Thomas Reid.

The works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters online

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names common to certain qualities of mind,
and to qualities of body to which they have
some analogy ; yet he would err greatly who
ascribed to a body that sweetness or that
simplicity which are the qualities of mind.
In like manner, greatness and meanness
are names common to qualities perceived
by the external sense, and to qualities
perceived by taste ; yet he may be in an
error, who ascribes to the objects of sense
that greatness or that meanness which is
only an object of taste.

As intellectual objects are made more
level to our apprehension by giving them a
visible form ; so the objects of sense are
dignified and made more august, by ascrib-
ing to them intellectual qualities which have
some analogy to those they really possess.
The sea rages, the sky lowers, the meadows
smile, the rivulets murmur, the breezes
whisper, the soil is grateful or ungrateful —
such expressions are so familiar in common
language, that they are scarcely accounted
poetical or figurative ; but they give a kind
of dignity to inanimate objects, and make
our conception of them more agreeable.
2 K




When we consider matter as an inert,
extended, divisible, and movable substance,
there seems to be nothing in these qualities
which we can call grand ; and when we ascribe
grandeur to any portion of matter, however
modified, may it not borrow this quality
from something intellectual, of which it is
the effect, or sign, or instrument, or to
which it bears some analogy ? or, perhaps,
because it produces in the mind an emotion
that has some resemblance to that admira-
tion which truly grand objects raise -' [736]

A very elegant writer on the sublime and
beautiful,* makes everything grand or sub-
lime that is terrible. Might he not be led
to this by the similarity between dread and
admiration ? Both are grave and solemn
passions ; both make a strong impression
upon the mind ; and bpth are very infec-
tious. But they differ specifically, in this
respect, that admiration supposes some un-
common excellence in its object, which
dread does not. We may admire what we
see no reason to dread ; and we may dread
what we do not admire. In dread, there is
nothing of that enthusiasm which naturally
accompanies admiration, and is a chief in-
gredient of the emotion raised by what is
truly grand or sublime.

Upon the whole, I humbly apprehend
that true grandeur is such a degree of ex-
cellence as is fit to raise an enthusiastical
admiration ; that this grandeur is found,
originally and properly, in qualities of mind ;
that it is discerned, in objects of sense, only
by reflection, as the light we perceive in the
moon and planets is truly the light of the
sun ; and that those who look for grandeur
in mere matter, seek the living among the

If this be a mistake, it ought, at least, to
be granted, that the grandeur which we
perceive in -qualities of mind, ought to have
a different name from that which belongs
properly to the objects of sense, as they are
very different in their nature, and produce
very different emotions in the mind of the
spectator. [737]



Beauty is found in things so various
and so very different in nature, that it is
difficult to say wherein it consists, or what
there can be common to all the objects in
which it is. found.

Of the objects of sense, we fiud beauty in
colour, in sound, in form, in motion. There
are beauties of speech, and beauties of
thought ; beauties in the arts, and in the

* BuTk? H.

sciences ; beauties in actions, in affections,
and in characters.

In things so different and bo unlike is
there any quality, the same in all, which we
may call by the name of beauty ? What,
can it be that is common to the thought of
a mind and the form of a piece of matter,
to an abstract theorem and a stroke of wit ?

I am indeed unable to conceive any qua-
lity in all the different things that are called
beautiful, that is the same in them all.
There seems to be no identity, nor even
similarity, between the beauty of a theorem
and the beauty of a piece of music, though
both may be beautiful. The kinds of beauty
seem to be as various as the objects to which
it is ascribed.

But why should things so different be
called by the same name ? This cannot be
without a reason. If there be nothing com-
mon in the things themselves, they must
have some common relation to us, or to
something else, which leads us to give them
the,same name. [738]

All the objects we call beautiful agree in
two things, which seem to concur in our
sense of beauty. First, When they are
perceived, or even imagined, they produce
a certain agreeable emotion or feeling in the
mind; and, secondly, This agreeable emotion
is accompanied with an opinion or belief of
their having some perfection or excellence
belonging to them.

