Series of essays, many of which are reprints from journals - eg. Westminster Review, Fortnightly Review.


From 'On the Possibility of a Science of Aesthetics', pp. 336-372:


Bemoans the prevalence 'from Plato to the last of the Germans' of the notion that art is 'a partial revelation, dim through its sensuous medium, of the ultimate reality, the divine idea.' (336)


Suggests that the 'more thoughtful' of writers on aesthetic matters have confined themselves to the 'subjective side' of art criticism, seeking to 'trace out the relation of artistic production to the artist's nature, education, and social surroundings.' (337)


'All art, it may be urged, reveals, in addition to the play of indivdual genuis and of social influences, the action of universal laws of human semsiblity. The artist, however rapid and instinctive may be the activities of his inventive spirit, is aiming consciously or unconsciously at something which shall answer to many human ideas and satisfy many human desires. Strictly speaking, his creations are artistic only so long as they conform to these conditions; otherwise, they become simply the fine vagaries of a brilliant but ill-regulated mind.' (338)


'a perception of the real objective significance of art is a valuable possession for the artist himself. It seems as if the age of naïve spontaneous production, swayed by no influence more palpable and distinct than that of the artist's emotional and imaginative impulses, has long since passed away... Few will question that such reflection, if not allowed to overweigh the spontaneous element, is a new force in the artist's mind.' (338)


'A very little consideration may teach such a one [ie. a lover of art] that, with all that is arbitrary, changeful, and purely relative in æsthetic effect, there is also an element of order and permanent uniformity... It is... this discoverable tendency in all æsthetic development which makes a science of æsthetics possible.' (338-339)


'Psychology, as it is usually conceived, is an abstract science, which discusses the laws of sensation, thought, etc., as they present themselves in all varieties of the individual human mind, and does not concern itself, primarily at least, with any subsequent order duscoverable in the development of our intellectual and moral nature. Thus psychology will analyse and explain the growth of a given emotion, say the moral sense, without enquiring when this emotion first shows itself in the progress of the human race. But the temporal order among the concrete phenomena is an essential part of æsthetic investigation, which aims at discovering which point æsthetic culture is always tending towards. That is to say, æsthetics will rest in part on abstract psychology and in part on anthropology, or the science of human development.

On the other hand, it is evident from this conception of an æsthetic science that it will derive a part of its data from the history of Art...

Thus a theory of æsthetics would have to proceed by means of historical research supplemented by psychological explanation.' (340)


'The germs of art have been found by Mr. Spencer, putting an idea of Schiller in a scientific form, in the impulse of play (Spieltriebe); and there is no doubt that emotions and impulses, embodied in what is usually called art, betray themselves in earlier and ruder productions... On the other hand, as mere overflow of spontaneous energy, seeking no delight but that of vented energy and movement, play is less obviously connected with art, even though it be true that all artistic production springs in part from such spontaneous impulse. The essence of art may be provisionally defined as the production of some permanent object or passing action which is fitted not only to supply an active enjoyment to the producer, but to convey a pleasurable impression to a number of spectators or listeners, quite apart from any personal advantage to be derived from it...

This conception obviously excludes all hypotheses of some one eternally fixed quality of art, some essence of Beauty.' (341)


'Inductive research clearly shows that the properties of art in its successive developments are innumerable, and can only be subsumed under some such conception of pleasurability as the one just given. Hence, the foundations of a genuine science of art must be sought in the nature and laws of the feelings which it is fitted to gratify. Assuming that the essence of art is to gratify certain emotional susceptibilities, we have to examine into the precise nature and laws of these pleasurable feelings, and, if possible, to deduce from these some priciples fitted to be a scientific basis for artistic practice.' (342)


'[the] two ideas [of the subjective and objective appreciation of art] do not, on in the same sense, enter into a theory of æsthetics. To fix and define the changing [subjective] conditions of social feelings and ideas and in æsthetic culture which serve to determine the relative value of any development of art, is obviously a problem for the historian... In contrast to these, the objective conditions of artistic excellence, valid for all times and for all modes of artistic creation, are a matter for inductive and scientific definition. To these conditions, then, we may confine our attention' (345-346)


'Striclty speaking, no departmentof æsthetics susceptibility presents a perfectly uniform mode of pleasure. Even organic sensibility is, within certain limits, a variable quantity... We cannot say that a given object will produce a like effect on any two minds... Thus the greater part of the influences of art appear, primâ facie, to be arbitrary phenomena, dependent simply on particular developments of emotional capacity, and, consequently, to be quite insusceptible of scientific treatment.

