Otherwise art for art's sake is a contradiction
in terms.

The critic I have quoted merely voices the lingering Puritan
distrust of beauty as an end in itself, and so repudiates
the conception of beauty as containing all the excellences
of a work of art. He thinks of beauty as cut up into small
snips and shreds of momentary sensations; as the sweet sound
of melodious words and cadences; or as something abstract,
pattern-like, imposed from without,--a Procrustes-bed of
symmetry and proportion; or as a view of life Circe-like,
insidious, a golden languor, made of "the selfish serenities
of wild-wood and dream-palace." All these, apart or
together, are thought of as the "beauty," at which the
artist "for art's sake" aims, and to that is opposed the
nobler informing purpose. But the truer view of beauty
makes it simply the epitome of all which a work of art ought
to be, and thus the only end and aim of every work of art.
The beauty of literature receives into itself all the
precepts of literature: there is no "ought" beyond it.
And art for art's sake is but art conscious of its aim, the
production of that all-embracing beauty.

What, then, is the beauty of literature? How may we know
its characteristic excellences? It is strange how, in all
serious discussion, to the confounding of some current ideas
of criticism, we are thrown back, inevitably, on this concept
of excellence! The most ardent of impressionists wakes up
sooner or later to the idea that he has been talking values
all his life. The excellences of literature! They must
lie within the general formula for beauty, yet they must be
conditioned by the possibilities of the special medium of
literature. The general formula, abstract and metaphysical
as it must be, may not be applied directly; for abstract
thought will fit only that art which can convey it; hence
the struggle of theorists with painting, music, and
architecture, and the failure of Hegel, for instance, to
show how beauty as "the expression of the Idea" resides in
these arts. But if the general formula is always translated
relatively to the sense-medium through which beauty must
reach the human being, it may be preserved, while yet
affirming all the special demands of the particular art.
Beauty is a constant function of the varying medium. The
end of Beauty is always the same, the perfect moment of
unity and self-completeness, of repose in excitement. But
this end is attained by different means furnished by
different media: through vision and its accompanying
activities; through hearing and its accompanying activities;
and for literature, through hearing in the special sense
of communication by word. It is the nature of this medium
that we must further discover.


Now the word is nothing in itself; it is not sound primarily,
but thought. The word is but a sign, a negligible quantity
in human intercourse--a counter in which the coins are ideas
and emotions--merely legal tender, of no value save in
exchange. What we really experience in the sound of a
sentence, in the sight of a printed page, is a complex
sequence of visual and other images, ideas, emotions, feelings,
logical relations, swept along in the stream of consciousness,
--differing, indeed, in certain ways from daily experience,
but yet primarily of the web of life itself. The words in
their nuances, march, tempo, melody add certain elements to
this flood--hasten, retard, undulate, or calm it; but it is
the THOUGHT, the understood experience, that is the stuff of

Words are first of all meanings, and meanings are to be
understood and lived through. We can hardly even speak of
the meaning of a word, but rather of what it is, directly,
in the mental state that is called up by it. Every definition
of a word is but a feeble and distant approximation of the
unique flash of experience belonging to that word. It is not
the sound sensation nor the visual image evoked by the word
which counts, but the whole of the mental experience, to
which the word is but an occasion and a cue. Therefore, since
literature is the art of words, it is the stream of thought
itself that we must consider as the material of literature.
In short, literature is the dialect of life--as Stevenson
said; it is by literature that the business of life is
carried on. Some one, however, may here demur: visual signs,
too, are the dialect of life. We understand by what we see,
and we live by what we understand. The curve of a line, the
crescendo of a note, serve also for wordless messages. Why
are not, then, painting and music the vehicles of experience,
and to be judged first as evocation of life, and only
afterward as sight and hearing? This conceded, we are thrown
back on that view of art as "the fixed quantity of imaginative
thought supplemented by certain technical qualities,--of
color in painting, of sound in music, of rhythmical words in
poetry," from which is has been the one aim of the preceding
arguments of this book to free us.

The holders of this view, however, ignore the history and
significance of language. Our sight and hearing are given
to us prior to our understanding or use of them. In a way,
we submit to them--they are always with us. We dwell in
them through passive states, through seasons of indifference;
moreover when we see to understand, we do not SEE, and when
we hear to understand we do not hear. Only shreds of
sensation, caught up in our flight from one action to another,
serve as signals for the meanings which concern us. In
proportion as action is prompt and effective, does the cue
as such tend to disappear, until, in all matters of skill,
piano-playing, fencing, billiard-playing, the sight or sound
which serves as cue drops almost together out of consciousness.
So far as it is vehicle of information, it is no longer sight
or sound as such--interest has devoured it. But language
came into being to supplement the lacks of sight and sound.
It was created by ourselves, to embody all active outreaching
mental experience, and it comes into particular existence to
meet an insistent emergency--a literally crying need. In
short, it is CONSTITUTED by meanings--its essence is
communication. Sight and sound have a relatively independent
existence, and may hence claim a realm of art that is largely
independent of meanings. Not so the art of words, which can
be but the art of meanings, of human experience alone.

