Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/357

This page has been validated.

erations. But, besides this fundamental typical beauty—the beauty which consists in full realization of the normal specific form—there is another source of personal beauty on which sexual selection may act, and through which it has produced the greater number of its most striking effects. This source may be found in the exercise of tastes otherwise acquired upon relatively unimportant details of form, color, or musical abilities. The taste for bright hues, acquired through the search for food in blossoms, berries, or brilliant insects, may be transferred to the search for mates, so that those mates will be most preferred which happen to vary most from the original typical coloration in the direction of more brilliant hues. The taste for musical sound, implied, as I have elsewhere tried to show on the lines laid down by Helmholtz, in the very structure of the auditory apparatus (at least in birds and mammals), may be exercised in the preference given among birds to the sweetest or the loudest singers. Unimportant ornamental points may thus be constantly developed by continual selection of small gradations, when they do not interfere with the general efficiency of the organism, till at length we get such highly evolved aesthetic products as the waving plumage of the bird-of-paradise, the sculptured antlers of the gazelle, and the varied song of the mockingbird. And since, as Mr. Wallace has shown (he himself believes in opposition to, but I rather fancy in confirmation of, Mr. Darwin's theory), these ornamental adjuncts or faculties are most likely to coexist with the highest sexual efficiency, it must happen that in the main sexual selection and natural selection will reënforce one another, the strongest and best being always on an average the most beautiful, and hence the most pleasing to all possible mates.

In this way, I take it, a sense of beauty in the contemplation of their own mates must have grown up among all the higher animals, and must have became strongest and most discriminative among those whose mates have undergone the greatest amount of ornamental differentiation. And as the secondary differences between man and woman as to beard, hair, and features, are greater than between the two sexes of almost any other quadrumanous animal, we may conclude that man's æsthetic appreciation of beauty in his own species has always been very considerable. Of this æsthetic appreciation, the secondary differences in question are at once the proof, the cause, and the effect. For, in the constant action and reaction of heredity and adaptation, it must happen that the greater the original taste, the more will it be exerted in the choice of mates; and, the more it is exerted in each generation, the greater will be its effects, and the more will the taste be strengthened in all future generations.

This, then, would seem to be the primitive starting-point of which we are in search. Man in his earliest human condition, as he first evolved from the undifferentiated anthropoidal stage, must have possessed certain vague elements of æsthetic feeling: but they can have