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THE PHILOSOPHY OF COLOR.
BY J. N. BELLOws.
'THUS error's Proteus shapes from earth are driven;
In man's maturer day his bolder sight,
All blended, like the rainbow's radiant braid,
LORD BACON, in his Novum Organum,' establishes the principle, that all theories are useless, unless based on fact. And this principle, so obvious to common sense, has produced changes more wonderful than steam, more beneficial than gunpowder, quite equal, in many respects, to printing; indeed, printing would be worse than nothing in that art, if the matter it promulges were only crude hypotheses and wild imaginations. The long mystification of the ancients upon the subject of astronomy, was owing to their founding their theories on conjecture. This new guide of Lord Bacon, in scientific researches, opened the eyes of philosophers, as suddenly as a flash of lightning shows the way to the lost traveller, journeying in the dark night. The present received theory of the heavenly bodies is nearly the same with that system taught by Thales of Miletus, who lived five hundred and forty years before Christ. With him it was merely conjecture. He had no facts, no proofs by which to establish it; and at his death, his theory was buried; disregarded for the sake of notions seemingly more rational, but utterly false. Like the blinded one, in a play of children, they were often near their object, and sometimes had it in their grasp, without being able to distinguish truth from error. How painful to follow them in their devious course! Dispersi jactantur gurgite vasto.'
Lord Bacon, if he could open his eyes upon the present generation, would be not a little disgusted and surprised, to see his great principles so much disregarded by the multitude. Humiliating to the pride of intellect is it, to hear such expressions as these used by people of liberal education, and by some who stand at the head, nominally, of societies and professions: 'I will not believe it ;' 'I would not believe my own senses;' 'It cannot be true;' 'Who ever heard of such a thing?' with regard to phrenology, animal magnetism, and other subjects. Some people seem to think the world is about as wise as it can be; that there are to be no more improvements and discoveries; that every opinion which disagrees with their notions, which are most probably the notions of their fathers and grandfathers, handed down together with old tankards, China, brocade dresses, and bureaus, to an admiring posterity, must necessarily be wrong. But it is delightful to think that new principles are ever destined to come to light, to meet the wants of man, and that they will be correspondingly great and sublime, with his improved capacity to enjoy and use them. The great woods which cover an unsettled country, are first used by the emigrant for fuel; as the coun
try becomes settled, and the land is taken up for agriculture, mines of coal are unfolded from the bosom of the earth. So in morals and science, the great secrets of nature come out one by one, as the stars appear in heaven, to guide the mariner as he sails the unknown ocean of time. And this view satisfies the question, Why did not Christ come and establish his religion from the beginning of the world?' If we could fathom deep enough, it is presumable that we should find good reasons why gunpowder, printing, steam-power, and the compass, did not come to the world earlier than they did, and moreover, why they came at the exact moment they did come :
"There are more things in heaven and earth,
But to leave this train of remark; we say, that all science must be based on facts; and, whether we will or not, we must follow where they lead us. A man can no more help his opinions, than he can help breathing. He may, to be sure, tie up his windpipe with a cord, and put an end to his life; and he may also give or refuse his verbal assent to a truth, and by the latter course destroy his manliness, his self-respect, and dignity, and cease to live, morally speaking. But his opinions, those deep impressions, those notions, that knowledge, he acts upon when he is in danger, when all party considerations are forgotten, and he relies upon his inner resources, his self, are not within the power of his will. Who is there whose mind has been directed to the subject, that does not believe that the earth is round? Can any one help this conclusion? If he can, he has some reason for it; let us hear him; perhaps he may be able to convince us that it is square. We are open to conviction.
