Concerning this latter, the inferior kind of beauty, the following things may be observed:
1. The cause why secondary beauty is grateful to men, is only a law of nature, which God has fixed, or an instinct he has given to mankind; and not their perception of the same thing which God is pleased to regard as the ground or rule by which he has established such a law of nature. This appears in two things.
(1.) That which God respects, as the ground of this law of nature, whereby things having a secondary beauty are made grateful to men, is their mutual agreement and proportion, in measure, form, &c. But, in many instances, persons that are gratified and affected with this beauty, do not reflect on that particular agreement and proportion, which, according to the law of nature, is the ground and rule of beauty in the case, yea, are ignorant of it. Thus, a man may be pleased with the harmony of the notes in a tune, and yet know nothing of that proportion or adjustment of the notes, which, by the law of nature, is the ground of the melody. He knows not, that the vibrations in one note regularly coincide with the vibrations in another; that the vibrations of a note coincide in time with two vibrations of its octave; and that two vibrations of a note coincide with three of its fifth, &c.—Yea, he may not know, that there are vibrations of the air in the case, or any corresponding motions in the organs of hearing, in the auditory nerve, or animal spirits.—So a man may be affected and pleased with a beautiful proportion of the features in a face, and yet not know what that proportion is, or in what measures, quantities, and distances it consists. In this, therefore, a sensation of secondary beauty, consisting in a spiritual union and agreement. What makes the latter grateful, is perceiving the union itself. It is the immediate view of that wherein the beauty fundamentally lies, that is pleasing to the virtuous mind.
(2.) God, in establishing such a law—that mutual natural agreement of different things, in form, quantity, &c. should appear beautiful or grateful to men—seems to have had regard to the resemblance there is in such a natural agreement, to that spiritual, cordial agreement, wherein original beauty consists. But it is not any reflection upon, or perception of, such a resemblance, that is the reason why such a form or state of objects appear beautiful to men: but their sensation of pleasure, on a view of this secondary beauty, is immediately owing to the law God has established, or the instinct he has given.
2. Another thing observable concerning this kind of beauty, is, that it affects the mind more (other things being equal) when taken notice of in objects which are of considerable importance, then in little trivial matters. Thus, the symmetry of the parts of a human body, or countenance, affects the mind more than the beauty of a flower. So the beauty of the solar system, more than as great and as manifold an order and uniformity in a tree. And the proportions of the parts of a church, or a palace, more than the same proportions in some little slight compositions, made to please children.
3. Not only uniformity and proportion, &c. of different things, is requisite, in order to this inferior beauty; but also some relation or connexion of the things thus agreeing one with another. As the uniformity or likeness of a number of pillars, scattered hither and thither, does not constitute beauty, or at least by no means in an equal degree, as uniformity in pillars connected in the same building, in parts that have relation one to another. So, if we see things unlike, and very disproportioned, in distant places, which have no relation to each other, this excites no such idea of deformity, as disagreement, inequality, or disproportion in things related and connected; and the nearer the relation, and the stricter the connexion, so much the greater and more disgustful is the deformity, consisting in their disagreement.
4. This secondary kind of beauty, consisting in uniformity and proportion, not only takes place in material and external things, but also in things immaterial; and is, in very many things, plain and sensible in the latter, as well as the former. And when it is so, there is no reason why it should not be grateful to them that behold it, in these as well as the other, by virtue of the same sense, or the same determination of mind, to be gratified with uniformity and proportion. If uniformity and proportion be the things that affect and appear agreeable to this sense of beauty, then why should not uniformity and proportion affect the same sense in immaterial things as well as material, if there be equal capacity of discerning it in both? and indeed more in spiritual things (cateris paribus) as these are more important than things merely external and material?
This is not only reasonable to be supposed, but is evident in fact, in numberless instances. There is a beauty of order in society, besides what consists in benevolence, or can be referred to it, which is of the secondary kind. As, when the different members of society have all their appointed office, place, and station, according to their several capacities and talents, and every one keeps his place, and continues in his proper business. In this there is a beauty, not of a different kind from the regularity of a beautiful building, or piece of skilful architecture, where the strong pillars are set in their proper place, the pilasters in a place fit for them, the square pieces of marble in the pavement, the pannels, partitions, and cornices, &c. in places proper for them. As the agreement of a variety of things in one common design,—as of the parts of a building, or complicated machine,—is one instance of that regularity which belongs to the secondary kind of beauty, so there is the same kind of beauty in what is called wisdom, consisting in the united tendency of thoughts, ideas, and particular volitions, to one general purpose: which is a distinct thing from the goodness of that general purpose, as being useful and benevolent.
There is a beauty in the virtue called justice, which consists in the agreement of different things, that have relation to one another, in nature, manner, and measure; and therefore is the very same sort of beauty with that uniformity and proportion, which is observable in those external and material things that are esteemed beautiful. There is a natural agreement and adaptedness of things that have relation one to another, and an harmonious corresponding of one thing with another. He who from his will does evil to others, should receive evil from the will of him or them whose business it is to take care of the injured, and to act in their behalf, in proportion to the evil of his doings. Things are in natural regularity and mutual agreement, in a literal sense, when he whose heart opposes the general system, should have the hearts of that system, or the heart of the ruler of the system, against him; and, in consequence, should receive evil, in proportion to the evil tendency of the opposition of his heart. So, there is an agreement in nature and measure, when he that loves has the proper returns of love; when he that from his heart promotes the good of another, has his good promoted by the other; for there is a kind of justice in becoming gratitude.