Whether the pleasure we feel in contem-
plating beautiful objects may have any ne-
cessary connection with the belief of their
excellence, or whether that pleasure be con-
joined with this belief, by the good pleasure
only of our Maker, I will not determine.
The reader may see Dr Price's sentiments
upon this subject, which merit considera-
tion, in the second chapter of his " Review
of the Questions concerning Morals."

Though we may be able to conceive these
two ingredients of our sense of beauty dis-
joined, this affords no evidence that they
have no necessary connection. It has in-
deed been maintained, that whatever we can
conceive, is possible ; but I endeavoured,
in treating of conception, to shew, that this
opinion, though very common, is a mistake.
There may be, and probably are, many
necessary connections of things in nature,
which we are too dim-sighted to discover.

The emotion produced by beautiful ob-
jects is gay and pleasant. It sweetens and
humanises the temper, is friendly to every
benevolent affection, and tends to allay
sullen and angry passions. It enlivens the
mind, and disposes it to other agreeable
emotions, such as those of love, hope, and
joy. It gives a value to the object, ab-
stracted from its utility.

In things that may be possessed as pro-
perty, beauty greatly enhances the price,
r: 36-7381

ri'AP iv.]



A. beautiful dog or horse, a beautiful coach
01- house, a beautiful picture or prospect, is
valued by its owner and by others, not only
for its utility, but for its beauty. [739]

If the beautiful object be a person, his
company and conversation are, on that ac-
count, the more agreeable, and we are dis-
posed to love and esteem him. Even in u
perfect stranger, it is a powerful recom-
mendation, and disposes us to favour and
think well of him, if of our own sex, and
still more if of the other.

" There is nothing," says Mr Addison,
" that makes its way more directly to the soul
than beauty, which immediately diffuses a
secret satisfaction and complacence through
the imagination, and gives a finishing to
anything that is great and uncommon.
The very first discovery of it strikes the
mind with an inward joy, and spreads a
cheerfulness and delight through all its

As we ascribe beauty, not only to per-
sons, but to inanimate things, we give the
name of love or liking to the emotion, which
beauty, in both these kinds of objects,
produces. It is evident, however, that
liking to a person is a very different affec-
tion of mind from liking to an inanimate
thing. The first always implies benevo-
lence ; but what is inanimate cannot be the
object of benevolence The two affections,
however different, have a resemblance in
some respects ; and, on account of that
resemblance, have the same name. And
perhaps beauty, in these two different kinds
of objects, though it has one name, may be
as different in its nature as the emotions
which it produces in us.

Besides the agreeable emotion which
beautiful objects produce in the mind of
the spectator, they produce also an opinion
or judgment of some perfection or excel-
lence in the object. This I take to be a
second ingredient in our sense of beauty,
though it seems not to be admitted by
modern philosophers. [740]

The ingenious Dr Hutcheson, who per-
ceived some of the defects of Mr Locke's
system, and made very important improve-
ments upon it, seems to have been carried
away by it, in his notion of beauty. In
his " Inquiry concerning Beauty,'* § 1,
"Let it be observed," says he, "that in the
following papers, the word beauty is taken
for the idea raised in us, and the sense of
beauty for our power of receiving that idea."
And again — "Only let it be observed, that,
by absolute or original beauty, is not under-
stood any quality supposed to be in the
object which should, of itself, be beautiful,
without relation to any mind which per-
ceives it : for beauty, like other names of
sensible ideas, properly denotes the per-
ception of some mind ; so cold, hot, sweet,
[?:?!) -7 11]

bitter, denote the sensations in our minds,
to which, perhaps, there is no resemblance
in the objects which excite these ideas in
us ; however, we generally imagine other-
wise. Were there no mind, with a sense
of beauty, to contemplate objects, I see not
how they could be called beautiful."

There is no doubt an analogy between
the external senses of touch and taste, ami
the internal sense of beauty. This analogy
led Dr Hutcheson, and other modern phi-
losophers, to apply to beauty what Des
Cartes and Locke had taught concerning
the secondary qualities perceived by the
external senses.

