The Rationale of Reward

Book III

Reward Applied to Art and Science

Chapter I

Art and Science—Divisions

A cloud of perplexity, raised by indistinct and erroneous conceptions, seems at all times to have been hanging over the import of the terms art and science. The common supposition seems to have been, that in the whole field of thought and action, a determinate number of existing compartments are assignable, marked out all round, and distinguished from one another by so many sets of natural and determinate boundary lines: that of these compartments some are filled, each by an art, without any mixture of science; others by a science, without any mixture of art; and others, again, are so constituted, that, as it has never happened to them hitherto, so neither can it ever happen to them in future, to contain in them any thing either of art or science.

This supposition will, it is believed, be found in every part erroneous: as between art and science, in the whole field of thought and action, no one spot will be found belonging to either to the exclusion of the other. In whatsoever spot a portion of either is found, a portion of the other may be also seen; whatsoever spot is occupied by either, is occupied by both—is occupied by them in joint tenancy. Whatsoever spot is thus occupied, is so much taken out of the waste; and there is not any determinate part of the whole waste which is not liable to be thus occupied.

Practice, in proportion as attention and exertion are regarded as necessary to due performance, is termed art. Knowledge, in proportion as attention and exertion are regarded as necessary to attainment, is termed science.

In the very nature of the case, they will be found so combined as to be inseparable. Man cannot do anything well, but in proportion as he knows how to do it: he cannot, in consequence of attention and exertion, know anything but in proportion as he has practised the art of learning it. Correspondent therefore, to every art, there is at least one branch of science; correspondent to every branch of science, there is at least one branch of art. There is no determinate line of distinction between art on the one hand, and science on the other; no determinate line of distinction between art and science on the one hand, and unartificial practice and unscientific knowledge on the other. In proportion as that which is seen to be done, is more conspicuous than that which is seen or supposed to be known,—that which has place is apt to be considered as the work of art: in proportion as that which is seen or supposed to be known, is more conspicuous than anything else that is seen to be done,—that which has place is apt to be set down to the account of science. Day by day, acting in conjunction, art and science are gaining upon the above-mentioned waste—the field of unartificial practice and unscientific knowledge. Taken collectively, and considered in their connexion with the happiness of society, the arts and sciences may be arranged in two divisions viz.—1. Those of amusement and curiosity; 2. Those of utility, immediate and remote. These two branches of human knowledge re quire different methods of treatment on the part of governments.

By arts and sciences of amusement, I mean those which are ordinarily called the fine arts; such as music, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, ornamental gardening, &c. &c. Their complete enumeration must be excused: it would lead us too far from our present subject, were we to plunge into the metaphysical discussions necessary for its accomplishment. Amusements of all sorts would be comprised under this head.

Custom has in a manner compelled us to make the distinction between the arts and sciences of amusement, and those of curiosity. It is not, however, proper to regard the former as destitute of utility: on the contrary, there is nothing, the utility of which is more incontestable. To what shall the character of utility be ascribed, if not to that which is a source of pleasure? All that can be alleged in diminution of their utility is, that it is limited to the excitement of pleasure: they cannot disperse the clouds of grief or of misfortune. They are useless to those who are not pleased with them: they are useful only to those who take pleasure in them, and only in proportion as they are pleased.

By arts and sciences of curiosity, I mean those which in truth are pleasing, but not in the same degree as the fine arts, and to which at the first glance we might be tempted to refuse this quality. It is not that these arts and sciences of curiosity do not yield as much pleasure to those who cultivate them as the fine arts; but the number of those who study them is more limited. Of this nature are the sciences of heraldry, of medals, of pure chronology—the knowledge of ancient and barbarous languages, which present only collections of strange words,—and the study of antiquities, inasmuch as they furnish no instruction applicable to morality, or any other branch of useful or agreeable knowledge.

The utility of all these arts and sciences,—I speak both of those of amusement and curiosity,—the value which they possess, is exactly in proportion to the pleasure they yield. Every other species of preeminence which may be attempted to be established among them is altogether fanciful. Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. If the game of push-pin furnish more pleasure, it is more valuable than either. Everybody can play at push-pin: poetry and music are relished only by a few. The game of push-pin is always innocent: it were well could the same be always asserted of poetry. Indeed, between poetry and truth there is natural opposition: false morals and fictitious nature. The poet always stands in need of something false. When he pretends to lay has foundations in truth, the ornaments of his superstructure are fictions; his business consist in stimulating our passions, and exciting our prejudices. Truth, exactitude of every kind is fatal to poetry. The poet must see everything through coloured media, and strive to make every one else do the same. It is true, there have been noble spirits, to whom poetry and philosophy have been equally indebted; but these exceptions do not counteract the mischiefs which have resulted from this magic art. If poetry and music deserve to he preferred before a game of push-pin, it must be because they are calculated to gratify those individuals who are most difficult to be pleased.

