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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/355

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ÆESTHETIC EVOLUTION IN MAN.

do very distinctly display their admiration for the beautiful forms, colors, and songs of their own highly decorated or musical mates. The facts on which Mr. Darwin bases his theory of sexual selection thus become of the first importance for the aesthetic philosopher, because they are really the only solid evidence for the existence of a love for beauty in the infra-human world. Granting the truth of his views (on which I for one have no shadow of doubt now remaining), we have good proof of a taste for symmetry and curved form in the magnificent tail of the lyre-bird, in the wedding plumage of the whydah-bird, in the twisted horns of the kudu antelope; of a taste for color and luster in the gorgeous train of the peacock, in the metallic necklets of the humming-bird, in the exquisite wings of tropical butterflies, in the bronze and gilded armor of the rose-chafers; lastly, of a taste for musical sound in the stridulation of the cicada and the house-cricket, in the deep notes of the bell-bird and the howler monkey, in the outpoured song of the linnet, the sky-lark, and the nightingale.

This close restriction of the æsthetic feeling to those objects which most nearly concern the individual, and through him the species, is only what we should naturally expect among the lower animals. We could hardly fancy them interesting themselves in anything so remote from their own personal wants as the rainbow or the sunset, the blue hills and the belted sea. They and their ancestors before them could not have gained any advantage by turning aside their attention from the practical pursuit of food or mates, to the otiose contemplation of that which profiteth nothing. Our own disinterested love for things so distant from our substantial needs has arisen gradually through a long process of ever-widening sympathies and ever-multiplying associations. But two things the insect, the bird, or the mammal could notice, and gain an advantage for itself or its race by noticing. It could pick out by its eye the forms and colors of edible foodstuffs among the unedible and relatively useless mass of foliage upon—earth the red berry or blossom from the green leaves, the fat white grub from the brown soil, the lurking caterpillar from the stalk whose lines and hues it so exactly imitates. It could distinguish by its ear the chirp of the savory grasshopper from the click of the hard or bitter beetle, the pretty note of the harmless sparrow from the deep cry of the dangerous hawk or the greedy jay. Thus eye and ear alike became educated among the superior articulates and vertebrates, in anticipation, as it were, of their higher æsthetic functions.

In the choice of mates, however, the powers so gained were exercised in a way which we can not consider as falling short of the true aesthetic level. Even the lowest animals (among those in which the sexes are different) seem instinctively to distinguish their fellows from all other species. In the higher classes, where the eye and ear have been so educated as to discriminate minutely between various forms, colors, shades, and notes, the instinct must almost certainly operate