Notes on content:

Dedication: 'To the greatest of living philosophers, Herbert Spencer, I dedicate (by permission) this slight attempt to extend in a single direction the general principles which he has laid down.' (v)


‘I have attempted to show the general notion of pleasure and pain to our organism and its circumstances; after which I have tried to prove that our existing likes and dislikes in aesthetic matters are the necessary result of natural selection.’ (vii-viii)

'My acknowledgements are due in the first and greatest degree to Mr. Herbert Spencer, and more especially to his "Principles of Psychology" and his "Essays." After these I owe much to Professor Bain's great works on "The Senses and the Intellect," and "The Emotions and the Will."' (ix) - also, 'Hermann's "Physiology"', Helmholtz's "Lehre von den Tonempfindungen"... and... "Handbuch der Physiologischen Optik"', 'Professor Bernstein's... "The Five Senses of Man"', and 'Kolliker's "Manual of Human Histology." (ix-x)

Chapter 1. Introductory:

'The human mind falls naturally into two great divisions, the Intellect and the Emotions. The former is mainly concerned with agreement and difference, the latter with pleasure and pain. The Æsthetic Feelings belong to the emotional in contradistinction to the intellectual part of our being: that is to say, they are phenomena of pleasure and pain, not of mere neutral discrimination.' (1)

 ‘In other words, my object is to exhibit the purely physical origin of the senses of beauty, and its relativity to our nervous organisation. Modern scientific psychology, based upon an accurate Physiology, has roughly demonstrated that all mental phenomena are the subjective sides of what are objectively cognised as nervous functions; and that they are in consequence as rigorously limited by natural laws as are the physical processes whose correlatives they are. But while this truth has been abundantly illustrated with regard to those psychical functions (such as sensations and voluntary motions) which are ordinarily regarded as of purely bodily origin, it has not been carried out into full detail in the case of the intellectual faculties and the higher emotions, which, until the rise of Physiological Psychology, were usually considered as purely and exclusively mental. I wish, therefore, to examine the Æsthetic Feelings as an intermediate link between the bodily senses and the higher emotions; and, by affiliating them upon a physiological law of pleasure and pain to pave the way for a similar detailed treatment of the intellect and the affections. My work is thus the fuller development in a single direction of that which has been inaugurated for the whole field of psychology by Mr. Herbert Spencer, Professor Bain, Dr. Maudsley, and other leaders in the science of mind.’ (2-3)

‘By the Æsthetic pleasures and pains we mean those which result from the contemplation of the beautiful or the ugly, in art or nature, alike in actuality and in the idea.’ (3)

Chapter 2. Pleasure and Pain

‘I do not propose to consider in the present chapter the Pleasures and Pains of the Intellect or Higher Emotions ….. Nor……those of the Æsthetic feelings themselves’ ‘At present I shall only deal with such Pleasures and Pains as are commonly referred to a purely bodily origin, those namely of the five senses and of the general organic and muscular sensibility; in order that from these most conspicuous examples we may infer the laws of Pleasures and Pains generally.’ (6)

'to tear or cut away from the body any one of its constituent tissues is the most conspicuous cause of pain’. (7)

‘Disruption of tissue is … a second and closely-allied cause of Pain.’ (7) [e.g. wounds, scratches]

‘All these causes are produced by the interferences of external bodies with the organism. But there are also other cases where, owing to internal causes, portions of the body waste away ……. All these are also accompanied by Pain.’ (7-8)

‘many painful actions, which are not conspicuously disruptive in their ordinary degree, become so when pushed to an extreme.’ (8)

‘In short, a great number of Pains may be explained by very slight dismemberments of minor portions of the body.’ (9)

‘the greater number of Pains are the subjective concomitants of an actual disruption or disruptive tendency in some one of the bodily tissues.’ (10)

‘provided the tissue be supplied with afferent cerebro-spinal nerves in unbroken connexion with the brain.’ (damage to efferent nerves is not consciously felt) (12)

