Hiram M. (Hiram Miner) Stanley.

Studies in the Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling online

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both. Word-music and word-painting are both methods of literary style.
In short, the explanation of the pleasure of style is pleasing sight or
sound directly or indirectly given, and the explanation of the pleasing
character of the sight or sound is as the reflex of easy economical
physiological functioning as basis of easy economical psychic function.

But we have now to ask whether economy of attention is the sole
psychological secret of style, and whether, indeed, it is always
necessary to style. Is style, like grammar or orthography, merely a more
or less conventionalized device to make intelligibility certain and
easy? Is our reading always the more pleasurable as it is the more
effortless? The pleasure of facility certainly bears a large part in
much of our literary enjoyment, but there is another and opposite law of
pleasure which, I think, often determines pleasure in style. To
accomplish much with no exertion, to slide down a long hill, gives
pleasure, but there is also a pleasure in exertion, in climbing hills as
well as sliding down. The pleasures of strenuous activity of attention
form a certain element in literary effect. The writer may do too much
for the reader, may make everything so simple and easy that the reader
has nothing to do, but is carried along without volition and curiosity,
losing all joy of attainment and grasp. For my own part, I often find
authors too fluent and facile, especially among the French, and
sometimes among the English, as, for instance, in some of John Stuart
Mill’s writings. These do not leave enough for me to do, and led
skilfully along so smooth a road that I am not conscious of moving, I
lose the pleasure of achievement, of the sense of enlargement of
conscious powers. Easy got, easy goes, is the law here as elsewhere. The
pleasure of acquirement is directly as the amount of attention

Mr. Spencer in discussing this matter remarks that, as “language is the
vehicle of thought, we may say that in all cases the friction and
inertia of the vehicle deduct from its efficiency, and that in
composition the chief thing to be done is, to reduce the friction and
inertia to the smallest amounts.” But it must be remembered that motion
is not only against friction but by friction. The rail may be too smooth
as well as too rough. Every locomotive, for a given piece of track with
a given gradient, has a certain co-efficient of friction for its most
effective working, above and below which there is alike decrease of
efficiency; and in engineering it is equally a problem to keep friction
up as to reduce it. So I say of style, that it may be too smooth and
facile, and may reduce mental friction to so low a point that there is
no grasp and no real progress. A sentence of Hooker or Milton,
magnificent stylists though they are, can, as an affair of economy of
attention, be greatly improved by breaking it up into a number of simple
plain sentences after the primer fashion, The cat mews, The dog barks,
etc.; but this process certainly is not an improvement of their style.
But if economy of attention were the sole secret of style, certainly the
more economy we introduce the greater and better should be the style.
Professor Sherman, of the University of Nebraska, in a recent article
shows that heaviness—that which requires “constant effort in reading”—is
due to the number of words _per_ sentence, which has been reduced in the
course of the history of English prose from an average of fifty words a
sentence in Chaucer and Spenser to five in the columns of a modern,
low-grade, popular story-paper; but it obviously cannot be maintained
that the style of the story-paper is ten times better than that of
Spenser’s _State of Ireland_.

We might then set up with plausibility an exactly opposite theory to the
economic, and maintain that the secret of style is in exciting us to the
greatest attentive effort, and that the best style is that which rouses
us to the severest mental exertion. However, I believe that these two
opposite methods of style are complementary. The great stylist is he who
strikes the exact mean between over facility and over difficulty, and
touches the exact co-efficient of mental friction in the reader, at
which his whole power of mind comes into highest and most harmonious and
effective exercise. The accomplished stylist most cleverly throws in
questions, suggests doubts, and defers answers. To read his book is not
a toboggan slide, but an obstacle race. What is plot interest but a
skilful putting of obstacles in the reader’s way, deferring and
thwarting his expectations, putting him on the _qui vive_ of attention?
By the development of plot the novelist and dramatist plays hide and
seek with the reader. No cunning artist reveals at once his whole
thought in a blaze of light, but he mystifies and draws in half-tones,
thus to stir you to reach out and grasp his meaning.

