Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/354

This page has been validated.
340
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

or at least very little. Thus we see Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Poynter each mutually denying the other's powers of appreciation. But the psychological æsthetician can not confine his attention to such exceptional and highest developments of the love for beauty as engage the whole interest of these artistic critics. He must look rather to those simpler and more universal feelings which are common to all the race, and which form the groundwork for every higher mode of aesthetic sensibility. It is enough for him that all village children call a daisy or a primrose pretty: he need not go far afield to discuss the peculiar specific merits of a Botticelli or a Pinturiccio. Hundreds of thousands, who would stare in blank unconcern at a torso from the chisel of Phidias, can love and admire "the meanest flower that blows," with something not wholly unlike the welling emotions of a Wordsworth. Indeed, one is often inclined to fancy that the truest lovers of beauty in nature, or in the works of man, are not always those who can talk most glibly the technical dialect of art-criticism.

If we wish to hit upon the primitive germ of æsthetic sensibility in man, we can not begin better than by looking at its foreshadowing in the lower animals. There are two modes of aesthetic feeling which seem to exist among vertebrates and insects at least: the first is the sense of visual beauty in form, color, or brilliancy; the second is the sense of auditory beauty in musical or rhythmical sound. The former of the two modes I have endeavored in part to illustrate in my little work "The Color-Sense": the latter has been admirably treated by Mr. Sully in his valuable essay on "Animal Music," which appeared in the "Cornhill Magazine" for November, 1879. Now, if we look at the manner in which insects, birds, and mammals apparently manifest these presumed æsthetic feelings, we shall see that they are very restricted and limited in range. Animals never seem to admire scenery, or foliage, or beautiful creatures of other species. They do not appear for the most part to care greatly for human music, or for any sounds other than those uttered by their own kind. They do not even show any marked aesthetic enjoyment of the lovely flowers and fruits whose tints, as Mr. Darwin teaches us, are mainly due to their own selective action. But, if our great biologist is correct in his reasonings,[1] they

  1. I should like to add parenthetically that, since the appearance of my work "The Color-Sense" and the numerous criticisms to which it gave rise, I have fully reconsidered the whole question of sexual selection in the light of all that has been written about it, and feel only the more convinced of the general truth of Mr. Darwin's views upon the subject. It may be naturally objected that I am not an impartial witness in this matter: but I should like further to state that, on examining the various authorities, pro and con, I find in every case that the persons who are uncommitted to any special theological, quasi-theological, or metaphysical theory of evolution agree in full with Mr. Darwin, while only those differ from him who are bound down, en parti pris, to some more or less supernatural view of evolution, like Mr. Wallace, Professor Mivart, and Mr. J. J. Murphy, and who are therefore averse to any naturalistic explanation of the sense of beauty. I hope hereafter and elsewhere to enter more fully into this important question.