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Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic by Benedetto Croce

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Aesthetic; because there is nothing in common between the science of
spiritual expression and a _Semiotic_, whether it be medical,
meteorological, political, physiognomic, or chiromantic.

Expression in the naturalistic sense simply lacks expression in the
spiritual sense, that is to say, the characteristic itself of activity
and of spirituality, and therefore the bipartition into poles of beauty
and of ugliness. It is nothing more than a relation between cause and
effect, fixed by the abstract intellect. The complete process of
aesthetic production can be symbolized in four steps, which are: _a_,
impressions; _b_, expression or spiritual aesthetic synthesis; _c_,
hedonistic accompaniment, or pleasure of the beautiful (aesthetic
pleasure); _d_, translation of the aesthetic fact into physical
phenomena (sounds, tones, movements, combinations of lines and colours,
etc.). Anyone can see that the capital point, the only one that is
properly speaking aesthetic and truly real, is in that _b_, which is
lacking to the mere manifestation or naturalistic construction,
metaphorically also called expression.

The expressive process is exhausted when those four steps have been
taken. It begins again with new impressions, a new aesthetic synthesis,
and relative accompaniments.

[Sidenote] _Intuitions and memory._

Expressions or representations follow and expel one another. Certainly,
this passing away, this disassociation, is not perishing, it is not
total elimination: nothing of what is born dies with that complete death
which would be identical with never having been born. Though all things
pass away, yet none can die. The representations which we have
forgotten, also persist in some way in our spirit, for without them we
could not explain acquired habits and capacities. Thus, the strength of
life lies in this apparent forgetting: one forgets what has been
absorbed and what life has superseded.

But many other things, many other representations, are still efficacious
elements in the actual processes of our spirit; and it is incumbent on
us not to forget them, or to be capable of recalling them when necessity
demands them. The will is always vigilant in this work of preservation,
for it aims at preserving (so to say) the greater and more fundamental
part of all our riches. Certainly its vigilance is not always
sufficient. Memory, we know, leaves or betrays us in various ways. For
this very reason, the vigilant will excogitates expedients, which help
memory in its weakness, and are its _aids_.

[Sidenote] _The production of aids to memory._

We have already explained how these aids are possible. Expressions or
representations are, at the same time, practical facts, which are also
called physical facts, in so far as to the physical belongs the task of
classifying them and reducing them to types. Now it is clear, that if we
can succeed in making those facts in some way permanent, it will always
be possible (other conditions remaining equal) to reproduce in us, by
perceiving it, the already produced expression or intuition.

If that in which the practical concomitant acts, or (to use physical
terms) the movements have been isolated and made in some sort permanent,
be called the object or physical stimulus, and if it be designated by
the letter _e_; then the process of reproduction will take place in the
following order: _e_, the physical stimulus; _d-b_, perceptions of
physical facts (sounds, tones, mimic, combinations of lines and colours,
etc.), which form together the aesthetic synthesis, already produced;
_c_, the hedonistic accompaniment, which is also reproduced.

And what are those combinations of words which are called poetry, prose,
poems, novels, romances, tragedies or comedies, but _physical stimulants
of reproduction_ (the _e_ stage); what are those combinations of sound
which are called operas, symphonies, sonatas; and what those of lines
and of colours, which are called pictures, statues, architecture? The
spiritual energy of memory, with the assistance of those physical facts
above mentioned, makes possible the preservation and the reproduction of
the intuitions produced, often so laboriously, by ourselves and by
others. If the physiological organism, and with it memory, become
weakened; if the monuments of art be destroyed; then all the aesthetic
wealth, the fruit of the labours of many generations, becomes lessened
and rapidly disappears.

[Sidenote] _The physically beautiful._

Monuments of art, which are the stimulants of aesthetic reproduction,
are called _beautiful things or the physically beautiful_. This
combination of words constitutes a verbal paradox, because the beautiful
is not a physical fact; it does not belong to things, but to the
activity of man, to spiritual energy. But henceforth it is clear through
what wanderings and what abbreviations, physical things and facts, which
are simply aids to the reproduction of the beautiful, end by being
called, elliptically, beautiful things and physically beautiful. And now
that we have made the existence of this ellipse clear, we shall
ourselves make use of it without hesitation.

[Sidenote] _Content and form: another meaning._

The intervention of the physically beautiful serves to explain another
meaning of the words _content and form_, as employed by aestheticians.
Some call "content" the internal fact or expression (which is for us
already form), and they call "form" the marble, the colours, the rhythm,
the sounds (for us form no longer); thus they look upon the physical
fact as the form, which may or may not be joined to the content. This
serves to explain another aspect of what is called aesthetic ugliness.
He who has nothing definite to express may try to hide his internal
emptiness with a flood of words, with sounding verse, with deafening
polyphony, with painting that dazzles the eye, or by collocating great
architectonic masses, which arrest and disturb, although, at bottom,
they convey nothing. Ugliness, then, is the arbitrary, the
charlatanesque; and, in reality, if the practical will do not intervene
in the theoretic function, there may be absence of beauty, but never
effective presence of the ugly.

[Sidenote] _Natural and artificial beauty._

Physical beauty is wont to be divided into _natural_ and _artificial_
beauty. Thus we reach one of the facts, which has given great labour to
thinkers: _the beautiful in nature_. These words often designate simply
facts of practical pleasure. He alludes to nothing aesthetic who calls a
landscape beautiful where the eye rests upon verdure, where bodily
motion is easy, and where the warm sun-ray envelops and caresses the
limbs. But it is nevertheless indubitable, that on other occasions the
adjective "beautiful," applied to objects and scenes existing in nature,
has a completely aesthetic signification.

It has been observed, that in order to enjoy natural objects
aesthetically, we should withdraw them from their external and
historical reality, and separate their simple appearance or origin from
existence; that if we contemplate a landscape with our head between our
legs, in such a way as to remove ourselves from our wonted relations
with it, the landscape appears as an ideal spectacle; that nature is
beautiful only for him who contemplates her _with the eye of the
artist_; that zoologists and botanists do not recognize beautiful
animals and flowers; that natural beauty is _discovered_ (and examples
of discovery are the points of view, pointed out by men of taste and
imagination, and to which more or less aesthetic travellers and
excursionists afterwards have recourse in pilgrimage, whence a more or
less collective _suggestion_); that, _without the aid of the
imagination_, no part of nature is beautiful, and that with such aid the
same natural object or fact is now expressive, according to the
disposition of the soul, now insignificant, now expressive of one
definite thing, now of another, sad or glad, sublime or ridiculous,
sweet or laughable; finally, that _natural beauty_, which an artist
would not _to some extent correct, does not exist_.

All these observations are most just, and confirm the fact that natural
beauty is simply a _stimulus_ to aesthetic reproduction, which
presupposes previous production. Without preceding aesthetic intuitions
of the imagination, nature cannot arouse any at all. As regards natural
beauty, man is like the mythical Narcissus at the fountain. They show
further that since this stimulus is accidental, it is, for the most
part, imperfect or equivocal. Leopardi said that natural beauty is
"rare, scattered, and fugitive." Every one refers the natural fact to
the expression which is in his mind. One artist is, as it were, carried
away by a laughing landscape, another by a rag-shop, another by the
pretty face of a young girl, another by the squalid countenance of an
old ruffian. Perhaps the first will say that the rag-shop and the ugly
face of the old ruffian are _disgusting_; the second, that the laughing
landscape and the face of the young girl are _insipid_. They may dispute
for ever; but they will never agree, save when they have supplied
themselves with a sufficient dose of aesthetic knowledge, which will
enable them to recognize that they are both right. _Artificial_ beauty,
created by man, is a much more ductile and efficacious aid to

[Sidenote] _Mixed beauty._

In addition to these two classes, aestheticians also sometimes talk in
their treatises of a _mixed_ beauty. Of what is it a mixture? Just of
natural and artificial. Whoso fixes and externalizes, operates with
natural materials, which he does not create, but combines and
transforms. In this sense, every artificial product is a mixture of
nature and artifice; and there would be no occasion to speak of a mixed
beauty, as of a special category. But it happens that, in certain cases,
combinations already given in nature can be used a great deal more than
in others; as, for instance, when we design a beautiful garden and
include in our design groups of trees or ponds which are already there.
On other occasions externalization is limited by the impossibility of
producing certain effects artificially. Thus we may mix the colouring
matters, but we cannot create a powerful voice or a personage and an
appearance appropriate to this or that personage of a drama. We must
therefore seek for them among things already existing, and make use of
them when we find them. When, therefore, we adopt a great number of
combinations already existing in nature, such as we should not be able
to produce artificially if they did not exist, the result is called
_mixed_ beauty.

[Sidenote] _Writings._

We must distinguish from artificial beauty those instruments of
reproduction called _writings_, such as alphabets, musical notes,
hieroglyphics, and all pseudo-languages, from the language of flowers
and flags, to the language of patches (so much the vogue in the society
of the eighteenth century). Writings are not physical facts which arouse
directly impressions answering to aesthetic expressions; they are simple
_indications_ of what must be done in order to produce such physical
facts. A series of graphic signs serves to remind us of the movements
which we must execute with our vocal apparatus in order to emit certain
definite sounds. If, through practice, we become able to hear the words
without opening our mouths and (what is much more difficult) to hear the
sounds by running the eye down the page of the music, all this does not
alter anything of the nature of the writings, which are altogether
different from direct physical beauty. No one calls the book which
contains the _Divine Comedy_, or the portfolio which contains _Don
Giovanni_, beautiful in the same sense as the block of marble which
contains Michael Angelo's _Moses_, or the piece of coloured wood which
contains the _Transfiguration_ are metaphorically called beautiful. Both
serve for the reproduction of the beautiful, but the former by a far
longer and far more indirect route than the latter.

[Sidenote] _The beautiful as free and not free._

Another division of the beautiful, which is still found in treatises, is
that into _free and not free_. By beauties that are not free, are
understood those objects which have to serve a double purpose,
extra-aesthetic and aesthetic (stimulants of intuitions); and since it
appears that the first purpose limits and impedes the second, the
beautiful object resulting therefrom has been considered as a beauty
that is not free.

Architectural works are especially cited; and precisely for this reason,
has architecture often been excluded from the number of the so-called
fine arts. A temple must be above all things adapted to the use of a
cult; a house must contain all the rooms requisite for commodity of
living, and they must be arranged with a view to this commodity; a
fortress must be a construction capable of resisting the attacks of
certain armies and the blows of certain instruments of war. It is
therefore held that the architect's field is limited: he may be able to
_embellish_ to some extent the temple, the house, the fortress; but his
hands are bound by the _object_ of these buildings, and he can only
manifest that part of his vision of beauty in their construction which
does not impair their extrinsic, but fundamental, objects.

Other examples are taken from what is called art applied to industry.
Plates, glasses, knives, guns, and combs can be made beautiful; but it
is held that their beauty must not so far exceed as to prevent our
eating from the plate, drinking from the glass, cutting with the knife,
firing off the gun, or combing one's hair with the comb. The same is
said of the art of printing: a book should be beautiful, but not to the
extent of its being difficult or impossible to read it.

[Sidenote] _Critique of the beautiful that is not free._

In respect to all this, we must observe, in the first place, that the
external purpose, precisely because it is such, does not of necessity
limit or trammel the other purpose of being a stimulus to aesthetic
reproduction. Nothing, therefore, can be more erroneous than the thesis
that architecture, for example, is by its nature not free and imperfect,
since it must also fulfil other practical objects. Beautiful
architectural works, however, themselves undertake to deny this by their
simple presence.

In the second place, not only are the two objects not necessarily in
opposition; but, we must add, the artist always has the means of
preventing this contradiction from taking place. In what way? By taking,
as the material of his intuition and aesthetic externalization,
precisely the _destination_ of the object, which serves a practical end.
He will not need to add anything to the object, in order to make it the
instrument of aesthetic intuitions: it will be so, if perfectly adapted
to its practical purpose. Rustic dwellings and palaces, churches and
barracks, swords and ploughs, are beautiful, not in so far as they are
embellished and adorned, but in so far as they express the purpose for
which they were made. A garment is only beautiful because it is quite
suitable to a given person in given conditions. The sword bound to the
side of the warrior Rinaldo by the amorous Armida was not beautiful: "so
adorned that it seemed a useless ornament, not the warlike instrument of
a warrior." It was beautiful, if you will, in the eyes and imagination
of the sorceress, who loved her lover in this effeminate way. The
aesthetic fact can always accompany the practical fact, because
expression is truth.

It cannot, however, be denied that aesthetic contemplation sometimes
hinders practical use. For instance, it is a quite common experience to
find certain new things so well adapted to their purpose, and yet so
beautiful, that people occasionally feel scruples in maltreating them by
using after contemplating them, which amounts to consuming them. It was
for this reason that King Frederick William of Prussia evinced
repugnance to ordering his magnificent grenadiers, so well suited for
war, to endure the strain of battle; but his less aesthetic son,
Frederick the Great, obtained from them excellent services.

[Sidenote] _The stimulants of production._

It might be objected to the explanation of the physically beautiful as a
simple adjunct for the reproduction of the internally beautiful, that is
to say, of expressions, that the artist creates his expressions by
painting or by sculpturing, by writing or by composing, and that
therefore the physically beautiful, instead of following, sometimes
precedes the aesthetically beautiful. This would be a somewhat
superficial mode of understanding the procedure of the artist, who never
makes a stroke with his brush without having previously seen it with his
imagination; and if he has not yet seen it, he will make the stroke, not
in order to externalize his expression (which does not yet exist), but
as though to have a rallying point for ulterior meditation and for
internal concentration. The physical point on which he leans is not the
physically beautiful, instrument of reproduction, but what may be called
a pedagogic means, similar to retiring into solitude, or to the many
other expedients, frequently very strange, adopted by artists and
philosophers, who vary in these according to their various
idiosyncrasies. The old aesthetician Baumgarten advised poets to ride on
horseback, as a means of inspiration, to drink wine in moderation, and
(provided they were chaste) to look at beautiful women.



It is necessary to mention a series of scientific mistakes which have
arisen from the failure to understand the purely external relation
between the aesthetic fact or artistic vision, and the physical fact or
instrument, which serves as an aid to reproduce it. We must here
indicate the proper criticism, which derives from what has already been

[Sidenote] _Critique of aesthetic associationism_

That form of associationism which identifies the aesthetic fact with the
_association of two_ images finds a place among these errors. By what
path has it been possible to arrive at such a mistake, against which our
aesthetic consciousness, which is a consciousness of perfect unity,
never of duality, rebels? Just because the physical and the aesthetic
facts have been considered separately, as two distinct images, which
enter the spirit, the one drawn forth from the other, the one first and
the other afterwards. A picture is divided into the image of the
_picture_ and the image of the _meaning_ of the picture; a poem, into
the image of the words and the image of the _meaning_ of the words. But
this dualism of images is non-existent: the physical fact does not enter
the spirit as an image, but causes the reproduction of the image (the
only image, which is the aesthetic fact), in so far as it blindly
stimulates the psychic organism and produces an impression answering to
the aesthetic expression already produced.

The efforts of the associationists (the usurpers of to-day in the field
of Aesthetic) to emerge from the difficulty, and to reaffirm in some way
the unity which has been destroyed by their principle of associationism,
are highly instructive. Some maintain that the image called back again
is unconscious; others, leaving unconsciousness alone, hold that, on the
contrary, it is vague, vaporous, confused, thus reducing the _force_ of
the aesthetic fact to the _weakness_ of bad memory. But the dilemma is
inexorable: either keep association and give up unity, or keep unity and
give up association. No third way out of the difficulty exists.

[Sidenote] _Critique of aesthetic physic._

From the failure to analyze so-called natural beauty thoroughly, and to
recognize that it is simply an incident of aesthetic reproduction, and
from having, on the contrary, looked upon it as given in nature, is
derived all that portion of treatises upon Aesthetic which is entitled
_The Beautiful in Nature or Aesthetic Physic_; sometimes even
subdivided, save the mark! into Aesthetic Mineralogy, Botany, and
Zoology. We do not wish to deny that such treatises contain many just
remarks, and are sometimes themselves works of art, in so far as they
represent beautifully the imaginings and fantasies, that is the
impressions, of their authors. But we must state that it is
scientifically false to ask oneself if the dog be beautiful, and the
ornithorhynchus ugly; if the lily be beautiful, and the artichoke ugly.
Indeed, the error is here double. On one hand, aesthetic Physic falls
back into the equivoke of the theory of artistic and literary classes,
by attempting to determine aesthetically the abstractions of our
intellect; on the other, fails to recognize, as we said, the true
formation of so-called natural beauty; for which the question as to
whether some given individual animal, flower, or man be beautiful or
ugly, is altogether excluded. What is not produced by the aesthetic
spirit, or cannot be referred to it, is neither beautiful nor ugly. The
aesthetic process arises from the ideal relations in which natural
objects are arranged.

[Sidenote] _Critique of the theory of the beauty of the human body._

The double error can be exemplified by the question, upon which whole
volumes have been written, as to the _Beauty of the human body_. Here it
is necessary, above all things, to urge those who discuss this subject
from the abstract toward the concrete, by asking: "What do you mean by
the human body, that of the male, of the female, or of the androgyne?"
Let us assume that they reply by dividing the inquiry into two distinct
inquiries, as to the virile and feminine beauty (there really are
writers who seriously discuss whether man or woman is the more
beautiful); and let us continue: "Masculine or feminine beauty; but of
what race of men--the white, the yellow, or the black, and whatever
others there may be, according to the division of races?" Let us assume
that they limit themselves to the white race, and let us continue: "What
sub-species of the white race?" And when we have restricted them
gradually to one section of the white world, that is to say, to the
Italian, Tuscan, Siennese, or Porta Camollia section, we will continue:
"Very good; but at what age of the human body, and in what condition and
state of development--that of the new-born babe, of the child, of the
boy, of the adolescent, of the man of middle age, and so on? and is the
man at rest or at work, or is he occupied as is Paul Potter's cow, or
the Ganymede of Rembrandt?"

Having thus arrived, by successive reductions, at the individual
_omnimode determinatum_, or, better, at the man pointed out with the
finger, it will be easy to expose the other error, by recalling what has
been said about the natural fact, which is now beautiful, now ugly,
according to the point of view, according to what is passing in the mind
of the artist. Finally, if the Gulf of Naples have its detractors, and
if there be artists who declare it inexpressive, preferring the "gloomy
firs," the "clouds and perpetual north winds," of the northern seas; let
it be believed, if possible, that such relativity does not exist for the
human body, source of the most various suggestions!

[Sidenote] _Critique of the beauty of geometric figures._

The question of the _beauty of geometrical figures_ is connected with
aesthetic Physic. But if by geometrical figures be understood the
concepts of geometry, the concept of the triangle, the square, the cone,
these are neither beautiful nor ugly: they are concepts. If, on the
other hand, by such figures be understood bodies which possess definite
geometrical forms, these will be ugly or beautiful, like every natural
fact, according to the ideal connexions in which they are placed. Some
hold that those geometrical figures are beautiful which point upwards,
since they give the suggestion of firmness and of force. It is not
denied that such may be the case. But neither must it be denied that
those also which give the impression of instability and of being crushed
down may possess their beauty, where they represent just the ill-formed
and the crushed; and that in these last cases the firmness of the
straight line and the lightness of the cone or of the equilateral
triangle would, on the contrary, seem elements of ugliness.

Certainly, such questions as to the beauty of nature and the beauty of
geometry, like the others analogous of the historically beautiful and of
human beauty, seem less absurd in the Aesthetic of the sympathetic,
which means, at bottom, by the words "aesthetic beauty" the
representation of what is pleasing. But the pretension to determine
scientifically what are the sympathetic contents, and what are the
irremediably antipathetic, is none the less erroneous, even in the
sphere of that doctrine and after the laying down of those premises. One
can only answer such questions by repeating with an infinitely long
postscript the _Sunt quos_ of the first ode of the first book of Horace,
and the _Havvi chi_ of Leopardi's letter to Carlo Pepoli. To each man
his beautiful ( = sympathetic), as to each man his fair one. Philography
is not a science.

[Sidenote] _Critique of another aspect of the imitation of nature._

The artist sometimes has naturally existing facts before him, in
producing the artificial instrument, or physically beautiful. These are
called his _models_: bodies, stuffs, flowers, and so on. Let us run over
the sketches, the studies, and the notes of the artists: Leonardo noted
down in his pocket-book, when he was working on the Last Supper:
"Giovannina, fantastic appearance, is at St. Catherine's, at the
Hospital; Cristofano di Castiglione is at the Pieta, he has a fine head;
Christ, Giovan Conte, is of the suite of Cardinal Mortaro." And so on.
From this comes the illusion that the artist _imitates nature_; when it
would perhaps be more exact to say that nature imitates the artist, and
obeys him. The theory that _art imitates nature_ has sometimes been
grounded upon and found sustenance in this illusion, as also its
variant, more easily to be defended, which makes art the _idealizer of
nature_. This last theory presents the process in a disorderly manner,
indeed inversely to the true order; for the artist does not proceed from
extrinsic reality, in order to modify it by approaching it to the ideal;
but he proceeds from the impression of external nature to expression,
that is to say, to his ideal, and from this he passes to the natural
fact, which he employs as the instrument of reproduction of the ideal

[Sidenote] _Critique of the theory of the elementary forms of the

Another consequence of the confusion between the aesthetic and the
physical fact is the theory of the _elementary forms of the beautiful_.
If expression, if the beautiful, be indivisible, the physical fact, in
which it externalizes itself, can well be divided and subdivided; for
example, a painted surface, into lines and colours, groups and curves of
lines, kinds of colours, and so on; a poem, into strophes, verses, feet,
syllables; a piece of prose, into chapters, paragraphs, headings,
periods, phrases, words, and so on. The parts thus obtained are not
aesthetic facts, but smaller physical facts, cut up in an arbitrary
manner. If this path were followed, and the confusion persisted in, we
should end by concluding that the true forms of the beautiful are

The aesthetic law, several times promulgated, that beauty must have
_bulk_, could be invoked against the atoms. It cannot be the
imperceptibility of the too small, nor the unapprehensibility of the too
large. But a bigness which depends upon perceptibility, not measurement,
derives from a concept widely different from the mathematical. For what
is called imperceptible and incomprehensible does not produce an
impression, because it is not a real fact, but a concept: the requisite
of bulk in the beautiful is thus reduced to the effective reality of the
physical fact, which serves for the reproduction of the beautiful.

[Sidenote] _Critique of the search for the objective conditions of
the beautiful._

Continuing the search for the _physical laws_ or for the _objective
conditions of the beautiful_, it has been asked: To what physical facts
does the beautiful correspond? To what the ugly? To what unions of
tones, colours, sizes, mathematically determinable? Such inquiries are
as if in Political Economy one were to seek for the laws of exchange in
the physical nature of the objects exchanged. The constant infecundity
of the attempt should have at once given rise to some suspicion as to
its vanity. In our times, especially, has the necessity for an
_inductive_ Aesthetic been often proclaimed, of an Aesthetic starting
_from below_, which should proceed like natural science and not hasten
its conclusions. Inductive? But Aesthetic has always been both inductive
and deductive, like every philosophical science; induction and deduction
cannot be separated, nor can they separately avail to characterize a
true science. But the word "inductive" was not here pronounced
accidentally and without special intention. It was wished to imply by
its use that the aesthetic fact is nothing, at bottom, but a physical
fact, which should be studied by applying to it the methods proper to
the physical and natural sciences. With such a presupposition and in
such a faith did inductive Aesthetic or Aesthetic of the inferior (what
pride in this modesty!) begin its labours. It has conscientiously begun
by making a collection of _beautiful things_, for example of a great
number of envelopes of various shapes and sizes, and has asked which of
these give the impression of the beautiful and which of the ugly. As was
to be expected, the inductive aestheticians speedily found themselves in
a difficulty, for the same objects that appeared ugly in one aspect
would appear beautiful in another. A yellow, coarse envelope, which
would be extremely ugly for the purpose of enclosing a love-letter, is,
however, just what is wanted for a writ served by process on stamped
paper. This in its turn would look very bad, or seem at any rate an
irony, if enclosed in a square English envelope. Such considerations of
simple common sense should have sufficed to convince inductive
aestheticians, that the beautiful has no physical existence, and cause
them to remit their vain and ridiculous quest. But no: they have had
recourse to an expedient, as to which we would find it difficult to say
how far it belongs to natural science. They have sent their envelopes
round from one to the other and opened a _referendum_, thus striving to
decide by the votes of the majority in what consists the beautiful and
the ugly.

We will not waste time over this argument, because we should seem to be
turning ourselves into narrators of comic anecdotes rather than
expositors of aesthetic science and of its problems. It is an actual
fact, that the inductive aestheticians have not yet discovered _one
single law_.

[Sidenote] _Astrology of Aesthetic._

He who dispenses with doctors is prone to abandon himself to charlatans.
Thus it has befallen those who have believed in the natural laws of the
beautiful. Artists sometimes adopt empirical canons, such as that of the
proportions of the human body, or of the golden section, that is to say,
of a line divided into two parts in such a manner that the less is to
the greater as is the greater to the whole line (_bc: ac=ac: ab_). Such
canons easily become their superstitions, and they attribute to such the
success of their works. Thus Michael Angelo left as a precept to his
disciple Marco del Pino of Siena that "he should always make a pyramidal
serpentine figure multiplied by one, two, three," a precept which did
not enable Marco di Siena to emerge from that mediocrity which we can
yet observe in his many works, here in Naples. Others extracted from the
sayings of Michael Angelo the precept that serpentine undulating lines
were the true _lines of beauty_. Whole volumes have been composed on
these laws of beauty, on the golden section and on the undulating and
serpentine lines. These should in our opinion be looked upon as the
_astrology of Aesthetic_.



[Sidenote] _The practical activity of externalization._

The fact of the production of the physically beautiful implies, as has
already been remarked, a vigilant will, which persists in not allowing
certain visions, intuitions, or representations, to be lost. Such a will
must be able to act with the utmost rapidity, and as it were
instinctively, and also be capable of long and laborious deliberations.
Thus and only thus does the practical activity enter into relations with
the aesthetic, that is to say, in effecting the production of physical
objects, which are aids to memory. Here it is not merely a concomitant,
but really a distinct moment of the aesthetic activity. We cannot will
or not will our aesthetic vision: we can, however, will or not will to
externalize it, or better, to preserve and communicate, or not, to
others, the externalization produced.

[Sidenote] _The technique of externalization._

This volitional fact of externalization is preceded by a complex of
various kinds of knowledge. These are known as _techniques_, like all
knowledge which precedes the practical activity. Thus we talk of an
artistic technique in the same metaphorical and elliptic manner that we
talk of the physically beautiful, that is to say (in more precise
language), _knowledge employed by the practical activity engaged in
producing stimuli to aesthetic reproduction_. In place of employing so
lengthy a phrase, we shall here avail ourselves of the vulgar
terminology, since we are henceforward aware of its true meaning.

The possibility of this technical knowledge, at the service of artistic
reproduction, has caused people to imagine the existence of an aesthetic
technique of internal expression, which is tantamount to saying, _a
doctrine of the means of internal expression_, which is altogether
inconceivable. And we know well the reason why it is inconceivable;
expression, considered in itself, is primary theoretic activity, and, in
so far as it is this, it precedes the practical activity and the
intellectual knowledge which illumines the practical activity, and is
thus independent alike of the one and of the other. It also helps to
illumine the practical activity, but is not illuminated by it.
Expression does not employ _means_, because it has not an _end_; it has
intuitions of things, but does not will them, and is thus indivisible
into means and end. Thus if it be said, as sometimes is the case, that a
certain writer has invented a new technique of fiction or of drama, or
that a painter has discovered a new mode of distribution of light, the
word is used in a false sense; because the so-called _new technique is
really that romance itself, or that new picture_ itself. The
distribution of light belongs to the vision itself of the picture; as
the technique of a dramatist is his dramatic conception itself. On other
occasions, the word "technique" is used to designate certain merits or
defects in a work which is a failure; and it is said, euphemistically,
that the conception is bad, but the technique good, or that the
conception is good, and the technique bad.

On the other hand, when the different ways of painting in oils, or of
etching, or of sculpturing in alabaster, are discussed, then the word
"technique" is in its place; but in such a case the adjective "artistic"
is used metaphorically. And if a dramatic technique in the artistic
sense be impossible, a theatrical technique is not impossible, that is
to say, processes of externalization of certain given aesthetic works.
When, for instance, women were introduced on the stage in Italy in the
second half of the sixteenth century, in place of men dressed as women,
this was a true and real discovery in theatrical technique; such too was
the perfecting in the following century by the impresarios of Venice, of
machines for the rapid changing of the scenes.

[Sidenote] _The theoretic techniques of the individual arts._

The collection of technical knowledge at the service of artists desirous
of externalizing their expressions, can be divided into groups, which
may be entitled _theories of the arts_. Thus is born a theory of
Architecture, comprising mechanical laws, information relating to the
weight or to the resistance of the materials of construction or of
fortification, manuals relating to the method of mixing chalk or stucco;
a theory of Sculpture, containing advice as to the instruments to be
used for sculpturing the various sorts of stone, for obtaining a
successful fusion of bronze, for working with the chisel, for the exact
copying of the model in chalk or plaster, for keeping chalk damp; a
theory of Painting, on the various techniques of tempera, of
oil-painting, of water-colour, of pastel, on the proportions of the
human body, on the laws of perspective; a theory of Oratory, with
precepts as to the method of producing, of exercising and of
strengthening the voice, of mimic and gesture; a theory of Music, on the
combinations and fusions of tones and sounds; and so on. Such
collections of precepts abound in all literatures. And since it soon
becomes impossible to say what is useful and what useless to know, books
of this sort become very often a sort of encyclopaedias or catalogues of
desiderata. Vitruvius, in his treatise on Architecture, claims for the
architect a knowledge of letters, of drawing, of geometry, of
arithmetic, of optic, of history, of natural and moral philosophy, of
jurisprudence, of medicine, of astrology, of music, and so on.
Everything is worth knowing: learn the art and lay it aside.

It should be evident that such empirical collections are not reducible
to a science. They are composed of notions, taken from various sciences
and teachings, and their philosophical and scientific principles are to
be found in them. To undertake the construction of a scientific theory
of the different arts, would be to wish to reduce to the single and
homogeneous what is by nature multiple and heterogeneous; to wish to
destroy the existence as a collection of what was put together precisely
to form a collection. Were we to give a scientific form to the manuals
of the architect, the painter, or the musician, it is clear that nothing
would remain in our hands but the general principles of Mechanic, Optic,
or Acoustic. Or if the especially artistic observations disseminated
through it be extracted and isolated, and a science be made of them,
then the sphere of the individual art is deserted and that of Aesthetic
entered upon, for Aesthetic is always general Aesthetic, or better, it
cannot be divided into general and special. This last case (that is, the
attempt to furnish a technique of Aesthetic) is found, when men
possessing strong scientific instincts and a natural tendency to
philosophy, set themselves to work to produce such theories and
technical manuals.

[Sidenote] _Critique of the aesthetic theories of the individual

But the confusion between Physic and Aesthetic has attained to its
highest degree, when aesthetic theories of the different arts are
imagined, to answer such questions as: What are the _limits_ of each
art? What can be represented with colours, and what with sounds? What
with simple monochromatic lines, and what with touches of various
colours? What with notes, and what with metres and rhymes? What are the
limits between the figurative and the auditional arts, between painting
and sculpture, poetry and music?

This, translated into scientific language, is tantamount to asking: What
is the connexion between Acoustic and aesthetic expression? What between
the latter and Optic?--and the like. Now, if _there is no passage_ from
the physical fact to the aesthetic, how could there be from the
aesthetic to particular groups of aesthetic facts, such as the phenomena
of Optic or of Acoustic?

[Sidenote] _Critique of the classifications of the arts._

The things called _Arts_ have no aesthetic limits, because, in order to
have them, they would need to have also aesthetic existence; and we have
demonstrated the altogether empirical genesis of those divisions.
Consequently, any attempt at an aesthetic classification of the arts is
absurd. If they be without limits, they are not exactly determinable,
and consequently cannot be philosophically classified. All the books
dealing with classifications and systems of the arts could be burned
without any loss whatever. (We say this with the utmost respect to the
writers who have expended their labours upon them.)

The impossibility of such classifications finds, as it were, its proof
in the strange methods to which recourse has been had to carry them out.
The first and most common classification is that into arts of _hearing,
sight_, and _imagination_; as if eyes, ears, and imagination were on the
same level, and could be deduced from the same logical variable, as
foundation of the division. Others have proposed the division into arts
of _space and time_, and arts of _rest_ and _motion_; as if the concepts
of space, time, rest, and motion could determine special aesthetic
forms, or have anything in common with art as such. Finally, others have
amused themselves by dividing them into _classic and romantic_, or into
_oriental, classic, and romantic_, thereby conferring the value of
scientific concepts on simple historical denominations, or adopting
those pretended partitions of expressive forms, already criticized
above; or by talking of arts _that can only be seen from one side_, like
painting, and of arts _that can be seen from all sides_, like
sculpture--and similar extravagances, which exist neither in heaven nor
on the earth.

The theory of the limits of the arts was, perhaps, at the time when it
was put forward, a beneficial critical reaction against those who
believed in the possibility of the flowing of one expression into
another, as of the _Iliad_ or of _Paradise Lost_ into a series of
paintings, and thus held a poem to be of greater or lesser value,
according as it could or could not be translated into pictures by a
painter. But if the rebellion were reasonable and victorious, this does
not mean that the arguments adopted and the theories made as required
were sound.

[Sidenote] _Critique of the theory of the union of the arts._

Another theory which is a corollary to that of the limits of the arts,
falls with them; that of the _union of the arts_. Granted different
arts, distinct and limited, the questions were asked: Which is the most
powerful? Do we not obtain more powerful effects by uniting several? We
know nothing of this: we know only, in each individual case, that
certain given artistic intuitions have need of definite physical means
for their reproduction, and that other artistic intuitions have need of
other physical means. We can obtain the effect of certain dramas by
simply reading them; others need declamation and scenic display: some
artistic intuitions, for their full extrinsication, need words, song,
musical instruments, colours, statuary, architecture, actors; while
others are beautiful and complete in a single delicate sweep of the pen,
or with a few strokes of the pencil. But it is false to suppose that
declamation and scenic effects, and all the other things we have
mentioned together, are _more powerful_ than simply reading, or than the
simple stroke with the pen and with the pencil; because each of these
facts or groups of facts has, so to say, a different object, and the
power of the different means employed cannot be compared when the
objects are different.

[Sidenote] _Connexion of the activity of externalization with utility
and morality._

Finally, it is only from the point of view of a clear and rigorous
distinction between the true and proper aesthetic activity, and the
practical activity of externalization, that we can solve the involved
and confused questions as to the relations between _art and utility_,
and _art and morality_.

That art as art is independent alike of utility and of morality, as also
of every volitional form, we have above demonstrated. Without this
independence, it would not be possible to speak of an intrinsic value of
art, nor indeed to conceive an aesthetic science, which demands the
autonomy of the aesthetic fact as a necessity of its existence.

But it would be erroneous to maintain that this independence of the
vision or intuition or internal expression of the artist should be at
once extended to the practical activity of externalization and of
communication, which may or may not follow the aesthetic fact. If art be
understood as the externalization of art, then utility and morality have
a perfect right to deal with it; that is to say, the right one possesses
to deal with one's own household.

We do not, as a matter of fact, externalize and fix all of the many
expressions and intuitions which we form in our mind; we do not declare
our every thought in a loud voice, or write down, or print, or draw, or
colour, or expose it to the public gaze. _We select_ from the crowd of
intuitions which are formed or at least sketched within us; and the
selection is governed by selection of the economic conditions of life
and of its moral direction. Therefore, when we have formed an intuition,
it remains to decide whether or no we should communicate it to others,
and to whom, and when, and how; all of which considerations fall equally
under the utilitarian and ethical criterion.

Thus we find the concepts of _selection_, of the _interesting_, of
_morality_, of an _educational end_, of _popularity_, etc., to some
extent justified, although these can in no wise be justified as imposed
upon art as art, and we have ourselves denounced them in pure Aesthetic.
Error always contains an element of truth. He who formulated those
erroneous aesthetic propositions had his eye on practical facts, which
attach themselves externally to the aesthetic fact in economic and moral

By all means, be partisans of a yet greater liberty in the vulgarization
of the means of aesthetic reproduction; we are of the same opinion, and
let us leave the proposals for legislative measures, and for actions to
be instigated against immoral art, to hypocrites, to the ingenuous, and
to idlers. But the proclamation of this liberty, and the fixation of its
limits, how wide soever they be, is always the affair of morality. And
it would in any case be out of place to invoke that highest principle,
that _fundamentum Aesthetices_, which is the independence of art, in
order to deduce from it the guiltlessness of the artist, who, in the
externalization of his imaginings, should calculate upon the unhealthy
tastes of his readers; or that licenses should be granted to the hawkers
who sell obscene statuettes in the streets. This last case is the affair
of the police; the first must be brought before the tribunal of the
moral conscience. The aesthetic judgment on the work of art has nothing
to do with the morality of the artist, in so far as he is a practical
man, nor with the precautions to be taken that art may not be employed
for evil purposes alien to its essence, which is pure theoretic



[Sidenote] _Aesthetic judgment. Its identity with aesthetic

When the entire aesthetic and externalizing process has been completed,
when a beautiful expression has been produced and fixed in a definite
physical material, what is meant by _judging it_? _To reproduce it in
oneself_, answer the critics of art, almost with one voice. Very good.
Let us try thoroughly to understand this fact, and with that object in
view, let us represent it schematically.

The individual A is seeking the expression of an impression, which he
feels or has a presentiment of, but has not yet expressed. Behold him
trying various words and phrases, which may give the sought-for
expression, which must exist, but which he does not know. He tries the
combination _m_, but rejects it as unsuitable, inexpressive, incomplete,
ugly: he tries the combination _n_, with a like result. _He does not see
anything, or he does not see clearly_. The expression still flies from
him. After other vain attempts, during which he sometimes approaches,
sometimes leaves the sign that offers itself, all of a sudden (almost as
though formed spontaneously of itself) he creates the sought-for
expression, and _lux facta est_. He enjoys for an instant aesthetic
pleasure or the pleasure of the beautiful. The ugly, with its
correlative displeasure, was the aesthetic activity, which had not
succeeded in conquering the obstacle; the beautiful is the expressive
activity, which now displays itself triumphant.

We have taken this example from the domain of speech, as being nearer
and more accessible, and because we all talk, though we do not all draw
or paint. Now if another individual, whom we shall term B, desire to
judge this expression and decide whether it be beautiful or ugly, he
_must of necessity place himself at A's point of view_, and go through
the whole process again, with the help of the physical sign, supplied to
him by A. If A has seen clearly, then B (who has placed himself at A's
point of view) will also see clearly and will find this expression
beautiful. If A has not seen clearly, then B also will not see clearly,
and will find the expression more or less ugly, _just as A did_.

[Sidenote] _Impossibility of divergences._

It may be observed that we have not taken into consideration two other
cases: that of A having a clear and B an obscure vision; and that of A
having an obscure and B a clear vision. Philosophically speaking, these
two cases are _impossible_.

Spiritual activity, precisely because it is activity, is not a caprice,
but a spiritual necessity; and it cannot solve a definite aesthetic
problem, save in one way, which is the right way. Doubtless certain
facts may be adduced, which appear to contradict this deduction. Thus
works which seem beautiful to artists, are judged to be ugly by the
critics; while works with which the artists were displeased and judged
imperfect or failures, are held to be beautiful and perfect by the
critics. But this does not mean anything, save that one of the two is
wrong: either the critics or the artists, or in one case the artist and
in another the critic. In fact, the producer of an expression does not
always fully realize what has happened in his soul. Haste, vanity, want
of reflexion, theoretic prejudices, make people say, and sometimes
others almost believe, that works of ours are beautiful, which, if we
were truly to turn inwards upon ourselves, we should see ugly, as they
really are. Thus poor Don Quixote, when he had mended his helmet as well
as he could with cardboard--the helmet that had showed itself to possess
but the feeblest force of resistance at the first encounter,--took good
care not to test it again with a well-delivered sword-thrust, but simply
declared and maintained it to be (says the author) _por celada finisima
de encaxe_. And in other cases, the same reasons, or opposite but
analogous ones, trouble the consciousness of the artist, and cause him
to disapprove of what he has successfully produced, or to strive to undo
and do again worse, what he has done well, in his artistic spontaneity.
An example of this is the _Gerusalemme conquistata_. In the same way,
haste, laziness, want of reflexion, theoretic prejudices, personal
sympathies, or animosities, and other motives of a similar sort,
sometimes cause the critics to proclaim beautiful what is ugly, and ugly
what is beautiful. Were they to eliminate such disturbing elements, they
would feel the work of art as it really is, and would not leave to
posterity, that more diligent and more dispassionate judge, to award the
palm, or to do that justice, which they have refused.

[Sidenote] _Identity of taste and genius._

It is clear from the preceding theorem, that the judicial activity,
which criticizes and recognizes the beautiful, is identical with that
which produces it. The only difference lies in the diversity of
circumstances, since in the one case it is a question of aesthetic
production, in the other of reproduction. The judicial activity is
called _taste_; the productive activity is called _genius_: genius and
taste are therefore substantially _identical_.

The common remark, that the critic should possess some of the genius of
the artist and that the artist should possess taste, reveals a glimpse
of this identity; or that there exists an active (productive) taste and
a passive (reproductive) taste. But a denial of this is contained in
other equally common remarks, as when people speak of taste without
genius, or of genius without taste. These last observations are
meaningless, unless they be taken as alluding to quantitative
differences. In this case, those would be called geniuses without taste
who produce works of art, inspired in their culminating parts and
neglected and defective in their secondary parts, and those men of taste
without genius, who succeed in obtaining certain isolated or secondary
effects, but do not possess the power necessary for a vast artistic
synthesis. Analogous explanations can easily be given of other similar
propositions. But to posit a substantial difference between genius and
taste, between artistic production and reproduction, would render
communication and judgment alike inconceivable. How could we judge what
remained extraneous to us? How could that which is produced by a given
activity be judged by a different activity? The critic will be a small
genius, the artist a great genius; the one will have the strength of
ten, the other of a hundred; the former, in order to raise himself to
the altitude of the latter, will have need of his assistance; but the
nature of both must be the same. In order to judge Dante, we must raise
ourselves to his level: let it be well understood that empirically we
are not Dante, nor Dante we; but in that moment of judgment and
contemplation, our spirit is one with that of the poet, and in that
moment we and he are one single thing. In this identity alone resides
the possibility that our little souls can unite with the great souls,
and become great with them, in the universality of the spirit.

[Sidenote] _Analogy with the other activities._

Let us remark in passing that what has been said of the aesthetic
_judgment_ holds good equally for every other activity and for every
other judgment; and that scientific, economic, and ethical criticism is
effected in a like manner. To limit ourselves to this last, it is only
if we place ourselves ideally in the same conditions in which he who
took a given resolution found himself, that we can form a judgment as to
whether his resolution were moral or immoral. An action would otherwise
remain incomprehensible, and therefore impossible to judge. A homicide
may be a rascal or a hero: if this be, within limits, indifferent as
regards the safety of society, which condemns both to the same
punishment, it is not indifferent to him who wishes to distinguish and
to judge from the moral point of view, and we cannot dispense with
studying again the individual psychology of the homicide, in order to
determine the true nature of his deed, not merely in its judicial, but
also in its moral aspect. In Ethic, a moral taste or tact is sometimes
referred to, which answers to what is generally called moral conscience,
that is to say, to the activity itself of good-will.

[Sidenote] _Critique of absolutism (intellectualism) and of aesthetic

The explanation above given of aesthetic judgment or reproduction at
once affirms and denies the position of the absolutists and relativists,
of those, that is to say, who affirm and of those who deny the existence
of an absolute taste.

The absolutists, who affirm that they can judge of the beautiful, are
right; but the theory on which they found their affirmation is not
maintainable. They conceive of the beautiful, that is, of aesthetic
value, as of something placed outside the aesthetic activity; as if it
were a model or a concept which an artist realizes in his work, and of
which the critic avails himself afterwards in order to judge the work
itself. Concepts and models alike have no existence in art, for by
proclaiming that every art can be judged only in itself, and has its own
model in itself, they have attained to the denial of the existence of
objective models of beauty, whether they be intellectual concepts, or
ideas suspended in the metaphysical sky.

In proclaiming this, the adversaries, the relativists, are perfectly
right, and accomplish a progress. However, the initial rationality of
their thesis becomes in its turn a false theory. Repeating the old adage
that there is no accounting for tastes, they believe that aesthetic
expression is of the same nature as the pleasant and the unpleasant,
which every one feels in his own way, and as to which there is no
disputing. But we know that the pleasant and the unpleasant are
utilitarian and practical facts. Thus the relativists deny the
peculiarity of the aesthetic fact, again confounding expression with
impression, the theoretic with the practical.

The true solution lies in rejecting alike relativism or psychologism,
and false absolutism; and in recognizing that the criterion of taste is
absolute, but absolute in a different way from that of the intellect,
which is developed by reason. The criterion of taste is absolute, with
the intuitive absoluteness of the imagination. Thus every act of
expressive activity, which is so really, will be recognized as
beautiful, and every fact in which expressive activity and passivity are
found engaged with one another in an unfinished struggle, will be
recognized as ugly.

