Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/101

This page has been validated.





WE have become so accustomed to color in all the objects about us, that we may almost be said to take no notice of it. Day after day we look upon the wealth of color in the landscape by which we are surrounded, without hardly ever giving it a thought. Some of us never awake to the perception of the beauty of color in nature; to others the knowledge of this beauty is only opened through the medium of art. A person who has taken little interest in paintings, but who, by some circumstance or other, is at last led to a more attentive study, especially of landscape-painting, will frequently be surprised by the enhanced interest which Nature ever after awakens in him. He finds charms where he never sought them before, and sees beauties to which he had been totally blind. The mystery of color has been unfolded to him, or rather he has been made conscious of his own faculty of perceiving color—a faculty which had, indeed, been always in him, but which had lain dormant.

Even to those, however, who are fully alive to the charm of color, the latter is so much a matter of fact that they take its presence for granted, and accept as a foregone conclusion that it can never be otherwise. The question, How would the world look without color? has never troubled their minds, and, if it were really proposed to them, they would probably meet it with the reply that there was no need of speculating about impossibilities. Yet that which appears to be so impossible is really possible; for there are not only people in existence who do not see, never saw, and never will see color, but we may even create something approximating such a colorless world for ourselves, at least as far as the artificial sphere is concerned in which we move within our houses.

Before me, as I write this, hangs a Chinese painting, executed in all the brilliancy of Oriental coloring—rich vermilion, fine blues of various shades, greens, and other full colors. I light an alcohol-lamp, into the wick of which I have rubbed some common table-salt. I turn down the gas, and, as I now look at the Chinese painting in the dim light of my magic lamp, all its color has disappeared. I know the vermilion, the blues, and the greens are all there, but I can not see them. And yet I see the picture itself quite plainly, with its outlines and its delicate gradations; but it is all black and gray, with only a faint trace of yellow here and there, where a yellow pigment has been employed by the artist. Beside me on my writing-table lies a sample-chart of water-colors; but, however intently I look at it, I can see nothing but spots that seem to have been produced by India-ink in various gradations. I travel round my room, and all the objects ap-