The Theory of the Leisure Class
by Thorstein Veblen

Chapter Six
Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Pecuniary Canons of Taste
     The caution has already been repeated more than once, that
while the regulating norm of consumption is in large part the
requirement of conspicuous waste, it must not be understood that
the motive on which the consumer acts in any given case is this
principle in its bald, unsophisticated form. Ordinarily his
motive is a wish to conform to established usage, to avoid
unfavorable notice and comment, to live up to the accepted canons
of decency in the kind, amount, and grade of goods consumed, as
well as in the decorous employment of his time and effort. In the
common run of cases this sense of prescriptive usage is present
in the motives of the consumer and exerts a direct constraining
force, especially as regards consumption carried on under the
eyes of observers. But a considerable element of prescriptive
expensiveness is observable also in consumption that does not in
any appreciable degree become known to outsiders -- as, for
instance, articles of underclothing, some articles of food,
kitchen utensils, and other household apparatus designed for
service rather than for evidence. In all such useful articles a
close scrutiny will discover certain features which add to the
cost and enhance the commercial value of the goods in question,
but do not proportionately increase the serviceability of these
articles for the material purposes which alone they ostensibly
are designed to serve.
     Under the selective surveillance of the law of conspicuous
waste there grows up a code of accredited canons of consumption,
the effect of which is to hold the consumer up to a standard of
expensiveness and wastefulness in his consumption of goods and in
his employment of time and effort. This growth of prescriptive
usage has an immediate effect upon economic life, but it has also
an indirect and remoter effect upon conduct in other respects as
well. Habits of thought with respect to the expression of life in
any given direction unavoidably affect the habitual view of what
is good and right in life in other directions also. In the
organic complex of habits of thought which make up the substance
of an individual's conscious life the economic interest does not
lie isolated and distinct from all other interests. Something,
for instance, has already been said of its relation to the canons
of reputability.
     The principle of conspicuous waste guides the formation of
habits of thought as to what is honest and reputable in life and
in commodities. In so doing, this principle will traverse other
norms of conduct which do not primarily have to do with the code
of pecuniary honor, but which have, directly or incidentally, an
economic significance of some magnitude. So the canon of
honorific waste may, immediately or remotely, influence the sense
of duty, the sense of beauty, the sense of utility, the sense of
devotional or ritualistic fitness, and the scientific sense of
     It is scarcely necessary to go into a discussion here of the
particular points at which, or the particular manner in which,
the canon of honorific expenditure habitually traverses the
canons of moral conduct. The matter is one which has received
large attention and illustration at the hands of those whose
office it is to watch and admonish with respect to any departures
from the accepted code of morals. In modern communities, where
the dominant economic and legal feature of the community's life
is the institution of private property, one of the salient
features of the code of morals is the sacredness of property.
There needs no insistence or illustration to gain assent to the
proposition that the habit of holding private property inviolate
is traversed by the other habit of seeking wealth for the sake of
the good repute to be gained through its conspicuous consumption.
Most offenses against property, especially offenses of an
appreciable magnitude, come under this head. It is also a matter
of common notoriety and byword that in offenses which result in a
large accession of property to the offender he does not
ordinarily incur the extreme penalty or the extreme obloquy with
which his offenses would he visited on the ground of the naive
moral code alone. The thief or swindler who has gained great
wealth by his delinquency has a better chance than the small
thief of escaping the rigorous penalty of the law and some good
repute accrues to him from his increased wealth and from his
spending the irregularly acquired possessions in a seemly manner.
A well-bred expenditure of his booty especially appeals with
great effect to persons of a cultivated sense of the proprieties,
and goes far to mitigate the sense of moral turpitude with which
his dereliction is viewed by them. It may be noted also -- and it
is more immediately to the point -- that we are all inclined to
condone an offense against property in the case of a man whose
motive is the worthy one of providing the means of a "decent"
manner of life for his wife and children. If it is added that the
wife has been "nurtured in the lap of luxury," that is accepted
as an additional extenuating circumstance. That is to say, we are
prone to condone such an offense where its aim is the honorific
one of enabling the offender's wife to perform for him such an
amount of vicarious consumption of time and substance as is
demanded by the standard of pecuniary decency. In such a case the
habit of approving the accustomed degree of conspicuous waste
traverses the habit of deprecating violations of ownership, to
the extent even of sometimes leaving the award of praise or blame
uncertain. This is peculiarly true where the dereliction involves
an appreciable predatory or piratical element.
     This topic need scarcely be pursued further here; but the
remark may not be out of place that all that considerable body of
morals that clusters about the concept of an inviolable ownership
is itself a psychological precipitate of the traditional
meritoriousness of wealth. And it should be added that this
wealth which is held sacred is valued primarily for the sake of
the good repute to be got through its conspicuous consumption.
