What is Beauty? Many have asked it, and could find no answer because they understood their question no more than jesting Pilate understood his ‘What is Truth?’ But many beside have asked it with at least a real desire to understand. It was already in the mind of the prehistoric artist who was the first to draw a pattern or to sketch the mammoth, though no doubt he did not put the question to himself. It has been there, expressed or unexpressed, wherever a man has had vision enough to find his spirit stirred by a flower or a cathedral; a fabric or the low October sun upon a sheet of gossamer; wherever a man has tried to reproduce nature on canvas or pour out his longing and triumph in sound or written words. He has cried out that beauty dwells only in his own spirit, for there have been moods and days when he could see no beauty in that which at other times moved him deeply. Yet the agreement of civilised mankind, at all events, that this or that particular is beautiful is so widely diffused that he cannot but admit that something in the object itself must suggest the idea of beauty. Taste may change, but the sunset and the rose are universally[Pg 18] acclaimed by all who have any aesthetic perception at all. On the other hand, faced with the vagaries of artistic fashion a man finds no absolute beauty, and is driven to a subjective theory, for he cannot admire the protruding, distorted lip so persuasive to certain savages. But no sooner is this theory constructed than he is brought up once more against the difficulty that an object is required before the sense of beauty is aroused, and that men do agree in attributing beauty to many things.
Because the perception of beauty involves a judgment (which really belongs to the intellectual process, and not properly to the aesthetic), beauty itself seems too elusive for definition. It has been left, as we have said, for Croce to formulate the first satisfactory concept of beauty. He saw what no one else had seen—that man’s first contact with the Real, the first movement of the spirit that stretched beyond a mere sensation, was a creative act, an intuition not a judgment, expressing the reality to himself. Beauty, says Croce, is expression. Afterwards the man might give his expression objective form through some technique. Hence derive pictures, sculpture, music, dancing, poetry, drama, architecture, language itself; all the arts. Or the expression of his intuition may remain simply as a formative agent of his spirit. There are many mute inglorious Miltons. But he has expressed his intuition to himself, and it has formed a new[Pg 19] material for his conceptual activity, whether or no he brings it far into the domain of the practical, through technique, in order that it may subserve some economic or moral function for himself and other men. That he must bring it into the practical in some measure, whether he does or does not give it technical form, is clear to anyone who has grasped Croce’s main thought. The aesthetic intuition is for the individual, but he is driven to universalise it by thought (i.e. logic). It is of practical value to himself (economic motive) and it is capable of being made of use to others (ethical motive). Theoretic and practical cannot be isolated from one another.
As aesthetic is to logic, so is economic to ethic, and so is theoretic to practical; it is the relation of the double degree.
A priori synthesis unites each of the theoretic and of the practical activities with the other, and the same a priori synthesis unites the theoretic and the practical themselves, of which neither exclusively precedes the other in the circle of Real Being. This is the life of the spirit.
Now in considering this theory of Croce’s we notice at once that mind or spirit is for him a datum, and that he assumes further that spirit is active and is definable only by its activity. He gives no reason for this activity. The cause of this is not far to seek, for his whole system is confessedly anti-metaphysical, and so, of necessity, stops short of ultimate things. Life,[Pg 20] spirit, is for him the true mystery, and this is immanent. There is no room for transcendence. All he can say is that no philosophical system is definite because Life itself is never definite.
Truth is always surrounded with mystery, an ascending to ever higher heights, which are without a summit, as Life is without a summit.
The spirit, which is infinite possibility passing into infinite actuality, has drawn and draws at every moment the cosmos from chaos, has collected diffused life into the concentrated life of the organ, has achieved the passage from animal to human life, has created and creates modes of life ever more lofty. The work of the spirit is not finished and never will be finished. Our yearning for something higher is not vain. The very yearning, the infinity of our desire, is proof of the infinity of that process. The plant dreams of the animal, the animal of man, man of superman; for this, too, is a reality, if it be reality that with every historical movement man surpasses himself. The time will come when the great deeds and the great works now our memory and our boast will be forgotten, as we have forgotten the works and the deeds, no less great, of those beings of supreme genius who created what we call human life and seem to us now to have been savages of the lowest grade, almost men-monkeys. They will be forgotten for the document of progress is in forgetting; that is, in the fact being entirely absorbed in the new fact, in which, and not in itself, it has value. But we cannot know what the future states of Reality will be, in their determined physiognomy and succession, owing to the ‘dignity’ established in the Philosophy of the[Pg 21] Practical, by which the knowledge of the action and of the deed follows and does not precede the action and the deed. Mystery is just the infinity of evolution; were this not so, that concept would not arise in the mind of man, nor would it be possible to abuse it, as it has been abused by being transported out of its place, that is to say, into the consciousness of itself, which the spiritual activity should have and has to the fullest degree, that is, the consciousness of its eternal categories.