And yet again, were the evocation of life the means and
material of all art, that art in which the level of imaginative
thought was low, the range of human experience narrow, would
take a low place in the scale. What, then, of music and
architecture? Inferior arts, they could not challenge
comparison with the poignant, profound, all-embracing art of
literature. But this is patently not the fact. There is no
hierarchy of the arts. We may not rank St. Paul's Cathedral
below "Paradise Lost." Yet is the material of all experience
is the material of all art, they must not only be compared,
but "Paradise Lost" must be admitted incomparably the
greater. No--we may not admit that all the arts alike deal
with the material of expression. The excellence of music
and architecture, whatever it may be, cannot depend on this
material. Yet by hypothesis it must be through the use of
its material that the end of beauty is reached by every art.
A picture has lines and masses and colors, wherewith to play
with the faculty of vision, to weave a spell for the whole man.
Beauty is the power to enchant him through the eye and all
that waits upon it, into a moment of perfection. Literature
has "all thoughts, all passions, all delights"--the treasury
of life--to play with, to weave a spell for the whole man.
Beauty in literature is the power to enchant him, through
the mind and heart, across the dialect of life, into a moment
of perfection.


The art of letters, then, is the art whose material is life
itself. Such, indeed, is the implication of the approval
theories of style. Words, phrases, sentences, chapters, are
excellent in so far as they are identical with thought in
all its shades of feeling. "Economy of attention," Spencer's
familiar phrase for the philosophy of style, his explanation
of even the most ornate and extravagant forms, is but another
name for this desired lucidity of the medium. Pater, himself,
an artist in the overlaying of phrases, has the same teaching.
"All the laws of good writing aim at a similar unity or
identity of the mind in all the processes by which the word is
associated to its import. The term is right, and has its
essential beauty, when it becomes, in a manner, what it
signifies, as with the names of simple sensations."<1> He
quotes therewith De Maupassant on Flaubert: "Among all the
expressions in the world, all forms and turns of expression,
there is but ONE--one form, one mode--to express what I want
to say." And adds, "The one word for the one thing, the one
thought, amid the multitude of words, terms, that might just
do: the problem of style was there!--the unique word, phrase,
sentence, paragraph, essay, or song, absolutely proper to the
single mental presentation or vision within."...

<1> _Appreciations: An Essay on Style._

Thought in words is the matter of literature; and words exist
but for thought, and get their excellence as thought; yet, as
Flaubert says, the idea only exists by virtue of the form.
The form, or the word, IS the idea; that is, it carries along
with it the fringe of suggestion which crystallizes the floating
possibility in the stream of thought. A glance at the history
of language shows how this must have been so. Words in their
first formation were doubtless constituted by their imitative
power. As Taine has said,<1> at the first they arose in contact
with the objects; they imitated them by the grimaces of mouth
and nose which accompanied their sound, by the roughness,
smoothness, length, or shortness of this sound, by the rattle
or whistle of the throat, by the inflation or contraction of
the chest.

<1> H. Taine, _La Fontaine et ses Fables_, p. 288.

This primitive imitative power of the word survives in the
so-called onomatapoetic words, which aim simply at reproducing
the sounds of nature. A second order of imitation arises through
the associations of sensations. The different sensations,
auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile, motor, and organic have
common qualities, which they share with other more complex
experiences; of form, as force or feebleness; of feeling, as
harshness, sweetness, and so on. It is, indeed, another case
of the form-qualities to which we recurred so often in the
chapter on music. Clear and smooth vowels will give the
impression of volatility and delicacy; open, broad ones of
elevation or extension (airy, flee; large, far). The consonants
which are hard to pronounce will give the impression of effort,
of shock, of violence, of difficulty, of heaviness,--"the round
squat turret, black as the fool's heart;" those which are easy
of pronunciation express ease, smoothness, fluidity, calm,
lightness, (facile, suave, roulade);--"lucent syrops, tinct with
cinnamon," a line like honey on the tongue, of which physical
organ, indeed, one becomes, with the word "tinct," definitely

In fact, the main point to notice in the enumeration of the
expressive qualities of sounds, is that it is the movement in
utterance which characterizes them. That movement tends to
reproduce itself in the hearer, and carries with it its feeling-
tone of ease or difficulty, explosiveness or sweetness long
drawn out. It is thus by a kind of sympathetic induction rather
than by external imitation that these words of the second type
become expressive.

Finally, the two moments may be combined, as in such a word as
"roaring," which is directly imitative of a sound, and by the
muscular activity it calls into play suggests the extended
energy of the action itself.

The stage in which the word becomes a mere colorless, algebraic
sign of object or process never occurs, practically, for in any
case it has accumulated in its history and vicissitudes a fringe
of suggestiveness, as a ship accumulates barnacles. "Words carry
with them all the meanings they have worn," says Walter Raleigh
in his "Essay on Style." "A slight technical implication, a
faint tinge of archaism in the common turn of speech that you
employ, and in a moment you have shaken off the mob that scours
the rutted highway, and are addressing a select audience of
ticket-holders with closed doors." Manifold may be the
implications and suggestions of even a single letter. Thus a
charming anonymous essay on the word "Grey." "Gray is a quiet
color for daylight things, but there is a touch of difference,
of romance, even, about things that are grey. Gray is a color
for fur, and Quaker gowns, and breasts of doves, and a gray
day, and a gentlewoman's hair; and horses must be gray....Now
grey is for eyes, the eyes of a witch, with green lights in
them and much wickedness. Gray eyes would be as tender and
yielding and true as blue ones; a coquette must have eyes of

Words do not have meanings, they ARE meanings through their
power of direct suggestion and induction. They may become
what they signify. Nor is this power confined to words alone;
on its possession by the phrase, sentence, or verse rests the
whole theory of style. The short, sharp staccato, the bellowing
turbulent, the swimming melodious circling sentence ARE truly
what they mean, in their form as in the objective sense of
their words. The sound-values of rhythm and pace have been in
other chapters fully dwelt upon; the expressive power of breaks
and variations is worth noting also. Of the irresistible
significance of rhythm, even against content, we have an
example amusingly commented on by Mr. G.K. Chesterton in his
"Twelve Types." "He (Byron) may arraign existence on the most
deadly charges, he may condemn it with the most desolating
verdict, but he cannot alter the fact that on some walk in a
spring morning when all the limbs are swinging and all the
blood alive in the body, the lips may be caught repeating:

'Oh, there's not a joy the world can give like that it takes
When the glow of early youth declines in beauty's dull

That automatic recitation is the answer to the whole pessimism
of Byron."


Such, then, are some of the means by which language becomes
identical with thought, and most truly the dialect of life.
The genius will have ways, to which these briefly outlined
ones will seem crude and obvious, but they will be none the
less of the same nature. Shall we then conclude that the
beauty of literature is here? that, in the words of Pater,
from the essay I have quoted, "In that perfect justice (of
the unique word)...omnipresent in good work, in function at
every point, from single epithets to the rhythm of a whole
book, lay the specific, indispensable, very intellectual
beauty of literature, the possibility of which constitutes
it a fine art."

In its last analysis, such a conception of literature amounts
to the unimpeded intercourse of mind with mind. Literature
would be a language which dispenses with gesture, facial
expression, tone of voice; which is, in its halts, accelerations
and retardations, emphases and concessions, the apotheosis
of conversation. But this clearness,--in the sublime sense,
including the ornate and the subtle,--this luminous lucidity,--
is it not quite indeterminate? Clearness is said of a medium.
WHAT is it that shines through?

Were this clearness the beauty we are seeking, whatever in
the world that wanted to get itself said, would, if it were
perfectly said, become a final achievement of literature. All
that the plain man looks for, we must think rightly, in poetry
and prose, might be absent, and yet we should have to
acknowledge its excellence. Let us then consider this quality
by which the words become what they signify as the specific
beauty rather of style than of literature; the mere refining
of the gold from which the work of art has yet to be made.
Language is the dialect of life; and the most perfect language
can be no more than the most perfect truth of intercourse. It
must then be through the treatment of life, or the sense of
life itself, that we are somehow to attain the perfect moment
of beauty.

The sense of life! In what meaning are these words to be
taken? Not the completest sense of all, because the essence
of life is in personal responsibility to a situation, and this
is exactly what in our experience of literature disappears.
First of all, then, before asking how the moment of beauty is
to be attained, we must see how it is psychologically possible
to have a sense of life that is yet purged of the will to live.

All experience of life is a complication of ideas, emotions,
and attitudes or impulses to action in varying proportions.
The sentiment of reality is constituted by our tendency to
interfere, to "take a hand." Sometimes the stage of our
consciousness is so fully occupied by the images of others
that our own reaction is less vivid. Finally, all conditions
and possibilities of reaction may be so minimized that the
only attitude possible is our acceptance or rejection of a
world in which such things can be. What does it "matter" to
me whether or not "the old, unhappy, far-off things" really
happened? The worlds of the Borgias, of Don Juan, and of the
Russian war stand on the same level of reality. Aucassin and
Nicolette are as near to me as Abelard and Heloise. For in
relation to these persons my impulse is NIL. I submit to
them, I cannot change or help them; and because I have no
impulse to interfere, they are not vividly real to me. And,
in general, in so far as I am led to contemplate or to dwell
on anything in idea, in so far does my personal attitude tend
to parallel this impersonal one toward real persons temporally
or geographically out of reach.