[Sidenote] _Critique of relative relativism._

There lies, between absolutists and relativists, a third class, which
may be called that of the relative relativists. These affirm the
existence of absolute values in other fields, such as Logic and Ethic,
but deny their existence in the field of Aesthetic. To them it appears
natural and justifiable to dispute about science and morality; because
science rests on the universal, common to all men, and morality on duty,
which is also a law of human nature; but how, they say, can one dispute
about art, which rests on imagination? Not only, however, is the
imaginative activity universal and belongs to human nature, like the
logical concept and practical duty; but we must oppose a capital
objection to this intermediary thesis. If the absolute nature of the
imagination were denied, we should be obliged to deny also that of
intellectual or conceptual truth, and, implicitly, of morality. Does not
morality presuppose logical distinctions? How could these be known,
otherwise than by expressions and words, that is to say, in imaginative
form? If the absoluteness of the imagination were removed, spiritual
life would tremble to its base. One individual would no longer
understand another, nor indeed his own self of a moment before, which,
when considered a moment after, is already another individual.

[Sidenote] _Objection founded on the variation of the stimulus and
on the psychic disposition._

Nevertheless, variety of judgments is an indisputable fact. Men are at
variance in their logical, ethical, and economical appreciations; and
they are equally, or even more at variance in their aesthetic
appreciations. If certain reasons detailed by us, above, such as haste,
prejudices, passions, etc., may be held to lessen the importance of this
disagreement, they do not thereby annul it. We have been cautious, when
speaking of the stimuli of reproduction, for we said that reproduction
takes place, _if all the other conditions remain equal_. Do they remain
equal? Does the hypothesis correspond to reality?

It would appear not. In order to reproduce several times an impression
by employing a suitable physical stimulus, it is necessary that this
stimulus be not changed, and that the organism remain in the same
psychical conditions as those in which was experienced the impression
that it is desired to reproduce. Now it is a fact, that the physical
stimulus is continually changing, and in like manner the psychological

Oil paintings grow dark, frescoes pale, statues lose noses, hands, and
legs, architecture becomes totally or partially a ruin, the tradition of
the execution of a piece of music is lost, the text of a poem is
corrupted by bad copyists or bad printing. These are obvious instances
of the changes which daily occur in objects or physical stimuli. As
regards psychological conditions, we will not dwell upon the cases of
deafness or blindness, that is to say, upon the loss of entire orders of
psychical impressions; these cases are secondary and of less importance
compared with the fundamental, daily, inevitable, and perpetual changes
of the society around us, and of the internal conditions of our
individual life. The phonic manifestations, that is, the words and
verses of the Dantesque _Commedia_, must produce a very different
impression on a citizen engaged in the politics of the third Rome, to
that experienced by a well-informed and intimate contemporary of the
poet. The Madonna of Cimabue is still in the Church of Santa Maria
Novella; but does she speak to the visitor of to-day as she spoke to the
Florentines of the thirteenth century? Even though she were not also
darkened by time, would not the impression be altogether different? And
finally, how can a poem composed in youth make the same impression on
the same individual poet when he re-reads it in his old age, with his
psychic dispositions altogether changed?

[Sidenote] _Critique of the division of signs into natural and

It is true, that certain aestheticians have attempted a distinction
between stimuli and stimuli, between _natural and conventional_ signs.
They would grant to the former a constant effect on all; to the latter,
only on a limited circle. In their belief, signs employed in painting
are natural, while the words of poetry are conventional. But the
difference between the one and the other is only of degree. It has often
been affirmed that painting is a language which all understand, while
with poetry it is otherwise. Here, for example, Leonardo placed one of
the prerogatives of his art, "which hath not need of interpreters of
different languages as have letters," and in it man and brute find
satisfaction. He relates the anecdote of that portrait of the father of
a family, "which the little grandchildren were wont to caress while they
were still in swaddling-clothes, and the dogs and cats of the house in
like manner." But other anecdotes, such as those of the savages who took
the portrait of a soldier for a boat, or considered the portrait of a
man on horseback as furnished with only one leg, are apt to shake one's
faith in the understanding of painting by sucklings, dogs, and cats.
Fortunately, no arduous researches are necessary to convince oneself
that pictures, poetry, and every work of art, produce no effects save on
souls prepared to receive them. Natural signs do not exist; because they
are all conventional in a like manner, or, to speak with greater
exactitude, all are _historically conditioned_.

[Sidenote] _The surmounting of variety._

This being so, how are we to succeed in causing the expression to be
reproduced by means of the physical object? How obtain the same effect,
when the conditions are no longer the same? Would it not, rather, seem
necessary to conclude that expressions cannot be reproduced, despite the
physical instruments made by man for the purpose, and that what is
called reproduction consists in ever new expressions? Such would indeed
be the conclusion, if the variety of physical and psychic conditions
were intrinsically unsurmountable. But since the insuperability has none
of the characteristics of necessity, we must, on the contrary, conclude:
that the reproduction always occurs, when we can replace ourselves in
the conditions in which the stimulus (physical beauty) was produced.

Not only can we replace ourselves in these conditions, as an abstract
possibility, but as a matter of fact we do so continually. Individual
life, which is communion with ourselves (with our past), and social
life, which is communion with our like, would not otherwise be possible.

[Sidenote] _Restorations and historical interpretation._

As regards the physical object, paleographers and philologists, who
_restore_ to texts their original physiognomy, _restorers_ of pictures
and of statues, and similar categories of workers, exert themselves to
preserve or to give back to the physical object all its primitive
energy. These efforts certainly do not always succeed, or are not
completely successful, for never, or hardly ever, is it possible to
obtain a restoration complete in its smallest details. But the
unsurmountable is only accidentally present, and cannot cause us to fail
to recognize the favourable results which are nevertheless obtained.

_Historical interpretation_ likewise labours to reintegrate in us
historical conditions which have been altered in the course of history.
It revives the dead, completes the fragmentary, and affords us the
opportunity of seeing a work of art (a physical object) as its author
saw it, at the moment of production.

A condition of this historical labour is tradition, with the help of
which it is possible to collect the scattered rays and cause them to
converge on one centre. With the help of memory, we surround the
physical stimulus with all the facts among which it arose; and thus we
make it possible for it to react upon us, as it acted upon him who
produced it.

When the tradition is broken, interpretation is arrested; in this case,
the products of the past remain _silent_ for us. Thus the expressions
contained in the Etruscan or Messapian inscriptions are unattainable;
thus we still hear discussions among ethnographers as to certain
products of the art of savages, whether they be pictures or writings;
thus archaeologists and prehistorians are not always able to establish
with certainty, whether the figures found on the ceramic of a certain
region, and on other instruments employed, be of a religious or of a
profane nature. But the arrest of interpretation, as that of
restoration, is never a definitely unsurmountable barrier; and the daily
discoveries of historical sources and of new methods of better
exploiting antiquity, which we may hope to see ever improving, link up
broken tradition.

We do not wish to deny that erroneous historical interpretation produces
at times what we may term _palimpsests_, new expressions imposed upon
the antique, artistic imaginings instead of historical reproductions.
The so-called fascination of the past depends in part upon these
expressions of ours, which we weave into historical expressions. Thus in
hellenic plastic art has been discovered the calm and serene intuition
of life of those peoples, who feel, nevertheless, so poignantly, the
universality of sorrow; thus has recently been discerned on the faces of
the Byzantine saints "the terror of the millennium," a terror which is
an equivoke, or an artificial legend invented by modern scholars. But
_historical criticism_ tends precisely to circumscribe _vain imaginings_
and to establish with exactitude the point of view from which we must

Thus we live in communication with other men of the present and of the
past; and we must not conclude, because sometimes, and indeed often, we
find ourselves face to face with the unknown or the badly known, that
when we believe we are engaged in a dialogue, we are always speaking a
monologue; nor that we are unable even to repeat the monologue which, in
the past, we held with ourselves.



[Sidenote] _Historical criticism in literature and art. Its

This brief exposition of the method by which is obtained reintegration
of the original conditions in which the work of art was produced, and by
which reproduction and judgment are made possible, shows how important
is the function fulfilled by historical research concerning artistic and
literary works; that is to say, by what is usually called _historical
criticism_, or method, in literature and art.

Without tradition and historical criticism, the enjoyment of all or
nearly all works of art produced by humanity, would be irrevocably lost:
we should be little more than animals, immersed in the present alone, or
in the most recent past. Only fools despise and laugh at him who
reconstitutes an authentic text, explains the sense of words and
customs, investigates the conditions in which an artist lived, and
accomplishes all those labours which revive the qualities and the
original colouring of works of art.

Sometimes the depreciatory or negative judgment refers to the presumed
or proved uselessness of many researches, made to recover the correct
meaning of artistic works. But, it must be observed, in the first place,
that historical research does not only fulfil the task of helping to
reproduce and judge artistic works: the biography of a writer or of an
artist, for example, and the study of the costume of a period, also
possess their own interest, foreign to the history of art, but not
foreign to other forms of history. If allusion be made to those
researches which do not appear to have interest of any kind, nor to
fulfil any purpose, it must be replied that the historical student must
often reconcile himself to the useful, but little glorious, office of a
cataloguer of facts. These facts remain for the time being formless,
incoherent, and insignificant, but they are preserves, or mines, for the
historian of the future and for whomsoever may afterwards want them for
any purpose. In the same way, books which nobody asks for are placed on
the shelves and are noted in the catalogues, because they may be asked
for at some time or other. Certainly, in the same way that an
intelligent librarian gives the preference to the acquisition and to the
cataloguing of those books which he foresees may be of more or better
service, so do intelligent students possess the instinct as to what is
or may more probably be useful from among the mass of facts which they
are investigating. Others, on the other hand, less well-endowed, less
intelligent, or more hasty in producing, accumulate useless selections,
rejections and erasures, and lose themselves in refinements and gossipy
discussions. But this appertains to the economy of research, and is not
our affair. At the most, it is the affair of the master who selects the
subjects, of the publisher who pays for the printing, and of the critic
who is called upon to praise or to blame the students for their

On the other hand, it is evident, that historical research, directed to
illuminate a work of art by placing us in a position to judge it, does
not alone suffice to bring it to birth in our spirit: taste, and an
imagination trained and awakened, are likewise presupposed. The greatest
historical erudition may accompany a taste in part gross or defective, a
lumbering imagination, or, as it is generally phrased, a cold, hard
heart, closed to art. Which is the lesser evil?--great erudition and
defective taste, or natural good taste and great ignorance? The question
has often been asked, and perhaps it will be best to deny its
possibility, because one cannot tell which of two evils is the less, or
what exactly that means. The merely learned man never succeeds in
entering into communication with the great spirits, and keeps wandering
for ever about the outer courts, the staircases, and the antechambers of
their palaces; but the gifted ignoramus either passes by masterpieces
which are to him inaccessible, or instead of understanding the works of
art, as they really are, he invents others, with his imagination. Now,
the labour of the former may at least serve to enlighten others; but the
ingenuity of the latter remains altogether sterile. How, then, can we
fail to prefer the conscientious learned man to the inconclusive man of
talent, who is not really talented, if he resign himself, and in so far
as he resigns himself, to come to no conclusion?

[Sidenote] _Literary and artistic history. Its distinction from
historical criticism and from artistic judgement._

It is necessary to distinguish accurately _the history, of art and
literature_ from those historical labours which make use of works of
art, but for extraneous purposes (such as biography, civil, religious,
and political history, etc.), and also from historical erudition, whose
object is preparation for the Aesthetic synthesis of reproduction.

