Thomas Reid.

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

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tions, and in actions. These are not ob-
jects of sight ; and a man may be a good
judge of beauty of various kinds, who has
not the faculty of sight.

To give a determinate meaning to a word
so variously extended and restricted, I
know no better way than what is suggested
by the common division of the objects of
taste into novelty, grandeur, and beauty.
Novelty, it is plain, is no quality of the
new object, but merely a relation which it
has to the knowledge of the person to whom
it is new. Therefore, if this general divi-
sion be just, every quality in an object that
pleases a good taste, must, in one degree
or another, have either grandeur or beauty.
It may still be difficult to fix the precise
limit betwixt grandeur and beauty ; but
they must together comprehend everything

fitted by its nature to please a good taste-
that is, every real perfection and excellence
in the objects we contemplate. [749]

In & poem, in a picture, in a piece of
music, it is real excellence that pleases a
good taste. In a person, every perfection
of the mind, moral or intellectual, and every
perfection of the body, gives pleasure to the
spectator, as well as to the owner, when
there is no envy nor malignity to destroy
that pleasure.

It is, therefore, in the scale of perfection
and real excellence that we must look for
what is either grand or beautiful in objects.
What is the proper object of admiration is
grand, and what is the proper object of love
and esteem is beautiful.

This, I think, is the only notion of beauty
that corresponds with the division of the
objects of taste which has been generally
received by philosophers. And this con-
nection of beauty with real perfection, was
a capital doctrine of the Socratic schooL
It is often ascribed to Socrates, in the dia-
logues of Plato and of Xenophon.

We may, therefore, take a view, first, of
those qualities of mind to which we may
justly and rationally ascribe beauty, and
then of the beauty we perceive in the objects
of sense. We shall find, if I mistake not,
that, in the first, original beauty is to be
found, and that the beauties of the second
class are derived from some relation they
bear to mind, as the signs or expressions
of some amiable mental quality, or as the
effects of design, art, and wise contrivance.

As grandeur naturally produces admira-
tion, beauty naturally produces love. We
may, therefore, justly ascribe beauty to those
qualities which are the natural objects of
love and kind affection.

Of this kind chiefly are some of the moral
virtues, which, in a peculiar manner, con-
stitute a lovely character. Innocence, gen-
tleness, condescension, humanity, natural
affection, public spirit, and the whole train
of the soft and gentle virtues : these qualities
are amiable from their very nature, and on
account of their intrinsic worth. [750]

There are other virtues that raise adrnira»
tion, and are, therefore, grand; such as
magnanimity, fortitude, self-command, su-
periority to pain and labour, superiority to
pleasure, and to the smiles of Fortune as
well as to her frowns.

These awful virtues constitute what is
most grand in the human character; the
gentle virtues, what is most beautiful and
lovely. As they are virtues, they draw the
approbation of our moral faculty ; as they
are becoming and amiable, they affect our
sense of beauty. ...

Next to the amiable moral Virtues there

are many intellectual talents Iwhich have an

intrinsic value, and draw our/foveand esteem




to those who possess them. Such are,
knowledge, good sense, wit, humour, cheer-
fulness, good taste, excellence in any of the
fine arts, in eloquence, in dramatic action ;
and, we may add, excellence in every art of
peace or war that is useful in society.

There are likewise talents which we refer
to the body, which have an original beauty
and comeliness ; such as health, strength,
and agility, the usual attendants of youth ;
skill in bodily exercises, and skill in the
mechanic arts. These are real perfections
of the man, as they increase his power, and
render the body a fit instrument for the

I apprehend, therefore, that it is in the
moral and intellectual perfections of mind,
and in its active powers, that beauty origin-
ally dwells ; and that from this as the foun-
tain, all the beauty which we perceive in
the visible world is derived. [751]

This, I think, was the opinion of the
ancient philosophers before-named ; and it
has been adopted by Lord Shaftesbury and
Dr Akenside among the moderns.
" Mind, mind alone, bear witness, earth and heav'n !
The living fountains in itself contains
Of beauteous and sublime. Here hand in hand
Sit paramount the graces. Here enthron'd,
Celestial Venus, with diviurst airs,
Invites the soul to never-t'ailingjoy." — Akenside.