     The bearing of pecuniary decency upon the scientific spirit
or the quest of knowledge will he taken up in some detail in a
separate chapter. Also as regards the sense of devout or ritual
merit and adequacy in this connection, little need be said in
this place. That topic will also come up incidentally in a later
chapter. Still, this usage of honorific expenditure has much to
say in shaping popular tastes as to what is right and meritorious
in sacred matters, and the bearing of the principle of
conspicuous waste upon some of the commonplace devout observances
and conceits may therefore be pointed out.
     Obviously, the canon of conspicuous waste is accountable for
a great portion of what may be called devout consumption; as,
e.g., the consumption of sacred edifices, vestments, and other
goods of the same class. Even in those modern cults to whose
divinities is imputed a predilection for temples not built with
hands, the sacred buildings and the other properties of the cult
are constructed and decorated with some view to a reputable
degree of wasteful expenditure. And it needs but little either of
observation or introspection -- and either will serve the turn --
to assure us that the expensive splendor of the house of worship
has an appreciable uplifting and mellowing effect upon the
worshipper's frame of mind. It will serve to enforce the same
fact if we reflect upon the sense of abject shamefulness with
which any evidence of indigence or squalor about the sacred place
affects all beholders. The accessories of any devout observance
should be pecuniarily above reproach. This requirement is
imperative, whatever latitude may be allowed with regard to these
accessories in point of aesthetic or other serviceability.
     It may also be in place to notice that in all communities,
especially in neighborhoods where the standard of pecuniary
decency for dwellings is not high, the local sanctuary is more
ornate, more conspicuously wasteful in its architecture and
decoration, than the dwelling houses of the congregation. This is
true of nearly all denominations and cults, whether Christian or
Pagan, but it is true in a peculiar degree of the older and
maturer cults. At the same time the sanctuary commonly
contributes little if anything to the physical comfort of the
members. Indeed, the sacred structure not only serves the
physical well-being of the members to but a slight extent, as
compared with their humbler dwelling-houses; but it is felt by
all men that a right and enlightened sense of the true, the
beautiful, and the good demands that in all expenditure on the
sanctuary anything that might serve the comfort of the worshipper
should be conspicuously absent. If any element of comfort is
admitted in the fittings of the sanctuary, it should be at least
scrupulously screened and masked under an ostensible austerity.
In the most reputable latter-day houses of worship, where no
expense is spared, the principle of austerity is carried to the
length of making the fittings of the place a means of mortifying
the flesh, especially in appearance. There are few persons of
delicate tastes, in the matter of devout consumption to whom this
austerely wasteful discomfort does not appeal as intrinsically
right and good. Devout consumption is of the nature of vicarious
consumption. This canon of devout austerity is based on the
pecuniary reputability of conspicuously wasteful consumption,
backed by the principle that vicarious consumption should
conspicuously not conduce to the comfort of the vicarious
     The sanctuary and its fittings have something of this
austerity in all the cults in which the saint or divinity to whom
the sanctuary pertains is not conceived to be present and make
personal use of the property for the gratification of luxurious
tastes imputed to him. The character of the sacred paraphernalia
is somewhat different in this respect in those cults where the
habits of life imputed to the divinity more nearly approach those
of an earthly patriarchal potentate -- where he is conceived to
make use of these consumable goods in person. In the latter case
the sanctuary and its fittings take on more of the fashion given
to goods destined for the conspicuous consumption of a temporal
master or owner. On the other hand, where the sacred apparatus is
simply employed in the divinity's service, that is to say, where
it is consumed vicariously on his account by his servants, there
the sacred properties take the character suited to goods that are
destined for vicarious consumption only.
     In the latter case the sanctuary and the sacred apparatus
are so contrived as not to enhance the comfort or fullness of
life of the vicarious consumer, or at any rate not to convey the
impression that the end of their consumption is the consumer's
comfort. For the end of vicarious consumption is to enhance, not
the fullness of life of the consumer, but the pecuniary repute of
the master for whose behoof the consumption takes place.
Therefore priestly vestments are notoriously expensive, ornate,
and inconvenient; and in the cults where the priestly servitor of
the divinity is not conceived to serve him in the capacity of
consort, they are of an austere, comfortless fashion. And such it
is felt that they should be.
