Hiram M. (Hiram Miner) Stanley.

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æsthetic pleasure and emotion is a distinct psychosis which somehow
arises with reference to objects. It is not some previous psychosis as
modified by association, habit, economy, play-impulse, or sexuality; but
it is a _sui generis_ mode which develops on the basis of a past
evolution. The simplest and earliest æsthetic mode is plainly the
sensuous. Very commonly when looking on the delicate solid-tinted glow
of early dawn I have æsthetic pleasure, my eye dwells on it with
pleasure and drinks in the pleasant light. It is obvious here that the
sensing activity is carried on, not to discriminate food or mate nor yet
as mere vent to energy; but the sensing here acts for the pleasure in
the activity itself. How and why mere cognitive act, which originates as
guide to life, acquires a direct pleasure value and so is carried on
apart from the ends of life, and initiates an æsthetic world of its own,
cannot on the face of it be explained by natural selection; it is
entirely apart from this order of things. But we know that sensing often
carries pleasure with it as significant of life value, thus the thing
tasting good was originally the good thing to eat, digest and
assimilate; so also for smell, etc. But under natural selection this
pleasure sanction and index was never cultivated for its own sake.

Now is there any real difference in the pleasure in, for instance,
smelling, for the pure pleasure of smelling, as a perfume of fresh
apples, and the pleasure from smelling the apples as detecting them when
you are hungry? “How pleasant those apples smell! I do not care to eat
them, but I just enjoy smelling them”; is the pleasure thus indicated
the same in quality with that of the man who says, “Those apples smell
so nice I would like to try one”? Again, if hungry, we say, “The bread
tastes so _good_,” but we notice this pleasantness rapidly decreases as
appetite is satisfied. However, if there be fresh grass butter, you may
continue to eat long after appetite is satisfied, for the pure pleasure
of the taste. Obviously, the latter pleasure is not a mere continuance
of the former. Relish and taste pleasure seem distinct. Again, a red
apple is a pleasant sight to a hungry man and to an artist in different
ways. If our pleasure in looking at a picture of an apple is such that
the mouth waters, we know at once that the pleasure is unæsthetic. He
who is very fond of apples, and to whom they are always a pleasant
sight, is so far barred from æsthetic pleasure in them; while he who has
no appreciation of their edibility is thereby prepared for æsthetically
sensing them. So also sour grapes are as pretty as sweet. The colour
sense began as discriminative of foods, and hence red became pleasurably
known, but æsthetic appreciation is certainly much later and quite
diverse. If it be asked how and when did red, already noticeable, become
dwelt upon æsthetically, all we can hazard in reply is that at some
leisure moment when unmoved by appetite a surplus of energy set up an
habitual sensing activity, as noticing reds, and at a certain stage when
some directing is exercised, there comes a unique pleasure from the mere
sensing, and the red is therefore _dwelt_ upon. Æsthetic colour-pleasure
in the simplest case arises then in every one’s experience.

