Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Psychology of Beauty by Ethel D. Puffer

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

has before him a situation which he understands through sight
and hearing, and in which he follows the action not only by
comprehension, but by instinctive imitation. This is the great
vehicle of suggestion. We cannot see tears rise without moisture
in our own eyes; we reproduce a yawn even against our will; the
sudden or the regular movement of a companion we are forced to
follow, at least incipiently. Now the expression which we
imitate brings up in us to a certain extent the whole complex
of ideas and feeling-tones belonging to that expression.
Moreover, the more closely we attend to it, the more explicitly
do we imitate it, by an evident psychological principle. Thus
in the artificially contrived situation of the spectator at a
play, he is forced, not only to understand intellectually, but
also to FOLLOW, quite literally, the emotional movements of
the actors. The process of understanding, raised to the highest
pitch, involves by its very nature also reproduction of what is
understood. The complex of the ideas and associations of the
persons of the play is ideally reproduced. Are not the organic
reactions belonging to these set up too?--not directly, in
response to a situation in which the spectator may act, but
directly, by reproduction of the mental contents of one who
may act, the person of the drama. The final answer to this
question contains, to my mind, the whole kernel of the dramatic
mystery, and the starting-point for an aesthetic theory of


Every play contains at least two actors. The suggestion of
states of mind does not come from the hero alone, but is given
by two persons, or groups of persons, at once. These persons
are, normally, in conflict. Othello menaces, Desdemona shrinks;
Nora asserts her right, Hilmar his claim; L'Aiglon vaunts his
inherited personality, Metternich--holds the candle to the
mirror! But what of the spectator? He cannot at once shrink
and menace, assert and deny, as the conditions of sympathetic
reproduction would seem to demand. Real emotion implies a
definite set of reactions of the nature of movements; and two
opposed movements cannot take place at the same time. Ideas,
however, can dwell together in amity. The spectator has a
vivid picture of Othello and Desdemona together; but his
reactions have neutralized each other, and his emotions, lacking
their organic conditions, are in abeyance.

This is the typical dramatic moment, for it is the one which
is alone characteristic of the drama. Only in the simultaneous
realization of two opposing forces is the full mutual checking
of emotional impulses possible, and it is only in this
simultaneous realization that the drama differs from all other
forms of art. When the two antagonistic purposes are actually
presented to the onlooker in the same moment of time, then alone
can be felt the vividness of realization, the tension of conflict,
the balance of emotion, the "alleviation" of the true Katharsis!

But what is this? No emotion after all, when the very traditional
test of our enjoyment of a play is the amount of feeling it
arouses!--when hearts beat, hands clench, tears flow! Emotion
there is, it may not be denied; but not the sympathetic emotions
of the traditional theory.

What emotion? The mutual checking of impulses in a balance, a
tension, a conflict which is yet a bond; and this it is which
is the clue to the excitement or exaltation which in the dramatic
experience usurps the place of definite feeling. We have met
this phenomenon before. Aesthetic emotion in general, we have
heard, consists just in the union of a kind of stimulation or
enhanced life, with repose; a heightening of the vital energies
unaccompanied by any tendency to movement,--in short, that
gathering of forces which we connect with action, and which is
felt the more because action is checked. Just such a repose
through equilibrium of impulses is given by the dramatic conflict.
Introspection makes assurance doubly sure. The tense exaltation
of the typical aesthetic experience, undirected, unlimited, pure
of personal or particular reference, is reproduced in this
nameless ecstasy of the tragic drama. The mysterious Katharsis,
the emotion of tragedy, is, then, a special type of the unique
aesthetic emotion.

And it is the singular peculiar characteristic of the drama--
the face to face confrontation of forces--which furnishes these
conditions. As we might have foreseen, the peculiar Katharsis,
or pleasurable disappearance or alleviation of emotion in
tragedy, is based on just those elements in which the drama
differs from other forms of art. Confrontation, and not action,
as the dramatic principle, is the important deduction from our
theory;--is, indeed, but the objective aspect of it.

The view of confrontation as the dramatic principle is confirmed
by dramatic literature. We emphasize in our study of Greek plays
their simplicity of plot, their absence of intrigue, their
sculptural, bas-relief quality. The Greek drama makes of a poem
a crisis, says M. Faguet. A tragedy is a well-composed group,
a fine contrast, a beautiful effect of imposing symmetry--as
in the "Antigone," "on one side civil law in all its blind
rigor, on the other moral law in all its splendor." The only
element in common with the modern type is found in the conflict
of wills. Could such a play as the "Suppliants" of Euripedes
find any aesthetic justification, save that it has the one
dramatic essential--confrontation, balance of emotions? The
very scenes of short speeches, of objurgation or sententious
repartee, which cannot but have for us an element of the
grotesque, must have been as pleasing as they were to the Greek
audience, from the fact that they brought to sharpest vision
the confrontation of the two antagonists. The mediaeval drama,
which has become popularly known in "Everyman," is nothing but
a succession of duels, material or spiritual. It is indeed the
two profiles confronting one another, our sympathy balanced,
and suspended, as it were, between them, which characterize our
recollections of this whole great field. The modern critics and
comparers of English and French drama are fond of contrasting
the full, rich, even prodigal characterization, rhetorical and
lyrical beauty of the Shakespearean drama with the cold, clear,
logical, but resistless movement of the French. Yet the contrast
is not quite that between characterization and form; the essential
form is common to both. In the first place, Elizabethan drama
was platform drama--that is, by the testimony of contemporaries,
little concerned with anything but the succession of more or less
unconnected scenes between two or three persons. And we see
clearly that the great dramatic power of "Hamlet," for instance,
must lie, not in the movement of a wavering purpose, but in the
separate scenes of his struggle, each one wonderfully rich, vivid,
balanced, but almost a unit in itself. On the theory that the
true dramatic form is logical progress, dramatic--as contrasted
with literary--power would have to be denied to "Hamlet." The
aesthetic meaning of "Lear" is not in the terrible retribution
of pride and self-will, but in the cruel confrontation of father
and daughters.