But we are as yet far from exhausting the psychological significance of
pleasure in style when we trace it to a reflex from either decrease or
increase of attentive effort. The pleasure we have so far considered is
naïve and direct; it is from literary art rather than in or at literary
art as such. The child and the most ordinary reader derive from books a
simple and natural pleasure which they do not reflect upon, and do not
in any wise conceive the ways and means by which the effect is produced.
Indeed, in the presence of the most lucid and perfect art these readers,
like Partridge at the play, take everything as a matter of course, as
just the way they would themselves express it. The _dilettante_ alone
tastes the pleasure in style as such; as an art, an adaptation of means
to ends, he alone appreciates the delicate adjustment of expression to
thought, the choice diction, the deft management of word and phrase. The
quality of this technical pleasure in style is exemplified in its
highest form in this note of a great artist-critic, Shelley, appended to
his fine translation of the opening chorus in “Faust”:—

"Such is a literal translation of this astonishing chorus; it is
impossible to represent in another language the melody of the
versification; even the volatile strength and delicacy of the ideas
escape in the crucible of translation, and its reader is surprised to
find a _caput mortuum_."

The psychological nature of this pleasure in style is obviously quite
distinct from the direct pleasures from reading which have been
previously discussed. Here is pleasure in literary art, not for what it
brings, but for its own sake. The distinction between the pleasure the
average tourist takes in travelling swiftly and smoothly in a _de luxe_
train, and that taken by the professional engineer inspecting the
high-speed locomotive, is analogous in quantity and quality to the
distinctive pleasures of critical and uncritical appreciation of fine
art. But we have as yet only cleared the ground toward ascertaining the
psychological _rationale_ of literary style. We have marked only general
causes of literary pleasure, we have noticed in this pleasure only those
elements which flow from the psychological and physiological basis of
all pleasure as reflex of functioning. That we admire and take pleasure
in nice adjustment of means to ends is also a general law of pleasure
with all who act teleologically, and are capable of appreciating actions
of this kind. But is there not a specific quality in the æsthetic
pleasure from or in literary art which has not yet been accounted for?
Certainly the common expression, “more forcible than elegant,” as
applied to spoken or written language, denotes that for the popular
consciousness style is somewhat more than and different from mere force
and consequent ease and largeness of apprehension. We hear a very loud
sound with greater ease than smaller sounds, there is economy of
attention, yet this does not bestow æsthetic quality on the great sound.
At the renderings of the finest music we are often called on to strain
the ear, and the mental receptiveness as a whole to the utmost, in order
to hear, note, and appreciate the delicate effects. So in literary art
it is not that which speaks most loudly and strongly to the mind that
thereby becomes the best style. In fact, the most forcible method of
expression is often, as is generally acknowledged, slang, which is
debarred from style. Literary style seems, then, more than a mental
labour-saving machine. As a utilitarian device it certainly does save
mental exertion, and gives rapidity, accuracy, and facility to psychic
function. Like grammar, a mechanic rhetoric is useful, and we receive a
pleasure from its use as from any other mechanism of man’s industry; and
further, we may take a certain pride and pleasure in its consciously
recognised effectiveness. However, we have not yet reached style in the
higher sense, which may be clear and forcible, but must be dignified,
graceful, and beautiful. For purposes of business, for conventional
communication, for science, for philosophy, language fulfils its end in
stating accurately, clearly, and forcibly; but style as literary art is
more than instrument to intelligibility, it has an independent office of
its own. Language in the lower service as a medium of communication is a
lens which cannot be too transparent; but in the higher service to fine
art, language is rather a mosaic window of stained glass which both
absorbs and transmits light, which both conceals and reveals, which we
look at as well as through. In literary art or style, language has a
value of beauty for itself alone, as well as a value of use as a means
of communication.