‘Professor Bain has well divided Pains into two main classes, the Massive and the Acute. The former are those which arise from affections of the whole organism, or large tracts of it, and are weak in intensity: the latter, those which arise from affections of special limited areas, and are strong in intensity.’ (12)

‘we may sum it up in the following law and corollary: Acute Pains are the subjective feelings which accompany an actual disruption or disruptive tendency in a tissue supplied with afferent cerebro-spinal nerves in an unbroken communication with the brain; the degree of acuteness of such Pains varying with the violence and completeness of the disruption, and their amounts varying with the size of the area affected.’ (13)

‘can the same principle be extended to the Pains of the special senses?’ (13)

Allen concludes that taste, smell, hearing, and sight also fall under this principle, as impressions that are painful for these senses are (potentially) also destructive to the respective organs involved. (13-15)

E.g. ‘In Hearing, it is clear that very loud sounds, such as the boom of a cannon, will cause an excessive waste of nervous tissue, accompanied by a corresponding Pain.’ (14-15)

‘Besides the Acute feelings which are given by dismemberments of the body, we are all familiar with another class of disagreeable sensations whose distinguishing subjective feature is lassitude or Avant of vigour. The principal varieties are, fatigue after muscular exertion; mental weariness; inanition from want of food; faintness from anaemia, loss of blood, sleeplessness, or over-exertion weakness from fever or other depressing disease; nervous debility; and those undefinable organic feelings which result from general ill-health.’ (15)

‘The Acute Pains, as a class, arise from the action of surrounding destructive agencies; the Massive Pains as a class, from excessive function or insufficient nutriment.’ (16)

‘Massive Pains are occasioned by a general state of innutrition, either in the body as a whole or in any parts of its component systems.’ (16)

‘In short, Massive Discomforts occur whenever, in the whole or any part, waste of tissue largely outruns repair’. (17)

‘Massive Pains, when pushed to the extreme, merge into the Acute class.’ (17)

Pain from an evolutionary perspective - pp. 17-19

‘I believe the true principle of connexion [between pleasue and pain] to be this: Pleasure is the concomitant of the healthy action of any or all of the organs or members supplied with afferent cerero-spinal nerves, to an extent not exceeding the ordinary powers of reparation possessed by the system.’ (21)

‘Pleasure on the whole is chiefly referable to a healthy state of the organism generally’… (21)

‘Pleasure is apparently referable to the due and unimpeded performance of the automatic energies, such as the circulatory, respiratory, and digestive functions, which here as elsewhere add only a vague and unlocalised element to consciousness: while in the second case it is sue to the voluntary activity of the muscular system, and to the stimulation of the freshly-repaired end-organs of nerves.’ (22)

‘while Professor Bain refers Pleasure to an increase in the efficiency of the organism, it may better be regarded as the concomitant of a normal amount of activity in any portion or the whole of the organism.’ (22)

Pleasure also results in a degree of waste, as all activity necessarily means wasting of energy. ‘The limit at which such waste of tissue ceases to be pleasurable and begins to be painful is, I believe, the point where the waste exceeds the ordinary powers of repair.’ (22)

Massive vs Acute Pleasure: ‘The first is when, in a healthy state of the whole organism, under the influence of abundant food and good rest, the general stimulation of the nerves produces a consciousness of Massive Pleasure; the second is when the special stimulation of a single organ, whose periods of activity are long intermittent, and which is at the culminating point of its nutrition produces the consciousness of Acute Pleasure.’ (24-25)

On the apparent paradox of good and bad and painful and pleasurable activities: ‘If Pleasure and Pain have the objective origin here assigned to them, how comes it that deleterious acts are pleasant and some useful ones painful? Paradoxical as it may seem, the simple answer is they are not. There are no such cases. Every act, so long as it is pleasurable, is in so far a healthy and useful one; and conversely, so long as it is painful, a morbid and destructive one. The fallacy lies in the prophetic employment of the words “deleterious” and “useful”. To put it in a simple form, the nervous system is not prophetic. It informs us of what is its actual state at the moment, not what the after effects of that state will be.’ (26-27)

‘in the vast majority of cases, the consensus between the organs, produced by natural selection, is such, that whatever is prejudicial or beneficial to the organism as a whole, is generally painful or pleasurable respectively to the separate organs which it is likely to affect.’ (29)

Chapter 3. The Differentia of Æsthetics.

