Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/751

This page has been validated.
731
ON THE ÆSTHETIC SENSE IN ANIMALS.

unable to attain general and abstract ideas, cannot rise to the æsthetic sense. To conclude: that sense is the exclusive endowment of man.

This is a concise statement—for neither our subject nor our powers allow us to take a side in this discussion of the interesting controversy raised by Mr. Darwin's last book. We only say that, notwithstanding the deep respect and the frank support that we give to his general doctrine, we here adopt the opinion of his opponents. We, too, believe that the æsthetic sense, in the high and perfect acceptation of the phrase, belongs to man alone. But we must here suggest a correction of the highest importance, which will at once define our opinion, and lead us to a fundamental reflection upon the arts.

"Complete the experiment," M. Charles Lévêque says. "Place your animal before a work of art representing its male or its female with a precision that deceives the eye; some of these works that seemed to live existed in the studios of ancient painters; they are more frequent in modern museums and exhibition-rooms. It was said that mares would neigh when going before horses painted by Apelles. A dog would perhaps stop a moment in front of Oudry's hunting-pieces, if their frames were put on the floor, within reach of his look. He would come up, examine them, ask the canvas a single question with his infallible scent—and that would be all. And yet, what is there in the picture? There is exactly the element worthy of admiration, that is to say, the expression of life by means of the most attractive colors and the most perfect forms. What does the quadruped care for these as he looks at this wonder? It is not the expression of life in general that he wants; it is life itself, individual life, life which speaks to his senses, and to that of smell much more strongly than to his eyes and ears. He has no concern with the general, the ideal, the admirable; he understands nothing about them."

This is all strictly and absolutely true. We have never put much faith in the stories invented by the Greeks and collected by Pliny; we have never remarked, in our long experience as a sportsman, that the most intelligent of man's companions ever gave the least attention to any object represented by painting or sculpture, even to his master's portrait, or that he looked with any feeling of satisfaction at one of those charming landscapes set before us at every step by Nature, enchanting as their view is to us. That seems to us one settled fact. But is M. Lévêque quite certain that all men have any greater faculty for that notice and that knowledge which are wanting in the dog? Have savages got above the level of animals in this respect? A traveler, who has studied Australia thoroughly, relates that at a gathering of some native inhabitants of that country he brought out portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, to see what they would think of them. Almost all kept silence, seeing nothing in the pictures at all within their range, or that touched their