Sense-pleasure is thus distinctly of two kinds, first, as arising in
direct connection with general organic demands and satisfactions—the
part as serving the whole; second, as arising immediately from the
sense-activity—the whole as serving the part. A monkey may find an apple
a pleasant sight, but loses all interest when the apple is seen to be an
imitation: the monkey has the first pleasure, but not the second. The
sensuous æsthetic problem is merely to introspect the quality of the
sensing-for-itself-pleasure as distinct from pleasantness coming from
the service of life. A sense which develops its own pleasurableness is
on a new line, which we term the æsthetic. Æsthetic activity is distinct
from mere vent activity of superfluous energy by reason of being carried
on self-directed by the felt pleasure of activity; it implies a measure
of self-direction and self-consciousness. Æsthetic activity may then be
generally described as primarily a sensing carried on, not as means, but
for its own sake in pleasure immediately resulting. And we find that in
this very general meaning all senses have their æsthetic activity. The
temperature sense is carried on, as in basking, for the pure pleasure of
warmth. A cat behind a stove is a connoisseur in æsthetic warmth
sensations, and enjoys warmth for its own sake, so far as often to
injure the organism as a whole. To lie in the sun and experience the
thrills of pleasurable warmth and to keep up this sensing merely for the
sensation pleasure is a frequent experience even with man. Again, the
muscular and pressure senses often have a sphere of æsthetic activity
with athletes and lovers of exercise. When in prime condition, a man
will toss weights about solely for the pleasure involved in the sense of
pressure and of muscular activity. Touch also is plainly æsthetic when
one handles silk for the pleasure involved in its smoothness. Smell is
obviously an æsthetic activity in smelling perfumes for the pleasure of
the smell. It is probable that the æsthetic activity of this sense is
far wider in some of the lower animals where the sense is much more
acute, as the dog. The dog is plainly having a very different psychosis
when he is smelling with pleasure a piece of meat which he is about to
eat, and when he sniffs carrion and perfumes himself therewith. He gets
thus a certain pleasant but gross stimulation quite akin to the pleasure
some men take in musk, an enjoyment of which is distinctly an animal
trait. Again, the epicure who sips his rare wine is tasting for the pure
pleasure of the taste, and exercises this sense æsthetically. The
æsthetic of all these senses may be called the lower æsthetic, in
contradistinction to the higher æsthetic of sight and hearing; but
æsthetic activity is throughout its whole range practically identical in
nature and in the quality of its pleasure. When I lie in the sun and get
warmth, not because I am cold, but for the mere pleasure of the warmth
thrills, and when I keep looking at a delicate tint in the evening sky
for the mere pleasure of the sensation, I have, as far as my
introspection assures me, activities whose method and pleasure tone is

Simple sensuous æsthetic is no doubt the beginning of æsthetic activity,
but there speedily enters much complication. It often happens that
single elements which separately do not excite us æsthetically will
produce a marked effect in conjunction, as complementary colours, for
instance. Indeed, relation plays so large a place in our æsthetic
experience that such principles as variety and contrast, or, on the
other hand, unity, order, proportion, and harmony, have been made
fundamental to the æsthetic feeling. Æsthetic effect certainly here
becomes a complex of two or more reinforcing sensations or perceptions.
Where the sensuous elements of a perception are in themselves pleasing
we may expect the unison in perception to be doubly pleasing. However,
we may also conceive that æsthetic pleasure arises as a reflex of
perceptive activity in and for itself as a co-ordinating of impressions.

Fechner has made some experiments on what combinations are pleasing; but
experiment in this direction is extremely difficult because so few
people are willing to speak frankly of their æsthetic feelings, being
very sensitive about compromising themselves on matters of taste. There
is also the great difficulty of isolation, of making sure that
association does not creep in and add unforeseen elements. If Fechner
expected to get any judgments of value on such a matter as the golden
section rectangle, he should have consulted only trained artists who are
used to taking up the æsthetic activity with reference to any material
and expressing themselves with freedom. If this rectangle has the
æsthetic quality Fechner’s experiments suggest, it seems strange it was
not adopted by the symmetry-loving Greeks in their temples, like the

To the spheres of simple and relational sense beauty we have to add a
third—representative beauty. A colour, or two or more in combination
which give æsthetic satisfaction, will also please in hallucinatory
vision and in representation proper where the revival is recognised in
its unreality and representative nature, and also in recollection where
the memory is willed. The mere imaging these colours without any
definite time relation also gives æsthetic pleasure. It is, indeed, a
pleonasm to say that æsthetic revivals are æsthetic. However,
imagination is productive as well as reproductive, hence the ideal
achieves a fuller beauty than the real. Where the mind, prompted by
æsthetic desire, determines its own object, this object can more fully
satisfy it than reality, which is always imperfect. Thus art surpasses
nature, or more strictly is a higher nature. Idealism then is a mode of
realism, and realism is but the ideal of actuality. But the imaging
activity may, like the perceptive, be considered as in itself a source
of æsthetic pleasure. Imaging is primarily used in the service of life,
as when walking in a forest I hear a peculiar cry, imagine a wolf, and
flee. When imaging has been largely developed thus, it may often act as
a mere vent to energy; but this kind of activity has here, no more than
elsewhere, real æsthetic quality. At the animistic stage children
imagine in this way long before they æsthetically image. When we
consciously and with some self-direction enjoy imaging for its own sake,
we attain the æsthetic sphere. The æsthetic pleasures which are
suggested by such a phrase as—

“Fair ship, that from the Italian shore
Sails the placid ocean plains”—

are not merely the sum of the original sense pleasures, but perceptive
and imaginative pleasure _per se_ is added, the image is more beautiful
than the real vision, and this perception than some sense element, as
the light sensation implied in “placid.”