The difference between the first of these is obvious. The history of art
and literature has the works of art themselves for principal subject;
the other branches of study call upon and interrogate works of art, but
only as witnesses, from which to discover the truth of facts which are
not aesthetic. The second difference to which we have referred may seem
less profound. However, it is very great. Erudition devoted to rendering
clear again the understanding of works of art, aims simply at making
appear a certain internal fact, an aesthetic reproduction. Artistic and
literary history, on the other hand, does not appear until such
reproduction has been obtained. It demands, therefore, further labour.
Like all other history, its object is to record precisely such facts as
have really taken place, that is, artistic and literary facts. A man
who, after having acquired the requisite historical erudition,
reproduces in himself and tastes a work of art, may remain simply a man
of taste, or express at the most his own feeling, with an exclamation of
beautiful or ugly. This does not suffice for the making of a historian
of literature and art. There is further need that the simple act of
reproduction be followed in him by a second internal operation. What is
this new operation? It is, in its turn, an expression: the expression of
the reproduction; the historical description, exposition, or
representation. There is this difference, then, between the man of taste
and the historian: the first merely reproduces in his spirit the work of
art; the second, after having reproduced it, represents it historically,
thus applying to it those categories by which, as we know, history is
differentiated from pure art. Artistic and literary history is,
therefore, _a historical work of art founded upon one or more works of

The denomination of artistic or literary critic is used in various
senses: sometimes it is applied to the student who devotes his services
to literature; sometimes to the historian who reveals the works of art
of the past in their reality; more often to both. By critic is sometimes
understood, in a more restricted sense, he who judges and describes
contemporary literary works; and by historian, he who is occupied with
less recent works. These are but linguistic usages and empirical
distinctions, which may be neglected; because the true difference lies
_between the learned man, the man of taste, and the historian of art_.
These words designate, as it were, three successive stages of work, of
which each is relatively independent of the one that follows, but not of
that which precedes. As we have seen, a man may be simply learned, yet
possess little capacity for understanding works of art; he may indeed be
both learned and possess taste, yet be unable to write a page of
artistic and literary history. But the true and complete historian,
while containing in himself, as necessary pre-requisites, both the
learned man and the man of taste, must add to their qualities the gift
of historical comprehension and representation.

[Sidenote] _The method of artistic and literary history._

The method of artistic and literary history presents problems and
difficulties, some common to all historical method, others peculiar to
it, because they derive from the concept of art itself.

[Sidenote] _Critique of the problem of the origin of art._

History is wont to be divided into the history of man, the history or
nature, and the mixed history of both the preceding. Without examining
here the question of the solidity of this division, it is clear that
artistic and literary history belongs in any case to the first, since it
concerns a spiritual activity, that is to say, an activity proper to
man. And since this activity is its subject, the absurdity of
propounding the historical _problem of the origin of art_ becomes at
once evident. We should note that by this formula many different things
have in turn been included on many different occasions. _Origin_ has
often meant _nature_ or _disposition_ of the artistic fact, and here was
a real scientific or philosophic problem, the very problem, in fact,
which our treatise has tried to solve. At other times, by origin has
been understood the ideal genesis, the search for the reason of art, the
deduction of the artistic fact from a first principle containing in
itself both spirit and nature. This is also a philosophical problem, and
it is complementary to the preceding, indeed it coincides with it,
though it has sometimes been strangely interpreted and solved by means
of an arbitrary and semi-fantastic metaphysic. But when it has been
sought to discover further exactly in what way the artistic function was
_historically formed_, this has resulted in the absurdity to which we
have referred. If expression be the first form of consciousness, how can
the historical origin be sought of what is _presupposed_ not to be a
product of nature and of human history? How can we find the historical
genesis of that which is a category, by means of which every historical
genesis and fact are understood? The absurdity has arisen from the
comparison with human institutions, which have, in fact, been formed in
the course of history, and which have disappeared or may disappear in
its course. There exists between the aesthetic fact and a human
institution (such as monogamic marriage or the fief) a difference to
some extent comparable with that between simple and compound bodies in
chemistry. It is impossible to indicate the formation of the former,
otherwise they would not be simple, and if this be discovered, they
cease to be simple and become compound.

The problem of the origin of art, historically understood, is only
justified when it is proposed to seek, not for the formation of the
function, but where and when art has appeared for the first time
(appeared, that is to say, in a striking manner), at what point or in
what region of the globe, and at what point or epoch of its history;
when, that is to say, not the origin of art, but its most antique or
primitive history, is the object of research. This problem forms one
with that of the appearance of human civilization on the earth. Data for
its solution are certainly wanting, but there yet remains the abstract
possibility, and certainly attempts and hypotheses for its solution

[Sidenote] _History and the criterion of progress._

Every form of human history has the concept of _progress_ for
foundation. But by progress must not be understood the imaginary and
metaphysical _law of progress_, which should lead the generations of man
with irresistible force to some unknown destiny, according to a
providential plan which we can logically divine and understand. A
supposed law of this sort is the negation of history itself, of that
accidentality, that empiricity, that contingency, which distinguish the
concrete fact from the abstraction. And for the same reason, progress
has nothing to do with the so-called _law of evolution_. If evolution
mean the concrete fact of reality which evolves (that is, which is
reality), it is not a law. If, on the other hand, it be a law, it
becomes confounded with the law of progress in the sense just described.
The progress of which we speak here, is nothing but the _concept of
human activity itself_, which, working upon the material supplied to it
by nature, conquers obstacles and bends nature to its own ends.

Such conception of progress, that is to say, of human activity applied
to a given material, is the _point of view_ of the historian of
humanity. No one but a mere collector of stray facts, a simple seeker,
or an incoherent chronicler, can put together the smallest narrative of
human deeds, unless he have a definite point of view, that is to say, an
intimate personal conviction regarding the conception of the facts which
he has undertaken to relate. The historical work of art cannot be
achieved among the confused and discordant mass of crude facts, save by
means of this point of view, which makes it possible to carve a definite
figure from that rough and incoherent mass. The historian of a practical
action should know what is economy and what morality; the historian of
mathematics, what are mathematics; the historian of botany, what is
botany; the historian of philosophy, what is philosophy. But if he do
not really know these things, he must at least have the illusion of
knowing them; otherwise he will never be able to delude himself that he
is writing history.

We cannot delay here to demonstrate the necessity and the inevitability
of this subjective criterion in every narrative of human affairs. We
will merely say that this criterion is compatible with the utmost
objectivity, impartiality, and scrupulosity in dealing with data, and
indeed forms a constitutive element of such subjective criterion. It
suffices to read any book of history to discover at once the point of
view of the author, if he be a historian worthy of the name and know his
own business. There exist liberal and reactionary, rationalist and
catholic historians, who deal with political or social history; for the
history of philosophy there are metaphysical, empirical, sceptical,
idealist, and spiritualist historians. Absolutely historical historians
do not and cannot exist. Can it be said that Thucydides and Polybius,
Livy and Tacitus, Machiavelli and Guicciardini, Giannone and Voltaire,
were without moral and political views; and, in our time, Guizot or
Thiers, Macaulay or Balbo, Ranke or Mommsen? And in the history of
philosophy, from Hegel, who was the first to raise it to a great
elevation, to Ritter, Zeller, Cousin, Lewes, and our Spaventa, was there
one who did not possess his conception of progress and criterion of
judgment? Is there one single work of any value in the history of
Aesthetic, which has not been written from this or that point of view,
with this or that bias (Hegelian or Herbartian), from a sensualist or
from an eclectic point of view, and so on? If the historian is to escape
from the inevitable necessity of taking a side, he must become a
political and scientific eunuch; and history is not the business of
eunuchs. They would at most be of use in compiling those great tomes of
not useless erudition, _elumbis atque fracta_, which are called, not
without reason, monkish.

If, then, the concept of progress, the point of view, the criterion, be
inevitable, the best to be done is not to try and escape from them, but
to obtain the best possible. Everyone strives for this end, when he
forms his own convictions, seriously and laboriously. Historians who
profess to wish to interrogate the facts, without adding anything of
their own to them, are not to be believed. This, at the most, is the
result of ingenuousness and illusion on their part: they will always add
what they have of personal, if they be truly historians, though it be
without knowing it, or they will believe that they have escaped doing
so, only because they have referred to it by innuendo, which is the most
insinuating and penetrative of methods.

[Sidenote] _Non-existence of a unique line of progress in artistic
and literary history._

Artistic and literary history cannot dispense with the criterion of
progress any more easily than other history. We cannot show what a given
work of art is, save by proceeding from a conception of art, in order to
fix the artistic problem which the author of such work of art had to
solve, and by determining whether or no he have solved it, or by how
much and in what way he has failed to do so. But it is important to note
that the criterion of progress assumes a different form in artistic and
literary history to that which it assumes (or is believed to assume) in
the history of science.

The whole history of knowledge can be represented by one single line of
progress and regress. Science is the universal, and its problems are
arranged in one single vast system, or complex problem. All thinkers
weary themselves over the same problem as to the nature of reality and
of knowledge: contemplative Indians and Greek philosophers, Christians
and Mohammedans, bare heads and heads with turbans, wigged heads and
heads with the black berretta (as Heine said); and future generations
will weary themselves with it, as ours has done. It would take too long
to inquire here if this be true or not of science. But it is certainly
not true of art; art is intuition, and intuition is individuality, and
individuality is never repeated. To conceive of the history of the
artistic production of the human race as developed along a single line
of progress and regress, would therefore be altogether erroneous.

At the most, and working to some extent with generalizations and
abstractions, it may be admitted that the history of aesthetic products
shows progressive cycles, but each cycle has its own problem, and is
progressive only in respect to that problem. When many are at work on
the same subject, without succeeding in giving to it the suitable form,
yet drawing always more nearly to it, there is said to be progress. When
he who gives to it definite form appears, the cycle is said to be
complete, progress ended. A typical example of this would be the
progress in the elaboration of the mode of using the subject-matter of
chivalry, during the Italian Renaissance, from Pulci to Ariosto. (If
this instance be made use of, excessive simplification of it must be
excused.) Nothing but repetition and imitation could be the result of
employing that same material after Ariosto. The result was repetition or
imitation, diminution or exaggeration, a spoiling of what had already
been achieved; in sum, decadence. The Ariostesque epigoni prove this.
Progress begins with the commencement of a new cycle. Cervantes, with
his more open and conscious irony, is an instance of this. In what did
the general decadence of Italian literature at the end of the sixteenth
century consist? Simply in having nothing more to say, and in repeating
and exaggerating motives already found. If the Italians of this period
had even been able to express their own decadence, they would not have
been altogether failures, but have anticipated the literary movement of
the Renaissance. Where the subject-matter is not the same, a progressive
cycle does not exist. Shakespeare does not represent a progress as
regards Dante, nor Goethe as regards Shakespeare. Dante, however,
represents a progress in respect to the visionaries of the Middle Ages,
Shakespeare to the Elizabethan dramatists, Goethe, with _Werther_ and
the first part of _Faust_, in respect to the writers of the _Sturm und
Drang_. This mode of presenting the history of poetry and art contains,
however, as we have remarked, something of abstract, of merely
practical, and is without rigorous philosophical value. Not only is the
art of savages not inferior, as art, to that of civilized peoples,
provided it be correlative to the impressions of the savage; but every
individual, indeed every moment of the spiritual life of an individual,
has its artistic world; and all those worlds are, artistically,
incomparable with one another.

