23 JANUARY 1909, Page 23


MR. FELIX CLAY'S book on The Origin of the Sense of Beauty is an interesting departure from the rather dreary literature of aesthetics, in that it sets out a definite and demonstrable thesis. The author's aim is to prove that our artistic likes and dislikes, however intricate their explanation may be, are based upon instinctive preferences originally necessary for survival, and on some faculty which can be traced in a mil. mentary form among the lower animals. The inquiry is therefore psychological and historical rather than meta- physical. In the introductory chapter there is much sound aesthetic theory, which shows that the author is familiar with

the ordinary treatment of the subject. He does not dogmatise upon the stook questions of the schools, but clearly and logically delimits his inquiry :—

"There are many admirable works upon the different aspects and phases of art—its technicalities, its history ; its social, moral, and ethical value. These matters are not affected by the question of the ultimate origin of taste, or the psychological process of, and the reason for, the enjoyment and creation of works of art. The main object in view is to lay stress upon the fact that there 4s this further question behind, and that our appreciation of the beautiful can be, and must be, traced to faculties that were at some time or other directly useful in the struggle for existence."

We have not space to examine in detail the careful, and on the whole convincing, argument of the work. The author has a nice sense of logical sequence, and develops his thesis naturally and skilfully. Sometimes be is a little careless in his use of technical terms—" semi-transcendental," for instance, is an unfortunate combination—but as a rule he eschews jargon, and writes straightforward, intelligible prose. The concluding chapter on "Art and Life" passes from psychology to the con- sideration of ultimate meanings. Mr. Clay adopts a definition of Professor Santayana, and gives as his summary of the objects of art the fitting of the environment to the organism. "The function of art is to mould the formless, to give a more excellent shape to some existing material, to find or make a harmony between the real that is, and the ideal that reason craves." The book is admirably written, and is valuable as showing how the ordinary conclusions of aesthetic inquiry can be reached inductively from a scientific analysis starting from the rudimentary forms of life.