This is no less true of the first great French plays. It is
certainly not the resistless movement of the intrigue which
makes the "Misanthrope," "Tartufe," the "Precieuses Ridicules,"
masterpieces of comedy as well as of literature. Their dramatic
value lies in their piquancy of confrontation. The tug-of-war
between Alceste and Celimene, between Rodrigue and Chimene in
"Le Cid," is what we think of as dramatic; and it is this same
element which is found as well in the complicated and overflowing
English plays. And in modern French drama, for all its "logic,"
the dominating factor is the "scene a faire,"--what I have called
the scene of confrontation. The notoriously successful scene in
the English drama of to-day, the duel of Sophy and Lord Quex--
tolerably empty of real feeling or significance though it is--
becomes successful merely through the consummate handling of
the face-to-face element. Only by admitting this aesthetic
moment of arrest can we allow dramatic value to such a play as
"Les Affaires sont les Affaires"--a truly static drama. The
hero of this is, in the words of a reviewer, "essentially the
same force in magnitude and direction from the rise to the fall
of the curtain. It does not move; it is we who are taken around
it so that we may see its various facets. It is not moulded by
the successive incidents of the play, but only disclosed by
them; sibi constat." Yet we cannot deny to the play dramatic
power; and the reason for this is, as I believe, because it
does, after all, possess the dramatic essential--not action, but


It will be demanded, however, what place there is then for a
temporal factor, if the typical dramatic experience depends upon
the great scene? It cannot be denied that the drama is a work
of art developed in time, like music and poetry. It comes to a
climax and a resolution; it evolves its harmonies like the
symphony, in irrevocable order. We cannot afford to neglect,
in such an aesthetic analysis, what is an undoubted element in
dramatic effect, the so-called inevitable march of events. In
answer to this objection we may hold that the temporal factor
is a corollary of the primary demand for confrontation. It is
necessary that the confrontation or conflict should be vividly
imagined, with all possible associative reinforcements--that
it should be brought up to the turn of the screw, as it were.
For this, then, motivation is absolutely necessary. An attitude
is only clearly "realized" when it is made to seem inevitable.
It takes complete possession of our minds only when it inhibits
all other possibilities. At any given scene, the power of a
part to reproduce itself in us is measured by the convincing
quality given it by motivation, and for this there must be a
full body of associations to draw on, to round out and complete
understanding. The villain of the play is, for instance, less
completely "suggested" to us, because our associations are
supposedly less rich for such characters; as a beggar hypnotized
and made to feel himself a king has meagre mental equipment for
the part. Now, this inner possession can come about only
through the compelling force of a long course of preparation.
In providing such an accumulation of impulses, none was greater
than the younger Dumas--and none had to be greater! To make
his audience accept--that is, identify itself with--the action
of the hero in "Denise," or the mother's decision in "Les Idees
de Mms. Aubray," so subversive of general social feeling, and
thereby to experience fully the great dramatic moment in each
play, there had to go the effect of innumerable small impulses.
And to realize some situations is even beyond the scope of a
play's development. It is an acute remark of Mr. G.K.
Chesterton's, that many plays nowadays turn on problems of
marriage: which subject is one for slow years of adjustment,
patience, adaptation, endeavor; while the drama requires quick
decisions, bouleversements, etc., and would do wisely to
confine itself to fields in which such bouleversements can be
made credible. At any rate, motivation is desirable for the
dramatic confrontation, and time--the working-out--is an
essential condition of motivation. To make the dramatic
conflict ever sharper and deeper, until it either melts into
harmony, or ceases through the destruction of one element, is
the whole duty of the development, and makes it necessary.
That development is temporal, is, dramatically, only a device
for damming the flood that it may break at last with greater

This, too, is an answer to the objection that if confrontation
is the dramatic essential, bare opposition, because the clearest
confrontation, would be the greatest drama, and the "Suppliants"
of Euripedes be indeed an example of it. Bare opposition is
never real confrontation in our sense, for that must be an
arrest, a mutual antagonism of all impulses of soul and sense.
It must possess the whole man. It needs to take in "all
thoughts, all passions, all delights," to be complete, and the
measure of its completeness is the measure of its aesthetic

In the same way, the demand for profound truth and significance
in the drama is clearly to be reached from the purely dramatic
need. Inner "possession," the condition for our dramatic
tension, depends not alone on the cumulation of suggestions--
suggestion in its, so to speak, quantitative aspect. The
attitude of a character must be necessary in itself: that is,
it must be true to the great and general laws of life. If it
is fundamentally false, even with the longest and completest
preparation, it rings hollow. We cannot completely enter
into it. Thus we see that the one central requirement, the
dramatic germ, leads to the most far-reaching demands for
logic, sanity, and morality in the ideas of a play.

This should not be interpreted as exhausting the aesthetic
value of logic and morality in the drama. The drama is a
species of literature: and these qualities, apart from the
fact that they are necessary to the full dramatic moment,
have also an aesthetic effect proper to themselves. Thus
the development ha the beauty which lies in a necessary
progress; but this beauty is common to the epic, the novel,
and the symphony, while the unity given by the confrontation
and tension of simultaneous forces belongs to the drama alone.
It is therefore development as serving the dramatic end that
I have deduced.

Yet we may well recall here the other aspect of the experience.
Analogous to the pleasure in rhythm and in music, in which the
awaited beat or tone slips, as it were, into a place already
prepared for it, with the satisfaction of harmonious nervous
adjustment, is the pleasure in an inevitable and irrevocable
progress. For it is not felt as inevitable unless the whole
crystallization of the situation makes such, and only such,
an action or thought necessary at a certain point in the
structure, makes it to a certain extent anticipated, and so
recognized with acclaim on its appearance. We will an event
in anticipating and accepting it; and we realize it as it
comes. Nothing more is to be found in the psychological
analysis of the will itself--theoretically, the two states
are nearly identical. Thus this continual anticipation and
"coming true" takes on the feeling-tone of all volition; and
so in music, as I have shown at length, and in drama, and to
a degree in all forms of literature, we have the illusion of
the triumphant will. This is the secret of that creative joy
felt by the spectator at a drama, which has been so often
noted. It is this illusion of the triumphant will, too, which
enters largely into our acceptance of the tragic end. Much
has been said, in the "dispute over tragedy," of the so-called
"Resignation" of the tragic hero, and of the audience in relation
to his fate. But I believe that these writers are wrong in
connecting this resignation primarily with a moral attitude.
What is foreseen as perfectly inevitable, is sufficiently
"accepted" in the psychological sense--that is, vividly imagined
and awaited,--to contribute to this illusion of volition. Hence
arise, for the catastrophe of drama, that exaltation and stern
joy which are indissolubly connected with the experience of
will in real life.