[Sidenote] _Errors committed in respect to this law._

Many have sinned and continue to sin against this special form of the
criterion of progress in artistic and literary history. Some, for
instance, talk of the infancy of Italian art in Giotto, and of its
maturity in Raphael or in Titian; as though Giotto were not quite
perfect and complete, in respect to his psychic material. He was
certainly incapable of drawing a figure like Raphael, or of colouring it
like Titian; but was Raphael or Titian by any chance capable of creating
the _Matrimonio di San Francesco con la Poverta_, or the _Morte di San
Francesco_? The spirit of Giotto had not felt the attraction of the body
beautiful, which the Renaissance studied and raised to a place of
honour; but the spirits of Raphael and of Titian were no longer curious
of certain movements of ardour and of tenderness, which attracted the
man of the fourteenth century. How, then, can a comparison be made,
where there is no comparative term?

The celebrated divisions of the history of art suffer from the same
defect. They are as follows: an oriental period, representing a
disequilibrium between idea and form, with prevalence of the second; a
classical, representing an equilibrium between idea and form; a
romantic, representing a new disequilibrium between idea and form, with
prevalence of the idea. There are also the divisions into oriental art,
representing imperfection of form; classical, perfection of form;
romantic or modern, perfection of content and of form. Thus classic and
romantic have also received, among their many other meanings, that of
progressive or regressive periods, in respect to the realization of some
indefinite artistic ideal of humanity.

[Sidenote] _Other meanings of the word "progress" in respect to

There is no such thing, then, as an _aesthetic_ progress of humanity.
However, by aesthetic progress is sometimes meant, not what the two
words coupled together really signify, but the ever-increasing
accumulation of our historical knowledge, which makes us able to
sympathize with all the artistic products of all peoples and of all
times, or, as is said, to make our taste more catholic. The difference
appears very great, if the eighteenth century, so incapable of escaping
from itself, be compared with our own time, which enjoys alike Hellenic
and Roman art, now better understood, Byzantine, mediaeval, Arabic, and
Renaissance art, the art of the Cinque Cento, baroque art, and the art
of the seventeenth century. Egyptian, Babylonian, Etruscan, and even
prehistoric art, are more profoundly studied every day. Certainly, the
difference between the savage and civilized man does not lie in the
human faculties. The savage has speech, intellect, religion, and
morality, in common with civilized man, and he is a complete man. The
only difference lies in that civilized man penetrates and dominates a
larger portion of the universe with his theoretic and practical
activity. We cannot claim to be more spiritually alert than, for
example, the contemporaries of Pericles; but no one can deny that we are
richer than they--rich with their riches and with those of how many
other peoples and generations besides our own?

By aesthetic progress is also meant, in another sense, which is also
improper, the greater abundance of artistic intuitions and the smaller
number of imperfect or decadent works which one epoch produces in
respect to another. Thus it may be said that there was aesthetic
progress, an artistic awakening, at the end of the thirteenth or of the
fifteenth centuries.

Finally, aesthetic progress is talked of, with an eye to the refinement
and to the psychical complications exhibited in the works of art of the
most civilized peoples, as compared with those of less civilized
peoples, barbarians and savages. But in this case, the progress is that
of the complex conditions of society, not of the artistic activity, to
which the material is indifferent.

These are the most important points concerning the method of artistic
and literary history.




[Sidenote] _Summary of the inquiry._

A glance over the path traversed will show that we have completed the
entire programme of our treatise. We have studied the nature of
intuitive or expressive knowledge, which is the aesthetic or artistic
fact (I. and II.), and we have described the other form of knowledge,
namely, the intellectual, with the secondary complications of its forms
(III.). Having done this, it became possible to criticize all erroneous
theories of art, which arise from the confusion between the various
forms, and from the undue transference of the characteristics of one
form to those of another (IV.), and in so doing to indicate the inverse
errors which are found in the theory of intellectual knowledge and of
historiography (V.). Passing on to examine the relations between the
aesthetic activity and the other spiritual activities, no longer
theoretic but practical, we have indicated the true character of the
practical activity and the place which it occupies in respect to the
theoretic activity, which it follows: hence the critique of the invasion
of aesthetic theory by practical concepts (VI.). We have also
distinguished the two forms of the practical activity, as economic and
ethic (VII.), adding to this the statement that there are no other forms
of the spirit beyond the four which we have analyzed; hence (VIII.) the
critique of every metaphysical Aesthetic. And, seeing that there exist
no other spiritual forms of equal degree, therefore there are no
original subdivisions of the four established, and in particular of
Aesthetic. From this arises the impossibility of classes of expressions
and the critique of Rhetoric, that is, of the partition of expressions
into simple and ornate, and of their subclasses (IX.). But, by the law
of the unity of the spirit, the aesthetic fact is also a practical fact,
and as such, occasions pleasure and pain. This led us to study the
feelings of value in general, and those of aesthetic value, or of the
beautiful, in particular (X.), to criticize aesthetic hedonism in all
its various manifestations and complications (XI.), and to expel from
the system of Aesthetic the long series of pseudo-aesthetic concepts,
which had been introduced into it (XII.). Proceeding from aesthetic
production to the facts of reproduction, we began by investigating the
mode of fixing externally the aesthetic expression, with the view of
reproduction. This is the so-called physically beautiful, whether it be
natural or artificial (XIII.). We then derived from this distinction the
critique of the errors which arise from confounding the physical with
the aesthetic side of things (XIV.). We indicated the meaning of
artistic technique, that which is the technique serving for
reproduction, thus criticizing the divisions, limits, and
classifications of the individual arts, and establishing the connections
between art, economy, and morality (XV.). Because the existence of the
physical objects does not suffice to stimulate to the full aesthetic
reproduction, and because, in order to obtain this result, it is
necessary to recall the conditions in which the stimulus first operated,
we have also studied the function of historical erudition, directed
toward the end of re-establishing our communication with the works of
the past, and toward the creation of a base for aesthetic judgment
(XVI.). We have closed our treatise by showing how the reproduction thus
obtained is afterwards elaborated by the intellectual categories, that
is to say, by an excursus on the method of literary and artistic history

The aesthetic fact has thus been considered both in itself and in its
relations with the other spiritual activities, with the feelings of
pleasure and of pain, with the facts that are called physical, with
memory, and with historical elaboration. It has passed from the position
of _subject_ to that of _object_, that is to say, from the moment of
_its birth_, until gradually it becomes changed for the spirit into
_historical argument_.

Our treatise may appear to be somewhat meagre, when compared with the
great volumes usually consecrated to Aesthetic. But it will not seem so,
when it is observed that these volumes, as regards nine-tenths of their
contents, are full of matter which does not appertain to Aesthetic, such
as definitions, either psychical or metaphysical, of pseudo-aesthetic
concepts (of the sublime, the comic, the tragic, the humorous, etc.), or
of the exposition of the supposed Zoology, Botany, and Mineralogy of
Aesthetic, and of universal history judged from the aesthetic
standpoint. The whole history of concrete art and literature has also
been dragged into those Aesthetics and generally mangled; they contain
judgments upon Homer and Dante, upon Ariosto and Shakespeare, upon
Beethoven and Rossini, Michelangelo and Raphael. When all this has been
deducted from them, our treatise will no longer be held to be too
meagre, but, on the contrary, far more copious than ordinary treatises,
for these either omit altogether, or hardly touch at all, the greater
part of the difficult problems proper to Aesthetic, which we have felt
it to be our duty to study.

[Sidenote] _Identity of Linguistic and Aesthetic._

Aesthetic, then, as the science of expression, has been here studied by
us from every point of view. But there yet remains to justify the
sub-title, which we have joined to the title of our book, _General
Linguistic_, and to state and make clear the thesis that the science of
art is that of language. Aesthetic and Linguistic, in so far as they are
true sciences, are not two different sciences, but one single science.
Not that there is a special Linguistic; but the linguistic science
sought for, general Linguistic, _in so far as what it contains is
reducible to philosophy_, is nothing but Aesthetic. Whoever studies
general Linguistic, that is to say, philosophical Linguistic, studies
aesthetic problems, and _vice versa_. _Philosophy of language and
philosophy of art are the same thing_.

Were Linguistic a _different_ science from Aesthetic, it should not have
expression, which is the essentially aesthetic fact, for its object.
This amounts to saying that it must be denied that language is
expression. But an emission of sounds, which expresses nothing, is not
language. Language is articulate, limited, organized sound, employed in
expression. If, on the other hand, language were a _special_ science in
respect to Aesthetic, it would necessarily have for its object a
_special class_ of expressions. But the inexistence of classes of
expression is a point which we have already demonstrated.

[Sidenote] _Aesthetic formulization of linguistic problems. Nature
of language._

The problems which Linguistic serves to solve, and the errors with which
Linguistic strives and has striven, are the same that occupy and
complicate Aesthetic. If it be not always easy, it is, on the other
hand, always possible, to reduce the philosophic questions of Linguistic
to their aesthetic formula.

The disputes as to the nature of the one find their parallel in those as
to the nature of the other. Thus it has been disputed, whether
Linguistic be a scientific or a historical discipline, and the
scientific having been distinguished from the historical, it has been
asked whether it belong to the order of the natural or of the
psychological sciences, by the latter being understood empirical
Psychology, as much as the science of the spirit. The same has happened
with Aesthetic, which some have looked upon as a natural science,
confounding aesthetic expression with physical expression. Others have
looked upon it as a psychological science, confounding expression in its
universality, with the empirical classification of expressions. Others
again, denying the very possibility of a science of such a subject, have
looked upon it as a collection of historical facts. Finally, it has been
realized that it belongs to the sciences of activity or of values, which
are the spiritual sciences.

Linguistic expression, or speech, has often seemed to be a fact of
_interjection_, which belongs to the so-called physical expressions of
the feelings, common alike to men and animals. But it was soon admitted
that an abyss yawns between the "Ah!" which is a physical reflex of
pain, and a word; as also between that "Ah!" of pain and the "Ah!"
employed as a word. The theory of the interjection being abandoned
(jocosely termed the "Ah! Ah!" theory by German linguists), the theory
of _association or convention_ appeared. This theory was refuted by the
same objection which destroyed aesthetic associationism in general:
speech is unity, not multiplicity of images, and multiplicity does not
explain, but presupposes the existence of the expression to explain. A
variant of linguistic associationism is the imitative, that is to say,
the theory of the onomatopoeia, which the same philologists deride under
the name of the "bow-wow" theory, after the imitation of the dog's bark,
which, according to the onomatopoeists, gives its name to the dog.

The most usual theory of our times as regards language (apart from mere
crass naturalism) consists of a sort of eclecticism or mixture of the
various theories to which we have referred. It is assumed that language
is in part the product of interjections and in part of onomatopes and
conventions. This doctrine is altogether worthy of the scientific and
philosophic decadence of the second half of the nineteenth century.

[Sidenote] _Origin of language and its development._

We must here note a mistake into which have fallen those very
philologists who have best penetrated the active nature of language.
These, although they admit that language was _originally a spiritual
creation_, yet maintain that it was largely increased later by
_association_. But the distinction does not prevail, for origin in this
case cannot mean anything but nature or essence. If, therefore, language
be a spiritual creation, it will always be a creation; if it be
association, it will have been so from the beginning. The mistake has
arisen from not having grasped the general principle of Aesthetic, which
we have noted: namely, that expressions already produced must redescend
to the rank of impressions before they can give rise to new impressions.
When we utter new words, we generally transform the old ones, varying or
enlarging their meaning; but this process is not associative. It is
creative, although the creation has for material the impressions, not of
the hypothetical primitive man, but of man who has lived long ages in
society, and who has, so to say, stored so many things in his psychic
organism, and among them so much language.