‘we have net to consider wherein that class of pleasures and pains known as aesthetic differ from the remainder of their respective genera’ (30)

‘And here I can do little else than repeat and expand the definition given by Mr. Herbert Spencer.’ (30)

Work vs. Play:

‘the main part of our lives is usually spent in ministering to the wants of our own organisms and those of our offspring, as working machines whose conservation in an efficient state is of prime importance. Every action which conduces to this result may be roughly classed as Work.’ (31-32)

‘There is, however, another class of activities which are entered upon not for any ulterior object, but merely for the gratification which the activity affords. All such comparatively purposeless exercises may be roughly classed as Play.’ (32)

‘Every nervous structure in its intervals of repose is perpetually undergoing repair. When repair has continued for a considerable period without fresh discharge, the structure reaches a state of high efficiency, and possesses an unusual quantity of potential energy. Any slight incident energy will then be sufficient to disturb the potential energy stored up in the nervous plexus, so that it will assume the kinetic form. If the consequent activity results in an integration of external matter required by the organism, or in any other life-serving function, the process will belong to that kind of actions which we have roughly classed as Work.’ (32)

‘But in a certain number of instances the organism will not as a whole require the particular discharge in question, nor will the appropriate object be present; and it will then result in a comparatively purposeless activity, which does not subserve any life-giving process, but which, nevertheless, being a normal manifestation of function in a fully-supplied nervous structure, will have as its subjective concomitant a slight feeling of pleasure. When this pleasure becomes the volitional stimulus to action, the resulting exercise is Play.’ (32-33)

‘Whenever, then, a fully-nourished organ does not obtain its proper amount of function in connexion with the necessary processes of life, there arises a spontaneous tendency for it to exercise itself on any appropriate object which it can discover. This tendency depends upon the existence of leisure (a spare period beyond that required for necessary activity and that required for sleep or repose), which is available for the exercise of activities other than those which contribute to the maintenance of life.

Hence arise two classes of impulses, those which give nse to Play, and those which give rise to Art and the Aesthetic Pleasures. What is common to these two classes is their remoteness from life-serving function and their having pleasure alone as their immediate end.’ (33)

Difference between play and aesthetic feelings:

‘Connected with the passive side of our nature, are the organs and faculties of sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, and organic sensibility generally. Connected with the active side are the muscular system and the nerves which govern it. In this primordial distinction we see the root of the difference which we recognise between Play and the Aesthetic Feelings. The first is active, the second are passive. (34)

‘When we exercise our limbs and muscles, not for any ulterior life-serving object, but merely for the sake of the pleasure which the exercise affords us, the amusement is called Play. When we similarly exercise our eyes or ears, the resulting pleasure is called an Aesthetic Feeling.’ (34)

‘what Play is to the active faculties, Art and the Æsthetic Pleasures are to the passive.’(37)

‘the mass of sights and sounds are emotionally neutral.’

‘Yet if we direct our attention to any sight or sound, in order consciously to appraise its aesthetic value, or, in other words, to decide whether it is beautiful or ugly, we shall find that in almost every case it inclines slightly in one direction or the other.’ (37)

‘But we also find that while we think of those various objects as beautiful or ugly, we do not usually think of the sensations they afford us as either pleasant or the reverse.’ (38)

‘since the pleasure or pain afforded by separate elements of sight and sound is so slight, and requires for its perception an exercise of attention, a faculty of our intellectual and volitional nature, it results that in most cases the objects affording the sensations are merely intellectually discriminated as beautiful or ugly, without seeming to any noticeable extent pleasant or painful. Only when the total amount of the emotional wave is very great – as in a fine landscape, a noble painting, a piece of grand music, a lovely woman, on the one hand; or a miserable street, a wretched strumming, a dirty and loathsomely ugly person, on the other – does the emotional element get the better in consciousness of the intellectual. Hence arises the apparent objectivity of beauty and ugliness. The feeling is too little emotional to be referred to a purely internal origin.’ (38-39)

