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 als
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


"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.