Now in literature all conditions tend to the enormous
preponderance of the ideal element in experience. My mind
in reading is completely filled with ideas of the appearance,
ways, manners, and situation of the people concerned. I leave
them a clear field. My emotions are enlisted only as the
inevitable fringe of association belonging to vivid ideas--
the ideas of their emotions. So far as all the possibilities
of understanding are fulfilled for me, so far as I am in
possession of all the conditions, so far do I "realize" the
characters, but realize them as ideas tinged with feeling.

Here there will be asseverations to the contrary. What! feel
no real emotion over Little Nell, or Colonel Newcome? no
emotion in that great scene of passion and despair, the parting
of Richard Feverel and Lucy,--a scene which none can read save
with tight throat and burning eyes! Even so. It is not real
emotion. You have the vivid ideas, so vivid that a fringe of
emotional association accompanies them, as you might shudder
remembering a bad dream. But the real emotion arises only
from the real impulse, the real responsibility.

The sense of life that literature gives might be described as
life in its aspect as idea. That this fact is the cause of
the peace and painlessness of literature--since it is by his
actions, as Aristotle says, that man is happy or the reverse--
need not concern us here. For the beauty of literature, and
our joy in it, lie not primarily in its lack of power to hurt
us. The point is that literature gives none the less truly a
sense of life because it happens to be one extreme aspect of
life. The literary way is only one of the ways in which life
can be met.

To give the sense of life perfectly--to create the illusion
of life--is this, then, the beauty of literature? But we are
seeking for the perfect moment of stimulation and repose. Why
should the perfect illusion of life give this, any more than
life itself does? So the "vision" of a picture might be
intensely clear, and yet the picture itself unbeautiful. Such
a complete "sense of life," such clear "vision," would show
the artist's mastery of technique, but not his power to create
beauty. In the art of literature, as in the art of painting,
the normal function is but the first condition, the state of
perfection is the end at which to aim.

It is just this distinction that we can properly make between
the characteristic or typical in the sense of differentiated,
and the great or excellent in literature. In the theory of
some writers, perfect fidelity to the type is the only
originality. To paint the Russian peasant or the French
bourgeois as he is, to catch the exact shade of exquisite
soullessness in Oriental loves, to reproduce the Berserker
rage or the dull horror of battle, is indeed to give the
perfect sense of life. But the perfect, or the complete,
sense of life is not the moment of perfect life.

Yet to this assertion two answers might be made. The authors
of "Bel-Ami," or "Madame Chrysantheme," or "The Triumph of
Death," might claim to be saved by their form. The march of
events, the rounding climax, the crystal-clear unity of the
finished work, they might say, gives the indispensable union,
for the perfect moment of stimulation and repose. No syllable
in the slow unfolding of exquisite cadences but is supremely
placed from the first page to the last. As note calls to
note, so thought calls to thought, and feeling to feeling,
and the last word is an answer to the first of the inevitable
procession. A writer's donnee, they would say, is his own.
The reader may only bed--Make me something fine after your
own fashion!

And they would have to be acknowledged partly in the right.
In that inevitable unity of form there is indeed a necessary
element of the perfect moment; but it is not a perfect unity.
For the matter of their art should be, in the last analysis,
life itself; and the unity of life itself, the one basic
unity of all, they have missed. It is a hollow sphere they
present, and nothing solid. Henry James has spent the whole
of a remarkable essay on D'Annunzio's creations in determining
the meaning of "the fact that their total beauty somehow
extraordinarily fails to march with their beauty of parts,
and that something is all the while at work undermining that
bulwark against ugliness which it is their obvious theory of
their own office to throw up." The secret is, he avers, that
the themes, the "anecdotes," could find their extension and
consummation only in the rest of life. Shut out, as they are,
from the rest of life, shut out from all fruition and
assimilation, and so from all hope of dignity, they lose
absolutely their power to sway us.

It might be simpler to say that these works lack the first
beauty which literature as the dialect of life can have--they
lack the repose of centrality; they have no identity with the
meaning of life as a whole. It could not be said of them, as
Bagehot said of Shakespeare: "He puts things together, he
refers things to a principle; rather, they group themselves
in his intelligence insensibly around a principle;...a cool
oneness, a poised personality, pervades him." But in these
men there is no cool oneness, no reasonable soul, and so they
miss the central unity of life, which can give unity to
literature. Even the apparent structural unity fails when
looked at closely; the actions of the characters are seen to
be mechanical--their meaning is not inevitable.