But the root of style is in emotion; it is as expression of emotion, and
in the main of one kind of emotion, that language rises to style. All
emotions influence language expression, and any one may, under certain
conditions, lead towards literary art; there is an eloquence of wrath
and of fear, of hate and of love, and these emotions may induce artistic
creativeness in written language; but the main impulse to art is in the
feeling for beauty _per se_. This is a certain mode of emotional delight
which every one who has felt it knows at once in its quality as quite
distinct as a psychic mode. How literary style rises and falls with
æsthetic emotion might be exemplified by a wide range of quotations, but
an example or two must suffice. This, from one of Shelley’s letters,
will, I trust, illustrate the point:—

“MY DEAR P——, I wrote to you the day before our departure from Naples.
We came by slow journeys, with our own horses, to Rome, resting one
day at Mola di Gaeta, at the inn called Villa di Cicerone—from being
built on the ruins of his villa, whose immense substructions overhang
the sea, and are scattered among the orange groves. Nothing can be
lovelier than the scene from the terraces of the inn. On one side
precipitous mountains whose bases slope into an inclined plane of
olive and orange copses, the latter forming, as it were, an emerald
sky of leaves, starred with innumerable globes of their ripening
fruit, whose rich splendour contrasted with the deep green foliage; on
the other the sea, bounded on one side by the antique town of Gaeta,
and the other by what appears to be an island, the promontory of
Circe. From Gaeta to Terracina the whole scenery is of the most
sublime character. At Terracina precipitous conical crags of immense
height shoot into the sky and overhang the sea. At Albano we arrived
again in sight of Rome. Arches after arches in unending lines
stretching across the uninhabited wilderness, the blue defined line of
the mountains seen between them, masses of nameless ruin standing like
rocks out of the plain, and the plain itself, with its billowy and
unequal surface, announced the neighbourhood of Rome. And what shall I
say to you of Rome? If I speak of the inanimate ruins, the rude stones
piled upon stones which are the sepulchres of the fame of those who
once arrayed them with the beauty which has faded, will you believe me
insensible to the vital, the almost breathing creations of genius yet
subsisting in their perfection?”

This letter opens with language as method of conventional commonplace
communication. The second and third sentences are barely tinged by
æsthetic emotion, as in “immense substructions” and “lovelier”; but it
is not till the fourth sentence that style fairly begins. Then it
rapidly falls away in the fifth, sixth, and seventh sentences, to arise
again with a new wave of æsthetic emotion, which progresses through the
remainder of the quotation. The culminating points of the æsthetic
emotion are precisely the culminating points of style, namely, in the
phrases, “an emerald sky of leaves, starred with innumerable globes of
their ripening fruit,” and in “sepulchres of the fame of those who once
arrayed them with the beauty which has faded.” What constitutes the
peculiar attractiveness of these expressions is this, that they are rich
in æsthetic feeling, and communicate it to us. We are by the power of
style sharers in high delights. In the first case we are awakened to a
visualizing, to a sensuous beauty, though compounded with other
elements, through metaphor; and in the second case the emotion is a
complex of sensuous and spiritual elements.

Take also the verses from Shelley already quoted. Mr. Spencer, in
commenting on these lines, has correctly pitched upon the word
“shepherded” as the culminating point; but when he intimates that the
beauty and pleasing effect is due to the “distinctness with which it
calls up the feature of the scene, bringing the mind by a bound to the
desired conception,” we must dissent. This purely utilitarian
explanation fails to recognise that poetic metaphor is confusing—here
two classes of objects, clouds and sheep—and misleading, except to the
poetic mind. A writer who was aiming purely at clearness and correctness
of imaging, as a popular scientific writer, might mention the clouds as
like patches of white wool; but he would not bring in the extraneous
ideas of sheep and shepherd. If Mr. Spencer were trying to give us a
vivid idea of clouds, he would surely not speak in this purely poetic
fashion. It is a mode of fancy and emotion which the poet is indulging
when he writes these lines, and not an intellectual impulse to clarify
and illustrate. If Mr. Spencer receives them in this latter spirit, he
misses their psychic content and explanation. Poetry is only
intelligible to the poetic, and the German pedant who emended “Celia,
drink to me only with thine eyes,” to “Celia, wink to me only with thine
eyes,” was certainly economizing attention and rendering conception
easy, but at the expense of poetic beauty. The source of the pleasure we
take in poetic style—the highest and purest form of literary art—is
evidently not for its intelligibility, at least primarily, but its
æsthetic quality, an expression of a peculiar emotional attitude toward