Mr Locke's doctrine concerning the se-
condary qualities of body, is not so much
an error in judgment as an abuse of words.
He distinguished very properly between
the sensations we have of heat and cold,
and that quality or structure in the body
which is adapted by Nature to produce
those sensations in us. He observed very
justly, that there can be no similitude be-
tween one of these and the other. They
have the relation of an effect to its cause,
but no similitude. This was a very just
and proper correction of the doctrine of the
Peripatetics, who taught, that all our sens-
ations are the very form and image of the
quality in the object by which they are
produced. [741]

What remained to be determined was,
whether the words, heat and cold,- in com-
mon language, signify the sensations we
feel, or the qualities of the object which
are the cause of these sensations- Mr
Locke made heat and cold to signify only
the sensations we feel, and not the qualities
which are the cause of them. And in this,
1 apprehend, lay his mistake. For it is
evident, from the use of language, that hot
and cold, sweet and bitter, are attributes of
external objects, and not of the person who
perceives them. Hence, it appears a mon-
strous paradox to say, there is no heat in
the fire, no sweetness in sugar ; but, when
explained according to Mr Locke's meaning,
it is only, like most other paradoxes, an
abuse of words.*

The sense of beauty may be analysed in
a manner very similar to the, sense of sweet-
ness. It is an agreeable feeling or emotion,
accompanied with an opinion or judgment
of some excellence in the object, which is
fitted by Nature to produce that feeling.

The feeling is, no doubt, in the mind,
and so also is the judgment we form of the
object: but this judgment, like all others,
must be true or false. If it be atrue judg-
ment, there is some real excellence in the
object. And the use of all languages shews
that the name of beauty belongs to this ex-

* See above, p. 205, li. note *.— H
<J K 2



[essay viii.

rellence of the object, and not to the feel-
ings of the spectator.

To say that there is, in reality, no beauty
in those objects in which all men perceive
beauty, is to attribute to man fallacious
senses. But we have no ground to think
so disrespectfully of the Author of our
being ; the faculties he hath given us are
not fallacious ; nor is that beauty which
he hath so liberally diffused over all the
works of his hands, a mere fancy in us, but
a real excellence in his works, which express
the perfection of their Divine Author.

We have reason to believe, not only that
the beauties we see in nature are real, and
not fanciful, but that there are thousands
which our faculties are too dull to perceive.
"We see many beauties, both of human and
divine art, which the brute animals are in-
capable of perceiving ; and superior beings
may excel us as far in their discernment of
true beauty as we excel the brutes. [742]

The man who is skilled in painting or
statuary sees more of the beauty of a fine
picture or statue than a common specta-
tor. The same thing holds in all the fine
arts. The most perfect works of art have
a beauty that strikes even the rude and ig-
norant ; but they see only a small part of
that beauty which is seen in such works by
those who understand them perfectly, and
can produce them.

This may be applied, with no less justice,
to the works of Nature. They nave a
beauty that strikes even the ignorant and
inattentive. But the more we discover of
their structure, of their mutual relations,
and of the laws by which they are governed,
the greater beauty, and the more delightful
marks of art, wisdom, and goodness, we

Thus the expert anatomist sees number-
less beautiful contrivances in the structure
of the human body, which are unknown to
the ignorant.

Although the vulgar eye sees much beauty
in the face of the heavens, and in the various
motions and changes of the heavenly bodies,
the expert astronomer, who knows their
order and distances, their periods, the orbits
they describe in the vast regions of space,
and the simple and beautiful laws by which
their motions are governed, and all the
appearances of their stations, progressions,
and retrogradations, their eclipses, occulta-
tions, and transits are produced — sees a
beauty, order, and harmony reign through
the whole planetary system, which delights
the mind. The eclipses of the sun and
moon, and the blazing tails of comets,
which strike terror into barbarous nations,
furnish the most pleasing entertainment to
his eye, and a feast to his understanding.

In every part of Nature's works, there

are numberless beauties, which, on account
of our ignorance, we are unable to perceive.
Superior beings may see more than we ; but
He only who made them, and, upon a re-
view, pronounced them all to be very good,
can see all their beauty.

Our determinations with regard to the
beauty of objects, may, I think, be distin-
guished into two kinds ; the first we may
call instinctive, the other rational.

