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of the rock, contrasted with the foulness of dust - 1 mould, is expressed by the epithet “living,” very singularly given in the rock, in almost all languages; singularly I say, because life is almost the last attribute one would ascribe to stone, but for this visible energy and connexion of its particles; and so of water as opposed to stagnancy. And I do not think that, however pure a powder or dust may be, the idea of beauty is ever connected with it, for it is not the mere purity, but the active condition of the substance which is desired, so that as soon as it shoots into crystals, or gathers into effervescence, a sensation of active or real purity is received which was not felt in the calcined caput mortuum. The most lovely objects in nature are only partially trans. parent. I suppose the utmost possible sense of beauty (of color) is conveyed by a feebly translucent, smooth, but not lustrous surface of white, and pale warm red, subdued by the most pure and delicate greys, as in the finer portions of the human frame; in wreaths of snow, and in white plumage under rose light. A fair forehead outshines its diamond diadem. The sparkle of the cascade withdraws not our eyes from the snowy summits in their evening silence. * With the idea of purity comes that of spirituality, for the essential characteristic of matter is its inertia, whence, by adding to it purity or energy, we may in some measure spiritualize even matter itself. Thus in the descriptions of the Apocalypse it is its purity that fits it for its place in heaven; the river of the water of life that proceeds out of the throne of the Lamb is clear as crystal, and the pavement of the city is pure gold, like unto clear glass
Of objects which, in respect of the qualities hitherto considered, appear to have equal claims to regard, we find, nevertheless, that certain are preferred to others in consequence of an attractive power, usually expressed by the terms “chasteness, refinement, or elegance,” and it appears also that things which in other respects have little in them of natural beauty, and are of forms altogether simple and adapted to simple uses, are capable of much distinction and desirableness in consequence of these qualities only. It is of importance to discover the real nature of the ideas thus expressed. Something of the peculiar meaning of the words is referable to the authority of fashion and the exclusiveness of pride, owing to which that which is the mode of a particular time is submissively esteemed, and that which by its costliness or its rarity is of difficult attainment, or in any way appears to have been chosen as the best of many things (which is the original sense of the words elegant and exquisite), is esteemed for the witness it bears to the dignity of the chooser. But neither of these ideas are in any way connected with eternal beauty, neither do they at all account for that agreeableness of color and form which is especially termed chasteness, and which it would seem to be a characteristic of rightly trained mind in all things to prefer, and of common minds to reject. There is, however, another character of artificial productions, to which these terms have partial reference, which it is of some importance to note, that of finish, exactness, or refinement, which are commonly desired in the works of men, owing both to their difficulty of accomplishment and conse. quent expression of care and power. And there is not a greater sign of the imperfection of general taste, than its capability of contentment with forms and things which, professing completion, are yet not exact nor complete, as in the vulgar with wax and clay, and china figures, and in bad sculptors with an unfinished and clay-like modelling of surface, and curves and angles of no precision or delicacy. Yet this finish is not a part or constituent of beauty, but the full and ultimate rendering of it. And therefore, as there certainly is admitted a difference of degree in what we call chasteness, even in Divine work (compare the hollyhock or the sunflower with the vale lily), we must seek for it some other explanation and source than this. And if, bringing down our ideas of it from complicated objects to simple lines and colors, we analyze and regard them carefully, I think we shall be able to trace them to an under-current of constantly agreeable feeling, excited by the appearance in material things of a self-restrained liberty, that is to say, by the image of that acting of God with regard to all his creation, wherein, though free to operate in whatever arbitrary, sudden, violent, or inconstant ways he will, he yet, if we may reverently so speak, restrains in himself this his omnipotent liberty, and works always in consistent modes, called by us laws. And this restraint or moderation, according to the words of Hooker (“that which doth moderate the force and power, that which doth appoint the form and measure of working, the same we term a law”), is in the Deity not restraint, such as it is said of creatures, but, as again says Hooker, “the very being of God is a law to his working,” so that every appearance of painfulness or want of power and freedom in material things is wrong and ugly; for the right restraint, the image of Divine operation, is both in them, and in men, a willing and not painful stopping short of the utmost degree to which their power might reach, and the appearance
of fettering or confinement is the cause of ugliness in the one, as the slightest painfulness or effort in restraint is a sign of sin in the other. I have put this attribute of beauty last, because I consider it the girdle and safeguard of all the rest, and in this respect the most essential of all, for it is possible that a certain degree of beauty may be attained even in the absence of one of its other constituents, as sometimes in some measure without symmetry or without unity. But the least appearance of violence or extravagance, of te want of moderation and restraint, is, I think, destructive of all beauty whatsoever in everything, color, form, motion, language, or thought, giving rise to that which in color we call glaring, in form inelegant, in motion ungraceful, in language coarse, in thought undis. ciplined, in all unchastened; which qualities are in everything most painful, because the signs of disobedient and irregular operation. In color it is not red, but rose-color, which is most beauti ful, neither such actual green as we find in summer foliage, partly, and in our painting of it constantly; but such grey green as that into which nature modifies her distant tints, or such pale green and uncertain as we see in sunset sky, and in the clefts of the glacier, and the chrysoprase, and the seafoam. And so of all colors; not that they may not sometimes be deep and full, but that there is a solemn moderation even in their very fulness, and a holy reference beyond and out of their own nature to great harmonies by which they are governed, and in obedience to which is their glory. The very brilliancy and real power of all color is dependent on the chas. tening of it, as of a voice on its gentleness, and as of action on its calmness, and as all moral vigor on self-command. And therefore as that virtue which men last, and with most diffi. culty attain unto, and which many attain not at all, and yet, that which is essential to the conduct and almost to the being of all other virtues, since neither imagination, nor invention, nor industry, nor sensibility, nor energy, nor any other good having, is of full avail without this of self-command, whereby works truly masculine and mighty, are produced, and by the signs of which they are separated from that lower host of things brilliant, magnificent, and redundant, and farther yet from that of the loose, the lawless, the exaggerated, the insolent, and the profane, I would have the necessity of it foremost among all our inculca g, and the name of it largest among all our inscribing, in so far that, over the doors of every school of Art, I would have this one word, relieved out in deep letters of pure gold,—MODERATION. I proceed more particularly to examine the nature of that second kind of beauty of which I spoke as consisting in “the appearance of felicitous fulfilment of function in living things.” I have already noticed the example of very pure and high typical beauty which is to be found in the lines and gradations of unsullied snow: If passing to the edge of a sheet of it, upon the lower Alps, early in May, we find, as we are nearly sure to find, two or three little round openings pierced in it, and through these emergent, a slender, pensive, fragile flower” whose small, dark, purple-fringed bell hangs down and shudders over the icy cleft that it has cloven, as if partly wondering at its own recent grave, and partly dying of very fatigue after its hard won victory; we shall be, or we ought to be, moved by a totally different impression of loveliness from that which we receive among the dead ice and the idle clouds. There is now uttered to us a call for sympathy, now offered to us an image of moral purpose and achievement, which, however unconscious or senseless the creature may indeed be that so seems to call, cannot be heard without affection, nor contemplated without * Soldanella Alpina.