The second answer to our assertion that the "sense of life" is
not the beauty of literature might call attention to the fact
that SENSE of life may be taken as understanding of life. A
complete sense of life must include the conditions of life, and
the conditions of life involve this very "energetic identity"
on which we have insisted. And this contention we must admit.
So long as the sense of life is taken as the illusion of life,
our words hold good. But if to that is added understanding of
life, the door is open to the profoundest excellences of
literature. Henry James has glimpsed this truth in saying that
no good novel will ever proceed from a superficial mind.
Stevenson has gone further. "But the truth is when books are
conceived under a great stress, with a soul of ninefold power,
nine time heated and electrified by effort, the conditions
of our being seized with such an ample grasp, that even should
the main design be trivial or base, some truth and beauty
cannot fail to be expressed."


The conditions of our being! If we accept, affirm, profoundly
rest in what is presented to us, we have the first condition of
that repose which is the essence of the aesthetic experience.
And from this highest demand can be viewed the hierarchy of the
lesser perfections which go to make up the "perfect moment" of
literature. Instead of reaching this point by successive
eliminations, we might indeed have reached it in one stride.
The perfect moment across the dialect of life, the moment of
perfect life, must be in truth that in which we touch the
confines of our being, look upon our world, all in all, as
revealed in some great moment, and see that it is good--that
we grasp it, possess it, that it is akin to us, that it is
identical with our deepest wills. The work that grasps the
conditions of our being gives ourselves back to us completed.

In the conditions of our being in a less profound sense may
be found the further means to the perfect moment. Thus the
progress of events, the development of feelings, must be in
harmony with our natural processes. The development, the
rise, complication, expectation, gratification, the suspense,
climax, and drop of the great novel, correspond to the natural
functioning of our mental processes. It is an experience that
we seek, multiplied, perfected, expanded--the life moment of
a man greater than we. This, too, is the ultimate meaning of
the demands of style. Lucidity, indeed, there must be,--
identity with the thought; but besides the value of the thought
in its approximation to the conditions of our being, we seek
the vividness of that thought,--the perfect moment of
apprehension, as well as of experience. It is the beauty of
style to be lucid; but the beauty of lucidity is to reinforce
the springs of thought.

Even to the minor elements of style, the tone-coloring, the
rhythm, the melody,--the essence of beauty, that is, of the
perfect moment, is given by the perfecting of the experience.
The beauty of liquids is their ease and happiness of utterance.
The beauty of rhythm is its aiding and compelling power, on
utterance and thought. There is a sensuous pleasure in a
great style; we love to mouth it, for it is made to mouth.
As Flaubert says somewhat brutally, "Je ne said qu'une phrase
est bonne qu'apres l'avoir fait passer par mon gueuloir."

In the end it might be said that literature gives us the
moment of perfection, and is thus possessed of beauty, when
it reveals ourselves to ourselves in a better world of
experience; in the conditions of our moral being, in the
conditions of our utterance and our breathing;--all these,
concentric circles, in which the centre of repose is given
by the underlying identity of ourselves with this world.
Because it goes to the roots of experience, and seeks to give
the conditions of our being as they really are, literature
may be truly called a criticism of life. Yet the end of
literature is not the criticism of life; rather the
appreciation of life--the full savour of life in its entirety.
The final definition of literature is the art of experience.


But then literature would give only the perfect moments of
existence, would ignore the tragedies, ironies, pettiness of
life! Such an interpretation is a quite mistaken one. As
the great painting uses the vivid reproduction of an ugly
face, a squalid hovel, to create a beautiful picture, beautiful
because all the conditions of seeing are made to contribute to
our being made whole in seeing; so great literature can attain
through any given set of facts to the deeper harmony of life,
can touch the one poised, unconquerable soul, and can reinforce
the moment of self-completeness by every parallel device of
stimulation and concentration. And because it is most often
in the tragedies that the conditions of our being are laid
bare, and the strings which reverberate to the emotions most
easily played upon, it is likely that the greatest books of all
will be the tragedies themselves. The art of experience needs
contrasts no less than does the visual or auditory art.