Æsthetic pleasure, even in sense, and much more in perceiving and
imagining, is a _delight_, that is, æsthetic quality is an emotion
quality, it is not a mere feeling from an object, but a feeling about
it. Now emotion may be enacted for emotion’s sake and so an æsthetic
pleasure wave be generated. This is the pleasure we take in the
pathetic—pity, the sublime, fear as awe, the tragic-horror. These
emotions are realized for themselves as a mode of pleasurable activity.
Æsthetic emotion is also very largely emotion at emotion, as a feeling
for the expressive, still here the emotion is for its own sake.

Æsthetic activity may then be described as an independent self-activity
of some sense, or of perception, or imagination, or emotion as impelled
by a pleasure, this pleasure being a distinct and new form we term
æsthetic. It is probable this pleasure first arose in connection with
the exercise of the sense as a vent for spontaneous energy, and pleasure
once somehow being taken in a mere activity _per se_, it is thenceforth
conducted therefor. This is the plainest path of conjecture thus far. If
the first æsthetic pleasure were taken in some quiet moment of venting
energy in sensing red, then red will continue to be sensed, impelled by
the pleasure involved in the act. Granted such an origin, the
development of æsthetic psychosis can be traced in the way we have

Æsthetic psychosis is commonly regarded as passive, and it is indeed
true that the first moment of the pleasure _comes_ as result of an
activity impelled by other motives. New psychoses are not consciously
formed but are rather hit upon in natural development; but once a new
pleasure is felt its conditions will be attained and kept to by
conscious effort, and the pleasure itself will receive its development
only through effortful activity. It is by supreme effort the great
artist attains the vision of beauty, it is by supreme effort he
expresses this vision, it is by supreme effort the critic appreciates
this expression. He who has no appreciation of sculpture may by
patiently and earnestly observing statuary reach at length some æsthetic
pleasure. Thus the æsthetic, like all mental modes, so far as
progressive, is effortful; and it seems certain that the æsthetic
pleasures that come to us so easily are race acquirements, a heritage of
culture. From its first germ onwards æsthetic, like intellectual, like
moral, like all mental activity, is the achievement of intense struggle.

With the rise of beauty we have a new utility. Here is a new pleasure
which once experienced is sought and sought again, is developed, and
with some natures becomes absorbing passion, the life. Objects fitted to
give this pleasure are desired, are bought and sold. The beautiful is
used to effect all kinds of ends. The lover adorns himself to make
himself attractive, the advertiser distributes his bills in artistic
shape, the real estate dealer ornaments his houses and grounds. Whatever
will afford æsthetic pleasure we are willing to pay for and pay high. In
fact, in the person of a Patti the æsthetic thrill becomes the most
expensive taste which humanity can indulge. Art then is a utility—a
something which satisfies desire—and as such it is not free or
shareable. But one at a time can observe a picture from the best point
of view. Rich men buy the most sightly spots in nature, the places of
magnificent vistas and open to beautiful sunsets. Beautiful things are
then desirables just like edible things or warm things, and as such they
are not shareable. The feeling for beauty, just because it is
self-contained, is far from being disinterested. It is essentially


Mr. Herbert Spencer’s famous essay, entitled, “The Philosophy of
Style”—by which is meant the Psychology of Style—propounds what we may
term the economic theory of literary effect. The secret, he tells us, of
the pleasing effect of diction, rhythm, figurative language, sentence
structure, lies in this, that these are labour-saving devices to
economize mental effort, that by their use we get with the least
attention the greatest apprehension; and hence we receive pleasure as
reflex of the facile and full cognition functioning. Literary pleasure
is thus brought under the law of pleasure in general. Take the quotation
from Shelley cited by Mr. Spencer:—

“Methought among the lawns together
We wandered, underneath the young grey dawn,
And multitudes of dense white fleecy clouds
Were wandering in thick flocks along the mountains,
Shepherded by the slow unwilling wind.”