But neither mind, nor any of its qualities
or powers, is an immediate object of per-
ception to man. We are, indeed, imme-
diately conscious of the operations of our
own mind ; and every degree of perfection
in them gives the purest pleasure, with a
proportional degree of self-esteem, so flat-
tering to self-love, that the great difficulty
is to keep it within just bounds, so that we
may not think of ourselves above what we
ought to think.

Other minds we perceive only through
the medium of material objects, on which
their signatures are impressed. It is
through this medium that we perceive life,
activity, wisdom, and every moral and in-
tellectual quality in other beings. The
signs of those qualities are immediately
perceived by the senses ; by them the qua-
lities themselves are reflected to our under-
standing ; and we are very apt to attribute
to the sign the beauty or the grandeur
which is properly and originally in the
things signified.

The invisible Creator, the Fountain of
all perfection, hath stamped upon all his
works signatures of his divine wisdom,
power, and benignity, which are visible to
all men. The works of men in science, in
the arts of taste, and in the mechanical
arts, bear the signatures of those qualities
of mind which were employed in their pro-
duction. Their external behaviour and
conduct in life expresses the good or bad
qualities of their mind. [752]

In every species of animals, we perceive
by visible signs their instincts, their appe-
tites, their affections, their sagacity. Even
in the inanimate world, there are many
things analogous to the qualities of mind ;
so that there is hardly anything belonging
to mind which may not be represented by
images taken from the objects of sense ;
and, on the other hand, every object oi
sense is beautified, by borrowing attire from
the attributes of mind.

Thus, the beauties of mind, though invi-
sible in themselves, are perceived in the
objects of sense, on which their image is

If we consider, on the other hand, the
qualities in sensible objects to which we
ascribe beauty, I apprehend we shall find
in all of them some relation to mind, and
the greatest in those that are most beau-

When we consider inanimate matter
abstractly, as a substance endowed with
the qualities of extension, solidity, divisi-
bility, and mobility, there seems to be
nothing in these qualities that affects our
sense of beauty. But when we contem-
plate the globe which we inhabit, as fitted
by its form, by its motions, and by its fur-
niture, for the habitation and support of an
infinity of various orders of living creatures,
from the lowest reptile up to man, we have
a glorious spectacle indeed ! with which
the grandest and the most beautiful struc-
tures of human art can bear no compa-

The only perfection of dead matter is its
being, by its various forms and qualities,
so admirably fitted for the purposes of ani-
mal life, and chiefly that of man. It fur-
nishes the materials of every art that tends
to the support or the embellishment of
human life. By the Supreme Artist, it is
organized in the various tribes of the veget-
able kingdom, and endowed with a kind of
life ; a work which human art cannot imi-
tate, nor human understanding compre-
hend. [753]

In the bodies and various organs of the
animal tribes, there is a composition of
matter still more wonderful and more mys-
terious, though we see it to be admirably
adapted to the purposes and manner of life
of every species. But in every form, unor-
ganized, vegetable, or animal, it derives its
beauty from the purposes to which it is
subservient, or from the signs of wisdom
or of other mental qualities which it ex-

The qualities of inanimate matter, in
which we perceive beauty, are — sound,
colour, form, and motion ; the first an ob-
ject of hearing, the other three of sight ;
which we may consider in order.

In a single note, sounded by a very fine




voice, there is a beauty which we do not
perceive in the same note, sounded by a bad
voice or an imperfect instrument. I need
not attempt to enumerate the perfections
in a single note, which give beauty to it.
Some of them have names in the science of
music, and there perhaps are others which
have no names. But I think it will be
allowed, that every quality which gives
beauty to a single note, is a sign of some
perfection, either in the organ, whether it
be the human voice or an instrument, or in
the execution. The, beauty of the sound
is both the sign and the effect of this per-
fection ; and the perfection of the cause is
the only reason we can assign for the beauty
of the effect.