[Sidenote] _Relation between Grammar and Logic._

The question of the distinction between the aesthetic and the
intellectual fact has appeared in Linguistic as that of the relations
between Grammar and Logic. This question has found two solutions, which
are partially true: that of the indissolubility of Logic and Grammar,
and that of their dissolubility. The complete solution is this: if the
logical form be indissoluble from the grammatical (aesthetic), the
grammatical is dissoluble from the logical.

[Sidenote] _Grammatical classes or parts of speech._

If we look at a picture which, for example, portrays a man walking on a
country road, we can say: "This picture represents a fact of movement,
which, if conceived as volitional, is called _action_. And because every
movement implies _matter_, and every action a being that acts, this
picture also represents either _matter_ or a _being_. But this movement
takes place in a definite place, which is a part of a given _star_ (the
Earth), and precisely in that part of it which is called _terra-firma_,
and more properly in a part of it that is wooded and covered with grass,
which is called _country_, cut naturally or artificially, in a manner
which is called _road_. Now, there is only one example of that given
star, which is called Earth: Earth is an _individual_. But
_terra-firma_, _country_, _road_, are _classes or universals_, because
there are other terra-firmas, other countries, other roads." And it
would be possible to continue for a while with similar considerations.
By substituting a phrase for the picture that we have imagined, for
example, one to this effect, "Peter is walking on a country road," and
by making the same remarks, we obtain the concepts of _verb_ (motion or
action), of _noun_ (matter or agent), of _proper noun_, of _common
nouns_; and so on.

What have we done in both cases? Neither more nor less than to submit to
logical elaboration what was first elaborated only aesthetically; that
is to say, we have destroyed the aesthetical by the logical. But, as in
general Aesthetic, error begins when It is wished to return from the
logical to the aesthetical, and it is asked what is the expression of
movement, action, matter, being, of the general, of the individual,
etc.; thus in like manner with language, error begins when motion or
action are called verb, being, or matter, noun or substantive, and when
linguistic categories, or _parts of speech_, are made of all these, noun
and verb and so on. The theory of parts of speech is at bottom
altogether the same as that of artistic and literary classes, already
criticized in the Aesthetic.

It is false to say that the verb or the noun is expressed in definite
words, truly distinguishable from others. Expression is an indivisible
whole. Noun and verb do not exist in themselves, but are abstractions
made by our destroying the sole linguistic reality, which is _the
proposition_. This last is to be understood, not in the usual mode of
grammarians, but as an organism expressive of a complete meaning, from
an exclamation to a poem. This sounds paradoxical, but is nevertheless a
most simple truth.

And as in Aesthetic, the artistic productions of certain peoples have
been looked upon as imperfect, owing to the error above mentioned,
because the supposed kinds have seemed still to be indiscriminate or
absent with them; so, in Linguistic, the theory of the parts of speech
has caused the analogous error of dividing languages into formed and
unformed, according to whether there appear in them or not some of those
supposed parts of speech; for example, the verb.

[Sidenote] _The individuality of speech and the classification of

Linguistic also discovered the irreducible individuality of the
aesthetic fact, when it affirmed that the word is what is really spoken,
and that two truly identical words do not exist. Thus were synonyms and
homonyms destroyed, and thus was shown the impossibility of really
translating one word into another, from so-called dialect into so-called
language, and from a so-called mother-tongue into a so-called foreign

But the attempt to classify languages agrees ill with this correct view.
Languages have no reality beyond the propositions and complexes of
propositions really written and pronounced by given peoples for definite
periods. That is to say, they have no existence outside the works of
art, in which they exist concretely. What is the art of a given people
but the complex of all its artistic products? What is the character of
an art (say, Hellenic art or Provencal literature), but the complex
physiognomy of those products? And how can such a question be answered,
save by giving the history of their art (of their literature, that is to
say, of their language in action)?

It will seem that this argument, although possessing value as against
many of the wonted classifications of languages, yet is without any as
regards that queen of classifications, the historico-genealogical, that
glory of comparative philology. And this is certainly true. But why?
Precisely because the historico-genealogical method is not a
classification. He who writes history does not classify, and the
philologists themselves have hastened to say that the languages which
can be arranged in a historical series (those whose series have been
traced) are, not distinct and definite species, but a complex of facts
in the various phases of its development.

[Sidenote] _Impossibility of a normative grammar._

Language has sometimes been looked upon as an act of volition or of
choice. But others have discovered the impossibility of creating
language artificially, by an act of will. _Tu, Caesar, civitatem dare
potes homini, verbo non poles!_ was once said to the Roman Emperor.

The aesthetic (and therefore theoretic) nature of expression supplies
the method of correcting the scientific error which lies in the
conception of a (normative) _Grammar_, containing the rules of speaking
well. Good sense has always rebelled against this error. An example of
such rebellion is the "So much the worse for grammar" of Voltaire. But
the impossibility of a normative grammar is also recognized by those who
teach it, when they confess that to write well cannot be learned by
rules, that there are no rules without exceptions, and that the study of
Grammar should be conducted practically, by reading and by examples,
which form the literary taste. The scientific reason of this
impossibility lies in what we have already proved: that a technique of
the theoretical amounts to a contradiction in terms. And what could a
(normative) grammar be, but just a technique of linguistic expression,
that is to say, of a theoretic fact?

[Sidenote] _Didactic purposes._

The case in which Grammar is understood merely as an empirical
discipline, that is to say, as a collection of groups useful for
learning languages, without any claim whatever to philosophic truth, is
quite different. Even the abstractions of the parts of speech are in
this case both admissible and of assistance.

Many books entitled treatises of Linguistic have a merely didactic
purpose; they are simply scholastic manuals. We find in them, in truth,
a little of everything, from the description of the vocal apparatus and
of the artificial machines (phonographs) which can imitate it, to
summaries of the most important results obtained by Indo-European,
Semitic, Coptic, Chinese, or other philologies; from philosophic
generalizations on the origin or nature of language, to advice on
calligraphy, and the arrangement of schedules for philological spoils.
But this mass of notions, which is here taught in a fragmentary and
incomplete manner as regards the language in its essence, the language
as expression, resolves itself into notions of Aesthetic. Nothing exists
outside _Aesthetic_, which gives knowledge of the nature of language,
and _empirical Grammar_, which is a pedagogic expedient, save the
_History of languages_ in their living reality, that is, the history of
concrete literary productions, which is substantially identical with the
_History of literature_.

[Sidenote] _Elementary linguistic facts or roots._

The same mistake of confusing the physical with the aesthetic, from
which the elementary forms of the beautiful originate, is made by those
who seek for elementary aesthetic facts, decorating with that name the
divisions of the longer series of physical sounds into shorter series.
Syllables, vowels, and consonants, and the series of syllables called
words which give no definite sense when taken alone, are not facts of
language, but simple physical concepts of sounds.

Another mistake of the same sort is that of roots, to which the most
able philologists now accord but a very limited value. Having confused
physical with linguistic or expressive facts, and observing that, in the
order of ideas, the simple precedes the complex, they necessarily ended
by thinking that _the smaller_ physical facts were _the more simple_.
Hence the imaginary necessity that the most antique, primitive
languages, had been monosyllabic, and that the progress of historical
research must lead to the discovery of monosyllabic roots. But (to
follow up the imaginary hypothesis) the first expression that the first
man conceived may also have had a mimetic, not a phonic reflex: it may
have been exteriorised, not in a sound but in a gesture. And assuming
that it was exteriorised in a sound, there is no reason to suppose that
sound to have been monosyllabic rather than plurisyllabic. Philologists
frequently blame their own ignorance and impotence, if they do not
always succeed in reducing plurisyllabism to monosyllabism, and they
trust in the future. But their faith is without foundation, as their
blame of themselves is an act of humility arising from an erroneous

Furthermore, the limits of syllables, as those of words, are altogether
arbitrary, and distinguished, as well as may be, by empirical use.
Primitive speech, or the speech of the uncultured man, is _continuous_,
unaccompanied by any reflex consciousness of the divisions of the word
and of the syllables, which are taught at school. No true law of
Linguistic can be founded on such divisions. Proof of this is to be
found in the confession of linguists, that there are no truly phonetic
laws of the hiatus, of cacophony, of diaeresis, of synaeresis, but
merely laws of taste and convenience; that is to say, _aesthetic_ laws.
And what are the laws of _words_ which are not at the same time laws of

[Sidenote] _Aesthetic judgment and the model language._

The search for a _model language_, or for a method of reducing
linguistic usage to _unity_, arises from the misconception of a
rationalistic measurement of the beautiful, from the concept which we
have termed that of false aesthetic absoluteness. In Italy, we call this
question that of the _unity of the language_.

Language is perpetual creation. What has been linguistically expressed
cannot be repeated, save by the reproduction of what has already been
produced. The ever-new impressions give rise to continuous changes of
sounds and of meanings, that is, to ever-new expressions. To seek the
model language, then, is to seek the immobility of motion. Every one
speaks, and should speak, according to the echoes which things arouse in
his soul, that is, according to his impressions. It is not without
reason that the most convinced supporter of any one of the solutions of
the problem of the unity of language (be it by the use of Latin, of
fourteenth-century Italian, or of Florentine) feels a repugnance in
applying his theory, when he is speaking in order to communicate his
thoughts and to make himself understood. The reason for this is that he
feels that were he to substitute Latin, fourteenth-century Italian, or
Florentine speech for that of a different origin, but which answers to
his impressions, he would be falsifying the latter. He would become a
vain listener to himself, instead of a speaker, a pedant in place of a
serious man, a histrion instead of a sincere person. To write according
to a theory is not really to write: at the most, it is _making

The question of the unity of language is always reappearing, because,
put as it is, there can be no solution to it, owing to its being based
upon a false conception of what language is. Language is not an arsenal
of ready-made arms, and it is not _vocabulary_, which, in so far as it
is thought of as progressive and in living use, is always a cemetery,
containing corpses more or less well embalmed, that is to say, a
collection of abstractions.

Our mode of settling the question of the model language, or of the unity
of the language, may seem somewhat abrupt, and yet we would not wish to
appear otherwise than respectful towards the long line of literary men
who have debated this question in Italy for centuries. But those ardent
debates were, at bottom, debates upon aestheticity, not upon aesthetic
science, upon literature rather than upon literary theory, upon
effective speaking and writing, not upon linguistic science. Their error
consisted in transforming the manifestation of a want into a scientific
thesis, the need of understanding one another more easily among a people
dialectically divided, in the philosophic search for a language, which
should be one or ideal. Such a search was as absurd as that other search
for a _universal language_, with the immobility of the concept and of
the abstraction. The social need for a better understanding of one
another cannot be satisfied save by universal culture, by the increase
of communications, and by the interchange of thought among men.

[Sidenote] _Conclusion._

These observations must suffice to show that all the scientific problems
of Linguistic are the same as those of Aesthetic, and that the truths
and errors of the one are the truths and errors of the other. If
Linguistic and Aesthetic appear to be two different sciences, this
arises from the fact that people think of the former as grammar, or as a
mixture between philosophy and grammar, that is, an arbitrary mnemonic
scheme. They do not think of it as a rational science and as a pure
philosophy of speech. Grammar, or something grammatical, also causes the
prejudice in people's minds, that the reality of language lies in
isolated and combinable words, not in living discourse among expressive
organisms, rationally indivisible.

Those linguists, or glottologists with philosophical endowments, who
have best fathomed questions of language, resemble (to employ a worn but
efficacious figure) workmen piercing a tunnel: at a certain point they
must hear the voices of their companions, the philosophers of Aesthetic,

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