We have spoken of the dramatic, and have desired to show that
its peculiar aesthetic experience arises out of the tension or
balance of emotion in the confrontation of opposing forces. If
this is a fruitful theory, it should throw light on the
distinction between the different forms of the drama, and on
the principal issues of that "Dispute over Tragedy" which is
always with us.

The possible results of a meeting of two forces are these.
Both forces, or one force, may be destroyed; or, short of
destruction, the two may melt into harmony, or one may give
way before the other. I think it may be said that these
alternatives represent the distinctions of Tragedy and Comedy.
When two aims are absolutely irreconcilable, and when the forces
tending to them are important,--that is, powerful,--there must
be somewhere destruction, and we have tragedy. When they are
reconcilable, if they are important, we have serious comedy;
when not important, or not envisaged as important, we have
light comedy. Thus Tragedy and Comedy are closely related,--
more closely than we are prone to think. In the words of the
late Professor Everett, in "Poetry, Comedy, and Duty:" "The
tragic is, like the comic, simply the incongruous. The great
Tragedy of Nature, which is called the Struggle for Existence,
results simply from a greater or less incongruousness between
any form of life and its surroundings....The comic is found
in an incongruous relation considered merely as to its FORM,
while the tragic is found in an incongruous relation taken as
to its reality." For this word incongruity I would substitute
collision or conflict. When there is no way out, we have
Tragedy; when there is a way out, we have Comedy. And when
things are taken superficially enough, there always is a way
out, for we can at least always agree to disagree. In any case,
the end of the conflict is a period, repose, unity. This seems
to be borne out by immediate introspection. The feelings with
which we come from a great tragedy or a great comedy are indeed
almost identical. The excitement, tension, sunk into repose,
are common to both; the satisfaction with a good ending is
strangely paralleled by our resignation to a bad one,--
significant of our real indifference to the fact, so long as
the Aesthetic Unity is reached.

In George Meredith's wonderful little essay on the Comic Spirit,
this view is rather remarkably confirmed. He has defined
Comedy as the contrast of the middle way, the way of common
sense, with our human vagaries, "Comme un point fixe fait
remarquer l'emportement des autres." Comedy, he says, teaches
the world to understand what ails it...."Comedy is the fountain
of sound sense," and again, "the use of the true comedy is to
awaken thoughtful laughter." "Men's future upon earth does
not attract it; their honesty and shapeliness in the present
does; and whenever they wax out of proportion, overblown,
affected, pretentious, bombastical, hypocritical, pedantic,
fantastically delicate; whenever it sees them self-deceived or
hoodwinked, given to run riot in idolatries, drifting into
vanities, congregating in absurdities, planning shortsightedly,
plotting dementedly; whenever they are at variance with their
professions, and violate the unwritten but perceptible laws
binding them in consideration one to another; whenever they
offend sound reason, fair justice; are false in humility or
moved with conceit, individually or in the bulk--the Spirit
overhead will look humorously malign and cast an oblique light
on them, followed by volleys of silvery laughter. That is
the Comic Spirit." The Comic Spirit is the just common sense,
the subconscious wisdom of the ages. There IS a golden mean,
the Comic Spirit shows it to us in the light of our flashing
laughter at the deviation therefrom. And because there is,
even the unreconciled--reconcilable--difference or conflict
is not serious. That is why true Comedy seems to find its
best field in a developed social life. The incongruities of
human nature hurt is they are pressed too deep, because they
are irreconcilable; they too quickly edge the tragic gulf.
But the incongruities of the conventional life do not hurt
when pressed. To change our metaphor, adjustment to the
middle way is here so easily credible and possible, that it
is the very hunting-ground for the Comic Spirit.

The reputed masterpiece of Moliere shows us Alceste and Celimene
in the end still at odds. But light-heartedness and sincerity
are not to common sense incompatible, and thus we are rightly
led up to the impasse by paths of laughter. Wherever the
middle way is divined, there is the possible entrance of the
Spirit of Comedy. It is certainly a detriment to the purely
Tragic effect of Pinero's greatest play, that the middle way,
the possibility of reconciliation, is shadowed forth in the
last word,--the cry of the stepdaughter of the Second Mrs.
Tanqueray, "If I had only been more merciful!" Dumas fils
would never have allowed that. He would have written his play
around that thought, and made it indeed a reconciling drama--
or he would have suppressed the cry. The end of Romeo and
Juliet--date I confess it?--has always hovered for me close
to that border which is not sublime. For the hapless lovers
missed all for want of a little common sense. There was naught
inevitable in their plight. I see the Comic Spirit leaning
across to stay the hand of the impetuous Romeo. Why not take
a moment's sober thought? she murmurs.