In a composition of sounds, or a piece of
music, the beauty is either in the harmony,
the melody, or the expression. The beauty
of expression must be derived, either from
the beauty of the thing expressed, or from
the art and skill employed in expressing it

In harmony, the very names of concord
and discord are metaphorical, and suppose
some analogy between the relations of sound,
to which they are figuratively applied, and
the relations of minds and affections, which
they originally and properly signify. [754]

As far as I can judge by my ear, when
two or more persons, of a good voice and
ear, converse together in amity and friend-
ship, the tones of their different voices are
concordant, but become discordant when
they give vent to angry passions ; so that,
without hearing what is said, one may know
by the tones of the different voices, whether
they quarrel or converse amicably. This,
indeed, is not so easily perceived in those
who have been taught, by good-breeding,
to suppress angry tones of voiee, even when
they are angry, as in the lowest rank, who
express their angry passions without any

When discord arises occasionally in con-
versation, but soon terminates in perfect
amity, we receive more pleasure than from
perfect unanimity. In like manner, in the
harmony of music, discordant sounds are
occasionally introduced, but it is always in
order to give a relish to the most perfect
concord that follows.

Whether these analogies, between the
harmony of a piece of music, and harmony
in the intercourse of minds, be merely fanci-
ful, or have any real foundation in fact, I
submit to those who have a nicer ear, and
have applied it to observations of this kind.
If they have any just foundation, as they
seem to me to have, they serve to account
for the metaphorical application of the
names of concord and discord to the rela-
tions of sounds ; to account for the pleasure
we have from harmony in music ; and to

shew, that the beauty of harmony is derived
from the relation it has to agreeable affec-
tions of mind.

With regard to melody. J leave it to the
adepts in the science of music, to determine
whether music, composed according to the
established rules of harmony and melody,
can be altogether void of expression ; and
whether music that has no expression can
have any beauty. To me it seems, that
every strain in melody that is agreeable, is
an imitation of the tones of the human
voice in the expression of some sentiment
or passion, or an imitation of some other ob-
ject in nature ; and that music, as well as
poetry, is an imitative art. [755]

The sense of beauty in the colours, and
in the motions of inanimate objects, is, I
believe, in some cases instinctive. We see
that children and savages are pleased with
brilliant colours and sprightly motions. In
persons of an improved and rational taste,
there are many sources from which colours
and motions may derive their beauty. They,
as well as the forms of objects, admit of
regularity and variety. The motions pro-
duced by machinery, indicate the perfection
or imperfection of the mechanism, and may
be better or worse adapted to their end, and
from that derive their beauty or deformity.

The colours of natural objects, are com-
monly signs of some good or bad quality in
the object ; or they may suggest to the
imagination something agreeable or dis-

In dress and furniture, fashion has a con-
siderable influence on the preference we give
to one colour above another.

A number of clouds of different and ever-
changing hue, seen on the groundjif a serene
azure sky, at the going down of the sun,
present to the eye of every man a glorious
spectacle. It is. hard to say, whether we
should call it grand or beautiful. It is both
in a high degree. Clouds towering above
clouds, variously tinged, according as they
approach nearer to the direct rays of the
sun, enlarge our conceptions of the regions
above us. They give us a view of the fur-
niture of those regions, which, in an un-
clouded air, seem to be a perfect void ; but
are now seen to contain the stores of wind
and rain, bound up for the present, but to
be poured down upon the earth in due sea-
son. Even the simple rustic does not look
upon this beautiful sky, merely as a show-
to please the eye, but as a happy omen of
fine weather to come.

The proper arrangement of colour, and of
light and shade, is one of the chief beauties
of painting ; but this beauty is greatest,
when that arrangement gives the most dis-
tinct, the most natural, and the most agree-
able image of that which the painter intend-
ed to represent. [756]





If we consider, in the last place, the
beauty of form or figure in inanimate ob-
jects, this, according to Dr Hutcheson, re-
sults from regularity, mixed with variety.
Here, it ought to be observed, that regu-
larity, in all cases, expresses design and
art : for nothing regular was ever the work
of chance ; and where regularity is joined
with variety, it expresses design more
strongly. Besides, it has been justly ob-
served, that regular figures are more easily
and more perfectly comprehended by the
mind than the irregular, of which we can
never form an adequate conception.

