THE LOVE OF THE BEAUTIFUL.
The beautiful can never die.--Kingsley
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.--Keats
The love of beauty is an essential part of all healthy human nature.
The sense of beauty is its own excuse for being.--Dr. Hedge
If eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for be
One of the principal objects of the large amount of "nature study" that,
within recent years, has been pursued in our public schools, is to
develop in the pupils the love of the beautiful. The beautiful in nature
and art is that which gives pleasure to the senses. The question might
be asked, "Why do some forms and colors please, and others displease?"
Yankee fashion, it might be answered by the question, "Why do we like
sugar and dislike wormwood?" It is also a fact that cultivated minds
derive more pleasure from nature and art than uncultivated minds.
This fact is aptly illustrated by the following remark of a little girl
in one of the lower grades of our public schools. Shortly after she had
taken up the study of plants and minerals she came to her teacher and
said, "Oh! we have a lovely time now when we go up to the reservoir to
play. Before we studied about plants and stones, we used to go up there
and sit down and look around; but now we find so many beautiful things
to look at. We know the plants and stones; and what pleasure it does
give us to find a new specimen!" This child's love of the beautiful was
being intelligently developed.
Natural beauty is an all-pervading presence. It unfolds into the
numberless flowers of spring. It waves in the branches of the trees and
the green blades of grass. It haunts the depths of the earth and the
sea, and gleams from the hues of the shell and the precious stone. And
not only these minute objects, but the ocean, the mountains, the clouds,
the heavens, the stars, the rising and setting sun--all overflow with
beauty. The universe is its temple; and those men who are alive to it
cannot lift their eyes without feeling themselves encompassed with it on
every side. This beauty is so precious, the enjoyments it gives are so
refined and pure, so congenial to our tenderest and noblest feelings,
and so akin to worship, that it is painful to think of the multitude of
persons living in the midst of it and yet remaining almost as blind to
it as if they were tenants of a dungeon.
All persons should seek to become sufficiently acquainted with the
beautiful in nature to secure to themselves the rich fund of happiness
which it is so well able to give. There is not a worm we tread upon, nor
a rare leaf that dances merrily as it falls before the autumn winds, but
has superior claims upon our study and admiration. The child who plucks
a rose to pieces, or crushes the fragile form of a fluttering insect,
destroys a work which the highest art could not create, nor man's best
skilled hand construct.
One of the first forms in which man's idea of the beautiful shaped
itself was in architecture. Extremely crude at first, this love for
beautiful buildings has been highly developed among civilized nations.
Ruskin says, "All good architecture is the expression of national life
and character, and is produced by a permanent and eager desire or taste
A taste for pictures, merely, is not in itself a moral quality; but the
taste for _good_ pictures is. A beautiful painting by one of the great
artists, a Grecian statue, or a rare coin, or magnificent building, is a
good and perfect thing; for it gives constant delight to the beholder.
The absence of the love of nature is not an assured ground of
condemnation. Its presence is an invariable sign of goodness of heart,
though by no means an evidence of moral practice. In proportion to the
degree in which it is felt, will probably be the degree in which
nobleness and beauty of character will be attained.
One of our great artists has said, that good taste is essentially a
moral quality. To his mind, the first, last, and closest trial question
to any living creature is, What do you like? Tell me what you like, and
I will tell you what you are.
Let us examine this argument. Suppose you go out into the street and ask
the first person you meet what he likes? You happen to accost a man in
rags with an unsteady step, who, straightening himself up in a half
uncertain way, answers, "A pipe and a quart of beer." You can take a
pretty good measure of his character from that answer, can you not? But
here comes a little girl, with golden hair and soft, blue eyes. "What
do you like, my little girl?" "My canary, and to run among the
flowers," is her answer. And you, little boy, with dirty hands and low
forehead, "What do you like?" "A chance to hit the sparrows with a
stone." When we have secured so much knowledge of their tastes, we
really know the character of these persons so well that we do not need
to ask any further questions about them.
The man who likes what you like must belong to the same class with you.
You may give him a different form of work to do, but as long as he likes
the things that you like, and dislikes that which you dislike, he will
not be content while employed in an inferior position.
Hearing a young lady highly praised for her beauty, Gotthold asked,
"What kind of beauty do you mean? Merely that of the body, or that also
of the mind? I see well that you have been looking no further than the
sign which Nature displays outside the house, but have never asked for
the host who dwells within. Beauty is an excellent gift of God, but many
a pretty girl is like the flower called 'the imperial crown,' which is
admired for its showy appearance, and despised for its unpleasant odor.
Were her mind as free from pride, selfishness, luxury, and levity, as
her countenance is from spots and wrinkles, and could she govern her
inward inclinations as she does her external carriage, she would have
none to match her."
The power to appreciate beauty does not merely increase our sources of
happiness,--it enlarges our moral nature too. Beauty calms our
restlessness and dispels our cares. Go into the fields or the woods,
spend a summer day by the sea or the mountains, and all your little
perplexities and anxieties vanish. Listen to sweet music, and your
foolish fears and petty jealousies pass away. The beauty of the world
helps us to seek and find the beauty of goodness.
The love of the beautiful is an unfailing source of happiness. In his
brief life, Regnault, the great painter, had more genuine enjoyment than
a score of men of duller perceptions. He had cultivated his sense of
color and proportion until nothing beautiful escaped his eye. If we are
to enjoy the beauty about us, there is need of similar _preparation_.
What we get out of communion with the beauty of nature or art, depends
largely on what we bring to that communion. We must make ourselves
sensitive to beauty, or else the charms of form and color and graceful
motion and sweet music will be unheeded or unappreciated. It is also
true, as Lowell said:
"Thou seest no beauty save thou make it first;
Man, woman, nature, each is but a glass
In which man sees the image of himself."
Alfred Tennyson, England's greatest modern poet, was a devoted lover of
the beautiful from the very beginning of his career. The earliest verses
he composed, which were written upon his slate when but a child of seven
or eight years of age, had for their subject, "The Flowers in the
Garden." As a dreamy boy, he loved to throw himself upon the grass and
listen to the bird voices in the adjoining thicket, or to the lowing of
the cattle as they stood knee-deep in the glittering waters of the river
shallows which lay about his home.
How close an observer he became, even as a lad, is clearly shown in
these lines, written as he lay under a tree, listening to the music of
"The creeping mosses and clambering weeds,
And the willow branches hoar and dank,
And the wavy swell of the soughing reeds,
And the wave-worn horns of the echoing bank,
And the silvery marish flowers that throng
The desolate creeks and pools among,
Were flooded over with eddying song."
He became so thoroughly acquainted with the various orders of vegetation
with which his native land is clothed, and which mark the progress of
the growth and development of plant and flower, that there is scarcely a
false note in his music from first to last. His pictures of animal life
are drawn in vivid master strokes, and are as notable for their
correctness as for their grace. While we cannot speak of him as an
astronomer, yet no one can read his verses without admitting that he was
a close observer of the starry heavens. We could not rightly give him an
equal place with Shelley as a painter of cloud-scenery, yet we know how
he loved to lie on his back on the Down of Farringford and watch for
hours the swiftly-moving and rapidly-changing panorama of the midday
heavens. It was his chiefest joy to dream away his peaceful days among
the trees and brooks and flowers. He sometimes spent weeks at a time in
the open air wandering for miles in meditative silence along the banks
of some sparkling stream, or over the sand and shingle that form the
dividing line between the land and sea.
His pictures are photographic in their fidelity, and yet, in them all,
the outbursting life and movement of nature is carefully preserved.
They cover the widest possible field; dealing with the cloud and
sunshine, the storm wind and the zephyr, the roaring of the ocean surge
and the murmuring of the running brook, the crashing of the thunder peal
and the whisper of the pine-trees. The fields and the hedgerows, the
flowers and the grasses, the darkness and the dawn; all are exhibited
under every possible shade of variation. His studies of the beautiful
are as broad and true to life as any that have ever been written. So
sensitive was his soul to these outward impressions of beauty that even
those acquired in childhood never entirely passed out of his mind.
[Footnote: On Tennyson, see Dixon's "Tennyson Primer" (New York, 1896);
Van Dyke's "Poetry of Tennyson" (New York, 1894); Tainsh's "A Study of
Tennyson" (New York, 1893), and Tennyson's Poems.]