The neglect of the moment of mystery is the true reason of the error known as the Philosophy of History, which undertakes to portray the plan of Providence and to determine the formula of progress. In this attempt (when it does not affirm mere philosophemes, as has very often happened), it makes the effort to enclose the infinite in the finite and capriciously to decree concluded that evolution which the universal spirit itself cannot conclude, for it would thus come to deny itself. In logic that error has been gnoseologically defined as the pretension of treating the individual as though it were the universal, making the universal individual; here it is to be defined in other words as the pretension of treating the finite as though it were the infinite, of making the infinite finite.
But the unjustified transportation of the concept of mystery from history, where it indicates the future that the past prepares and does not know, into philosophy, causes to be pointed as mysteries which give rise to probabilities and conjectures, problems that consist of philosophical terms, and should therefore be philosophically solved. But if the infinite progress and the infinite perfectibility of man is to be affirmed, although we do not know the concrete forms that progress and perfectibility will assume (not knowing them, because now it imports not to know, but to do them), then there is no meaning in positing as a mystery the immortality of the individual soul, or the existence of God; for these are not facts that may or may not happen[Pg 22] sooner or later, but concepts that must be proved to be in themselves thinkable and not contradictory. Their thinkability will indeed be a mystery, but of the kind that it is a duty to make clear, because synonymous with obscurity or mental confusion. What has so far been demonstrated has been their unthinkability in the traditional form. Nor is it true that they correspond to profound demands of the human soul. Man does not seek a god external to himself and almost a despot, who commands and benefits him capriciously, nor does he aspire to an immortality of insipid ease; but he seeks for that God which he has in himself, and aspires to that activity which is both Life and Death.
Thus Croce affirms that evolution, development, is demanded by the very nature of spirit. In spirit the problem of the one and the many is solved. The yearnings of man towards something higher, and towards a unity that shall lie behind and stabilise all thought, are but expressions of the nature of Life. The dissatisfaction of such a thought is due to psychological illusion, comparable to a “dream of an art so sublime that every work of art really existing would by comparison appear contemptible.” There is no intuition that cannot be clearly expressed; vague dreams of the Madonna of the Future end inevitably in an empty canvas. So too, according to Croce, is a dream of transcendence empty of content, because inexpressible; based on no clear intuition, but on a confusion between the historical judgment and some vague conception[Pg 23] of the transcendental. And thus the life of the spirit is left a mystery.
We will not attempt any discussion of Croce’s fundamental pantheism, neither will we as yet criticise his definition of Beauty. Instead, we will begin our constructive work by considering the psychological accompaniment of a perception of beauty and from that starting-point try to reach a conception and a definition that will carry us beyond Croce’s into a region less empty of love, a region that shines with a light of its own. Dead moons are lovely, but they owe their loveliness to living light. Cold philosophies too are only beautiful when a beautiful spirit makes them seem to live.
Let us, then, turn to the psychological effects of that which appeals as beautiful to some individual mind, leaving on one side, for the time, all consideration of the reason why a particular object should rouse a sense of beauty in a particular mind.
Now unquestionably the beauty we perceive is never satisfying, or if it satisfies at all it does so but for a moment. Almost at once dissatisfaction follows, or rather unsatisfaction.
There is a yearning for something, a sense of something lacking. It is vague—so vague that the only representation of it that has ever adequately expressed at once its aspirations, its lack and its indeterminateness, is Blake’s drawing “I want—I want.” Of these three things it is[Pg 24] compounded, of lack, of aspiration, and of self-ignorance that knows neither what it lacks nor what it desires; and these three determine its salient character—that of an impulse. That it is really an impulse becomes clear directly we examine its effects. It produces a desire to create. In the young, the uncontrolled, the illiterate, the creative impulse may be definitely sexual. Passion is undoubtedly stimulated in simple natures by the beautiful, and we shall see when we come to discuss the evolution of aesthetic sensibility that this fact is of the profoundest spiritual import. For the moment we need only note that this sex-impulse is creative. In natures artistically more developed yet not truly originative, the creative impulse is a desire to repeat the thing that has given this sense of beauty—to paint the sunset, to play the sonata, to declaim the poem. Yet even here we must note the germ of originality. The repetition is no mere reproduction. Elimination and emphasis make it in some measure a new creation. This is obvious in the less rigid arts, painting and music; but it is present even where the form is definite. Hear two different people, or the same person in two different moods, read the same poem, and see how different a thing it can be! In more artistic natures still, truly original, the desire to create is conscious, the desire to reproduce less. The thing created need not, probably will not, be of the same kind. The moon-glade on the sea[Pg 25]enriching by contrast the blackness of the rocky headland, will inspire the musician to write, not a moonlight sonata, for true music is free from sensuous symbolism, but a pure rhythm of sound. To suggest visual symbols in sound is to prostitute music, to drive it back into the sensationalism from which it has freed itself. It is, further, to confuse the mind by attempting to combine two incompatible media of technical expression. As animal passion is to love, so is Carrier’s “La Chasse” to a Bach prelude.