We have not expressed our assent or disbelief in the new theories of the day, but we have taken occasion to express our disgust at the feeble and unphilosophical course of the open objectors to them. If these sciences, phrenology and animal magnetism, have not been proven to be true, they certainly have not been shown to be false. What is a science? It is the facts pertaining to a certain class of phenomena, together with the logical and mathematical inferences deducible from them. Thus chemistry is said to be the science of affinities, repulsions, and attractions, in the component parts of bodies. Optics is the science of light; the manner in which it is radiated, diverged, or converged; its reflection and refraction; its source, substance, etc. To illustrate farther. The question arises as to the nature of light. It is imponderable matter, says one, proceeding from the sun in all directions; it passes through glass, and fills this room. If it be matter, it must pass through the pores of the glass, for two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The pores of the glass are so small as to exclude particles of air, and yet large enough for particles of light to pass through them. Others suppose light to be a fluid, which pervades all nature, rendered visible by luminous bodies, and propagated, as sound is conveyed, through the air. Acoustics is the science of sound; its velocity, radiation, concentration, and reflection; almost all its phenomena, bearing a great resemblance to those of light. How did these sciences, or collections of classified facts, have origin, except by observation and experience? They existed as certainly in the dark ages, as
now. Gravity existed before Newton found it out. The great laboratory of nature was in full operation, before the alchymists ever dreamed of the philosopher's stone, or the universal solvent. There are sciences which have been invented, as algebra; or rather principles are sometimes illustrated in arbitrary forms, but for their acceptance by the world, requiring a consistency and analogy with the natural sciences, as beautiful as they are necessary. The balance of a picture in the art of painting is illustrated by the lever; and all the mechanical powers may be resolved into this one, which in turn depends upon gravity.
Science, generally speaking, is the finding out of something already existing, instead of being, as children and illiterate people suppose, altogether gratuitous and original inventions of some very mysteriously learned persons, who lived once upon a time.' If phrenology be true, it was as true of Adam, of Paul, of Wilberforce, as it is of me and thee. Let us have the arguments for and against it, but away with objections raised by prejudice and interest. The clergy, perhaps, regret it as injurious to the cause of Christianity. They will not stop to ask if it be true or not; enough, if it wars with their favorite system. It cannot be true, they say, if it makes the miracles no miracles at all. Fortunately, (how could it be otherwise?) all true science has been found to strengthen our faith in the Bible. The physician, perhaps, trembles for his pills and prescriptions. All fear it as something new and unheard of, and as likely to change the charlatanry they are accustomed to, and have got to love, into a new form of trickery and imposition, the extent of which they do not know.
The foundation of all science cannot be explained. The laws of creation, or in other words, those universal facts constantly operating about us, rest alone upon the evidence of the senses. Who knows the cause of gravity? Can any one explain molecular attraction? These first principles are the fulcrum, having which, we raise and turn the universe about for our inspection, read its wonders, and become delighted with its mechanism. Beyond these, He stands, the
The opinion has been entertained, and with much reason, that color is some token of the properties of bodies. The celebrated naturalist of Sweden had this opinion, which he has declared in the following aphorism: 'Color pallidus, insipidum; viridis, crudum; luteus, amarum; rubu, acidum; albus, dulce; niger, ingratum indicat.' Which may be read, a pale color indicates insipidity; green shows unripeness; yellow plants are bitter; red is the color of sourness; white substances are sweet, and black matter is offensive. Dr. Chapman, who quotes this same passage in his work, Elements of Therapeutics,' remarks upon it: Each of these positions, though true in the main, is to be received with many limitations; and, on this account the mere circumstance of color will always prove a devious and precarious guide.' We cannot resist adding another sentence or two from the same writer, which goes to show that chemistry is no
more to be depended on than color. Experiments have fully demonstrated, that articles widely discrepant in their general nature, (we suppose he means effects,) as aliments and medicines, the most salutary food and the rankest poison, exhibit, in analysis, nearly the same results. This indeed holds so generally true, that the virus of the viper and the mildest mucelage, the poisonous prussic acid, and the nutritious flesh of animals, constitute no exception. Decomposed into their elementary principles, they are essentially the same.'
It is not the intention of the present paper to assert that color is an infallible test of the poisonous or innocuous properties of plants; nor that the color of the skin, eyes, and hair, is a certain indication of character, disposition, and talent; but it is curious to find even any guide in what we are accustomed to regard with so much scientific indifference, or as a merely ornamental part of the works of Providence. Beside, the care of parents and teachers may turn a bad physical temperament to good account, and ingraft sweet fruit in the sour stock; change by prayer and labor, by gentle force and kind consistency, the cruel to the humane, sluggishness to industry, selfishness to generosity; in short, mould over the work of nature, so that a child shall appear and be a very different person from what he would have been, left to the influences of his natural impulses. When the disciples of Socrates gained his consent to submit himself to the examination of a physiognomist, with whose science they were highly delighted, and heard their master represented as a morose, sensual, and selfish person, (the professor not knowing at the time whose face he w describing,) they drew back in astonishment and mistrust; but Socrates rebuked their want of faith, and confessed that such indeed was his natural character, which he had conquered by self-discipline and mortification.
