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Sensations








IN the contemplation of the Aspect before him, what gave that
aesthetic man the most immediate and undoubted pleasure was its
colour, or, more correctly speaking, its colours. Psycho-Physiologists
have not yet told us why colours, taken singly and apart
from their juxtaposition, should possess so extraordinary a
power over what used to be called our animal spirits, and through
them over our moods; and we can only guess from analogy with
what is observed in plants, as well as from the nature of the
phenomenon itself, that various kinds of luminous stimulation must
have some deep chemical repercussion throughout the human
organism. The same applies, though in lesser degree, to sounds,
quite independent of their juxtaposition as melodies and harmonies.
As there are colours which feel, i.e. make us feel, more or less
warm or cool, colours which are refreshing or stifling, depressing or
exhilarating quite independent of any associations, so also there are
qualities of sound which enliven us like the blare of the trumpet, or
harrow us like the quaver of the accordion. Similarly with regard to
immediacy of effect: the first chords of an organ will change our
whole mode of being like the change of light and colour on first
entering a church, although the music which that organ is playing
may, after a few seconds of listening, bore us beyond endurance;
and the architecture of that church, once we begin to take stock of it,
entirely dispel that first impression made by the church's light and
colour. It is on account of this doubtless physiological power of
colour and sound, this way which they have of invading and
subjugating us with or without our consent and long before our
conscious co-operation, that the Man-on-the-Hill's pleasure in the
aspect before him was, as I have said, first of all, pleasure in colour.
Also, because pleasure in colour, like pleasure in mere sound-quality
or timbre, is accessible to people who never go any further in their
aesthetic preference. Children, as every one knows, are sensitive to
colours, long before they show the faintest sensitiveness for shapes.
And the timbre of a perfect voice in a single long note or shake used
to bring the house down in the days of our grandparents, just as the
subtle orchestral blendings of Wagner entrance hearers incapable of
distinguishing the notes of a chord and sometimes even incapable of
following a modulation.

The Man on the Hill, therefore, received immediate pleasure from
the colours of the landscape. Received pleasure, rather than
took it, since colours, like smells, seem, as I have said, to invade
us, and insist upon pleasing whether we want to be pleased or not. In
this meaning of the word we may be said to be passive to sound
and colour quality: our share in the effects of these sensations, as in
the effect of agreeable temperatures, contacts and tastes, is a
question of bodily and mental reflexes in which our conscious
activity, our voluntary attention, play no part: we are not doing,
but done to by those stimulations from without; and the pleasure
or displeasure which they set up in us is therefore one which we
receive, as distinguished from one which we take.

Before passing on to the pleasure which the Man on the Hill did
take, as distinguished from thus passively receiving, from the
aspect before him, before investigating into the activities to which
this other kind of pleasure, pleasure taken, not received, is due,
we must dwell a little longer on the colours which delighted him,
and upon the importance or unimportance of those colours with
regard to that Aspect he was contemplating.

These colours--particularly a certain rain-washed blue, a pale lilac
and a faded russet--gave him, as I said, immediate and massive
pleasure like that of certain delicious tastes and smells, indeed
anyone who had watched him attentively might have noticed that he
was making rather the same face as a person rolling, as Meredith
says, a fine vintage against his palate, or drawing in deeper draughts
of exquisitely scented air; he himself, if not too engaged in looking,
might have noticed the accompanying sensations in his mouth,
throat and nostrils; all of which, his only active response to the
colour, was merely the attempt to receive more of the already
received sensation. But this pleasure which he received from the
mere colours of the landscape was the same pleasure which they
would have given him if he had met them in so many skeins of silk;
the more complex pleasure due to their juxtaposition, was the
pleasure he might have had if those skeins, instead of being on
separate leaves of a pattern-book, had been lying tangled together in
an untidy work-basket. He might then probably have said, "Those
are exactly the colours, and in much the same combination, as in
that landscape we saw such and such a day, at such and such a
season and hour, from the top of that hill." But he would never have
said (or been crazy if he had) "Those skeins of silk are the landscape
we saw in that particular place and oh that particular occasion." Now
the odd thing is that he would have used that precise form of words,
"that is the landscape," etc. etc., if you had shown him a pencil
drawing or a photograph taken from that particular place and point
of view. And similarly if you had made him look through stained
glass which changed the pale blue, pale lilac and faded russet into
emerald green and blood red. He would have exclaimed at the loss
of those exquisite colours when you showed him the monochrome,
and perhaps have sworn that all his pleasure was spoilt when you
forced him to look through that atrocious glass. But he would have
identified the aspect as the one he had seen before; just as even the
least musical person would identify "God save the King" whether
played with three sharps on the flute or with four flats on the
trombone.

There is therefore in an Aspect something over and above the
quality of the colours (or in a piece of music, of the sounds) in
which that aspect is, at any particular moment, embodied for your
senses; something which can be detached from the particular colours
or sounds and re-embodied in other colours or sounds, existing
meanwhile in a curious potential schematic condition in our memory.
That something is Shape.

It is Shape which we contemplate; and it is only because they enter
into shapes that colours and sounds, as distinguished from
temperatures, textures, tastes and smells, can be said to be
contemplated at all. Indeed if we apply to single isolated colour or
sound-qualities (that blue or russet, or the mere timbre of a voice or
an orchestra) the adjective beautiful while we express our liking
for smells, tastes, temperatures and textures merely by the adjectives
agreeable, delicious; this difference in our speech is doubtless due
to the fact that colours or sounds are more often than not connected
each with other colours or other sounds into a Shape and thereby
become subject to contemplation more frequently than temperatures,
textures, smells and tastes which cannot themselves be grouped into
shapes, and are therefore objects of contemplation only when
associated with colours and sounds, as for instance, the smell of
burning weeds in a description of autumnal sights, or the cool
wetness of a grotto in the perception of its darkness and its murmur
of waters.

On dismissing the practical and the scientific man because they were
thinking away from aspects to things, I attempted to inventory the
aspect in whose contemplation their aesthetic companion had
remained absorbed. There were the colours, that delicious
recently-washed blue, that lilac and russet, which gave the man his
immediate shock of passive and (as much as smell and taste) bodily
pleasure. But besides these my inventory contained another kind of
item: what I described as a fan-like arrangement of sharply
convergent lines and an exquisitely phrased sky-line of hills, picked
up at rhythmical intervals into sharp crests and dropping down
merely to rush up again in long rapid concave curves. And besides
all this, there was the outline of a distant mountain, rising flamelike
against the sky. It was all these items made up of lines (skyline,
outline, and lines of perspective!) which remained unchanged when
the colours were utterly changed by looking through stained glass,
and unchanged also when the colouring was reduced to the barest
monochrome of a photograph or a pencil drawing; nay remained the
same despite all changes of scale in that almost colourless
presentment of them. Those items of the aspect were, as we all know,
Shapes. And with altered colours, and colours diminished to just
enough for each line to detach itself from its ground, those Shapes
could be contemplated and called beautiful.





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