We see, then, that the psychological effect of the beautiful is to produce a creative impulse, based on the lack and the aspiration which give rise to a sense of yearning desire. We see that it is indeterminate, for it attempts to satisfy itself in very various ways. We see that in so far as it creates successfully, it finds some satisfaction.
Now all this fits admirably with Croce’s theory of beauty. Beauty is for us the expression of that of which we have intuition. In realising the beauty of a symphony or picture we have ourselves re-created the intuition of the artist. In realising the beauty of a natural scene we have expressed an intuition of the reality that lies behind that scene; a creative act. We shall later go beyond Croce in this matter, referring our[Pg 26] creative act to a re-creation of the intuition of God, and this will lead us to consider the aesthetic meaning of God’s creation; but for the time we need not pursue this thought.
Our next business is, clearly, to analyse the yearning which precedes the creative act. We have said that this originates in dissatisfaction. What is this dissatisfaction? One other thing produces a feeling that is not merely analogous, but absolutely identical. When you love a person intensely and are uncertain if it is reciprocated, because no sign, or no sufficient sign, is given, you experience the same dissatisfaction, the same yearning and the same creative impulse. In primitive natures the impulse may fulfil itself in sexual excitement; in higher ones it is expressed in art. It is a commonplace to say that some of the world’s greatest creative work is done under the stimulus of love. The poems of lovers furnish the most prominent example, not only their love poems, but the poems inspired by their love, like the Divina Commedia; but we need not seek far for examples in the other arts. Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony was inspired by his love for the Countess Theresa von Brunswick. Tchaikovsky found inspiration in his Platonic love for Nadejda von Meck, whom he had never seen. His sad, abnormal friendships were an inspiration to Michael Angelo.
Now in both cases, paradoxical as it may seem, the dissatisfaction is due to receiving without[Pg 27] giving. At first sight this seems to be exactly the opposite of the truth. Surely a man is pouring out his love, and receiving no return, one is inclined to say. But a moment’s thought will convince us that the first statement is the true one. All the beauty, all the grace, all the interest and the charms of the loved one are given to us in unstinted measure, and we can give nothing in return. We may not even express our love, our desire to serve, but in the trivial services that convention allows. Yet how we prize these little services that we can render! How we seek out opportunity of rendering them! We receive; we can give no adequate return. It is that which determines our dissatisfaction. If the gift of our love is refused, dissatisfaction is most poignant. Commonly we say that the beloved refuses to give anything in such a case. Exactly the reverse is true. The beloved gives, and cannot avoid giving, but will receive nothing from us.
Now think of a perfect marriage or a perfect friendship. There is little trace of dissatisfaction there; only rest and happiness. We receive, but we give again, and our gift may be given without measure; may equal, or nearly equal what we receive; may at least be all that we can give. There is perfect reciprocity, and in reciprocity we find rest.
The creative impulse does not cease, service and gifts do not cease, but the spirit is free from longing dissatisfaction.
Turn now to the dissatisfaction produced by appreciation of the beautiful. We receive everything, we can give nothing at all (to the beautiful thing); and so dissatisfaction is at its highest. We love the thing in which we find beauty, but the love is one-sided. The cases are identical. It is no mere phrase when we speak of the love of beauty and the beauty of love. Unwittingly we express the truth of an absolute interdependence. Love is relationship, beauty the expression of relationship.In this sentence lies our thesis. Croce calls Beauty the expression of an Intuition; we shall define that intuition as the intuition of Relationship, Love being the relationship itself, intuitively known; known, that is, as Reality—as the fundamental quality of Personal Being, which is the only ultimate Reality. Because the intuition of Love is expressed, it enters immediately the domain of Aesthetic. Doubtless it is conceptualised; and hand in hand with this theoretic activity of the spirit goes the practical. Love is essentially practical, and, as Croce says, you can never separate or give priority to either the theoretic or the practical activity. The difference, then, between beauty and love that is returned lies in the fact that in the second there is reciprocity. You give, as well as receiving. In all love there is some reciprocity; the loved one cannot help being conscious of, and receiving, something of the spirit that moves out in such wise. The love of a being seen but once is[Pg 29] purely aesthetic. Only this corresponds to the aesthetic appreciation of a scene, and even this not exactly; for the being is potentially capable of receiving, the scene is not.
It is worth noticing at this point that, though Greek thought arrived at no adequate idea of beauty, Greek Mythology did arrive at complete understanding. And this gives little cause for wonder, considering to what a level the love of the beautiful developed in ancient Greece, and considering too how myth represents the unreasoned, intuitive wishes and ideas of an infantile age. We often wonder at the depths which mythology plumbs. Accepting Croce’s scheme, it is the more easy to understand. The myth of Pygmalion is subtly suggestive. Pygmalion created beauty, and longed for it to reciprocate his love, and out of his longing life and love were born. Beauty was for him one-sided love; hence his yearning and his dissatisfaction.
But we are not Pygmalions. Our Galatea never comes to life. Why then should we strive still to create? Why like the man in the old play, should we proceed with an endless task: “When will you finish Campaspe?” “Never finish, for always in absolute beauty there is somewhat above art.” Croce simply takes activity as the[Pg 30] character of spirit and leaves it at that, admitting, but not really explaining, the fact that men are dissatisfied with the mystery of it all. We, approaching with a different presupposition, accepting God and not rejecting metaphysic, may hope to find some fuller explanation. We do in fact go on creating something that cannot reciprocate. Why? First of all, by our creative act we learn more of the meaning of the Reality that is around us, and the Reality that is ourself. We find the creative godhead of our personality, we exercise our self in its true function of godhead. Moreover, we create a gift to other men, whether technically or otherwise. If we cannot give to nature, we can at least give our understanding of nature to our fellows:
And neither does the spirit that is a cistern of beauty fulfil itself, nor remain pure.
Our aesthetic activity is, then, our first contact with Reality, paving the way to an understanding of the meaning of that Reality. In spite of Croce, we cannot agree that a full appreciation of this[Pg 31] meaning could be considered as achieved if the end is simply longing—dissatisfaction. In the very fact that beauty produces in us a yearning, that issues in a creative activity which does not, and cannot, satisfy the yearning, we have evidence that the solution is not found. In the identity of psychological content produced by beauty and by unrequited love we find the clue we seek. In the restfulness of a perfect friendship, of an intercourse which knows no subject that must not be touched upon, fears no jarring note, whatever matter comes upon the scene, can give all the keys in perfect trust, knowing that trust will never be regretted, and hold the other’s keys knowing there is the same confidence on that side; that can see with the other’s eyes, and never fear to be itself misunderstood; in that restfulness the problems of beauty, of life, of Reality itself find answer.
Let us repeat. The unsatisfyingness of beauty is due to the fact that you are taking and not giving. In order to give something, to others, though not to the object that roused in you the sense of beauty, you create by some technique. What is it you are receiving? An intuition, which you express to yourself creatively and to others through its effect on your character;—to which further, if you are an artist, you give external, technical expression. This intuition which you receive is the first stage of knowledge—of the knowledge of Reality. So far, agreeing with[Pg 32] Croce, we agree with Bergson; and moreover we leave room for mysticism, since mysticism becomes the appreciation of relationship, and logic paves the way for suitable activity to develop our side of the relationship. The meaning of this becomes clearer when we consider Croce’s explanation of the process of perceiving beauty in the work of an artist, be it picture, symphony, or poem. He points out that in appreciating a work of art you enter into the mind of the creator, follow his intuition, and create the expression afresh for yourself. On the degree in which you can do this depends the fullness of your appreciation of the work.
But when you see beauty in a natural object the matter is less clear. Croce would say that you are in the first stage of knowing that object, and he is unquestionably right so far. But can we not, using the analogy of the picture or the poem, go on to say that you are following out the idea of the creator of the natural object—that you are in touch with the Cosmic Idea, which is the Idea of a Personal God? If so, there is indeed room for mysticism, for mysticism becomes simply the realisation that you are in fact doing this. Moreover, Beauty and Love at once fall into relation. Beauty is not simply expression, but the expression of a relation, and it is incomplete because the relation is not yet reciprocal. Love is that relation itself.
In another aspect, beauty is seen as the meeting-[Pg 33]place for love, since it is the expression of an intuition of Reality, and Reality is rooted and grounded in love. Where there is limitation either of one or both of two persons, expression is needed to provide a meeting-place—speech or sign for the lesser artist, music, poetry, or picture for the greater. Each expression is a symbol of the reality it incarnates; in so far as it reaches out beyond its own immediate apprehension of that reality. All expression, all art, is symbolic and has a mystical aspect, else it would be either complete and all-embracing or devoid of real content. So far the symbolists are right.
But this opens up a wide problem. If Beauty be the formulated intuition of Reality, which, because of its incompleteness, represents in symbols things that are beyond its immediate purview, and if Reality be, as we have elsewhere argued, grounded on Personal Relationship, the self-expression of Love, does beauty cease when personal relations become perfect? For we have argued that a symbol belongs to the domain of the imperfect, not the perfect. If so, has beauty any meaning for God? At this point we clearly come into contact with the problem of God’s creative activity. We have said that the creation of God must be the creation of something new. We have said that Love, of its own nature,[Pg 34] demands expansion, is centrifugal as well as centripetal, and in this centrifugality of love we sought the Divine Impulse to create new personalities. But behind lurked always the question “How could a God whose experience was perfect and embraced already all Reality, create anything that was new?” The reciprocity of perfected love would be new for the personal beings He had created; but His self-limitation which the freedom of those beings necessitated would not be new for Him, for self-abnegation is an eternal part of love, since love is substantiated as itself by creative self-surrender, transcendence by immanence. Would the result of His self-limitation be new for Him, implicit as it is in His Being as Love? Would the experience of the reciprocal love of His children be a new thing for Him?
No doubt the problem, as belonging to the domain of the Transcendent, is not soluble for us, whose transcendence, whose intuition of the Real, is so incomplete. But because in such measure as we do know the Real we are ourselves transcendent, we can at least hope to touch the fringe of His garment; and Croce’s proof that pure intuition—which Bergson also urges to be our point d’appui with the Real—belongs to the domain of aesthetic, gives us a fresh clue in our investigation.
Beauty is expression. This is Croce’s statement; and in it we find what we need, provided that we expand the definition into ‘the expression[Pg 35] of Relation.’ If there be a Personal God as we believe, whose experience is Reality, He must always be expressing that Reality. There is no consciousness without expression. But the expression of knowledge of the Real is Beauty. God’s Being must be full of an overwhelming Beauty. But part of His Nature, as Love, is centrifugal. That centrifugal part must also be expressed. The artist follows his expression by technical application; he paints for eye or ear, to satisfy himself and to communicate his intuition. In so far as he fails in his expression, the result is ugly. In so far, also, as God’s creation fails, through its own inevitable condition of the freedom of man, the result is ugly. Ugliness is the aesthetic, or theoretical aspect of sin; in its practical aspect sin is uneconomic, un-moral.
Now if one thing is more certain than another, it is that Beauty is for ever new. Each sense of beauty is a new creation, a fresh activity of the spirit, be it inspired never so often by the same object. And this means that to know the Real is for ever a new thing. God’s love is always new for Himself. His self-knowledge is creation perpetually renewed. It follows, a fortiori, that His knowledge of the beings He creates and is creating is each moment new. Because knowledge is in its first movement Beauty, there can be no stagnancy in Eternal Being, no dead level of satiety in Eternal Life.
Beauty is expression. For God it is the expression of His relation to Himself as transcendent, and of the substantiation of His transcendence through His relation to others as immanent, in the first stage of the movement of that relation towards and into transcendence. Beauty is the expression of a relation, and is ever new. But the relation itself is Love. God is Love; that love is expressed as Beauty; and Beauty is necessarily eternal, because it is the knowledge of Reality. God is Love. This is to say that God IS because He is a relation, to Himself and to others. Here is the inmost heart of Trinitarian Doctrine, as we have seen. Because He is Love, He expresses that Reality in activity. But activity has two sides, the theoretical and the practical. His expression is, on the theoretic side, Beauty, and is hence for ever new for Him. He is for Himself a Relation, known intuitively and expressed as Beauty, and His intuition of this Reality is ever new. On the practical side it is Creation, full of purpose (economic aspect) and of goodness (moral aspect); new for us, His creatures, but only achieving, for us even, its full newness as we come to know the Reality which is the experience of the Love that is perfect in Him alone; only achieving its full newness as we begin ourselves to know, to express, and to create: as we become gods ourselves. And what He creates is real, beautiful, and new.
Beauty is eternal. It is the meeting-place of personal beings for ever; but it is a symbol only so long as these personal beings are imperfect, and their knowledge incomplete. Beauty and knowledge become coextensive as immediate intuition extends its boundaries till logic has no more a place, or rather till logic and intuition cover the same ground. So too with the practical; the useful extends its boundaries till it is coextensive with the good, and the two become one and the same. The activity that remains is as God’s activity. Love is itself because it is both knowing and doing; absolute Being is the circle of these two inseparables.
Before we proceed it will be as well to remind ourselves once more of the psychological fact that has caused us to modify Croce’s definition of beauty by introducing the idea of relation. This characteristic consequence of a vision of the beautiful is the sense of longing, akin to the longing of unreciprocated love, which issues in some creative act. This act may be a conscious attempt to produce something of aesthetic value—a work of art—or it may simply be an attempt to make our milieuharmonious. The housewife may be stimulated to re-cover the cushions, to tidy the house, or to re-arrange the room; the mother may try to make her children happier; the selfish man or the fractious child may try to make life more complete and harmonious by loving deeds, however short-lived. The most[Pg 38] commonplace mind may feel a religious impulse; a sense of wonder and reverence. Men have always been perplexed by the apparently close connection between the beautiful and the good, between the beautiful and the sublime. This connection becomes clear in the light of our definition. Beauty is seen as the first step towards an understanding of Reality, and that Reality is Love, personal relationship, reciprocity. Relationship between finite persons first (yet not transient even here, because personality is essentially infinite, and persons are only limited in so far as they have failed as yet to achieve personality), but relationship that finds its origin and explanation in the personal, creative, Triune Being of God. The perception of beauty is accompanied by emotion; free, as emotion is in itself, though aroused by external conditioning; yet unsatisfied, thwarted, and so with a vein of sadness in its joy. Its joy is the joy of beginning to understand. All understanding is pleasure. One smiled with pleasure when one first grasped Euclid’s forty-seventh proposition, even. But here we understand the beauty as a symbol and a meeting-place. It makes us feel less lonely and less isolated. Its sadness is the sadness of an[Pg 39] incomplete understanding. We see in a beautiful thing a thing that can receive nothing from us, while it gives much to us. Yet the very fact that beauty does make us ‘feel religious’ shows that somehow we do realise that we can give something to God, and find a little satisfaction in doing so; that even nature is not so impersonal as we were inclined to think. Our desire to create beautiful things is a sign that we understand our self also, our destined godhead, and that we too wish to reveal our self by creating for others, and giving to others. It is a sign that we understand that our relations with God and with our fellows are reciprocal.
Croce gives the clue when he shows that aesthetic is the first stage of the spirit’s activity. Bergson strikes a note that wakes an answering harmony when he urges that intuition brings us nearer to Reality than does intellect directed toward practical aims, even though some of his deductions displease; Kant and Hegel indicate the eternal value of aesthetic when they urge that it belongs to the highest and last stage. But Croce gives no reason for the longing that beauty forces upon us; nor indeed for the activity of spirit at all; he merely assumes spirit as a datum, and is defined by its activity.
But if we regard beauty as the expression of a perceived relationship, almost as one-sided love, the whole falls into place. Through beauty we get into touch with Reality, which Reality is,[Pg 40] in its completeness, the mutual activity of Love. The basis of Love’s activity is Love’s freedom, even its freedom to limit itself. Mankind is winning freedom out of determined conditions; which conditions are the creation, the expression, of God’s love, through self-limitation. Because they are the expression of God’s knowledge of the Reality of Love, they are beautiful. The winning of freedom by man is achieved through adaptative relation to the environment. As this adaptation becomes conscious—as we gain intuitive knowledge of the environment—the sense of beauty is born, for we express our knowledge of this relation to ourselves; and make efforts towards further adaptation. These efforts are creative; and as we progress our creation becomes more and more altruistic; a creation for others with our relationship to them held consciously before us. These few words will suffice to show how perfectly our thesis fits in with the evolutionary views we have previously enunciated. The development of this side of the argument may be left for the present.
One other matter requires a brief consideration, and then we can leave the general outline of our theory and proceed to a more detailed treatment of certain parts of it. This is the old, unsolved problem whether beauty is subjective or objective; whether a thing is beautiful in itself, or whether it is only our thinking that makes it so. Croce has made it perfectly clear that the[Pg 41] thing or the scene which we erroneously call beautiful, meaning that it is beautiful in itself, physically beautiful, is simply the “stimulus to aesthetic reproduction, which presupposes previous production. Without preceding aesthetic intuitions of the imagination, nature cannot arouse any at all.” Perhaps Croce’s own thesis would gain in clearness and coherence if, starting from the sense of beauty aroused by a work of art as the re-creation of the artist’s intuition by the spectator, he had accepted the religious implication, and argued that appreciation of so-called natural beauty, was the re-creation by man of God’s intuition. But, with his prejudice against religion, he naturally could not boldly accept God as the Primal Artist, even though to do so would have made his theory far more complete, and would have saved him from relegating the chief factor of man’s life to the realm of psychological illusion.
To return to the immediate question, there can, of course, be no doubt that since beauty is an activity of the spirit, the expression of an intuition, beauty itself must be purely subjective. Equally, there can be no doubt that without the objective Reality the intuition could never be called into being. (We call it definitely objective for man, since all our argument in previous works has driven us to the conclusion that there is a necessary dualism for man as long as freedom[Pg 42] is incomplete, love imperfect; as long, that is, as man is becoming.)