This beauty of literature, because it is a hierarchy of beauties
more and less essential, exists in all varieties and in all
shades. If the old comparison and contrast of idealism and
realism is referred to here, it is because that ancient
controversy seems not even yet entirely outworn. If realism
means close observation of facts and neglect of ideas, and
idealism, neglect of prosaic facts and devotion to ideas, then
we must admit that realism and idealism are the names of two
defective types. Strictly speaking, whatever goes deep enough
to the truth of things, gets nearer reality, is realism; yet
to get nearer reality is to attain true ideas, and that is
idealism too. The great work of literature is realistic
because it does not lose sight of the ideal. Our popular use
of idealistic refers, indeed, to the world seen through rose-
colored glasses; but for that possible variety of literary
effort it is better to use the word Romance. Romance is the
world of our youthful dreams of things, not as they do happen,
but as, without any special deeper meaning, we should wish them
to happen. That is the world of the gold-haired maiden, "the
lover with the red-roan steed of steeds," the purse of
Fortunatus, the treasure-trove, the villain confronted with
his guilt. "Never the time and the place and the loved one
all together!" But in Romance they come together. The total
depravity of inanimate things has become the stars in their
courses fighting for us. Stevenson calls it the poetry of
circumstance--for the dreams of youth are properly healthy
and material. The salvage from the wreck in "Robinson Crusoe,"
he tells us, satisfies the mind like things to eat. Romance
gives us the perfect moment of the material and human--with
the divine left out.

It has sometimes been made a reproach to critics--more often,
I fear, by those who hold, like myself, that beauty and
excellence in art are identical--that they discourse too little
of form in literature, and too much of content. But all our
taking thought will have been vain, if it is not now patent
that the first beauty of literature is, and must be, its
identity with the central flame of life,--the primal conditions
of our being. Thus it is that the critic is justified in
asking first of all, How does this man look on life? Has he
revealed a new--or better--the eternal old meaning? The
Weltanschauung is the critic's first consideration, and after
that he may properly take up that secondary grasp of the
conditions of our being in mental processes, revealed in the
structure, march of incidents, suspense, and climaxes, and the
beauty or idiosyncracy of style. It is then literally false
that it does not matter what a man says, but only how he says
it. What he says is all that matters, for it will not be great
thought without some greatness in the saying. Art for art's
sake in literature is then art for life's sake, and the
"informing purpose," in so far as that means the vision of our
deepest selves, is its first condition.

And because the Beauty of Literature is constituted by its
quality as life itself, we may defer detailed consideration
of the species and varieties of literature. Prose and poetry,
drama and novel, have each their own special excellences
springing from the respective situations they had, and have,
to meet. Yet these but add elements to the one great power
they all must have as literature,--the power to give the
perfect experience of life in its fullness and vividness, and
in its identity with the central meanings of existence,--unity
and self-completeness together,--in a form which offers to our
mental functions the perfect moment of stimulation and repose.






THAT psychologist who, writing on the problems of dramatic
art, called his brochure "The Dispute over Tragedy," gave
the right name to a singular situation. Of all the riddles
of aesthetic experi8ence, none has been so early propounded,
so indefatigably attempted, so variously and unsatisfactorily
solved, as this. What is dramatic? What constitutes a
tragedy? How can we take pleasure in painful experiences?
These questions are like Banquo's ghost, and will not down.

The ingenious Bernays has said that it was all the fault of
Aristotle. The last phrase of the famous definition in the
"Poetics," which should relate the nature, end, and aim of
tragedy, is left, in his works as we have them, probably
through the suppression or loss of context, without elucidating
commentary. And the writers on tragedy have ever since so
striven to guess his meaning, and to make their answers square
with contemporary drama, that they have given comparatively
slight attention to the immediate, unbiased investigation of
the phenomenon itself. Aristotle's definition is as follows:<1>
"Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious,
complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished
with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being
found in separate parts of the play: in the form of action,
not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper
purgation of these emotions." In what follows, he takes up
and explains this definition, phrase by phrase, until the very
last. What is meant by the Purgation (Katharsis) through pity
and fear? It is at least what tragedy "effects," and is thus
evidently the function of tragedy. But a thing is determined,
constructed, judged, according to its function; the function
is, so to speak, its genetic formula. With a clear view of
that, the rest of the definition could conceivably have been
constructed without further explanation; without it, the key
to the whole fails. "Purgation of these emotions;" did it
mean purification of the emotions, or purgation of the soul
FROM the emotions? And what emotions? Pity and fear, or
"these and suchlike," thus including all emotions that tragedy
could bring to expression?

<1> S.H. Butcher, _Aristotle's Theory of Poetry and Fine Art_,

Our knowledge of the severely moral bent of the explicit art
criticism of the Greeks has inclined many to accept the first
interpretation; and modern interests impel in the same direction.
It is natural to think of the generally elevating and softening
effects of great art as a kind of moral clarifying, and the
question how this should be effected just by pity and fear was
not pressed. So Lessing in the "Hamburgische Dramaturgie" takes
Katharsis as the conversion of the emotions in general into
virtuous dispositions.