All the arts and sciences, without exception, inasmuch as they constitute innocent employments, at least of time, possess a species of moral utility, neither the less real or important because it is frequently unobserved. They compete with, and occupy the place of those mischievous and dangerous passions and employments, to which want of occupation and ennui give birth. They are excellent substitutes for drunkenness, slander, and the love of gaming.

The effects of idleness upon the ancient Germans may be seen in Tacitus. His observations are applicable to all uncivilized nations: for want of other occupations the wage war upon each other—it was a more animated amusement than that of the chase. The chieftain who proposed a martial expedition, at the first sound of his trumpet ranged under his banners a crowd of idlers, to whom peace was a condition of restraint, of languor, and of ennui. Glory could be reaped only in one field—opulence knew but one luxury. This field was that of battle—this luxury that of conquering or recounting past conquests. Their women themselves, ignorant of those agreeable arts which multiply the means of pleasing, and prolong the empire of beauty, became the rivals of the men in courage, and, mingling with them in the barbarous tumult of a military life, became unfeeling as they.

It is to the cultivation of the arts and sciences, that we must in great measure ascribe the existence of that party which is now opposed to war: it has received its birth amid the occupation and pleasures furnished by the fine arts. These arts, so to speak, have enrolled under their peaceful banners that army of idlers which would have otherwise possessed no amusement but in the hazardous and bloody game of war.

Such is the species of utility which belongs indiscriminately to all the arts and sciences. Were it the only reason, it would be a sufficient reason for desiring to see them flourish and receive the most extended diffusion.

If these principles are correct, we shall know how to estimate those critics, more ingenious than useful, who, under pretence of purifying the public taste, endeavour successively to deprive mankind of a larger or smaller part of the sources of their amusement. These modest judges of elegance and taste consider themselves as benefactors to the human race, while they are really only the interrupters of their pleasure—a sort of importunate hosts, who place themselves at the table to diminish, by their pretended delicacy, the appetite of their guests. It is only from custom and prejudice that, in matters of taste, we speak of false and true. There is no taste which deserves the epithet good, unless it be the taste for such employments which, to the pleasure actually produced by them, conjoin some contingent or future utility: there is no taste which deserves to be characterized as bad, unless it be a taste for some occupation which has a mischievous tendency.

The celebrated and ingenious Addison has distinguished himself by his skill in the art of ridiculing enjoyments, by attaching to them the fantastic idea of bad taste. In the Spectator he wages relentless war against the whole generation of false wits. Acrostics, conundrums, pantomimes, puppet-shows, bouts-rimés, stanzas in the shape of eggs, of wings, burlesque poetry of every description—in a word, a thousand other light and equally innocent amusements, fall crushed under the strokes of his club. And, proud of having established his empire above the ruins of these literary trifles he regards himself as the legislator of Parnassus! What, however, was the effect of his new laws? They deprived those who submitted to them, of many sources of pleasure—they exposed those who were more inflexible, to the contempt of their companions.

Even Hume himself, in spite of his proud and independent philosophy, has yielded to this literary prejudice. ``By a sing1e piece,'' says he, ``the Duke of Buckingham rendered a great service to his age, and was the reformer of its taste!'' In what consisted this important service? He had written a comedy, The Rehearsal, the object of which was to render those theatrical pieces which had been most popular, the objects of general distaste. His satire was completely successful; but what was its fruit? The lovers of that species of amusement were deprived of so much pleasure; a multitude of authors covered with ridicule and contempt, deplored, at the same time, the loss of their reputation and their bread.

As the amusement of a minister of state, it must be confessed that a more suitable one might be found than a game at solitaire. Still among the number of its amateurs was once found Potemkin, one of the most active and respected Russian ministers of state. I see a smile of contempt upon the lips of many of my readers, who would not think it strange that any one should play at cards from “eve till morn”, provided it were in company. But how incomparably superior is this solitary game to many social games—so often antisocial in their consequences! The first, a pure and simple amusement, stripped of everything injurious, free from passion, avarice, loss, and regret. It is gaming enjoyed by some happy individuals, in that state in which legislators may desire, but cannot hope that it will ever be enjoyed by all throughout the whole world. How much better was this minister occupied than if, with the Iliad in his hand, he had stirred up within his heart the seeds of those ferocious passions which can only be gratified with tears and blood.

