Day 212/365: Beauty

July 31, 2011

The Hidden Power, by Thomas Troward [1921]

Do we sufficiently direct our thoughts to the subject of Beauty? I think not. We are too apt to regard Beauty as a merely superficial thing, and do not realise all that it implies. This was not the case with the great thinkers of the ancient world–see the place which no less a one than Plato gives to Beauty as the expression of all that is highest and greatest in the system of the universe. These great men of old were no superficial thinkers, and, therefore, would never have elevated to the supreme place that which is only superficial. Therefore, we shall do well to ask what it is that these great minds found in the idea of Beauty which made it thus appeal to them as the most perfect outward expression of all that lies deepest in the fundamental laws of Being. It is because, rightly apprehended, Beauty represents the supremest living quality of Thought. It is the glorious overflowing of fulness of Love which indicates the presence of infinite reserves of Power behind it. It is the joyous profusion that shows the possession of inexhaustible stores of wealth which can afford to be thus lavish and yet remain as exhaustless as before. Read aright, Beauty is the index to the whole nature of Being.

Beauty is the externalisation of Harmony, and Harmony is the co-ordinated working of all the powers of Being, both in the individual and in the relation of the individual to the Infinite from which it springs; and therefore this Harmony conducts us at once into the presence of the innermost undifferentiated Life. Thus Beauty is in most immediate touch with the very arcanum of Life; it is the brightness of glory spreading itself over the sanctuary of the Divine Spirit. For if, viewed from without, Beauty is the province of the artist and the poet, and lays hold of our emotions and appeals directly to the innermost feelings of our heart, calling up the response of that within us which recognises itself in the harmony perceived without, this is only because it speeds across the bridge of Reason with such quick feet that we pass from the outmost to the inmost and back again in the twinkling of an eye; but the bridge is still there and, retracing our steps more leisurely, we shall find that, viewed from within, Beauty is no less the province of the calm reasoner and analyst. What the poet and the artist seize upon intuitionally, he elaborates gradually, but the result is the same in both cases; for no intuition is true which does not admit of being expanded into a rational sequence of intelligible factors, and no argument is true which does not admit of being condensed into that rapid suggestion which is intuition.

Thus the impassioned artist and the calm thinker both find that the only true Beauty proceeds naturally from the actual construction of that which it expresses. It is not something added on as an afterthought, but something pre-existing in the original idea, something to which that idea naturally leads up, and which pre-supposes that idea as affording it any raison d’être. The test of Beauty is, What does it express? Is it merely a veneer, a coat of paint laid on from without? Then it is indeed nothing but a whited sepulchre, a covering to hide the vacuity or deformity which needs to be removed. But is it the true and natural outcome of what is beneath the surface? Then it is the index to super-abounding Life and Love and Intelligence, which is not content with mere utilitarianism hasting to escape at the earliest possible point from the labour of construction, as though from an enforced and unwelcome task, but rejoicing over its work and unwilling to quit it until it has expressed this rejoicing in every fittest touch of form and colour and exquisite proportion that the material will admit of, and this without departing by a hairbreadth from the original purpose of the design.

Wherever, therefore, we find Beauty, we may infer an enormous reserve of Power behind it; in fact, we may look upon it as the visible expression of the great truth that Life-Power is infinite. And when the inner meaning of Beauty is thus revealed to us, and we learn to know it as the very fulness and overflowing of Power, we shall find that we have gained a new standard for the guidance of our own lives. We must begin to use this wonderful process which we have learnt from Nature. Having learnt how Nature works–how God works–we must begin to work in like manner, and never consider any work complete until we have carried it to some final outcome of Beauty, whether material, intellectual, or spiritual. Is my intention good? That is the initial question, for the intention determines the nature of the essence in everything. What is the most beautiful form in which I can express the good I intend? That is the ultimate question; for the true Beauty which our work expresses is the measure of the Power, Intelligence, Love–in a word, of the quantity and quality of our own life which we have put into it. True Beauty, mind you–that which is beautiful because it most perfectly expresses the original idea, not a mere ornamentation occupying our thoughts as a thing apart from the use intended.

Nothing is of so small account but it has its fullest power of expression in some form of Beauty peculiarly its own. Beauty is the law of perfect Thought, be the subject of our Thought some scheme affecting the welfare of millions, or a word spoken to a little child. True Beauty and true Power are the correlatives one of the other. Kindly expression originates in kindly thought; and kindly expression is the essence of Beauty, which, seeking to express itself ever more and more perfectly, becomes that fine touch of sympathy which is artistic skill, whether applied in working upon material substances or upon the emotions of the heart. But, remember, first Use, then Beauty, and neither complete without the other. Use without Beauty is ungracious giving, and Beauty without Use is humbug; never forgetting, however, that there is a region of the mind where the use is found in the beauty, where Beauty itself serves the direct purpose of raising us to see a higher ideal which will thenceforward permeate our lives, giving a more living quality to all we think and say and do.

Seen thus the Beautiful is the true expression of the Good. From whichever end of the scale we look we shall find that they accurately measure each other. They are the same thing in the outermost and the innermost respectively. But in our search for a higher Beauty than we have yet found we must beware of missing the Beauty that already exists. Perfect harmony with its environment, and perfect expression of its own inward nature are what constitute Beauty; and our ignorance of the nature of the thing or its environment may shut our eyes to the Beauty it already has. It takes the genius of a Millet to paint, or a Whitman in words, to show us the beauty of those ordinary work-a-day figures with which our world is for the most part peopled, whose originals we pass by as having no form or comeliness. Assuredly the mission of every thinking man and woman is to help build up forms of greater beauty, spiritual, intellectual, material, everywhere; but if we would make something grander than Watteau gardens or Dresden china shepherdesses, we must enter the great realistic school of Nature and learn to recognise the beauty that already surrounds us, although it may have a little dirt on the surface. Then, when we have learnt the great principles of Beauty from the All-Spirit which is it, we shall know how to develop the Beauty on its own proper lines without perpetuating the dirt; and we shall know that all Beauty is the expression of Living Power, and that we can measure our power by the degree of beauty into which we can transform it, rendering our lives,

“By loveliness of perfect deeds,
More strong than all poetic thought.”

Day 212/365: Beauty

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