Nevertheless, we are compelled by our definition of art to seek some comparatively fixed objective or principle even in this apparent fluctuating and chaotic region of facts.' (347-348)


Sully then proposes a number of posible modes of examining or 'measuring' æsthetics scientifically, including attempting to discover which art has had the most 'universal' appeal, the measure of art against its appreciation by a 'typical æsthetic nature' (350), and a third, recommended approach, which 'investigates both what has been, and what might and ought to be': 'that is to say, it asks according to what laws æsthetic progress, looked on as part of mental progress in general, takes place... it aims at defining the general laws of emotional development, the nature of the transformation which the several capacities involved in æsthetic appreciation go, the orders of idea and sentiment which appear destined to persist and to survive the others, and so on.' (353)


Adopts Herbert Spencer's conception of a heirarchy of aesthetic feeling, in which 'an æsthetic enjoyment is to be ranked as high when it is voluminous, composed of many distinct gratifications, and when it involves a great degree of the representative and ideal, as distinguished from teh immediate and the sensuous... The lowest pleasures [in Spencer's schema] are the pleasures of simple sensation, namely, those of single colours and tones. Next to these are the gratifications which attend more or less complex perceptions, such as the pleasures of combined forms, and melodic sequences. The highest place is filled by the pleasures of æsthetic sentiments, strictly so called which contain no presentative elements: namely, the highly composite and ideal feelings indirectly called up by landscape, musical tones, etc.' (356)


'A work is artistic which, through impressions of the eye or of the ear, gratifies some pleasurable susceptibility, and satisfies some universal laws of pleasurable impression; highly artistic, when it affords a large number of such pleasurable impressions, further, when these feelings are either permanent emotional needs of the human heart, or refined and complex products of mental development. [*compare initial statement regarding the pleasure of the artist as well as the viewer]

... the recognition of such a final standard of worth will be a great immediate assistance even to the productive artist. For has not every artist, whether poet, painter, or musical composer, to confront a vast array of conflicting tastes even among his countrymen? and how is he to select the most worthy of existing sentiments without some such ideal measure? Moreover, it may be said that even if the artist does not labour for posterity... he can at least try to modify taste in the best possible manner, so as to enlarge the area of the highest and purest mode of delight. Thus, while a study of the relative conditions of art is undoubtedly valuable to the artist, that of the absolute and permanent conditions is of a far higher value.' (362)


'rules respecting the highest forms of artistic harmony would be determined by the criterion of development... a consideration of the capabilities of a work of art, of the number of pleasurable qualities which it is able to realize, and of their order of æsthetic value, and finally of the most perfect mode of combining these, may enable one to arrive at something like definite and fixed rules for artistic practice.

At the same time, it is evident that all such rules should be considered in full recognition of the limits of æsthetic principles, and of the range of the variable and the individual in æsthetic judgement.

After the nature and principles of art as a whole had thus been determined, it would be necessary to apply these conceptions to each particular art, so as to give the fullest and clearest notion of its precise æsthetic function and status.' (370)


concluding statement [note concentration on role of the critic]: 'As we have seen, æsthetics seeks a final standard of art value, and aims at subsuming all possible effects of art under the most general conceptions... The critic, on the other hand, has to judge promptly on a new individual work, and is thrown very much on the particular impression which it may happen to have produced in his own mind. But are his opinions to be perfectly independent of æsthetic doctrine? Scarcely. If it does nothing else, a study of the deepest principles of art may help him to be less dogmatic, to qualify by a deeper reflection the best judgement which a few minutes' observation may have produced. It will teach him that every great work of art is a many-sided complexity, appealing to numerous shades of feeling, all of which can scarcely coexist in full intensity in a single mind. It will suggest to him that because of this greater complexity in the higher æsthetic sentiments, a less complete measure of agreement is to be looked for among the opinions of the cultivated than among the crude admirations of the unreflectve. That is to say, it will help to keep present to his mind the idea of a summum pulchrum, a lofty ideal standard, both for art as a whole and for each of its varieties, and so will tend to give an elevated ideal direction to his criticism. Finally, as I have sought to show, it will supply him with a number of definite principles, which he will employ, not mechanically, ignorant of their real basis in the laws of human nature, but with a full recognition of their origin and of the extent of ther validity. By virtue of such intelligence the ready and effective critic would grow into the philosophic critic, and his judgements would acquire a real weight with thoughtful minds, appearing no longer as the caprices of an inscrutible, subjective taste, but as the conclusions of a clear, subduing reason. In this way theoetical knowledge will supply the critic with a genuine scientific basis for his inferences, while it teaches him where his reflections pass beyond the reach of sure, objective principle into the region of variable, individual sentiment.' (371-372)