You have read this with pleasure, and is not the source of this pleasure
the ease and celerity with which the mind reaches the “desired
conception”? Vividly and forcibly the mind is led by cunning use of
phrase and rhythm and figure to realize the picture, and there is a glow
of pleasure in the reaction from the facility. Language is a medium for
the transfer of ideas, and when it accomplishes this office most
effectively, as in the present case, and acts upon the mind so clearly
and forcibly that _nolens volens_ the reader at once apprehends and
comprehends, he feels a thrill of pleasure therewith, just as there is
pleasure connected with the rapid and easy assimilation of well cooked
food. Before developing and criticising this theory I may remark in
passing that Blair, the rhetorician, in treating of the structure of
sentences foreshadows in a way the economic theory when he writes that
“to have the relation of every word and member of a sentence marked in
the most proper and distinct manner, gives, not clearness only, but
grace and beauty to a sentence, making the mind pass smoothly and
agreeably along the parts of it.” This surely implies that æsthetical
pleasure of style may be based in a psychological economy and facility.
It is indeed a commonplace remark, “The book is so well written that you
cannot mistake or miss its meaning”; wherein the identification of style
with intelligibility becomes a truism. Certainly Mr. Spencer has not in
the economic theory propounded anything radically new.

We note at the outset that while this pleasure of style may result from
economy it is not the pleasure of the conscious economizer. The reader
who is enjoying a very readable book has a distinct pleasure from him
who views with satisfaction his finishing a book at a great and
unexpected saving of mental energy. We have here the direct pleasure
from economical exercise of the faculties contrasted with the indirect
introspective-retrospective pleasure at economy effected. Many persons
take as much pleasure in making mental energy go as far as possible, but
this pleasure in economy is obviously not the pleasure of style, which
is not reflective, but naïve and direct impression.

Language, either spoken or written, by its more or less effective modes
of accomplishing its office does then awaken a simple and direct
pleasure, according to the general law that pleasure accompanies
efficient acts as a sanction and stimulus. It is obvious that style for
spoken language, oratorical style, is precedent in its formation to
style for written language or literary style, and that it has greatly
affected literary style throughout its whole history. Yet the
distinctness of the two modes is affirmed by the common observation that
a speech, impressively pleasing to listen to, often does not read well.
While it may be true that in its origin literary style borrowed certain
devices from oratorical, yet in its latest evolution the written page is
far from being the speaking page. The book is not a substitute speaker
addressing us, and modes of expression which are most fitting for
conversation and oration, though sometimes used by writers, are alien to
pure literary art. However, I cannot pursue this interesting subject,
nor yet can I here treat of the origin of style more than to merely
observe that it is considerably later than the origin of language
itself. Neither the original uncouth speech, whether interjectional or
onomatopoetic, nor the earliest rude inscriptions can be said to have
style, oratorical or literary. Style is the offspring of specialization;
it first appeared when men recognised some one as particularly gifted
for fitting expression, and chose him as spokesman because of this
ability to communicate what was desired to be said with special force
and clearness. Thus arises the orator who achieves and invents
oratorical style. Likewise the writer is one who is selected for his
special abilities in expression by word of pen, and the scribe, clerk,
and public letter writer arise and evolve literary style as a skilful
way of effectively conveying ideas and impressions by written language.
The reader is also evolved, and in the reciprocal relation of demand and
supply and the competitive struggle to secure readers, the writer seeks
ever more and more to please and interest by introducing and perfecting
various inventions to make the reading of his work very easy and
enjoyable. Thus it comes that readableness is the natural test for
reading matter.

