A Celebration of Women Writers

"Æsthetic Culture." by Mrs. Priscilla Baird.
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 414-415.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 414] 

ÆSTHETIC CULTURE.

By MRS. PRISCILLA BAIRD.

MRS. PRISCILLA BAIRD.
The progressive spirit of the age is certainly emphasized by the increasing and almost imperious demand for higher culture of the race. The rights of the individual and the claim of society are, that the greatest attainments within the possibilities of the human soul shall be realized fully and speedily. The highest possible culture can be compassed by nothing less than the most comprehensive, yet truly scientific, view of life as to its subjective and objective capabilities. The human organism is a miniature representation of the economy of the material universe. Diversity in unity, and harmony evolved from conflict. The glory of our world is the beautiful blending into harmonious co-operative forces that seem diverse and at times warlike. Nature without her sublime kaleidoscope would be disrobed of her matchless and endless charms, snowy peaks and flowery vales, sunshine and shadow, moaning ocean and rippling rivulet, monarch oak and tender floweret, the raging storm and the whispering breeze–all enter into the completeness of this abode of man, this theater of life's progressive drama. Even so is life itself. Life is not an automatic monatone, it is the triple voicing of three in one organism, an organic union of mind, soul and body. These distinct yet not separate factors of a unit combine to make the complete whole. There is no higher culture where aims and methods are lower than the capabilites and susceptibilities of the subject. That is not true culture that exalts one factor of man's complex nature to the abasement of another factor, the exaltation of the intellectual at the expense of the ethical, or the display of superficial accomplishments at the sacrifice of the intellectual, or the excess of external blandishments to the neglect of the æsthetic spirit, tends to the unsymmetrical and the gross. Education, the handmaid of Christianity, must gird up her loins, and arrayed in her beautiful garments penetrate the regions beyond the traditional education that limps upon the crutches of conventional and arbitrary technique of the schools. The emancipated spirit of the age cries out for comprehensiveness of scope, and harmony of methods with man's vast powers and God-like gifts; not only is enlargement of mental capabilities demanded, but a corresponding development of all the powers of a triune-nature.

The ethical element of our nature is as much a constitutional force as the intellectual, and functionally it ranks higher, its office is more influential in character, making its contributions to progress more munificent. Theories that ignore the wise and beneficent laws of our natures are downright cruelties. That is a malculture that sacrifices the beauty, strength and grace of the human form divine to the exactions of intel- [Page 415]  lectual ambition. The body is the temple and agent of the mind; without it the soul has no earthly mission. But the more than incidental factor of higher culture is the æsthetic; it is by this that refinement distinguishes itself from the crudities of uncultivated nature, even as the loveliness and fragrance of the rose asserts its difference to the wild brier bloom; it is this that hangs the diamond-bestudded drapery about the portals and columns and corridors of the temple of humanity. If there were no love in man for the beautiful in nature and in human life, the uplifting of humanity above its conditions of savagery were a hopeless prospect. What makes life more than a struggle for existence? What dignifies labor above the demands of animal nature? What inspires human enterprise to more than a conflict with hunger and cold? Is it not a response of the spirit of man to the language of the beautiful? What has made homes more than the hovel, the wigwam and the hut? Have we not in ornate architecture, in decorated drawing-rooms, in cultured music and bower-bedecked lawns a symbol of the Divine impress upon the soul? Does not all nature voice God's love of the beautiful? We shadow the Divine image in man when his æsthetic culture is neglected. It is, indeed, next to impossible to intelligently think of a pure life and high social conditions where there is no development of the latent æstheticism of the soul. If man's material surroundings awakened in him no thought but that of sensual gratifications, and inspired no effort but for aggrandizement, what were he but a savage did he see no beauty in the sparkling worlds above? If to him there were no music of the spheres, no mountain grandeur, no awe in the fathomless deep, whence could come aspirations for soul-uplifting, and what could inspire heroic contests for the freedom of thought from the bondage of animalism? In every human soul there are germs of the beautiful; they may be hidden and suppressed by unpropitious conditions. The Divine mission of culture is to evolve from lowest to highest form all that is excellent.

Forms nearly angelic have been evolved from crude and rude originals. Symphonies as sweet as Apollo's lute have been tempted from rustic lips. The spirit and genius of a Mendelssohn or a Wagner may linger pent up in some breast waiting the touch of generous circumstances, that it may break forth in harmonies divine. Somewhere in obscurity lives today one "who sees in stately trees, in frowning cliffs, in rolling clouds and in majestic rivers the symbols of that personal greatness, purity and loftiness of thought, splendor of diction, that is to enthuse multitudes, enchain senates and indelibly write his name upon his country's heart. If the æsthetic is a real force, can it be intelligently denied that the ethical element of our nature is quickened and refined by æsthetic culture? May I not the better express my thought by re-shaping my question? Can there be, is there any true culture where the æsthetic is ignored, or even neglected? He who sees no beauty in an autumnal sky as the luminous king slips behind the gilded curtains of the Occident, no charms in the morning beauty of the diamond-decked grass and flower, is he who sees no beauty in virtue, no charm in pure love, no merit in right, and no loveliness in sympathy; such a one, be he an astute logician or an accomplished linguist, an expert mathematician, a skillful chemist, a learned jurist, a Napoleon of finance, or a prince of politicians, yet void of sympathy with life as it is, has not met the demands of his nature. For true culture is the modification of intellect under the force of ethical principles, developed and refined by cultured love of the beautiful in nature and in life. My plea is for the rounded, symmetrical development of humankind into the highest forms of culture, that man may be a full expression of power and beauty.


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Mrs. Priscilla Baird was born in Shelby County, Kentucky. Her parents were Virginians, Samuel E. Davis and Harriet Milton Bell Davis. She was educated by private tutors and at Mrs. Julia A. Tivis' school "Science Hill," in Shelbyville, Ky. Mrs. Baird first married Jesse K. Baird, of Louisville, Ky. Her second husband is Mr. H. T. Baird, of Louisiana, Mo. For thirty years she has been interested in higher education, having been connected with various schools of the Baptist Church, and with public high schools. In religious faith she is a Christian and is a member of the Baptist Church. Her ancestors were with Roger Williams. Her postoffice address is Clinton, Mo.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom