The Analysis of Beauty
THE ANALYSIS OF BEAUTY
Fitness of the parts to the design for which every individual thing is formed, either by art or nature, is first to be considered, as it is of the greatest consequence to the beauty of the whole. This is so evident, that even the sense of seeing, the great inlet of beauty, is itself so strongly biased by it, that if the mind, on account of this kind of value in a form, esteem it beautiful, tho’ on all other considerations it be not so; the eye grows insensible of its want of beauty, and even begins to be pleased, especially after it has been a considerable time acquainted with it.
It is well known on the other hand, that forms of great elegance often disgust the eye by being improperly applied. Thus twisted columns are undoubtedly ornamental; but as they convey an idea of weakness, they always displease, when they are improperly made use of as supports to any thing that is bulky, or appears heavy.
The bulks and proportions of objects are governed by fitness and propriety. It is this that has established the size and proportion of chairs, tables, and all sorts of utensils and furniture. It is this that has fixed the dimensions of pillars, arches, etc. for the support of great weight, and so regulated all the orders in architecture, as well as the sizes of windows and doors, etc. Thus though a building were ever so large, the steps of the stairs, the seats in the windows must be continued of their usual heights, or they would lose their beauty with their fitness: and in ship-building the dimensions of every part are confined and regulated by fitness for sailing. When a vessel sails well, the sailors always call her a beauty; the two ideas have such a connection!
.... I shall now endeavour to explain what is included in what I have called for distinction sake, the second general idea of form, in a much fuller manner than was done in chapter I. of Fitness. And begin with observing, that though surfaces will unavoidably be still included, yet we must no longer confine ourselves to the particular notice of them as surfaces only, as we heretofore have done; we must now open our view to general, as well as particular bulk and solidity; and also look into what may have filled up, or given rise thereto, such as certain given quantities and dimensions of parts, for inclosing any substance, or for performing of motion, purchase, steadfastness, and other matters of use to living beings, which, I apprehend, at length, will bring us to a tolerable conception of the word proportion.
As to these joint-sensations of bulk and motion, do we not at first sight almost, even without making trial, seem to feel when a lever of any kind is too weak, or not long enough to make such or such a purchase? or when a spring is not sufficient? and don’t we find by experience what weight, or dimension should be given, or taken away, on this or that account? if so, as the general as well as the particular bulks of form, are made up of materials moulded together under mechanical directions, for some known purpose or other; how naturally, from these considerations, shall we fall into a judgement of fit proportion; which is one part of beauty to the mind tho’ not always so to the eye.
Our necessities have taught us to mould the matter into various shapes, and to give them fit proportions, for particular uses, as bottles, glasses, knives, dishes, etc. Hath not offence given rise to the form of the sword, and defence to that of the shield? And what else but proper fitness of parts hath fixed the different dimensions of pistols, common guns, great guns, fowling-pieces and blunderbusses; which differences as to figure, may as properly be called the different characters of firearms, as the different shapes of men are called characters of men.
We find also that the profuse variety of shapes, which present themselves from the whole animal creation, arise chiefly from the nice fitness of their parts, designed for accomplishing the peculiar movements of each.
And here I think will be the proper place to speak of a most curious difference between the living machines of nature, in respect of fitness, and such poor ones, in comparison with them, as men are only capable of making; by means of which distinction, I am in hopes of showing what particularly constitutes the utmost beauty of proportion in the human figure.
A clock, by the government’s order, has been made, and another now making, by Mr. Harrison, for the keeping of true time at sea; which perhaps is one of the most exquisite movements ever made. Happy the ingenious contriver! although the form of the whole, or of every part of this curious machine, should be ever so confused, or displeasingly shaped to the eye; and although even its movements should be disagreeable to look at, provided it answers the end proposed: an ornamental composition was no part of his scheme, otherwise than as a polish might be necessary; if ornaments are required to be added to mend its shape, care must be taken that they are no obstruction to the movement itself, and the more as they would be superfluous, as to the main design. ― But in nature’s machines, how wonderfully do we see beauty and use go hand in hand!
Had a machine for this purpose been nature’s work, the whole and every individual part might have had exquisite beauty of form without danger of destroying the exquisiteness of its motion, even as if ornament had been the sole aim; its movements too might have been graceful, without one superfluous tittle added for either of these lovely purposes. ― Now this is that curious difference between the fitness of nature’s machines (one of which is man) and those made by mortal hands: which distinction is to lead us to our main point proposed; I mean, to the showing what constitutes the utmost beauty of proportion.