Although straight lines and plain surfaces
have a beauty from their regularity, they
Admit of no variety, and, therefore, are
beauties of the lowest order. Curve lines
and surfaces admit of infinite variety, joined
with every degree of regularity ; and, there-
fore, in many cases, excel in beauty those
that are straight

But the beauty arising from regularity
and variety, must always yield to that which
arises from the fitness of the form for the
end intended. In everything made for an
end, the form must be adapted to that end ;
and everything in the form that suits the
end, is a beauty ; everything that unfits it
for its end, is a deformity.

The forms of a pillar, of a sword, and of
a balance are very different. Each may
have great beauty ; but that beauty is de-
rived from the fitness of the form and of
the matter for the purpose intended. [757]

Were we to consider the form of the earth
itself, and the various furniture it contains,
of the inanimate kind ; its distribution into
land and sea, mountains and valleys, rivers
and springs of water, the variety of soils
that cover its surface, and of mineral and
metallic substances laid up within it, the air
that surrounds it, the vicissitudes of day
and night, and of the seasons ; the beauty
of all these, which indeed is superlative,
consists in this, that they bear the most
lively and striking impression of the wisdom
and goodness of their Author, in contriving
them so admirably for the use of man, and
of their other inhabitants.

The beauties of the vegetable kingdom
are far superior to those of inanimate mat-
ter, in any form which human art can give
it. Hence, in all ages, men have been fond
to adorn their persons and their habitations
with the vegetable productions of nature.

The beauties of the field, of the forest,
and of the flower-garden, strike a child long
before he can reason. He is delighted with
what he sees ; but he knows not why. This
is instinct, but it is not confined to child-
hood ; it continues through all the stages of
life. It leads the florist, the botanist, the
philosopher, to examine and compare the
objects which Nature, by this powerful in-
[7o7, 758]

stinct, recommends to his attention. By
degrees, he becomes a critic in beauties of
this kind, and can give a reason why he
prefers one to another. In every species,
he sees the greatest beauty in the plants or
flowers that are most perfect in their kind —
which have neither suffered from unkindly
soil nor inclement weather ; which have not
been robbed of their nourishment by other
plants, nor hurt by any accident. When he
examines the internal structure of those
productions of Nature, and traces them
from their embryo state in the seed to their
maturity, he sees a thousand beautiful con-
trivances of Nature, which feast his under-
standing more than their external form
delighted his eye.

Thus, every beauty in the vegetable
creation, of which he has formed any ra-
tional judgment, expresses some perfection
in the object, or some wise contrivance in
its Author. [758]

In the animal kingdom, we perceive still
greater beauties than in the vegetable. Here
we observe life, and sense, and activity,
various instincts and affections, and, in
many cases, great sagacity. These are
attributes of mind, and have an original

As we allow to brute animals a thinking
principle or mind, though far inferior to
that which is in man ; and as, in many of
their intellectual and active powers, they
very much resemble the human species,
their actions, their motions, and even their
looks, derive a beauty from the powers of
thought which they express.

There is a. wonderful variety in their
manner of life ; and we find the powers they
possess, their outward form, and their in-
ward structure, exactly adapted to it. In
every species, the more perfectly any indi-
vidual is fitted for its end and manner of
life, the greater is its beauty.

In a race-horse, everything that expresses
agility, ardour, and emulation, gives beauty
to the animal. In a pointer, acuteness of
scent, eagerness on the game, and tractable.
ness, are the beauties of the species. A
sheep derives its beauty from the fineness
and quantity of its fleece ; and in the wild
animals, every beauty is a sign of their
perfection in their kind.

It is an observation of the celebrated
Linnseus, that, in the vegetable kingdom,
the poisonous plants have commonly a lurid
and disagreeable appearance to the eye, oC
which he gives many instances. I appre-
hend the observation may be extended to
the animal kingdom, in which we commonly
see something shocking to the eye in the
noxious and poisonous animals.