‘The aesthetically beautiful is that which affords the Maximum of Stimulation with the Minimum of Fatigue or Waste, in processes not directly connected with vital functions. The aesthetically ugly is that which conspicuously fails to do so; which gives little stimulation, or makes excessive and wasteful demands upon certain portions of the organs. But as in either case the emotional element is weak, it is mainly cognised only as an intellectual discrimination. And so we get the idea of the Æsthetic Feelings as something noble and elevated, because they are not distinctly traceable to any life-serving function.’ (39)

‘the aesthetic senses, contrary to the ordinary rule, yield us considerable amounts of appreciable pleasure, but very little appreciable pain.’ (39)

‘the eye and ear are specially protected from direct contact with the environment, which they only cognise through the medium of aerial or æthereal undulations.’ (40)

‘Hence the sole disintegrative action to which they can, under ordinary circumstances, be subjected, is that which arises from excess of the normal activity, not from abnormal destructive excitation.’ (40)

‘while the normal exercise of the organs yields us pleasure which occasionally rises to the acute pitch, that excessive or inharmonious action which is implied in ugliness does not reach the height of pain.’ (40)

On Æsthetic taste:

‘How can we account for feelings which are seldom or never exactly alike in any two persons? (42)

‘Yet we may reasonably conclude à priori that, as nervous constitution differs infinitely with regard to minute details in different persons, and as Æsthetic Feelings are the cumulative effect of many infinitesimal  physiological factors, the perceptions of beauty and ugliness would differ in various cases to an extent depending upon the structural variations of the nervous system. And this à priori inference we find to be borne out by well-known facts.’ (42)

Gives various examples of different preferences in terms of the senses. E.g:

‘In the sense of hearing, savages and children, whose nerves are fresh and strong, are pleased by the violent stimulation of beating a tom-tom or a tin kettle, shouting an unvaried note, or blowing a penny whistle: while most civilised adults are annoyed by such noises, and valetudinarians cannot endure the creaking of a door or the noise of wind round the eaves.’ (43-44)

‘In sight (omitting the phenomena of long and short sight, whose effects are rather intellectual than emotional) the vulgar are pleased by great masses of colour, especially red, orange, and purple, which give their coarse nervous organisation the requisite stimulus: the refined, with nerves of less calibre but greater discriminativeness, require delicate combinations of complementaries, and prefer neutral tints to the glare of primary hues.’ (44)

‘If we examine these various cases, how do we find them reconcilable with the notion of a science of Æsthetics? Simply thus. - In spite of the minor variations here described, the vast majority of feelings are pleasurable or painful, as the case may be, to the vast majority of men alike.’ (45)

‘all that any science need primarily account for is the normal and usual phenomena of its subject-matter; when those are fully understood, it may pass on to the abnormal and unusual. Our first object must be, not to explain the Æsthetic Feelings of a Raphael, a Mozart, or a Milton, but those of the average human being with whom we come in daily contact.’ (46)

‘To apply a metaphor drawn from another science. Taste may be regarded as the personal equation of Æsthetics, for which allowance must in each case be made, but which does not detract from the objective truth of the general result.’ (47)

‘Only, in Æsthetics, where we are dealing with phenomena of the nervous system itself, the personal equation rises into such great importance as to form one of the main departments of the subject. So we must always endeavour to account, not merely for the most usual form of Taste, but also for the structural peculiarities which give rise to the principal variations. And especially must we do so in treating of those varieties which differentiate the artistically-minded few from the inartistic masses.’ (47)

‘Again, we have only looked so far at the sensuous or presentative elements of Æsthetic Feeling. But when we remember that it includes, beside, a vast body of emotional and intellectual – that is, representative – elements, the difficulty of accounting for these varieties in Taste is still further decreased. As men and women differ infinitely in emotions and intellect, they must differ infinitely in their appreciation of that which calls up emotional and intellectual activities of various orders in various combinations.’ (47)