Before we ask ourselves seriously how far this represents our
experience of the drama, we must question its fidelity to the
thought of Aristotle; and that question seems to have received
a final answer in the exhaustive discussion of Bernays.<1>
Without going into his arguments, suffice it to say that
Aristotle, scientist and physician's son as he was, had in
mind in using this striking metaphor of the Katharsis of the
emotions, a perfectly definite procedure, familiar in the
treatment, by exciting music, of persons overcome by the ecstasy
or "enthusiasm" characteristic of certain religious rites.
Bernays quotes Milton's preface to "Samson Agonistes:" "Tragedy
is said by Aristotle to be of power, by raising pity and fear,
or terror, to purge the mind of those and such like passions;
that is, to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind
of delight, stirred by reading or seeing those passions well
imitated. Nor is Nature wanting in her own effects to make
good his assertion; for so in physic, things of melancholic
hue and quality are used against melancholy, sour against
sour, salt to remove salt humours," adding "the homoeopathic
comparison shows how near he was to the correct notion."
Bernays concludes that by Katharsis is denoted the "alleviating discharge" of the emotions themselves. In other words, pity
and fear are bad, and it is a good thing to get rid of them
in a harmless way, as it is better to be vaccinated than to
have small pox.

<1> _Zwei adhandlungen uber d. Aristotelische Theories d.
Drama_, 1880.

Now this alleviating discharge is pleasurable (meth hedones),
and the pleasure seems, from allied passages, to arise not in
the accomplished relief from oppression, but in the process
itself. This becomes intelligible from the point of view of
Aristotle's definition of pleasure as an ecstatic condition of
the soul. For every emotion contains, according to Aristotle,
be it ever so painful, an ecstatic degree would effect, at the
same time with an alleviating discharge, a pleasure also. Pity
and fear are aroused to be allayed, and to give pleasure in the
arousing and the relief.

Such, approximately, is Aristotle's view of the Tragic Emotion,
or Katharsis. Is it also our own? To clear the field for this
inquiry, it will be well first of all to insist on a distinction
which is mostly discounted in significance because taken for
granted. We speak o Aristotle's Katharsis as the Tragic Emotion,
forgetting that to-day Tragedy and the Tragic are no longer
identical. Aristotle conceives himself to be dealing with the
peculiar emotion aroused by a certain dramatic form, the name
of which ha nothing to do with its content. For Tragedy is
literally goat-song, perhaps from the goat-skins worn by the
first performers of tragedy disguised as satyrs. Since then
we have borrowed the name of that dramatic form to apply to
events which have the same type or issue as in that form. In
popular speech to-day the word tragic attaches itself rather
to the catastrophe than to the struggle, and therefore, I cannot
but think, modern discussion of "the tragic" is wrong in
attempting to combine the Aristotelian and the modern shades
of meaning, and to embody them both in a single definition.
Aristotle is dealing with the whole effect of the dramatic
representation of what we should call a tragic occurrence. It
is really the theory of the dramatic experience and not of the
tragic, in our sense, which occupies him. Therefore, as I say,
we must not assume, with many modern critics, than an analysis
of the tragic in experience will solve the problem of the
Katharsis. Our "tragic event," it is true, is of the kind
which dramatically treated helped to bring about this peculiar
effect. But the question of Aristotle and our problem of
Katharsis is the problem of the emotion aroused by the Tragic
Drama. What, then, is the nature of dramatic emotion?


The analogy of Aristotle's conception of the emotion of
tragedy with certain modern views is evident. To feel pain
is to live intensely, it is said; to be absorbed in great,
even though overwhelming, events is to make us realize our
own pulsing life. The criticism to be made on this theory
is, however, no less simple: it consists merely in denying
the fact. It does not give us pleasure to have painful
emotions or to see other people's sorrows, in spite of the
remains of the "gorille feroce" in us, to which Taine and
M. Faguet attribute this imputed pleasure. And if we feel
pleasure, excitement, elevation in the representation of
the tragic, it must be due to some other element in the
experience than the mere self-realization involved in
suffering. It is indeed our first impulse to say that the
painful quality vanishes when the exciting events are known
to be unreal; pity and fear are painful because too intense,
and in the drama are just sufficiently moderated. The
rejoinder is easy, that pity and fear are never anything,
but painful down to the vanishing point. The slight pity
for a child's bruised finger is not more pleasurable because
less keen; while our feeling, whatever it is, for Ophelia
or Gretchen, becomes more pleasurable in proportion to its

It is clear that the matter is not so simple as Aristotle's
psychology would make it. Pity and fear do not in themselves
produce pleasure, relief, and repose. These emotions as
aroused by tragedy are either not what we know as pity and
fear in real life, or the manner of their undergoing brings
in an entirely new element, on which Aristotle has not
touched. In some way or other the pity and fear of tragedy
are not like the pity and fear of real life, and in this
distinction lies the whole mystery of the dramatic Katharsis.