Tragedy ensues when there is no way out. It is not that ruin
or death for those in whom these forces are embodied is of the
essence of the situation; only that in the complete destruction
of a force or purpose when it has been embodied in a strong
desperate character, the death of that character is usually
involved. There is no solution but to cut the knot. The
tragic has been defined as "that quality of experience whereby,
in and through some serious collision, followed by fatal
catastrophe or inner ruin, something valuable in personality
becomes manifest, either as sublime or admirable in the hero,
or as triumph of an idea." But "Lear," "Macbeth," "Hamlet,"
"Oedipus King," "Othello," exist to contravene this view. No,
the tragic (in its first sense, in the sense derived from the
dramatic form from which it is named) is in the collision
itself; it is the profound and, to our vision, the irreconcilable
antagonism of different elements in life. And in life we
accept it because we must; we transcend it because, as moral
beings, we may. The sublime in actual tragic experience is the
reaction of the unconquerable Soul. In tragic literature
another appears. We are helped in transcending the essential
contradictions of life presented to us, because the conditions
of literature in "preparing" an event create for us the illusion
of volition, the acceptance of fate. And in the tragic drama,
to all these elements of the complex experience, there is added
the exaltation of the aesthetic "arrest," the tension of

The question of the "highest" or "most tragic" form of tragedy
seems to have been settled by general agreement. It has been
held that the tragic of the justified opposing force is the
more full of meaning and importance, for the reason that more
interesting and complex feelings are called into play on each
side than in the case of the unjustified opposing force. But
the definition of the tragic drama we have won seems further
to illuminate our undoubted preference for this type. We
demand aesthetically all that will make the confrontation,
the dramatic tension, more clearly felt; and we cannot realize
fully a side which should be unjustified. In such a play as
Maeterlinck's "Aglavaine and Selysette" there is no movement,
and even the conflict is subterranean; yet, as all the
characters are in their way noble, and in their way justified,
we find it among the most poignant of his plays. Nay, more,
in any situation the more nearly the conflict is shown to be
absolutely inevitable, arising out of the very nature of life
as we know it,--completely justified, or at least FELT as
inevitable on both sides,--the more are we shaken by the
distinctive tragic emotion. The conflict of duties to one's
self and to the world is the sharpest of tragedies. Luther,
as Freytag well shows, is a really tragic figure from the
moment when we conceive of the inner connection of his
intolerance with all that is good and great in his nature.
As the expression of such a conflict of impulses good in
themselves, "Magda" is a great tragedy than the "Joy of
Living;" "Ghosts" than "Hedda Gabler;" the story of "Francesca
Da Rimini" (I do not mean D'Annunzio's play) than "La Citta

What, then, shall be said of the so-called tragic "Guilt," in
which the hero rushes on impiously to his doom? It is clear
that this question is closely related to the much-debated
"Greatness" of the tragic hero. If there is guilt, there must
be also greatness, to impress that side of the canvas on our
vision. It is, indeed, almost a quantitative problem.
Strength, energy, depth of passion, breadth of vision, power
and place, ravish our attention and our unconscious imitation.
What is lacking in extensity of associative reproduction must
be added in intensity. And, in fact, we find that it is the
giants who bear the tragic "Schuld." Hamlet is not guilty;
rather "one like ourselves," in Aristotle's phrase, and
therefore he need not be great. I agree with Volkelt's view
that even the traditional tremendous will of the tragic hero
may be dispensed with. No doubt it is most often strength
of will which brings out the original conflict. But that
conflict once given, as it is given, for example, in "Hamlet,"
the main point is to increase the weight of each side, which
can indeed be done by other elements of greatness. On the
other hand, I disagree with Volkelt's reason for thus
exempting will, which is, that the contrast feeling of "how
great a fall was there" may be given by other qualities in
the hero than that of will. As I have urged, it is not the
catastrophe which is of the tragic essence, and therefore
not for the sake of the catastrophe that we should marshal
our elements. The climax of tragedy and of our feeling is
in the deadlock of forces, and whatever is not absolutely
essential thereto may be done without.


The phenomenon of our aesthetic reaction on the so-called
painful experiences of the drama has then been discussed at
length and accounted for. There is an undoubted emotional
experience of great intensity; and yet that emotion turns
out to be not the emotion IN the drama, but rather the
emotion FROM the drama,--a unique independent emotion of
tension, otherwise a form of the characteristic aesthetic
emotion with which we have been before engaged. The playwright
who scornfully rejects the spectator supposed to be aesthetic,
ideally contemplative and emotionally indifferent, is
vindicated. There must be a vivid emotional effect, but it
is the spectator's very own, and not a copy of the hero's
emotion, because it is the product of the essential form of
the drama itself, the confrontation of forces.

Secondly, that confrontation of forces has revealed itself
as indeed essential. This is not the time-honored view of
tragedy as collision, which has been arrived at simply by
observing that great tragic dramas are mostly collisions,
making the drama a picture thereof, but not explaining why
it must be such. I have tried, on the contrary, to show that confrontation is a necessary product of the bare form of
dramatic representation,--two people face to face. But if
this bare form or scheme of confrontation is understood and
interpreted as profoundly as possible, then all the other characteristics of the tragic drama are seen to flow from it;
and thus for the first time to be really explained by being
accounted for. The tragic drama not only is, but must be,
collision, because confrontation, understood as richly as
possible, must be collision. It must be "inevitable," and
it must have movement, because only so is the confrontation

In brief, others have said that the drama, or tragedy, is
conflict, the perfect opposition of two forces. We should
rather say that the drama is first of all picture, living
representation of colloquy; as such, it is balance,
confrontation; and confrontation to its ideal degree of
intensity is conflict. No drama can dispense with picture;
and so no drama is free from the obligation to add unto itself
these other qualities also. The acting play is the play of




THE Idea of Beauty has been greatly widened since the age of
Plato. Then, it was only in order, proportion, unity in
variety, that beauty was admitted to consist; to-day we hold
that the moderns have caught a profounder beauty, the beauty
of meanings, and we make it matter for rejoicing that nothing
is too small, too strange, or too ugly to enter, through its
power of suggestion, the realm of the aesthetically valuable;
and that the definition of beauty should have been extended
to include, under the name of Romantic, Symbolic, Expressive,
or Ideal Beauty, all of the elements of aesthetic experience,
all that emotionally stirs us in representation. But while
this view is a natural development, it is not of necessity
unassailable; and it is open to question whether the addition
of an independent element of expression to the older definition
of beauty can be justified by its consequences for art.