Some objects strike us at once, and ap-
pear beautiful at first sight, without any re-
flection, without our being able to say why
we call them beautiful, or being able to spe
cify any perfection which justifies our judg-
ment. Something of this kind there seems
to be in brute animals, and in children
before the use of reason ; nor does it end
with infancy, but continues through life.

In the plumage of birds and of butterflies,
in the colours and form of flowers, of shells,
and of many other objects, we perceive a
beauty that delights ; but cannot say what
it is in the object that should produce that

The beauty of the object may in such
cases be called an occult quality. We know
well how it affects our senses ; but what it
is in itself we know not. But this, as well
as other occult qualities, is a proper subject
of philosophical disquisition ; and, by a care-
ful examination of the objects to which Na-
ture hath given this amiable quality, we
may perhaps discover some real excellence
in the object, or, at least, some valuable
purpose that is served by the effect which
it produces upon us.

This instinctive sense of beauty, in differ-
ent species of animals, may differ as much
as the external sense of taste, and in each
species be adapted to its manner of life. By
this perhaps the various tribes are led to
associate with their kind, to dwell among
certain objects rather than others, and to
construct their habitation in a. particular
manner. [744]

There seem likewise to be varieties in
the sense of beauty in the individuals of the
same species, by which they are directed in
the choice of a mate, and in the love and
care of their offspring.

"We see," says Mr Addison, "that
every different species of sensible creatures
has its different notions of beauty, and that
each of them is most affected with the
beauties of its own kind. This is nowhere
more remarkable than in birds of the same
shape and proportion, where we often see
the mate determined in his courtship by the
single grain or tincture of a feather, and
never discovering any charms but in the
colour of its own species."

" Scit thalarao servare fidcm. sanctasque veretur

Connubii leges ; non ilium in pectore candor

Sollicitat niveus ; neque pravum sccendil amo-





Splendlda lanugo, vel honesta in vertice crista ;
Purpureusve nitor peunarum ; ast afmina late
Focminea explorat cautus, maculasque requirit
Ognatas, paribusque interlita c rpora guttis :
Ni faceret, pictis sylvam circum undique lnons-

Cont'usam aspiceres vulgo, partusque bi formes,
Et genua ambiguum, ec veneris monumenta ne-


" Hinc raerula in nigro se oblectat nigra marito j
Hinc socium lasciva petit philomela canorum,
AgnoBcitque pare* sonitus; hinc noclua tetram
Canitiem alarum, et glauco* miratur ocellos.
Nempe sibi semper constat, crescitqu quotannis
IjUCida progenies, castos confessa parentes :
Vere novo exultat, plumasque decora juvenilis
Explicat ad solem, patriisque coloribus ardet."

In the human kind there are variet ; es in
the taste of beauty, of which we can no
more assign a reason than of the variety of
their features, though it is easy to perceive
that very important ends are answered by j
both. These varieties are most observable j
in the judgments we form of the features of
the other sex ; and in this the intention of
nature is most apparent. [745]

As far as our determinations of the com-
parative beauty of objects are instinctive,
they are no subject of reasoning or of criti-
cism ; they are purely the gift of nature,
and we have no standard by which they may
be measured.

But there are judgments of beauty that
may be called rational, being grounded on
some agreeable quality of the object which is
distinctly conceived, and may be specified.
This distinction between a rational judg-
ment of beauty and that which is instinc-
tive, may be illustrated by an instance.

In a heap of pebbles, one that is remark-
able for brilliancy of colour and regularity
of figure, will be picked out of the heap by a
child. He perceives a beauty in it, puts a
value upon it, and is fond of the property ot
it. For this preference, no reason can be
given, but that children are, by their con-
stitution, fond of brilliant colours, and oi
regular figures.