‘Yet…..what is at once simple and beautiful is pleasing to the highest and lowest intelligences alike’ (48)

‘Nor must we suppose, because Æsthetic Feelings are simply relative to the nervous organisation of the individual, that an absolute aesthetic standard is impossible, and that good and bad Taste are mere matters of convention. On the contrary, it follows from what has been said above that bad Taste is the concomitant of a coarse and indiscriminative nervous organisation, an untrained attention, a low emotional nature, and an imperfect intelligence; while good Taste is the progressive product of progressing fineness and discrimination in the nerves, educated attention, high and noble emotional constitution, and increasing intellectual faculties.’ (48)

Æsthetic education:

‘As in the intellect we can make the student employ all the powers he possesses, and strengthen them by employment, but cannot lead him up beyond the limit which his cerebral structure lays upon his intelligence: so in Æsthetics, we can teach ourselves to observe every faint wave of pleasure or pain, every delicate thrill of harmony, every minute twinge of discord, which our nervous organisation renders us capable of perceiving, but we can never get beyond this natural barrier, or transcend our own organic capacities.’ (50)

‘Taste may be to a considerable extent educated within the possible limits.’(50)

This can be done either ‘by the exercise of Attention’ or ‘by the growth of new intellectual and emotional Associations.’ (50)

‘While the common mind, in which the intellectual side is uppermost, translates the outward impression too rapidly into the reality which it symbolises, – interprets the sensations instead of observing them; - the aesthetic mind, in which the emotional side is uppermost, dwells rather upon the actual impression received, in all the minuteness of its slightest detail.’ (51)

Chapter 4. The Lower Senses

On the chemical sensitivity of the skin (including the tongue): ‘we see throughout that sensibility to chemical action is a common property of sentient tissues, but that it is most conspicuous where the thinnest layers of insentient tissue intervene between the nerves and the substance which acts upon them.’ (61)

‘Nothing shows more clearly the naturally disintegrative nature of the stimulation that the fact that no pleasurable excitement passes more readily or more habitually into pain.’ (66-67)

‘The reason for this mechanism is clear enough. We must remember that the theory of evolution, while it rejects the idea of design, yet, by substituting for it the notion of natural selection, leaves most teleological explanations exactly where they were. The consensus which is slowly produced between the different portions of an organism is the necessary condition of that organism's survival. In the highest species we must expect to see this consensus carried out in great detail; and the sense of Taste in man supplies us, in all three of its divisions, with an excellent example of such minute provision.’ (67)

Chapter 5. Touch

‘The science of Æsthetics is but slightly concerned with Touch, because it forms the exact antipodes of smell, in being almost purely intellectual and very little emotional. For this there are two reasons. Touch proper, being only affected by pressures, cannot yield us appreciable pains; since, when the painful stage is reached, we refer the crushing or laceration to the general organic sensibility. Again, the skin being in almost constant contact with surrounding objects, the sense of Touch does not need special stimulation, as its organs seldom or never have long intervals of repair; and so it cannot yield us any acute pleasures. Nevertheless, on the other hand. Touch is the first of the senses, in the order of examination which we have adopted, to afford us feelings which may be unreservedly classed as aesthetic, in the actuality as well as in the idea.’ (89)

‘whatever compels or suggests excessive effort, waste of energy, or abrasion of skin is unpleasant and ugly: whatever is clearly free from these defects is pleasant and beautiful.’ (92)

‘the purely disinterested pleasures and pains of smoothness and roughness belong entirely to the aesthetic group.’ (92)

‘The pleasurable ones amongst them are marked by the fact that they arouse the maximum of stimulation in the organs affected, with the minimum of fatigue or waste ; while the disagreeable ones are marked merely by their failure to comply with this requirement, not by any active or violent destruction of tissue.’ (92-93)

‘smooth or rough objects yield feelings whose emotional character is only recognized upon mature deliberation. They almost escape us in ordinary life, and only rise into importance when they are so combined with many others (such as those of form and colour) as to arouse a complex thrill of beauty or ugliness.’ (93)

