Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/752

This page has been validated.
732
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

memory. But two of them, and the most intelligent ones among the tribe, such as can count as far as four, ventured on a remark. One said, "It is a boat"—the other, "It is a kangaroo."

All savages would answer in the same way, yet they are men. But, although they too love beauty after their fashion, though they have a strong liking for ornament, a great disposition for coquetry, savages do not go further than the special and individual object; they do not rise to a general, abstract idea; they know no more than the dog knows about seeing life in the representation of a living being. Therefore we need to correct the formula of Darwin's opponents, and may possibly thus succeed in bringing friends and enemies into agreement; their phrase must read, "The æsthetic sense belongs to civilized man alone.

In truth, it is not an innate faculty; it is a faculty acquired by tradition, by personal study, by the development of all the other faculties. The Australians must first learn to count as far as the number of fingers on the hand, and something more than that, before they can be able afterward to understand that pictures of a man and a woman, even if disfigured with a cap or crown, are neither boats nor kangaroos.

This assertion, that the æsthetic sense belongs only to civilized man, may be proved by both philosophic methods and by arguments which I take the liberty of stating concisely, as I have set them out at length in a treatise on the question "How should art be encouraged?" The subject is worth the risk of incurring ridicule for copying one's self. We may call it, if you choose, a second edition.

A priori, were we to assert that equality before the law means equality in intelligences, and that every man who has the right to be a citizen has the power to be an artist, we should commit a fundamental mistake. This would be confounding the feeling of the good in our nature with the feeling of the beautiful. The former is the instinctive knowledge of good and evil, of the just and the unjust; it is born with us, it is conscience itself, and, as such, it is necessary for all. The latter is a certain delicacy of sensation and of judgment which is formed very gradually in the course of life; it is called taste, and is useful only to a few. The feeling of the good, which marks the grand superiority of man over the animals, and forms the common basis of all societies, is an essential element in our nature, a gift we are forced to accept from the creative power. Without it, man would not be man. On the contrary, the feeling of the beautiful, which is less necessary, and may well be rare because it is superfluous, is an acquisition won by intelligence, slowly, painfully, uncertainly, and is often denied to the most honest efforts. One, like rank, costs nothing but the trouble of being born: the other demands, as all acquired knowledge does, a previous fitness, a kind of revelation, in which chance must often lend Nature its aid, besides time, reflection, mental labor in bodily leisure.