The economic theory of style in fine art plainly implies at bottom
physiological economy, for all psychological economy can only be
effected on this basis. The psychology of style must rest on a
physiology of style. We know that the pleasures of form and colour in
sculpture and painting are the reflex of physiological functions as
easily and completely performed. The curve of beauty is such because the
eye follows it more easily than other lines; the pleasing colour is such
because the physiological stimulus is accomplished in a normal and
facile way. And as visibility is the test for the arts which appeal to
the eye, so audibility is for the fine art which appeals to the ear.
Pleasure from music is the reflex of aural functioning accomplishing the
most with least strain. Now the pleasure which comes from literary style
must similarly be sought in some physiological mode. While plain print
and good paper are incidental pleasures in reading, they are not
primarily due to the stylist, who does, however, appeal to the eye by
the due proportioning of long and short words, sentences and paragraphs.
Though there is no conscious intent by the stylist, yet it may be
believed that the use of certain letters and certain successions of
letters as more or less easy for the eye is a matter of some importance.
Some letters and some combinations are ocularly more pleasing than
others, and this is clearly founded on economic physiological
conditions. It is greatly to be desired that physiologists would invent
new alphabetical forms which should be most adapted to the eye. It is
scarcely to be supposed that our present A B C's are the simplest and
easiest line-combinations for the eye. When the visual side of reading
is made as easy as possible, the general reflex sense of facility and
pleasure therewith is certainly increased. The artificial languages now
being exploited, as Volapuk, ought and would effect a great
physiological saving, as would also be accomplished by a phonetic

But the direct visible function of style is certainly far inferior to
the indirect. The power of style is very largely in stimulating pleasing
visual images. The main element in literature we are told is vision and
imagination, which is but a restimulation and recombination of ocular
experiences. Sensation is the source and strong basis for all those
faint revivals which are so aptly and pleasantly called up by the
literary artist, and hence when the poet speaks of “the light which
never was on sea or land,” this is really meaningless, since all our
light impressions are terrestrial in their nature. To the blind man the
whole visual effect, direct and indirect, of style is lost; his imaging
power must be in some other sense.

Literature is then, like sculpture and painting, largely a visual art,
and its pleasure-giving quality is the reflex of visibility. Mere form
and colour may in a sense constitute a picture; though in general we
demand that it mean something, suggest something. A picture is such as
depicting something, and so being more than a study in form or colour.
The mere direct pleasure of ocular sensation plays a large part in
graphic and glyptic art, yet it is commonly conceived that some measure
of imagination, that is, some indirect visible function, is necessary
even here. Sculpture and painting depend like literature on both direct
and indirect vision as physiological and psychological basis of æsthetic

But in a secondary way literary style depends for its effect upon
auditory sensations both direct and revival. We mentally, and often
orally, pronounce as we read, and so appreciate sonorous quality and
onomatopoetic force. Alliteration, rhyme, euphony, and rhythm play
certainly a considerable part in the charm of style, and literature on
this side approaches and passes gradually into music. Euphony answers to
melody, and rhyme and rhythm to harmony. Literature may become for us
merely a succession of pleasing sounds, as when we hum over some
favourite lines of poetry, or when, ignorant of the Italian language, we
listen to an opera. Some of Milton’s lists of names in such lines as

“Of Cambalu, seat of Cathayan Can,
And Samarchand by Oxus, Temer’s throne”—

charm merely by the flow and fulness of sound. But the stylist aims, not
merely at formal sensuous beauty in tone and cadence of language, he
aims to suggest pleasing sounds, and to awaken the auditory imagination,
and to harmonize sense with sound as is done so successfully by poets
like Tennyson and prosaists like Sir Thomas Browne. All this auditory
side of literary style is lost on the deaf, as the visual is lost on the
blind. Literature as an art is neither blind like music nor deaf like
painting, but it is a compound art, visual-auditory, and thus, by virtue
of its range, is the greatest of the arts. It is true that indirectly
and in a very limited way painting can suggest sounds, and music sights,
but literature, both directly and indirectly, can freely and fully give

Online LibraryHiram M. (Hiram Miner) StanleyStudies in the Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling → online text (page 25 of 32)