Such an inquiry, however, cannot stop with the relation of the
deeper meanings of modern art to the conception of beauty. It
must go further and find out what elements, the sensuous form
or the ideas that are bound up with it, in a work of art, of
the classical as well as of the idealistic type, really
constitute its aesthetic value. What is it that makes the
beauty of the "Venus of Milo"? Is it the pose and the modeling,
or the idea of the eternal feminine that it expresses to us?
What is it that makes the beauty of St. Mark's or of Giotto's
tower? the relation of the lines and masses or the sacred
significance of the edifices they go to form? What is it that
makes the beauty of the Ninth Symphony? the perfection of the
melodic sequence, or the Hymn of Joy, the message from the
Infinite which they are meant to utter?

The antithesis between these two points of view is, of course,
not the same as that other antithesis between "art for art's
sake" and art in the light of its moral meanings and effects.
What we now call romantic or expressive art can certainly be
made the more fruitful in moral suggestions; but this fact
bears not at all on the question of what belongs fundamentally
to the nature of beauty. We know, moreover, that on this
matter the camps of the formalists and the romanticists are
divided. The Greeks, the lovers of formal beauty, were so
alive to the moral effects of art that their theories were in
danger of being quite overwhelmed by this view. On the other
hand, the lovers of ideas in art, the natural enemies, as one
would have thought, of art for art's sake, have been most often
impatient of any consideration of its moral elements or effects.
This second question, then, of art as pleasure or as moral
influence can be once for all excluded from the discussion. So
far as yet appears, the issue is between form and expression.

There is, perhaps, some point of common agreement from which
to survey and distinguish more exactly these two diverging
tendencies. Such a coign of vantage is offered by the nature
of the aesthetic attitude,--for since Kant there has been among
aestheticians no essential difference of opinion on this point.
The aesthetic attitude, all agree, is disinterested. We care
for the image or appearance of the object, for the way its
form affects us, and not for the actual existence of the object
itself. If I delight aesthetically in a cluster of grapes, I
do not want to eat them, but only to enjoy their image, and my
feeling of pleasure, as aesthetic, would not be changed if
before me were only a mirage, an hallucination, or a picture.
It is just the pleasure in perception that appeals to me,--
therein both schools agree,--and the only matter at issue is
the question of what this disinterested pleasure of perception
includes. Is that pleasure bound up with the mechanisms of
perception itself, or does it come from the end of the process
and the ease with which it is reached,--from the IDEA, in the
contemplation of which we delight?

One school asserts that the real pleasure in perception comes
only from form. The given object is beautiful, through its
original qualities of line, color, or sound, which strike the
special senses in a way that is pleasing to them; and through
its combinations of these qualities, which affect the whole
human organism in a directly pleasurable way. What is outside
of the given object of art--is meant, suggested, or recalled
by it--belongs, it is said, to absolutely unaesthetic processes,
as is shown by the fact that many things, which we are the first
to acknowledge as ugly, are the exciting cause of great thoughts
and delightful associations. The opposed school maintains that
the meanings of a work of art are all that it exists for. The
presentation of an idea, by whatever sensuous means, so only
that they be transparent, and the joy of the soul in contemplating
this idea, must be the object and the end of art. The later
idealists admit value to the form only in so far a it may
express, convey, symbolize, or suggest the content, whether as
pure idea, or as a shadowing forth of the Divine World-Meaning.

These theories are certainly intelligible; but the results of
applying them with logical consistency are rather terrifying.
Andrew Lang says somewhere that the logical consequence of the
formal theory of art in all its nakedness would make Tennyson
the youth, Swinburne, and Edgar Poe the greatest poets of the
world, and those delicious effusions of Edward Lear, "The
Jumblies" and "On the Coast of Coromandel," masterpieces. Yet
if we allow the idealists to pass sentence, what shall become
of our treasures in "Kubla Khan," or "Ueber allen Gipfeln," or
"La Nuit de Decembre"? The results of such a judgment day
would be even more appalling to the true lover of poetry.
Moreover, if the idea, the end of art, need not reside in the
object itself, but may arise therefrom by subtle suggestion,
the complications of poetry or painting are unnecessary. A
geometric figure may remind us of the constitution of the
world of space, a sundial, of the transitoriness of human
existence, and with a "chorus-ending from Euripedes," the whole
sweep of the cosmic meanings is upon us. In the words of Fra
Lippo Lippi:--

"Why, for this,
What need of art at all? A skull and bones,
Two bits of stick nailed crosswise, or what's best,
A bell to chime the hours with, does as well."


In spite of this, however, a place for ideas must clearly be
found in our definition of beauty; and yet it must be so
limited and bound to the beautiful form that corollaries such
as we have just drawn will be impossible. An interesting
attempt to reconcile these two points of view--to establish
an organic relation between form and idea--is found in "The
Sense of Beauty" by Professor George Santayana. The central
point of this writer's theory is his definition of beauty as
the objectification of pleasure. Aesthetic experience, he
says, is based partly on form, partly on expression, but the
pleasure felt is always projected into the object, and is
felt as a quality of it. All kinds of external associations
may connect themselves with the work of art, but so long as
they remain external, and keep, so to speak, their values
for themselves, they cannot be said to add beauty to the
object. But when they are present only in their effect,--
a diffused feeling of pleasure,--that diffused feeling is
attributed directly to the object, is felt as if it inheres
therein, and so the object becomes more beautiful, for beauty
is objectified pleasure. Professor Santayana designates form
as beauty in the first term, and expression as beauty in the
second term. Beauty in the first term can exist alone,--not
so beauty in the second term. It must have a little beauty
of the first term to graft itself upon. "A map, for instance,
is not usually thought of as an aesthetic object, and yet,
let the tints of it be a little subtle, let the lines be a
little delicate, and the masses of land and sea somewhat
balanced, and we really have a beautiful thing, the charm of
which consists almost entirely in its meaning.