This grows more and more clear as one analyses the things that have roused in oneself the keenest sense of beauty. I think of a copse starred with snowdrops and aconite amid bare trunks under a steel-grey sky—a day in late autumn in water-meadows; emerald peacock-tails of weed in the river, and lights of madder and old gold—blue sea covered with pearly Portuguese men-o’-war and white surf breaking on black lava rocks—perhaps a dozen such landmarks, to me a priceless possession, to another about as interesting as an album of picture-postcards from somebody else’s travels. In mercy partly, partly in self-defence, one withholds these things from all but the few who care to understand. Let each fill in his own; for there are in every life such moments, when one is in touch with a larger life, and it is these moments which make a man, as Masefield has wonderfully shown in his poem Biography. Then there are the hours when human triumphs rouse in us the same ecstasy. Bach preludes and fugues, with their palaces reared by perfect stone added architecturally to perfect stone; the dainty certainties of Mozart; the sad gaiety and foreboding meditations of Chopin; the delicate cadences of Swinburne; the lusty, open-air searchings of Masefield, saddened by the obsession of sunset transience; the gentle longing of[Pg 43] the refrain of the Earthly Paradise; the massive synthesis of the Dynasts; the sorrow of Deirdre and Violaine; the ethereal atmosphere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; pictures—architecture—it is all endless. Now the first thing we notice is that if we are in the wrong mood these things may have little or no appeal. I may walk in Water-meads and feel nothing of their charm. Bach may be mere noise, if I want to think of something else. Again the Madonna of the Magnificat may leave me unmoved, if my attention is on other matters. Those whose sense of beauty is really keen can never be unstirred by the beautiful, unless their attention is so rivetted on other things that they do not observe it at all, but most of us are of commoner clay; we can notice a thing yet hardly be aware of its beauty.
Here, in either case, our ordinary speech hits the nail exactly on the head: “I am not in a receptive mood,” we say. I do not receive what these things have to give. In an appreciative mood I take something from the thing that seems to me beautiful—this act is my intuition—and use it as the basis of my creative work—my expression. I need the presentation of an external object, or its memory, for that creation. Now, as we have just seen, a host of very different objects excite in an individual emotion of beauty in a pre-eminent degree, while if we reckon the objects which excite it in a less acute form, the tale is endless; yet the emotion all excite is[Pg 44] sufficiently the same in content, in spite of its multiplicity of form, to be expressed by the single term beauty. One is tempted to speak loosely of this effect of the beautiful on us as an emotion, though clearly it is not one, since it is expression. An emotion may be beautiful immediately it is known and expressed in this act of knowing, but the emotion is not beautiful any more than any other object is beautiful. Nevertheless, this loose usage of the term has one advantage. It draws our attention to the close relationship that binds together beauty and emotion. We have seen elsewhere that in the realm of emotion exists the freedom that lies between the incoming perception and the outgoing activity, forming the bond between the first and last, and determining the form of the response to the stimulus. In the recognition of beauty there is freedom and emotion, as there is in every creative act. But the activity is dependent on stimulus, and every stimulus is primarily perceptual, though not necessarily in the strict sense of being perceived by an organ of sense. The perception may be wholly internal, the self being its own object in introspection; the intuition may be the intuition of love itself. Here we see the origin of the common, yet I believe erroneous, statement that “beauty, as we understand it, is only for sense and for sensuous[Pg 45] imagination.” If Beauty be the expression of an intuition of Reality, as Croce says, and Reality be ultimately the activity of Personal Being, which activity is relationship, as we have seen reason to claim, Beauty is not dependent on sense perception alone. Further, because the activity of personal relation is Love, we see in Beauty the creative knowledge of love, which is necessarily linked in closest intimacy with freedom and emotion. Love is not beautiful; it is simply the activity of relationship. The knowledge of love is Beauty’s very self. The world is not beautiful, but knowledge of the world as the expression of a part of Reality—of that portion of Reality which is limited and determined by the self-abnegation of God’s love—is Beauty. In so far as we merely perceive matter the aesthetic side is in abeyance. At this moment we know, not Reality, but Appearance. Our unaesthetic moods are determined by our more or less complete practical concern with Appearance, our more or less complete blindness to Reality. We have gone back to a lower, more primitive stage. In our limited and still largely determined existence we are bound to be occupied in a great measure with appearance. The practical must dominate the theoretic activity; the spirit must be unbalanced, asymmetrical. Even in our moments of greatest symmetry our apprehension[Pg 46] of the Real is largely at second hand. Pace, Croce, we would say—as we have said already—that the Immanent cannot have immediate contact with the Real; man’s intuitions belong to his transcendence where they deal with the absolutely Real. Man immanent and limited is immediately in contact with God immanent and self-limited; only in so far as man is transcendent is he in contact with God Transcendent, and so in touch with the Whole. In his immanence man lives by symbols, which are sacraments; and here we find the symbolic aspect of Beauty. It is the material basis of this symbolic side of Beauty, rather than Beauty absolute, that has of necessity received most attention hitherto; and the puzzles of rival theories have arisen through failure to realise that a symbol is a partial expression of a reality, and that it can only be fully grasped when the reality which it symbolises is understood. A symbol has something of the reality itself, or it would not be a symbol, but it does not represent that reality adequately, or it would be co-extensive with it; would be the reality itself. Beauty is thus subjective, in so far as it is necessarily the work of the spirit. But it is objective in so far as the reality of which it is the knowledge is personal and external to the self, and will always remain external, however complete the interpenetration of personalities, since personalities cannot be merged and[Pg 47] lost in each other, but remain eternally in their self-identity.
A natural object per se is not beautiful; only so far as it is understood as a partial representation of Reality, a symbol, is it beautiful.
Naturally, this statement arouses the objection that to most people the music of Grieg, if not of Bach, the pictures of Leighton, if not of Utamaro, are beautiful; and that there is a general consensus of opinion that the view over the Severn from the Windcliff, or the view of Lisbon from the harbour is more beautiful than Wormwood Scrubbs. The answer to the first part of this objection is obvious. In music, painting, verse, we are re-creating for ourselves the artist’s intuition. We know that he found beauty, and he has abstracted in his art in such a way as to render the beauty more easily recaptured. The artist is then our guide. He was an artist because his spirit was more sensitive to the reality than ours, and we follow him.
But in natural beauty, too, is not this true? Primitive peoples who live amid the most lovely scenery have little or no perception of it. But there are places and scenes where nature seems to have performed a sort of process of abstraction for us. The elements are simplified and harmonious, and there is little to distract the attention from certain main features. A com[Pg 48]paratively large number of people will have a sufficiently developed spirit to get into touch with something beyond the mere object at such places. More education in abstraction and intuition is required to perceive some kinds of beauty; we see the same thing even in the artistic creation of men. Mendelssohn appeals to far more than Bach; Leader to far more than Botticelli. Moreover, the more obvious kinds of natural beauty, as we may loosely term them, will appeal to many lesser artists, who will give technical expression to them. We shall be thus familiarised with these representations, through pianolas and art-magazines and penny readings, or through concerts and picture galleries and study; and shall be the more prepared to intuit for ourselves when we meet with objective elements of a somewhat similar type. And we have further argued that even in natural beauty we are really following the intuition of Creative Mind.
One other point is perhaps worthy of remark. Natural science appears to compass a very large achievement in knowledge, and to express this knowledge with singular felicity; yet in science there is little that can be called beautiful, except in a highly metaphorical sense. The explanation of this anomaly is clear and incontrovertible. The work of theoretical science is essentially abstract, and is concerned wholly with Appearance, not Reality, except where it impinges upon the[Pg 49] domain of philosophy. The intuition of Beauty is an intuition of Reality.
We may now put down our conclusions in a brief and more regular form:
(1) External things are required to rouse in me a sense of beauty, but they are not in themselves beautiful.
(2) I create their beauty, by understanding them as parts of a Whole which is Reality.
(3) Beauty is expression; I must therefore form a clear intuition and express it to myself. This is my creative act; to which I may, or may not, give a technical embodiment.
(4) But I am not merely creating a photographic image, an imitation. I am getting into a certain receptive condition in which I can abstract from what I see its essence and fit this into my knowledge of Reality. I cannot see a thing as beautiful unless in some degree it gives me this impression of relatedness to Reality and to myself—linking me with the Reality of which I am a part. Beauty thus comes to be a felt relationship. My creation is the creation of a fuller understanding of relatedness.
(5) I am always dissatisfied with Beauty, which wakes in me a sense of longing exactly the same as the longing of an unreciprocated love. I receive and cannot give. Yet in this beauty and this love there is joy as well as sorrow.
(6) My life is part of an organic Whole whose[Pg 50] ultimate meaning and purpose is personal relationship—interpenetration. The dissatisfaction is due to a sense of imperfect interpenetration. What is needed, and is felt to be needed, is equal give and take—reciprocal creative activity. Dissatisfaction comes when giving and taking are not balanced.
(7) Beauty is eternal, since the creative expression of Love is eternal, and Love knows eternally what it is—is eternally self-conscious. Love is relation, beauty the expression of the immediate knowledge of that relation.
(8) This knowledge is always a new, creative act. God must continually express His Being as Love else He would cease to be Love and so to be at all. In Creative Expression He renews Himself. He is for Himself ever new. And, because Love is centrifugal as well as centripetal, He must for ever express Himself outwards, so to speak, in the creation of other beings, and this His work of self-abnegation is new and beautiful.
(9) We have hardly touched on the problem of the ugly. We have little to add to Croce’s explanation of it as the failure of expression—as the failure to express coherent unity—which involves the failure of intuition. We shall just touch upon it hereafter; at the moment all we need do is to remind ourselves that the ugliest thing in the world is sin, because it is the failure to understand the whole, and to express the fullest, greatest beauty.