As men grow old, they lose their relish for the simple amusements of childhood. Is this a reason for pride? It may be so—when to be hard to please, and to have our happiness dependent on what is costly and complicated, shall be found to be advantageous. The child who is building houses of cards is happier than was Louis XIV. when building Versailles. Architect and mason at once, master of his situation and his materials, he alters and overturns at will.

Diruit, edificat, mutat quadrata rotundis:

and all this at the expense neither of groans nor money. The proverbial expression of the games of princes, may furnish us with strong reasons for regretting that princes should ever cease to love the games of children.

A reward was offered by one of the Roman emperors to whoever would invent a new pleasure, and because this emperor was called Nero, or Caligula, it has been imputed to him as a crime: as if every sovereign, and even every private individual, who encourages the cultivation of the arts and sciences were not an accomplice in this crime. The employment of those critics, to whom we have before referred, tends to diminish the existing stock of our pleasures: the natural effect of increasing years, is to render us insensible to those which remain: by those who blame the offer of the Roman emperor, these critics should be esteemed the benefactors of mankind, and old age the perfection of human life.

In league with these critics are the tribe of satirists—those generous men, who without other reward than the pleasure of humbling and disfiguring everything which does not please them, have constituted themselves reformers of mankind! The only satire I could read without disgust and aversion, would be a satire on these libellers themselves. Their occupation consists in fomenting scandal, and in disseminating its poisons throughout the world, that they may be furnished with pretexts for pouring contempt upon everything that employs or interests other men. By blackening everything and exaggerating everything (for it is by exaggeration they exist) they deceive the judgments of their readers:—innocent amusements, ludicrous eccentricities, venial transgressions and crimes, are alike confounded and covered with their venom. Their design is to efface all the lines of demarcation, all the essential distinctions which philosophy and legislation have with so much labour traced. For one truth, we find a thousand odious hyperboles in their works. They never cease to excite malevolence and antipathy: under their auspices or at least under the influence of the passions which animate them, language itself becomes satirical. Neutral expression can scarcely be found to designate the motives which determine human actions: to the words expressive of the motive, such as avarice, ambition, pride, idleness, and many others, the idea of disapprobation is so closely, though unnecessarily, connected, that the simple mention of the motive implies a censure, even when the actions which have resulted from it have been most innocent. The nomenclature of morals is so tinctured with these prejudices, that it is not possible, without great difficulty and long circumlocutions, simply and purely, without reprobation or approbation, to express the motives by which mankind are governed. Hence our languages, rich in terms of hatred and reproach, are poor and rugged for the purposes of science and of reason. Such is the evil created aud augmented by satiric writers.

Among rich and prosperous nations, it is not necessary that the public should be at the expense of cultivating the arts and sciences of amusement and curiosity. Individuals will always bestow upon these that portion of reward which is proportioned to the pleasure they bestow.

Whilst as to the arts and sciences of immediate and those of more remote utility, it would not be necessary, nor perhaps possible, to preserve between these two classes an exact line of demarcation, the distinctions of theory and practice are equally applicable to all. Considered as matter of theory every art or science, even when its practical utility is most immediate and incontestable, appears to retire into the division of arts and sciences of remote utility. It is thus that medicine and legislation, arts so truly practical, considered under a particular aspect, appear equally remote in respect to their utility with the speculative sciences of logic and mathematics.

On the other hand, there is a branch of science for which, at first, a place would scarcely have been found among the arts and sciences of curiosity, but which, cultivated by industrious hands, has at length presented the characters of incontestable utility. —Electricity, which, when first discovered, seemed destined only to amuse certain philosopher by the singularity of its phenomena, has at length been employed with most striking success in the service of medicine, and in the protection of our dwellings against those calamities, for which ignorant and affrighted antiquity could find no sufficient cause but the special anger of the gods.

That which government ought to do for the arts and sciences of immediate and remote utility, may be comprised in three things—1. To remove the discouragements under which they labour; 2. To favour their advancement; 3. To contribute to their diffusion.

[RR, Book III, Chapter II]