Now here, it seems to me, is a weak point in Professor
Santanaya's armor. If such wonderful elements of beauty can
be projected into a fairly colorless object by virtue of its
fringe of suggestiveness, why should not beauty of the second
term be felt in objects without that little bit of intrinsic
worth of form? Is not such indeed the fact? What else is
the meaning of the story of "Beauty and the Beast"? The squat
and hideous Indian idol, the scarabaeus, the bit of Aztec
pottery, become attractive and desired for themselves by virtue
of their halo of pleasure from dim associations. And all these
values are felt as completely OBJECTIFIED, and so fulfill the
requirements for "beauty in the second term." That small
amount of intrinsic beauty on which to graft the beauty of the
second term is, therefore, not a necessary condition, so that
we are left, on Professor Santayana's theory, with the strange
paradox of so-called beautiful objects which are, nevertheless,
confessedly ugly.

What, then, is the flaw in this definition? While we concede
the objectification of pleasure in all these cases, we cannot,
it would seem, admit a corresponding change from non-aesthetic
to aesthetic feelings. The personal attitude towards an object,
based on sentiments objectified in it, and the aesthetic
attitude are two different things. The truth is, that all this
objectified tone-feeling is directly dependent on the original
real existence of the object that calls it up, and on our
practical personal relation to it, and is thus, by universal
agreement, definitely non-aesthetic. I enjoy the cast of the
great Venus very nearly as much as the original,--but who cares
for casts of the Aztec gods, or of the prehistoric carvings of
the reindeer period? Who wants an imitation scarabaeus? To
have the real thing, to see it, to touch it, to know that it
has had real experiences that would fill me with wonder and with
awe, "to love it for the danger it has passed,"--to feel that
I myself am through it actually linked with its mysterious
history,--that is the value it has for me; not a pleasure of
perception at all, but a very definite, practical interest in
my own personality. If the pleasure lay only in disinterested
perception, any representation of the object ought to have the
same value.

What, then, the author of "The Sense of Beauty" calls "the
beauty of the second term,"--the power to suggest feeling
through the medium of associated ideas,--we may deny to impart
any aesthetic character whatever. Professor Santayana has,
indeed, mediated between the formalists and the idealists;
but his theory would lead us to attributions of beauty from
which common sense revolts; and we have seen the secret of its
deficiency to lie in the confusion of the personal with the
aesthetic attitude. If now we amend his definition, "Beauty
is objectified pleasure," to "Beauty is objectified aesthetic
pleasure," we are advanced no further.


The problem stands, then: how to provide for the presence of
ideas in the work of art, and the definite emotions aroused by
it, either by bringing them somehow into the definition of beauty
in itself, or by showing how their presence is related to the
full aesthetic experience. But, first of all, we have to ask
how the aesthetic pleasure even in formal beauty is constituted,
and to what extent expression belongs to the beauty of pure
form. Form is impressive, or directly beautiful, through its
harmony with the conditions offered by our senses, primarily of
sight and hearing, and through the harmony of its combinations
of suggestions and impulses with the entire organism. I enjoy
a well-composed picture like Titian's "Sacred and Profane Love,"
because the good composition means such a balanced relation of
impulses of attention, of incipient movements, as harmonizes
with such an organism as mine, tending to move toward both
sides, and yet unified and stable; and because the combination
of colors is at once stimulating and soothing to my eyes. So
much for IMPRESSION, beauty of the first term. But it is not
only that harmonious state of my visual and motor functions
that I get out of the form of a picture. No, I have, besides
all this pleasure, a real exhilaration or emotion, a definite
mood of repose or gayety or triumph, without any fringe of
association, which yet certainly contributes to my feeling of
the beauty of the experience, and so of the work of art. How
did it come out of the form?

Well, this very harmonious excitation of the organism has
brought with it just such an organic reverberation as, the
current theory of emotion asserts, must be at the bottom of
all our emotional states. A certain sequence of nervous shocks
and of vasomotor changes, certain stimulations and relations
and contractions of the internal organs have been set up as the
"diffusive wave" from the sense-stimulations, and a particular
emotional tinge is the result. That is a direct impression,
but an expression too. Take the same case on a much lower
level. A glass of wine makes me cheerful, not because it
arouses cheerful ideas directly, but because the organic changes
it sets up are such as belong to the MOTIVATED expression of
joy, and have the same effect. A deep, slow movement played by
an orchestra can affect me in two ways. It may be that I have
usually connected that sort of music with religious experiences,
and all the profound and inspiring feelings belonging thereto;
and so I transfer those feelings to the music and give it those
adjectives. Or the slowness of the rhythmic pulse that is set
up in me, the largeness, the volume, the depth of sound, all
bring about in me the kind of nervous state that belongs to a
reposeful and yet deeply moved feeling. The second experience
is expression through impression, through the inward changes
that the form itself sets up. The first is expression through
the medium of something external,--an idea which brings with it
a feeling,--something that does not belong to the music itself,
but to my own individual experiences.

This distinction between internal and external expressiveness
is perfectly clear for music, and also for architecture. In
painting, too, it can easily be traced. We know the effect
that is produced by broken lines, by upward moving ones,--like
the "always aspiring" of the Gothic cathedral. The low-lying,
wide expanses of some of the old Dutch landscapists give us
repose, not because they remind us of the peaceful happiness
of the land, but because we cannot melt ourselves into all
those horizontal lines without that restful feeling which
accompanies such relaxation; and our emotion is read into the
picture as AESTHETIC pleasure, because it came out of the
abstract forms,--the PAINTING in the picture.

The beauty of form is thus seen to be inseparably allied with
a certain degree of emotional expressiveness in a way that
does not distract, like the association of ideas, from the
pure aesthetic experience. This quality of expressiveness
should not, however, become a part of the definition of beauty,
so that it should be said that the greater the emotional
expressiveness, the more beautiful the object. For if that
were true, such music, for instance, as all acknowledge quite
mediocre, would be felt as most beautiful by those who find in
it a strong and definite emotion; and a Strauss waltz, which
makes us more merry than one by Mendelssohn, should be in so
far more beautiful. This, of course, we are not ready to
concede; and it seems, therefore, most logical to regard the
special emotional effects of formal beauty rather as a corollary
to, than as a part of, the essential aesthetic mood. But if we
give the name emotion to that perfectly vague but unmistakable
excitement with which we respond to purely formal beauty,--that
indescribable exaltation with which we listen to "absolute"
music,--then we must say that that emotion is but another name
for aesthetic pleasure. Objectively, we have formal beauty;
subjectively, on the physiological side, a harmonious action
of the organism, and on the mental side the undefined exaltation
which is known as aesthetic pleasure.


