The Beautiful is one of the immortal themes. It cannot die; it grows not old. On the same day with the sun was beauty born, and its life runs parallel with the path of that great beautifier. As a subject for exposition, it is at once easy and difficult: easy, from the affluence of its resources; difficult, from the exactions which its own spirit makes in the use of them.
Beauty—what is it? To answer this question were to solve more than one problem. Shall we attempt what has been so often attempted and never fully achieved? Such attempts are profitable. What though we reach not the very heart of the mystery, we may get near enough to hearken to the throb of its power, and our minds will be nerved by the approximation.
To him who has the gift to feel its presence, nature teems with beauty. Whithersoever the senses reach, whenever emotion kindles, wherever the mind seeks food for its finer appetites, there is beauty. It expects us at the dawn; it is about us, “an hourly neighbor,” through the day; at night it looks down on us from star-peopled immensities. Glittering on green lawns, glowing in sunsets, flashing through storm-clouds, gilding our wakeful hours, irradiating sleep, it is ever around, within us, eager to sweeten our labors, to purify our thoughts. Nature is a vast treasure-house of beauty, whereof the key is in the human heart.
But many are the hearts that have never opened far enough to disclose the precious key enfolded in their depths. Whole peoples are at this moment ignorant that they live amid such wealth. As with them now, so in the remote primitive times of our own race, before history was, nature was almost speechless to man. The earth was a waste, or but a wide hunting ground or pasturage; and human life a round of petty animal circles, scarcely sweeping beyond the field of the senses; until there gradually grew up the big-eyed Greek and the deep-souled Hebrew. Then, through creative thought,—that is, thought quickened and exalted by an inward thirst for the beautiful,—one little corner of Europe became radiant, and the valley of Tempe and the wooded glens of Parnassus shone for the first time on the vision of men; for their eyes—opened from long sleep by inward stirring—were become as mirrors, and gave back the light of nature:
Came from their minds, which on the setting sun
Bestowed new splendor."
And man, heated by the throbs of his swelling heart, made gods after his own image,—forms of such life and power and harmony that the fragments of them, spared by time, are still guarded as faultless models of manhood. And the vales and groves and streams were peopled with beauteous shapes. And the high places were crowned with temples which, in their majestic purity, look as though they had been