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Contemplative Satisfaction








WE have thus defined the word Beautiful as implying an attitude
of contemplative satisfaction, marked by a feeling, sometimes
amounting to an emotion, of admiration; and so far contrasted it
with the practical attitude implied by the word good. But we
require to know more about the distinctive peculiarities of
contemplation as such, by which, moreover, it is distinguished not
merely from the practical attitude, but also from the scientific one.

Let us get some rough and ready notions on this subject by watching
the behaviour and listening to the remarks of three imaginary
wayfarers in front of a view, which they severally consider in the
practical, the scientific and the aesthetic manner. The view was from
a hill-top in the neighbourhood of Rome or of Edinburgh, whichever
the Reader can best realise; and in its presence the three travellers
halted and remained for a moment absorbed each in his thoughts.

"It will take us a couple of hours to get home on foot"--began one of
the three. "We might have been back for tea-time if only there had
been a tram and a funicular. And that makes me think: Why not start
a joint-stock company to build them? There must be water-power in
these hills; the hill people could keep cows and send milk and butter
to town. Also houses could be built for people whose work takes
them to town, but who want good air for their children; the
hire-purchase system, you know. It might prove a godsend and a capital
investment, though I suppose some people would say it spoilt the
view. The idea is quite a good one. I shall get an expert--"

"These hills," put in the second man--"are said to be part of an
ancient volcano. I don't know whether that theory is true! It would
be interesting to examine whether the summits have been ground
down in places by ice, and whether there are traces of volcanic
action at different geological epochs; the plain, I suppose, has been
under the sea at no very distant period. It is also interesting to
notice, as we can up here, how the situation of the town is explained
by the river affording easier shipping on a coast poor in natural
harbours; moreover, this has been the inevitable meeting-place of
seafaring and pastoral populations. These investigations would
prove, as I said, remarkably full of interest."

"I wish"--complained the third wayfarer, but probably only to
himself--"I wish these men would hold their tongues and let one
enjoy this exquisite place without diverting one's attention to what
might be done or to how it all came about. They don't seem to
feel how beautiful it all is." And he concentrated himself on
contemplation of the landscape, his delight brought home by a stab
of reluctance to leave.

Meanwhile one of his companions fell to wondering whether there
really was sufficient pasture for dairy-farming and water-power for
both tramway and funicular, and where the necessary capital could
be borrowed; and the other one hunted about for marks of
stratification and upheaval, and ransacked his memory for historical
data about the various tribes originally inhabiting that country.

"I suppose you're a painter and regretting you haven't brought your
sketching materials?" said the scientific man, always interested in
the causes of phenomena, even such trifling ones as a man
remaining quiet before a landscape.

"I reckon you are one of those literary fellows, and are planning out
where you can use up a description of this place"--corrected the
rapid insight of the practical man, accustomed to weigh people's
motives in case they may be turned to use.

"I am not a painter, and I'm not a writer"--exclaimed the third
traveller, "and I thank Heaven I'm not! For if I were I might be
trying to engineer a picture or to match adjectives, instead of merely
enjoying all this beauty. Not but that I should like to have a sketch
or a few words of description for when I've turned my back upon it.
And Heaven help me, I really believe that when we are all back in
London I may be quite glad to hear you two talking about your
tramway-funicular company and your volcanic and glacial action,
because your talk will evoke in my mind the remembrance of this
place and moment which you have done your best to spoil for me--"

"That's what it is to be aesthetic"--said the two almost in the same
breath.

"And that, I suppose"--answered the third with some animosity--"is
what you mean by being practical or scientific."

Now the attitude of mind of the practical man and of the man of
science, though differing so obviously from one another (the first
bent upon producing new and advantageous results, the second
examining, without thought of advantage, into possible causes),
both differed in the same way from the attitude of the man who was
merely contemplating what he called the beauty of the scene. They
were, as he complained, thinking of what might be done and of
how it had all come about. That is to say they were both thinking
away from that landscape. The scientific man actually turned his
back to it in examining first one rock, then another. The practical
man must have looked both at the plain in front and at the hill he
was on, since he judged that there was pasture and water-power, and
that the steepness required supplementing the tramway by a
funicular. But besides the different items of landscape, and the same
items under different angles, which were thus offered to these two
men's bodily eyes, there was a far greater variety, and rapider
succession of items and perspectives presented to the eyes of their
spirit: the practical man's mental eye seeing not only the hills, plain,
and town with details not co-existing in perspective or even in time,
but tram-lines and funiculars in various stages of progress,
dairy-products, pasture, houses, dynamos, waterfalls, offices,
advertisements, cheques, etc., etc., and the scientific man's inner
vision glancing with equal speed from volcanoes to ice-caps and
seas in various stages of geological existence, besides minerals
under the microscope, inhabitants in prehistoric or classic garb, let
alone probably pages of books and interiors of libraries. Moreover,
most, if not all these mental images (blocking out from attention the
really existing landscape) could be called images only by courtesy,
swished over by the mental eye as by an express train, only just
enough seen to know what it was, or perhaps nothing seen at all,
mere words filling up gaps in the chain of thought. So that what
satisfaction there might be in the case was not due to these rapidly
scampered through items, but to the very fact of getting to the next
one, and to a looming, dominating goal, an ultimate desired result, to
wit, pounds, shillings, and pence in the one case, and a coherent
explanation in the other. In both cases equally there was a
kaleidoscopic and cinematographic succession of aspects, but of
aspects of which only one detail perhaps was noticed. Or, more
strictly speaking, there was no interest whatever in aspects as such,
but only in the possibilities of action which these aspects implied;
whether actions future and personally profitable, like building
tram-lines and floating joint-stock companies, or actions mainly past and
quite impersonally interesting, like those of extinct volcanoes or
prehistoric civilisations.

Now let us examine the mental attitude of the third man, whom the
two others had first mistaken for an artist or writer, and then
dismissed as an aesthetic person.





Next: Aspects Versus Things

Previous: The Adjective Beautiful



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