Up to this point, however, we have considered only the relation
between purely formal beauty and the various shades of emotional
response to it; now we may turn to the original question which
we set ourselves, how to provide, in our definition of beauty,
for the presence of ideas in the work of art. No one will deny
that the full aesthetic experience cannot be dismissed with the
treatment of formal beauty; and, although Professor Santayana's
"beauty in the second term" may be rejected as a pure individual,
arbitrary, interested, and hence unaesthetic element, the
explicit content of a work of art cannot be ignored. The
suggested ideas aroused by an old rose garden may be no addition
to its beauty, but the same cannot be said of the great ideas
contained directly in Shakespeare's poetry. Yet great ideas
alone do not make great art, else we must count Aristotle and
Spinoza and Kant great poets too. Must we then be satisfied to
rest in the dualism of those who maintain that great creations
of art are the expression of great truths under the laws of
poetic form? Is the aesthetic expression indeed the recognition
of truth plus the feeling of beauty of form, or is it a fusion
of these into a third undivided pulse of aesthetic emotion? Is
there no way of overcoming, for those arts which do express
ideas, this dualism of form and content in our theory of the

Let us analyze a little more closely this notion of the content.
Music and architecture cannot properly be said to have any
content, although they have a meaning according to their uses,
like a funeral dirge and a hymn of joy, a prison and a temple.
But this meaning is extraneous. It is given by the work itself
only in so far as the form induces the emotion which belongs to
the idea,--as the dirge, sadness; the temple, awe. The idea of
burial or of worship is nowhere to be found in the work of art.
In the hierarchy of arts, paining and sculpture show the first
trace of a content. This content, however, is at once seen to
be susceptible of farther analysis. The "Sistine Madonna"
pictures a mother and child worshiped, which may be called the
subject,--but this does not exhaust the content. The real
meaning of the picture, to which may be given the name of THEME,
is the divine element in maternal love. The subjects of
Donatello's "John the Baptist" and "Saint George," of Michael
Angelo's "David" and "Moses," can be described only as men of
Different types in different attitudes; their themes, however,
are moral ideas, expressing the moral significance of each
personality. The subject of "The Angelus" is given in its
name; its theme is humble piety. From the infinite number of
possible examples one more will suffice,--the well-known "War"
by Franz Stuck, in the Neue Pinacothek,--the subject a youth,
under a lurid sky, trampling under his horse's feet the bodies
of the slain. The theme is again a moral idea,--the horrors of

If we now ask whether we can attribute beauty to the ideas of
painting and sculpture, a negative answer is at once suggested.
It is manifestly impossible to establish an order of aesthetic
excellence between these subjects. The idea of peasants telling
their beads is more beautiful than the idea of a ruthless
destroyer only in so far as it is morally higher; and this
distinction, therefore, has reference to the theme and not to
the subject. How far, however, moral and aesthetic excellence
are coincident is a question for which we are not yet ready.
At this point we care only to point out that the mere idea of
a picture is neither aesthetic nor the reverse.

But, it may be objected, is not our first thought in stopping
before a picture like the "War," "What a wonderful idea"? It
is the idea and not the form which strikes us, it may be said,
even though we may be quite unimpressed by the value of its
moral significance. Nevertheless, this view of our own mental
processes may be held to the illusory. What really strikes us
is the UNITY of the conception. The lurid sky, the dark, livid
faces of the dead--the whole color scheme, in short, is so
contrived as to impress directly, as previously explained,
without the medium of an idea, with that particular tinge of
emotional tone which ought to be also the accompaniment of the
idea of the horrors of war. The emotion is thus the enveloping
unity which binds the subject and theme and the pictorial form
together. In this sense, when we say, "What a wonderful idea!"
we really mean, what a wonderful fitness of form to idea,--
which is the same as saying, what a wonderful form, or more
technically, what a wonderful unity. That part of the effect
of beauty in a picture which is due to the idea is thus the
fundamental but merely abstract element of unity, contributing
to the complex aesthetic state only the simplest condition.

The case of literature presents an entirely new problem, for
the material of literature is itself, first of all, idea.
Literature deals with words, and words exist only by virtue of
their meanings. Even the sound of words is of importance
primarily for the additional meanings which it suggests, as the
word liquid first means a fluid substance, and then by its
sound suggests ease and smoothness, and only last of all is
noted as melodious. Thus since meanings, ideas, are the
material of literature, we can speak of the beauty of ideas
in literature only by an artificial sundering of elements that
are properly in fusion. Yet as we may speak of a motive or
musical idea and its working out, although strictly the idea
involves its own working out, so we may conceive of the central
thought of a literary work, and of its development. But the
relation here is not of content and form, like the content and
form of a picture; rather that of concentrated and diluted
form. So, too, as in music, we may distinguish form and
structure. Structure is offered to the intellect--it clears
and vivifies understanding; it is not felt, it is perceived.
Anything which is made up of parts--beginning, middle, and end,
climax and resolution--possesses structure. But form in the
intimate sense is the intrinsic, inevitable relation of cause
and effect; in this sense, it is seen to be truly content also.
In literature, as to structure, it is the relation of parts:
as to form, it is the succession of events, the movement,
combination and resolution of separate ideas and emotions,
which give us aesthetic pleasure or the reverse. As action
must follow excitement, or despair satiety, so the relation
of parts, the order of presentation, must be adapted to mutual
reinforcement. Thus the porter's scene in "Macbeth" is related
to the neighboring scenes, as De Quincey has shown in his famous
essay. And just as in music the feeling of "rightness" ensues
when the awaited note slips into place, so the feeling of
"rightness" comes when the inevitable consequences follow the
premise of a plot.