To illustrate this psychological distinction between the sense of beauty
as inherent in style, and style as mere force and clearness, I instance
further only this sentence from Mr. W. D. Howell’s Italian sketches,
describing a side wheel steamer in motion: “The wheel of the steamer was
as usual chewing the sea, and finding it unpalatable, and making vain
efforts at expectoration.” This is the _ne plus ultra_ of a _pseudo_
literary style, of affected and strained literary art. An ugly metaphor,
forcible and clear enough, is relentlessly pursued to its ugliest
conclusion. Here is style in pin feathers, and we are glad to remember
that it was writ in callow youth. It brings “the mind by a bound to the
desired conception,” but this does not sanction it as fine art, for it
is utterly without taste and beauty.

I believe then from considering the previous examples—and they might be
indefinitely extended—that the main function of literary art is not
intelligibility, and that pleasure in style in its specific quality does
not arise out of economy of attention, but it is a direct communication
of pleasant æsthetic emotion artistically conveyed. Intelligibility is a
regulative by-law of art, but it is neither standard nor goal. Literary
art is then a compromise between intellectual and emotional motives,
between sense and sensibility. The natural choice and order of words for
easiest apprehension is rarely the artistic order, as every
_littérateur_ knows full well. It is, for example, simplest and clearest
to repeat the best and exact word, yet the literary artist avoids, and
rightly, the repetition of words in the same sentence or paragraph. Thus
also, while, as Mr. Spencer suggests, rhythm and euphony may often help
sense, yet I believe they as often distract from it. We often tend to
turn over in a very senseless way words and verses which please the ear.
As language is both an organ for meaning and for beauty, literary art,
like architectural, is always a compromise between utility and beauty,
that is, neither literature nor architecture are pure and perfectly
independent arts. However, it is possible that poetic license may, as
has already been done to some extent in English, ultimately develop a
pure poetic language, entirely distinct from the utilitarian product,
and bound by none of its practical rules; then and then only will
literature become a pure art.

Further, that literary art does not always imply clearness and
consequent economy of attention is evident when we reflect that the
nature of emotion is to disturb the mind, and hence also the language
expression. Incoherence, dimness, darkness, as qualities of æsthetic
emotion, render literary art correspondingly broken and obscure. The
weird, fantastic, and mysterious issues in style which is far from being
easily intelligible. In the dreamy poetry of the Orient all is hazy and
evanescent, and the mind strives in vain for clear impressions, yet here
is the peculiar charm of style. Among Occidentals William Blake, with
his childish incoherence, and Robert Browning, with his harsh
abruptness, have a certain obscurity, but both are great stylists and
great poets.

Style then is at bottom something quite distinct from either ease or
difficulty of apprehension. It is founded, not on apprehension at all,
but on emotional receptiveness. Hence very active and intellectual
natures seem ever debarred from really entering the realms of art,
because they ever fail to appreciate that the function of art is not
practical, or ethical, or scientific, or philosophic, but emotional. The
man of business, of politics, of science, of thought, cannot give
himself up without questioning to be thrilled and suffused by the
unanalyzable charm of mere beauty. Such natures seem incapable of
receiving, they must get and acquire, and so they miss all that art to
which the only open sesame is a quiet inattention and a wise
passiveness. The kingdom of art is not taken by violence, and the
violent do not take it by mere intellectual force.