The beauties which anatomists and phy-
siologists describe in the internal structure
of the various tribes of animals ; in the



[i:ssA" viri.

organs of sense, of nutrition, and of motion,
are expressive of wise design and contriv-
ance, in fitting them for the various kinds
of life for which they are intended. [759]

Thus, I think, it appears that the beauty
which we perceive in the inferior animals,
is expressive, either of such perfections as
their several natures may receive, or ex-
pressive of wise design in Him who made
them, and that their beauty is derived from
the perfections which it expresses.

But of all the objects of sense, the most
striking and attractive beauty is perceived
in the human species, and particularly in
the fair sex.

Milton represents Satan himself, in sur-
veying the furniture of this globe, as struck
with the beauty of the first happy pair.

'« Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Godlike eroctl with native honour clad
In naked nvijeslv, seem'd lords of all.
And worthy seem'd, for in th ir looks divine,
The image of their glorious Maker, shone
Truth, wisdom, sancutuiie severe and pure;
Severe, but in true filial freedom plac'd,
Whence true authority in man : though both
Not equal, as their S'X not equal seem'd,
For contemplation he, and valour form'd,
Forsottness she, and sweet attractive gr..ce."

In this well-known passage of Milton,
we see that this great poet derives the
beauty of the first pair in Paradise from
those expressions of moral and intellectual
qualities which appeared in their outward
form and demeanour.

The most minute and systematical ac-
count of beauty in the human species, and
particularly in the fair sex, I have met
with, is in " Crito ; or, a Dialogue on
Beauty," said to be written by the author
of " Polymetis,"* and republished by Dods-
ley in his collection of fugitive pieces.

I shall borrow from that author some
observations, which, I think, tend to shew
that the beauty of the human body is
derived from the signs it exhibits of some
perfection of the mind or person.

All that can be called beauty in the
human species may be reduced to these
four heads : colour, form, expression, and
grace. The two former may be called the
body, the two latter the soul of beauty.

The beauty of colour is not owing solely
to the natural liveliness of flesh-colour and
red, nor to the much greater charms they
receive from being properly blended toge-
ther ; but is also owing, in some degree, to
the idea they carry with them of good
health,' without which all beauty grows
languid and less engaging, and with which
it always recovers an additional strength
and lustre. This is supported by the autho-
rity of Cicero. Venustus ,et puklmtudo
corporis secerni non pntest a vulctudme.

* Spence, under the name of Sir Harry l'eau.
txmt— H.

Here I observe, that, as the colour of the
body is veiy different in different climates,
every nation preferring the colour of its
climate, and as, among us, one man prefers
a fair beauty, another a brunette, without
being able to give any reason for this pre-
ference ; this diversity of taste has no stand-
ard in the common principles of human
nature, but must arise from something that
is different in different nations, and-in dif-
ferent individuals of the same nation.

I observed before, that fashion, habit,
associations, and perhaps some peculiarity
of constitution, may have great influence
upon this internal sense, as well as upon
the external. Setting aside the judgments
arising from such causes, there seems to
remain nothing that, according to the com-
mon judgment of mankind, can be called
beauty in the colour of the species, but
what expresses ""perfect health and liveli-
ness, and in the fair sex softness and deli-
cacy ; and nothing that can be called deform-
ity but what indicates disease and decline.
And if this be so, it follows, that the beauty
of colour is derived from the perfections
which it expresses. This, however, of all
the ingredients of beauty, is the least. [761 ]

The next in order is form, or proportion
of parts. The most beautiful form, as the
author thinks, is that which indicates deli-
cacy and softness in the fair sex, and in the
male either strength or agility. The beau-
ty of form, therefore, lies all in expression.

The third ingredient, which has more
power than either colour or form, he calls
expression, and observes, that it is only the
expression of the tender and kind passions
that gives beauty ; that all the cruel and
unkind ones add to deformity ; and that, on
this account, good nature may very justly
be said to be the best feature, even in the
finest face. Modesty, sensibility, and
sweetness, blended together, so as either
to enliven or to correct each other, give al-
most as much attraction as the passions are
capable of adding to a very pretty face.

It is owing, says the author, to the great
force of pleasingness which attends all the

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 113 of 114)