Indeed most of the duties incumbent on us, if well considered, will be found to partake of the nature of justice. There is some natural agreement of one thing to another; some adaptedness of the agent to the object; some answerableness of the act to the occasion; some equality and proportion in things of a similar nature, and of a direct relation one to another. So it is in relative duties; duties of children to parents, and of parents to children; duties of husbands and wives; duties of rulers and subjects; duties of friendship and good neighbourhood; and all duties that we owe to God, our creator, preserver, and benefactor; and all duties whatsoever, considered as required by God, and as what are to be performed with a regard to Christ.
It is this secondary kind of beauty, which Mr. Wollaston seems to have had in his eye, when he resolved all virtue into an agreement of inclinations, volitions, and actions with truth. He evidently has respect to the justice there is in virtues and duties; which consists in one being expressing such affections, and using such a conduct, towards another, as hath a natural agreement and proportion to what is in them, and what we receive from them: which is as much a natural conformity of affection and action with its ground, object, and occasion, as that which is between a true proposition and the thing spoken of in it.
But there is another and higher beauty in true virtue, and in all truly virtuous dispositions and exercises, than what consists in any uniformity or similarity of various things; viz. the union of heart to being in general, or to god, the Being of beings, which appears in those virtues; and of which those virtues, when true, are the various expressions or effects. Benevolence to being in general, or to being simply considered, is entirely a distinct thing from uniformity in the midst of variety, and is a superior kind of beauty.
It is true, that benevolence to being in general, will naturally incline to justice, or proportion in the exercises of it. He that loves being, simply considered, will naturally, other things being equal, love particular beings, in a proportion compounded of the degree of being, and the degree of virtue, or benevolence to being, which they have. And that is to love beings in proportion to their dignity. For the dignity of any being consists in those two things. Respect to being, in this proportion, is the first and most general kind of justice; which will produce all the subordinate kinds. So that, after benevolence to being in general exists, the proportion which is observed in objects may be the cause of the proportion of benevolence to those objects: but no proportion is the cause or ground of the existence of such a thing as benevolence to being. The tendency of objects to excite that degree of benevolence, which is proportionable to the degree of being, &c. is the consequence of the existence of benevolence, and not the ground of it. Even as a tendency of bodies one to another, by mutual attraction, in proportion to the quantity of matter, is the consequence of the being of such a thing as mutual attraction; and not attraction the effect of proportion.
By this it appears, that just affections and acts have a beauty in them, distinct from and superior to the uniformity and equality there is in them: for which, he that has a truly virtuous temper, relishes and delights in them. And that is the expression and manifestation there is in them of benevolence to being in general. And besides this, there is the agreement of justice to the will and command of God; and also something in the tendency and consequences of justice, agreeable to general benevolence, as the glory of God, and the general good. Which tendency also makes it beautiful to a truly virtuous mind. So that the tendency of general benevolence to produce justice, also the tendency of justice to produce effects agreeable to general benevolence, both render justice pleasing to a virtuous mind. And it is on these accounts chiefly, that justice is grateful to a virtuous taste, or a truly benevolent heart. But though it be true, that the uniformity and proportion there is in justice, is grateful to a benevolent heart, as this uniformity and proportion tends to the general good; yet that is no argument that there is no other beauty in it but its agreeing with benevolence. For so the external regularity and order of the natural world gratifies benevolence, as it is profitable, and tends to the general good; but that is no argument that there is no other sort of beauty in external uniformity and proportion, but only its suiting benevolence, by tending to the general good.
5. From all that has been observed concerning this secondary kind of beauty, it appears, that the disposition, which consists in a determination of mind to approve and be pleased with this beauty, considered simply and by itself, has nothing of the nature of true virtue, and is entirely a different thing from a truly virtuous taste. For it has been shown, that this kind of beauty is entirely diverse from the beauty of true virtue, whether it takes place in material or immaterial things; and therefore it will follow, that a taste of this kind of beauty is entirely a different thing from a taste of true virtue. Who will affirm, that a disposition to approve of the harmony of good music, or the beauty of a square, or equilateral triangle, is the same with true holiness, or a truly virtuous disposition of mind? It is a relish of uniformity and proportion that determines the mind to approve these things. And there is no need of any thing higher, or of any thing in any respect diverse, to determine the mind to approve and be pleased with equal uniformity and proportion among spiritual things which are equally discerned. It is virtuous to love true virtue, as that denotes an agreement of the heart with virtue. But it argues no virtue for the heart to be pleased with that which is entirely distinct from it.
Though it be true, that there is some analogy in it to spiritual and virtuous beauty—as far as material things can have analogy to things spiritual, of which they can have no more than a shadow—yet, as has been observed, men do not approve it because of any such analogy perceived. And not only reason but experience plainly shows, that men’s approbation of this sort of beauty does not spring from any virtuous temper, and has no connexion with virtue. For otherwise their delight in the beauty of squares, and cubes, and regular polygons, in the regularity of buildings, and the beautiful figures in a piece of embroidery, would increase in proportion to men’s virtue; and would be raised to a great height in some eminently virtuous or holy men; but would be almost wholly lost in some others that are very vicious and lewd. It is evident in fact, that a relish of these things does not depend on general benevolence, or any benevolence at all to any being whatsoever, any more than a man’s loving the taste of honey, or his being pleased with the smell of a rose. A taste of this inferior beauty in things immaterial, is one thing which has been mistaken by some moralists, for a true virtuous principle, supposed to be implanted naturally in the hearts of all mankind.