‘To sum up, we see that Touch is very little an emotional sense, and consequently very little an aesthetic one; but that out of the few emotional feelings which it yields, a considerable proportion belong to the strictly aesthetic class, and that it is accordingly entitled to rank with sight and hearing as forming part of the basis for the fine arts and for Poetry.’ (96)

Chapter 6. Hearing

‘The nerves of Taste and Smell are not individually discriminative: that is, each one of them does not yield us a different sensation. For the most part, large masses of gustatory and olfactory nerves are stimulated at once; and their connected centres afford us identical factors of consciousness.

But every single fibre of the optic and auditory nerves seems capable of differential stimulation, and yields us a distinct and separate impression.’ (97)

‘the nerves of the two higher and specially aesthetic senses [hearing and sight] are so delicate in calibre, and so carefully guarded from surrounding agencies that they generally undergo only comparatively slight stimulations from their proper excitants; so that their pains are for the most part merely those of fatigue rather than of violent disintegration, and their pleasures those of delicate and harmonious action rather than of powerful and long-intermitted stimulation.’ (98)

‘Furthermore, as these senses influence our conduct mainly through the intellect, they are not liable to pleasures and pains of the directly anticipatory sort.’ (98)

‘But the most important distinction of all is that which holds between the rates of exhaustion and repair in the higher and lower senses respectively.’(99)

‘The organs of Sight and Hearing.…..are easily exhausted and quickly repaired.’ (99)

‘they, above all others, are subjects for that minute intellectual discrimination which we recognized as one of the marks that differentiate the Æsthetic Feelings from other pleasures and pains.’ (100)

‘It [the ear] collects the minute undulations, concentrates and strengthens them by a series of ingenious devices, and finally directs them upon the terminals of an important nerve, which conveys the information they afford to the auditory centre, and so at last to the higher co-ordinating regions of the brain.’ (101-102)

‘The first great distinction between air-waves is the one already drawn of those which are produced by a single impact and those which are produced by the continuous vibration of an elastic body. The latter are periodic and regular, the former non-periodic and irregular. But if the ear is to be differentially excited by these different stimulants, and so to cognize them separately, it must have special organs for the perception of each.’ (105)

‘In its outer portion, known as the vestibule, and in certain of its windings called the ampullæ, are nervous terminations whose construction leads us to suppose that they are readily excited in sympathy with irregular agitations of short duration : and the sensations aroused in connection with these stimulations are cognized in the auditory centre as Noises. The deepest recess of the labyrinth consists of a snail-shaped cavity known as the cochlea, on whose walls are arranged an immense number of small bodies, called after their discoverer Corti's organs, each of which, apparently, is capable of sympathetic vibration only under the influence of a regular undulation whose periodic recurrences closely coincide with its own natural period. These bodies are connected with separate fibres, and when the stimulations thus received are communicated to the brain they are cognized as Musical Tones.’ (106)

A discussion of different types of sounds and their effects follows.

‘All the emotional phenomena thus grouped together show themselves to be higher in the aesthetic scale than those which we formerly examined ; because they require for their perception more exercise of the intellectual faculty of attention, and are thus seen to consist of slighter and less discernible waves of pleasure and pain.’(113)

Rhythm: ‘what the rhythm of the dance is to our muscular energies, the rhythm of poetry and music is to the ear. Its main constituent as a pleasure is the regularity of its recurrence, and the consequent possibility of relaxing our attention to the accentuation or the arrangement of chords.’ (115)

‘the aesthetic pleasure of metre depends upon the existence of an expectant state, realized in the auditory apparatus as a recurrent organic rhythm of nascent stimulation : while the aesthetic discomfort of bad versification depends upon the breach of this expectation, and consequent upsetting of the organic rhythm.’ (116)

‘the various pleasures and disappointments enumerated in this section are composed of very slight emotional elements, require for their perception much trained attention and delicacy of nervous constitution, and belong consequently to the most distinctively aesthetic class. It is also clear that the pleasures arise from the maximum of stimulation with the minimum of fatigue; and that the disappointments, being due to breach of expectation and consequent upsetting of an organic rhythm, are traceable to the felt want of this harmonious species of stimulation.’ (119)

Musical tones:

‘We have already seen that musical tones are more agreeable than mere noises, because, while the nervous apparatus for the perception of the latter receives frequent stimulation, each portion of the nervous apparatus for the perception of the former is comparatively seldom stimulated, and is therefore usually in that high state of nutrition which is the necessary condition for pleasurable excitement. Accordingly, to carry the same argument a step further, a stimulant which would affect a large number of these special organs would afford greater pleasure than one which affected a single organ and its connected fibres alone. Now the tones produced by simple uncompounded undulations, having a single pitch – like those of tuning-forks – can only arouse a sympathetic vibration in a single one of Corti's organs: and we find, as might be expected, that such undulations produce a tone not used in Music, and characterised by its poverty and dullness. On the other hand, the tones produced by wave-systems compounded of many individual sets of undulations, each having its own frequency – like those of violin-strings – ought naturally to excite sympathetically many of Corti's organs, with their connected fibres, and to be cognised as a mass of sounds, differing in pitch: and we find that these are the wave-systems most employed in Music, as yielding tones noted for their richness and fullness – expressions which well describe the actual physiological effect.’ (123-124)


Chapter 7. Sight                 

‘The enormous majority of aesthetic objects appeal to the sense of Sight, and it must accordingly be placed first of the senses in the aesthetic hierarchy.’(134)

‘Besides the atmospheric air which continually surrounds us, modern science teaches us to assume that there exists everywhere a much subtler and apparently imponderable fluid, known as the Æther, which we figure to ourselves as filling not only the vast interstellar spaces, but also the minute interstices between the molecules and atoms of all ponderable bodies, the gases of the atmosphere itself included. Of the true nature of this Æther we know nothing with certainty: indeed, we may regard it rather as a hypothetical expression which enables us to comprehend certain orders of facts than as a real and indubitable existence.’ (137)

* ‘Footnote: 'It is amusing to see the naïveté with which most scientific men (who are not metaphysicians) accept unhesitatingly the existence of air, while they plume themselves upon their caution in using hypothetical terms with reference to Æther. As though all forms of matter, ponderable or imponderable, were not equally mere symbols of unknown realities or possibilities, all alike revealed to us simply through their effects upon the human senses. We know just as much about air as we do about Æther, and no more: that is to say, exactly nothing.’ (137-138)

‘The Æther, like all other fluids, is capable of being set in rhythmical or oscillatory motion, so as to produce recurrent undulations. It is not largely affected, however, by those greater oscillations which produce the air-waves, cognized in consciousness as sound.’ (138)

‘If we warm a piece of iron, short of red-heat, in a darkened room, and then hold it a few inches from the face, we are conscious of a peculiar sensation in our cheeks, which we name heat. This sensation is produced by waves of Æther, which attack the nerve- terminations of those fibres, distributed over the whole body, whose office is to inform us of changes in the temperature of our skin. The undulations of the Æther may be supposed to set up corresponding undulations in the terminals or adjacent tissues, and the stimulus thus received is transmitted by the fibres to the brain.’ (138-139)

‘more rapid Æther-waves….we cognize as Light’ (140)

‘Painful feelings of considerable acuteness arise from exposure to any very powerful and persistent direct light.’ (148)

‘there is another class of visual fatigues which is worth notice on account of its analogy to the case of dissonance. All intermittent and jerky stimulation of the optic nerve is unpleasant, because it attacks the fibres just as they are freshly repaired.’ (149)

‘All these varieties of visual pleasure and pain depend entirely upon fatigue or normal stimulation of the optic nerve. But there is also another order of emotional phenomena connected with vision, depending rather upon the various muscles and contractile bodies which regulate the direction and convergence of the eyes, or the focussing of the organs for close or distant sight.’ (150)

Colour, pp. 152-161

‘The distribution of colours in the environment which is thus partial has produced a like partial distribution of colour-perceiving elements in the retina. Many facts concur to prove that there are fewer fibres for the perception of red than for the perception of any other colour; and that these fibres require a stronger stimulant to produce sensation than is the case with any others.’ (157)

‘The peripheral portions of the retina are incapable of perceiving red and white, when seen on these portions assumes a complementary greenish tint. If we try to perceive very small or imperfectly illuminated figures, those coloured red are the least easily perceived of any.’ (157)

‘a moment's consideration will show us that this is just the effect which we might expect to see produced by natural selection. For it is clearly desirable that the eyes of the frugivorous animals should be pleasurably stimulated by reds, oranges, and purples ; and the simplest contrivance for effecting this end would be to give the greatest possible rest to such elements as answer to stimulations of these orders. Accordingly, they ought to be only excited by comparatively

powerful stimulations of their proper kind.’ (157)

‘patches of bright colour, especially red, yellow, and purple, always attract the unsophisticated eye, in the midst of prevalent greys, browns, and greens.’ (158)

‘We must remember that in all such questions as these concerning the intrinsic beauty of colours we should always take as our standard the simple sense of savages, children, and uneducated adults. In our own time men of culture, revolted by the preference vulgarly given to strong stimulants, prefer the more delicate tints, neutral colours, and pale or subdued primaries, to the staring dyes which they see around them.’ (159)

On colour combinations:

‘it is easy to see that we may progress to every possible combination, only requiring for their perception more and more discriminative nervous organizations. It will also be obvious that the pleasures and pains of harmony and discord are far higher in the aesthetic scale than those of the simple colours : so much so that they almost escape children and savages, and are only fully appreciated by the most delicate organs.’(168)


‘Colour …. depends upon the class of optical nerve-fibres differentially affected : Form depends upon their number and relative position.’ (168)

‘in the first place, the pleasure of Form is far higher and more delicate than that of colour, and far less amenable to fixed rules – which is equivalent to saying that its emotional factors are far more minute and inscrutable; while, in the second place, so involuted and interdependent are the various elements of Æsthetic Feelings, that we cannot examine the intellectual till we have catalogued the sensuous, and yet cannot explain the sensuous without the aid of the intellectual.’ (172)

‘hardly any single line can be said to possess beauty of itself, apart from intellectual Considerations of symmetry and proportion.’ (172-173)


‘We have now to notice a species of emotional feelings which are connected with the higher perceptive centres, and are commonly described as intellectual.’ (173)

‘everywhere that which suggests the idea of knowledge and comprehensibility is pleasing : that which wastes the energy of the higher nervous organs in useless conjecture is disagreeable.’ (175)

Chapter 8. Intervention of the Intellect

‘I feel convinced that every Æsthetic Feeling, though it may incidentally contain intellectual and complex emotional factors, has necessarily for its ultimate and principal component, pleasures of sense, ideal or actual, either as tastes, smells, touches, sounds, forms, or colours.’

‘It is for similar reasons that I have chosen the title of the present chapter, regarding the office of the Intellect essentially as an intervention; that is to say, as supplementary, not as fundamental. It combines sensuously-beautiful factors, so as to yield a synthetic whole more beautiful than all its separate parts. But without the original aesthetic components, its exercise cannot yield an aesthetic result.’ (p. 193)

Chapter 9. The Ideal

‘there is another class of pleasures and pains which we usually call ideal or mental, and which we are apt to regard as having less intimate connexion with our nervous organisation.’ (194)

‘a large number of these pleasures and pains, though not apparently connected with due stimulation or destructive action at the actual moment of perception, are yet so connected by anticipation. I allude to the whole class of feelings which involve the phenomenon of pleasurable or painful expectation, roughly expressed as Hopes and Fears.’ (193)

‘In these higher cases….the process is more closely akin to that of volitional activity [as opposed to reflex action], because the pleasure or pain is not immediately present to the senses, but is mediately suggested by means of the intellect.’ (196-197)