As to the origin and nature of the feeling for beauty in style as for
beauty in general, the reason may be sought in survivals of primitive
pleasures. Thus the expression, before quoted, “starred with innumerable
globes of their ripening fruit,” aside from the pleasure in sonorous
quality and artistic construction, pleases mainly as awakening the
feeling for natural beauty. But what is the psychological explanation
for this æsthetic emotion in presence of tree, fruit, flower, sky, and
all landscape features. It may largely be a revival of feelings felt
long since by our arboreal and forest-haunting ancestors, “combinations
of states which were organized in the race, during barbarous times, when
its pleasurable activities were chiefly among the woods and waters”
(Spencer, _Psychology_, Sect. 214). In the woods and by the streams
there tends to revive the long outgrown physical emotion; the old savage
feelings of delight and excitement in the chase come back to the
civilized man, and in stealthy approach of game and skilful slaying the
modern man re-experiences far distant ancestral joys. Now literary art
by skilfully setting forth scenes of savage life may renew, the old
survival feelings to a certain degree of illusive life. This is done to
a large extent by pastoral poetry, mythic story, legend and fairy tale,
whereby we drop back into a very old and simple mode of enjoyable mental
life. The basis of primitive psychosis is in the particular concrete and
animate, and literary art, especially in its highest manifestation,
poetry, as becoming simple, sensuous, and impassioned, has a foundation
in survival tendencies. Through literature mankind renews its youth.
Similarly we may suppose that if in the future psychic evolution of the
race the present mode of thinking in general and abstract terms should
be succeeded by some new and higher phase, then the artificial
stimulating the revival of this outgrown abstract phase would constitute
a source of pleasure and might be achieved through a style. As a means
toward revivals literary style is a backward moving spirit in sharp
contrast to science, which, as generalizing and depersonifying, is the
forward moving process.

However, we have sharply to distinguish between what is given in a
survival state and that which accompanies it. Primitive realization is
always single and naïve, but when it comes up in a survival it is
generally consciously contrasted with accustomed modes by consciousness,
and there arises a reflective pleasure of contrast which is not
contained in the survival itself, but of which the survival is merely a
condition. Further, our realization of the outgrown psychic elements is
very generally dramatic. We take self-conscious pleasure in
investigating, assuming, and re-enacting past psychic phases. Even when
a survival state arises spontaneously and naturally, it holds
consciousness at best in its original _status_ for a moment only, for
self-consciousness quickly occurs and brings in a variety of secondary
emotions. However attained, the obsolescent type of consciousness does
not stand in its simple original force, but most often there is more or
less make-believe, some sense of its artificial and unreal nature: we do
not become children by playing at being children. Children and savages
are in the animistic psychic stage, but the poetic interpretation of
nature by adult man is plainly far more than mere revival of this stage,
it is dramatic self-conscious realization. Original animism is often
painful; the savage fears his gods and the child dreads ghosts; but
myths and ghost stories are sources of amusement to us, and the twinge
of fear which comes up as survival loses its real force and is
dramatically realized and enjoyed. Literary art is a dramatic induction
into the past rather than incentive to mere revival; and it makes us to
pleasurably renew alike the outgrown pains and pleasures. We certainly
should go far astray if we should consider style as effectual mainly by
its exciting to revival of ancestral experiences. What is recurrent is
but a small element compared to what is concurrent.

We must note the particular case of landscape beauty. Shelley’s
description of the orange tree laden with fruit excites in us the
feeling of pleasure in the beauty of nature, a feeling which is declared
by some to be merely the reminiscent revived feelings which our distant
progenitors felt in the presence of natural forms and forces. But what
was the emotion our remote progenitor felt at sight of a well-fruited
orange tree? Did he feel moved as Shelley was and as we through Shelley
are? and is our emotion but a faint survival of that which welled up in
him at viewing the mass of green and gold, or has it any relation
thereto? The civilized traveller in wild regions is often charmed by the
beauty of the scenery which the savage natives do not in the least
appreciate. But the revival feelings which come over him must be
identical with the feelings of his unæsthetic companions who are totally
insensible to natural beauty. The reversal tendency can give to the
traveller only an animal pleasure in viewing an orange tree as
satisfying to the taste and stomach; a fine, bright day can only suggest
the pleasure of a sluggish basking. Goethe rejoiced that, though the
incidental pains of æsthetic sensitivity were great, yet he could see in
a tree shedding its leaves more than the approach of winter. Bare

Online LibraryHiram M. (Hiram Miner) StanleyStudies in the Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling → online text (page 26 of 32)