The particular separate ideas of such a development partake of
beauty, then, in so far as they minister to the movement of the
whole, just as the separate lines in a swaying, swirling robe
of one of Botticelli's women minister to the whole conception.
The catastrophe, in other words, must be as inevitably related
to the sequence of ideas as the final chords of a symphony to
the sequence of notes. The attitude of mind with which we
welcome it is the same, whether on the plane of the responses
of the psychological organism or of the ideal understanding.


But before finally relegating the idea to its place in the
aesthetic scheme, we must ask whether the specific emotional
content can claim independent aesthetic value; for we can
scarcely ignore the fact that almost all naive response to
literature, and indeed to all forms of art, is, or is believed
to be, specifically emotional. Maupassant, in his introduction
to "Pierre et Jean," distinguishes thus between the demand of
the critic--"Make me something fine according to your temperament,"
--and the cry of the public--"Move me, terrify me, make we weep!"
And yet to the assertion of common sense that the desire of the
naive enjoyer of art is definite emotional excitement, we may
venture to oppose a negative. The average person who weeps at
the theatre, or over a novel, would no doubt repudiate the
suggestion that it is not primarily the emotion of terror, or
pity, that he feels. But a closer interpretation shows that
it is almost impossible to disengage, in such an experience, the
particular emotions. What is felt is rather pleasurable excitement,
pleasure raised to the pitch of exaltation, with a fringe of
emotional association. The notion of specific emotions is
illusory in the same sense that our notion of pleasure from
specific emotions in listening to music is illusory. The ordinary
descriptions of music are all couched in emotional or even
ideational terms,--from the musical adventures of "Charles
Auchester" down,--and yet we know, as Gurney says, that when, in
listening to music, we think we are yearning after the unutterable,
we are really yearning after the next note; and when we think it
is the yearning that gives us pleasure, it is really the triumphant
acceptance of the melodic rightness of that next note. So the
much-discussed Katharsis, or emotion of Tragedy, is not the
experience of emotions and pleasure in that experience, but
rather pleasure in the experience of ideas, tinged with emotion,
which belong to each other with precisely that musical rightness.
Katharsis is indeed not the mark of Tragedy alone, although in
Tragedy it has a very great relative intensity; it is ultimately
only a designation for the specific aesthetic pleasure, to which
I can give no better name than the oft-repeated one of triumphant
acquiescence in the rightness of relations. We think we feel a
situation directly, but what we really feel is pleasure in the
rightness of the manner of the event, and in the moment of perfect
experience it gives us. Such specific emotion as may be detected
in any aesthetic experience is, then, covered by the definition
of beauty only in so far as it has become form rather than content,
--is valuable only in its relations rather than in itself. The
experience of pity or fear, even though generalized, unselfish,
etc.,--after the various formulas of the expounders of dramatic
emotion,--does not impart aesthetic character of itself; it
becomes aesthetic only if it appears at such a point in the
tragedy, linked in such a way to the developing plot, that it
belongs to the unified and reciprocally harmonious circle of


But we have up to this time consistently neglected the central
idea of the work of art, and its claim to be included in the
aesthetic formula. We have defined beauty as that which brings
about a state of harmonious completeness, of repose in activity,
in the psychophysical and psychological realms. This harmonious
repose can exist only with a disinterested attitude toward the
objects which have brought this state about. Whether the Melian
Venus or "Hamlet" or "Lohengrin" live, we care not; only that
if they live, it shall be SO. In this sense, our attitude is
interested, our will is active, but only toward the existence
of the form. But with the introduction of the central theme, we
cease to be disinterested,--our hypothetical is changed to an
affirmative. The moral idea we must accept or reject, for it
bears a direct relation to our personality. We will, or do not
will, that, in the real world in which we ourselves have to live
and struggle, certain forces shall be operative,--that there
shall be the beauty of health, as in the "Discobolus;" material
love which is divine, as in the "Sistine Madonna;" that war shall
be horrible; that sloth unstriven against shall triumph over
love, as in "The Statue and the Bust;" that defiance of the
social organism shall involve self-destruction, as in "Anna
Karenina." The person or the combination of events expressing
this idea we do not seek in our personal experience, but we do
demand for our own a world in which this idea rules. Thus it
must be admitted that there is, strictly speaking, at the core
of every aesthetic response to a work of art containing an idea,
a non-aesthetic element, an element of personal and interested

On the other hand, this affirmation or acceptance of a moral idea
implies the quietude of the will; just that state of harmony, of
repose, which we have found to be the mark of the aesthetic on
the lower planes of being. In so far, then, as we accept the
moral idea which a work of art presents, in so far that idea has
the power of bringing us to the state of harmony, and in so far
it is beautiful. And vice versa, works of art which leave us in
a state of moral rebellion are unbeautiful, not because they are
immoral, but because they are disturbing to the moral sense.
Literature which ignores the fundamental moral principle of the
freedom of the will, like the works of Flaubert, Maupassant, much
of Zola, Loti, and Thomas Hardy, fails of beauty, inasmuch as it
fails of the perfect reposeful harmony of human nature in its

Thus a thoroughgoing analysis of the nature of the aesthetic
experience in its simplest and most sensuous form has given us
a principle,--the principle of unity in harmonious functioning,--
which has enabled us to follow the track of beauty into the more
complex realms of ideas and of moral attitudes, and to discover
that there also the law of internal relation and of fitness for
imitative response holds for all embodiments of beauty. That
harmonious, imitative response, the psychophysical state known
on its feeling side as aesthetic pleasure, we have seen to be,
first, a kind of physiological equilibrium, a "coexistence of
opposing impulses which heightens the sense of being while it
prevents action," like the impulses to movement corresponding
to geometrical symmetry; secondly, a psychological equilibrium,
in which the flow of ideas and impulses is a circle rounding
upon itself, all associations, emotions, expectations indissolubly
linked with the central thought and leading back only to it, and
proceeding in an irrevocable order, which it yet adapted to the
possibilities of human experience; and thirdly, a quietude of
the will, in the acceptance of the given moral attitude for the
whole scheme of life. Thus is given, in the fusion of these
three orders of mental life, the perfect moment of unity and

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest