1902 Encyclopedia > Aesthetics > Archibald Alison. Francis Jeffrey.

(Part 30)


Archibald Alison. Francis Jeffrey.

[Archibald] Alison, in his well-known Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste, proceeds on an exactly opposite method to that of Hogarth and Burke. He considers and seeks to analyse the mental process which goes on when we experience the emotion of beauty or sublimity. He finds that this consists in a peculiar operation of the imagination, namely, the flow of a train of ideas through the mind, which ideas are not arbitrarily determined, but always correspond to some simple affection or emotion (as cheerfulness, sadness, awe), awakened by the object. He thus makes association the sole source of the Beautiful, and denies any such attribute to the simple impressions of the senses.

His exposition, which is very extensive, contains many ingenious and valuable contributions to the ideal or association side of aesthetic effects, both of nature and of art; but his total exclusion of delight (by which name he distinguishes aesthetic pleasure) from the immediate effects of colour, visible form, and tone, makes his theory appear very incomplete. This is especially applicable to music, where the delight of mere sensation is perhaps most conspicuous. He fails, too, to see that in the emotional harmony of the ideas, which, according to his view, make up an impression of beauty, there is a distinct source of pleasure over and above that supplied by the simple feeling and by the ideas themselves.

[Francis] Jeffrey’s Essay on Beauty is little more than a modification of Alison’s views. He defines the sense of beauty as consisting in the suggestion of agreeable and interesting sensations previously experienced by means of our various pleasurable sensibilities. He thus retains the necessity of ideal suggestion, but at the same time discards the supposed requirement of a train of ideas. Jeffrey distinctly saw that this theory excludes the hypothesis of an independent beauty inherent in objects.

He fails as completely as Alison to disprove the existence of a sensuous or organic beautiful, and, like him, is avowedly concerned to show the presence of some one, and only one, determining principle in all forms of the Beautiful.

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