Color is certainly something more than ornament. Every thing that is made, has a deeper meaning than strikes the outward eye. Beauty is almost always the result of utility. There is a standard of beauty. Our ideas of proportion form the idea of beauty in architecture, and that rests back upon security and utility. Why is a narrow, tall building ungraceful, except because it is unsafe? Why is a low, extensive base so inappropriate, especially in a city, but because it is a poor economy of land, and likely to become damp and unwholesome; beside robbing the eye, in the country, of wide prospects, and the vines of high windows to adorn; the swallows of a resting place; the benighted traveller of a beacon? But a very high building, even if it be broad, would be not a pleasing object on a hill, because these reasons would cease, and the inconveniences of wind and storms would make it uncomfortable. It is ridiculous, then, to talk of any style of architecture which must be beautiful in all situations and in all climates. The Grecian slope of the roof looks badly at the north and in snowy regions; for there the slope must be so great that the snow will easily slide off, and not crush the edifice; but this holds more true of wooden buildings, than of those constructed of stone.
As beauty is something more than that which pleases the eye, it will be found that all parts of creation have a tendency to save, to heal, to keep from harm. We think we see in color a wise provision, and our object is to adduce facts and opinions upon this subject;
trusting that all will not think what has already been said, entirely irrelevant to the question. Linnæus says, 'the pale color is insipid.' We hardly need mention the insipidity of weak tea, the listlessness of the sick and languid, the sickening property of tepid water, the want of force and character in those whose hair, in youth, is very light. 'Green is unripe and crude. Taste of green apples. Think of the 'green-eyed monster.' Red is acid.' This is owing to the oxygen that substances imbibe, which turns things red. Fire is supported by the oxygen of the atmosphere, and its color is red. The redness of ripe fruit is perhaps occasioned by the chemical properties of the air. Red hair is proverbially a mark of great fire of disposition; and a common saying generally contains great truth. Yellow is bitter.' Most yellow plants are unsavory. The blossom of the dandelion is very bitter. Rhubarb, and indeed most bitter substances, are of a yellow hue. The famous 'Stoughton Bitters,' which are taken in wine for an appetite, are a dark yellow. Yellow is a healthy token in plants. White is sweet.' Infancy is white. The white rose is sweet, to cloying. Pure saccharine matter is white. 'Black is offensive.' The color of the perspiration of the feet is black. Revenge is black. Deeds of darkness and cruelty, by a common consent, are termed black. Satan is always represented as a black man. It is the color of devils. It is the absence of light; the color which sorrow and grief choose, to indicate desolation and wo. The shepherd Corydon, while he tells Alexis,
'O formore puer, nimium ne crude colori,
seems himself to have preferred the white Alexis, tu candidus esses,' to the black Menalcas, 'quamois ille nijer,' preaching very well, and saying, that the white privets lie neglected, while the black-berry is gathered; nevertheless his own preference entirely refutes him.
Lavater says, if you should ask Shakspeare what eye he meant, when he wrote, 'the poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling,' he would tell you a gray one. Allston says, a black eye is not the poetic eye. Rubens, the painter, had a black eye, and it is remarkable that he had not a nice sense of color. Another celebrated painter remarks, that a black eye is not the painter's eye, nor the eye of genius.
Were we called upon to select an amiable, confiding, generous woman, from her personal appearance, we would choose one whose eyes were blue or hazel, whose hair was brown or chesnut, her complexion not a pure red and white. Circumstance, temptation, a very bad education, may have made devils of such forms, but with ordinary advantages, such women are angels. We fear those jet-black, sparkling orbs. Ye gods! how brilliant are they, with a brunette cheek, ruby lips, and pearly teeth! smiles, richer than strawberries and cream, and words, deeper and fuller than man ever uttered! A black eye is very rare. It is also rare to see a blue eye. It is difficult to distinguish, at all times, the black from the hazel, the blue from the gray. Most gray eyes have a tinge of blue. There is no doubt but that the color of the skin, eyes, and hair, depend upon the temperament, and the disposition of the person also is affected by it. Any strong affection of the mind changes the complexion of the