Suppose again that an expert mechanic
views a well constructed machine. He sees
all its parts to be made of the fittest mate-
rials, and of the most proper form ; no-
thing superfluous, nothing deficient ; every
part adapted to its use, and the whole fitted
in the most perfect manner to the end for
which it is intended. He pronounces it to
•be a beautiful machine. He views it with
the same agreeable emotion as the child
viewed the pebble ; but he can give a reason
for his judgment, and point out the particu-
lar perfections of the object on which it is
grounded. [746]

Although the instinctive and the rational
sense of beauty may be perfectly distin-
guished in speculation, yet, in passing judg-
« 1 SS n i nn< ffi' particular objects, they are often
so mixed and? confounded, that it is difficult
1 to assign to eateh its own province. Nay, it
; [-71S-74T]

may often happen, that a judgment oi the
beauty of an object, which was at first
merely instinctive, shall afterwards become
rational, when we discover some latent per-
fection of which that beauty in the object is
a sign.

As the sense of beauty may be distin-
guished into instinctive and rational ; so I
think beauty itself may be distinguished into
original and derived.

As some objects shine by their own light,
and many more by light that is borrowed
and reflected ; so I conceive the lustre of
beauty in some objects is inherent and
original, and in many others is borrowed
and reflected.

There is nothing more common in the
sentiments of all mankind, and in the lan-
guage of all nations, than what may be
called a communication of attributes ; that
is, transferring an attribute, from the sub-
ject to which it properly belongs, to some
related or resembling subject.

The various objects which nature pre-
sents to our view, even those that are most
different in kind, have innumerable simili-
tudes, relations, and analogies, which we
contemplate with pleasure, and which lead
us naturally to borrow words and attributes
from one object to express what belongs to
another. The greatest part of every lan-
guage under heaven is made up of words
borrowed from one thing, and applied to
something supposed to have some relation
or analogy to their first signification. [747]
The attributes of body we ascribe to mind,
and the attributes of mind to material ob-
jects. To inanimate things we ascribe life,
and even intellectual and moral qualities.
And, although the qualities that are thus
made common belong to one of the subjects
in the proper sense, and to the other meta-
phorically, these different senses are often
so mixed in our imagination, as to produce
the same sentiment with regard to both.

It is therefore natural, and agreeable to
the strain of human sentiments and of
human language, that in many cases the
beauty which originally and properly is in
the thing signified, should be transferred
to the sign ; that which is in the cause to
the effect ; that which is in the end to the
means ; and that which is in the agent to
the inatrument.

If what was said in the last chapter of
the distinction between the grandeur which
we ascribe to qualities of mind, and that
which we ascribe to material objects, be
well founded, this distinction of the beauty
of objects will easily be admitted as per-
fectly analagous to it. I shall therefore
only illustrate it by an example.

There is nothing in the exterior of a man
more lovely and more attractive than per.
feet good breeding. But what is this good.



breeding ? It consists of nil the external
signs of due respect to our superiors, con-
descension to our inferiors, politeness to all
with whom we converse or have to do,
joined in the fair sex with that delicacy of
outward behaviour which becomes them.
And how comes it to have such charms in
the eyes of all mankind ; for this reason
only, as I apprehend, that it is a natural
sign of that temper, and those affections
and sentiments with regard to others, and
with regard to ourselves, which are in
themselves truly amiable and beautiful.

This is the original, of which good breed-
ing is the picture ; and it is the beauty of
the original that is reflected to our sense
by the picture. The beauty of good breed-
ing, therefore, is not originally in the ex-
ternal behaviour in which it consists, but is
derived from the qualities of mind which it
expresses. And though there may be good
breeding without the amiable qualities of
mind, its beauty is still derived from what
it naturally expresses. [748]

Having explained these distinctions of
our sense of beauty into instinctive and
rational, and of beauty itself into original
and derived, I would now proceed to give
a general view of those qualities in objects,
to which we may justly and rationally
ascribe beauty, whether original or derived.

But here some embarrassment arises
from the vague meaning of the word beauty,
which I had occasion before to observe.

Sometimes it is extended, so as to include
everything that pleases a good taste, and
so comprehends grandeur and novelty, as
well as what in a more restricted sense is
called beauty. At other times, it is even
-by good writers confined to the objects of
sight, when they are either seen, or remem-
bered, or imagined. Yet it is admitted by
all men, that there are beauties in music ;
that there is beauty as well as sublimity in
composition, both in verse and in prose ;
that there is beauty in characters, in affec-

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 112 of 114)