But there is an extension of Aristotle's theory, lineally
descended from that of Lessing, which professes to elucidate
this difference and must be taken account of, inasmuch as it
represents the modern popular view. Professor Butcher, in
his edition of the "Poetics," concludes, on the basis of a
reference in the "Politics" implying that the Katharsis of
enthusiasm is not identical with the Katharsis of pity and
fear, that the word is to be taken less literally, as an
expulsion of the morbid elements in the emotions,--and these
he takes to be the selfish elements which cling to them in
real life. Thus "the spectator, who is brought face to face
with grander sufferings than his own, experiences a
sympathetic ecstasy, a listing out of himself. It is
precisely in this transport of feeling, which carries a man
outside his individual self, that the distinctive tragic
pleasure resides. Pity and fear are purged of the impure
element which clings to them in life. In the glow of tragic
excitement these feelings are so transformed that the net
result is a noble emotional satisfaction."

In spite of our feeling that the literal and naive reading
of the analogy was probably after all nearer Aristotle's
meaning, we may accept the words of Professor Butcher as its
modern formulation. They sound, indeed, all but a truism:
yet they are seen on examination to glide lightly over some
psychological difficulties. Firstly, the step is a long
one from the pity and fear felt by the Greek toward or about
the actors, to a sharing of their emotion. The one is a
definite external relation, limited to two emotions; the
other, the "sympathetic ecstasy," opens the door to all
conceivable emotions, and needs at least to be justified.
But, secondly, even suppose the step taken; suppose the
"sympathetic imitation" conceded as a fact: the objections
to Aristotle's interpretation are equally applicable to
this. Why should this "transport of sympathetic feeling"
not take the form of a transport of pain? Why should the
net result be "a noble emotional satisfaction?" If pity
and fear remain pity and fear, whether selfish or unselfish,
it doth not yet appear why they are emotionally satisfactory.
The "so transformed" of the passage quoted assumes the point
at issue and begs the question. That is, if this transformation
of feeling does indeed take place, there is at least nothing
in the nature of the situation, as yet explained, to account
for it. But explanation there must be. To this, the lost
passage on the Katharsis must have been devoted; this, every
thorough-going study of the theory of the drama must make
an indispensable preliminary. What there is in the nature
of tragic art capable of transforming painful to pleasurable
emotion must be made clear. Before we can accept Professor
Butcher's view of the function of Tragedy, its possibility
as a psychological experience must be demonstrated. For the
immediately pleasurable aesthetic effect of Tragedy, a certain
kind of pity and fear, operating in a special way, are required.
It must be thus only in the peculiar character of the emotions
aroused that the distinctive nature of the tragic experience
consists. What is this peculiar character?


A necessary step to the explanation of our pleasure in
supposedly painful emotions is to make clear how we can feel
any emotion at all in watching what we know to be unreal, and
to show how this emotion is sympathetic, that is, imitative,
rather than of an objective reference. In brief, why do we
feel WITH, rather than toward or about, the actors?

The answer to this question requires a reference to the current
theory of emotion. According to modern psychologists, emotion
is constituted by the instinctive response to a situation; it
is the feeling accompanying very complicated physical reactions,
which have their roots in actions once useful in the history
of mankind. Thus the familiar "expression" of anger, the
flushed face, dilated nostril, clenched fist, are remains or
marks of reactions serviceable in mortal combat. But these,
the "coarser" bodily changes proper to anger, are accompanied
by numberless organic reactions, the "feel" of all of which
together is an indispensable element of the emotion of anger.
The point to be noted in all this is that these reactions are
ACTIONS, called up by something with which we literally HAVE

A person involved in real experience does not reproduce the
emotions about him, for in real life he must respond to the
situation, take an attitude of help, consolation, warning;
and the character of these reactions determines for him an
emotion of his own. Even though he really do nothing, the
multitudinous minor impulses to action going to make up his
attitude appreciably interfere with the reproduction of the
reactions of the object of his interest. In an exactly
opposite way the artificial conditions of the spectator at a
play, which reinforce the vivid reproduction of ideas, and
check action, stifle those emotions directed toward the players,
the objective emotions of which we have spoken. The spectator
is completely cut off from all possibilities of influence on
events. Between his world and that across the footlights an
inexpressible gulf is fixed. He cannot take an "attitude,"
he can have nothing to do in this galere. Since he may not
act, even those beginnings of action which make the basis of
emotion are inhibited in him. The spectator at a play experiences
much more clearly and sharply than the sympathetic observer;
only the proportions of his mental contents are different.
This, I say, accounts for the absence of the real pity and
fear, which were supposed to be directed toward the persons
in the play. But so far as yet appears there is every reason
to expect the sympathetic reproduction of the emotions of the
persons themselves.

Let us briefly recall the situation. The house is darkened
and quiet; all lines converge to the stage, which is brightly
lighted, and heightened in visual effect by every device known
to art. The onlooker's mind is emptied of its content; all
feeling of self is pushed down to its very lowest level. He

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