     It is not only in establishing a devout standard of decent
expensiveness that the principle of waste invades the domain of
the canons of ritual serviceability. It touches the ways as well
as the means, and draws on vicarious leisure as well as on
vicarious consumption. Priestly demeanor at its best is aloof,
leisurely, perfunctory, and uncontaminated with suggestions of
sensuOus pleasure. This holds true, in different degrees of
course, for the different cults and denominations; but in the
priestly life of all anthropomorphic cults the marks of a
vicarious consumption of time are visible.
     The same pervading canon of vicarious leisure is also
visibly present in the exterior details of devout observances and
need only be pointed out in order to become obvious to all
beholders. All ritual has a notable tendency to reduce itself to
a rehearsal of formulas. This development of formula is most
noticeable in the maturer cults, which have at the same time a
more austere, ornate, and severe priestly life and garb; but it
is perceptible also in the forms and methods of worship of the
newer and fresher sects, whose tastes in respect of priests,
vestments, and sanctuaries are less exacting. The rehearsal of
the service (the term "service" carries a suggestion significant
for the point in question) grows more perfunctory as the cult
gains in age and consistency, and this perfunctoriness of the
rehearsal is very pleasing to the correct devout taste. And with
a good reason, for the fact of its being perfunctory goes to say
pointedly that the master for whom it is performed is exalted
above the vulgar need of actually proficuous service on the part
of his servants. They are unprofitable servants, and there is an
honorific implication for their master in their remaining
unprofitable. It is needless to point out the close analogy at
this point between the priestly office and the office of the
footman. It is pleasing to our sense of what is fitting in these
matters, in either case, to recognize in the obvious
perfunctoriness of the service that it is a pro forma execution
only. There should be no show of agility or of dexterous
manipulation in the execution of the priestly office, such as
might suggest a capacity for turning off the work.
     In all this there is of course an obvious implication as to
the temperament, tastes, propensities, and habits of life imputed
to the divinity by worshippers who live under the tradition of
these pecuniary canons of reputability. Through its pervading
men's habits of thought, the principle of conspicuous waste has
colored the worshippers' notions of the divinity and of the
relation in which the human subject stands to him. It is of
course in the more naive cults that this suffusion of pecuniary
beauty is most patent, but it is visible throughout. All peoples,
at whatever stage of culture or degree of enlightenment, are fain
to eke out a sensibly scant degree of authentic formation
regarding the personality and habitual surroundings of their
divinities. In so calling in the aid of fancy to enrich and fill
in their picture of the divinity's presence and manner of life
they habitually impute to him such traits as go to make up their
ideal of a worthy man. And in seeking communion with the divinity
the ways and means of approach are assimilated as nearly as may
be to the divine ideal that is in men's minds at the time. It is
felt that the divine presence is entered with the best grace, and
with the best effect, according to certain accepted methods and
with the accompaniment of certain material circumstances which in
popular apprehension are peculiarly consonant with the divine
nature. This popularly accepted ideal of the bearing and
paraphernalia adequate to such occasions of communion is, of
course, to a good extent shaped by the popular apprehension of
what is intrinsically worthy and beautiful in human carriage and
surroundings on all occasions of dignified intercourse. It would
on this account be misleading to attempt an analysis of devout
demeanor by referring all evidences of the presence of a
pecuniary standard of reputability back directly and baldly to
the underlying norm of pecuniary emulation. So it would also be
misleading to ascribe to the divinity, as popularly conceived, a
jealous regard for his pecuniary standing and a habit of avoiding
and condemning squalid situations and surroundings simply because
they are under grade in the pecuniary respect.
     And still, after all allowance has been made, it appears
that the canons of pecuniary reputability do, directly or
indirectly, materially affect our notions of the attributes of
divinity, as well as our notions of what are the fit and adequate
manner and circumstances of divine communion. It is felt that the
divinity must be of a peculiarly serene and leisurely habit of
life. And whenever his local habitation is pictured in poetic
imagery, for edification or in appeal to the devout fancy, the
devout word-painter, as a matter of course, brings out before his
auditors' imagination a throne with a profusion of the insignia
of opulence and power, and surrounded by a great number of
servitors. In the common run of such presentations of the
celestial abodes, the office of this corps of servants is a
vicarious leisure, their time and efforts being in great measure
taken up with an industrially unproductive rehearsal of the
meritorious characteristics and exploits of the divinity; while
the background of the presentation is filled with the shimmer of
the precious metals and of the more expensive varieties of
precious stones. It is only in the crasser expressions of devout
fancy that this intrusion of pecuniary canons into the devout
ideals reaches such an extreme. An extreme case occurs in the
devout imagery of the Negro population of the South. Their
word-painters are unable to descend to anything cheaper than
gold; so that in this case the insistence on pecuniary beauty
gives a startling effect in yellow -- such as would be unbearable
to a soberer taste. Still, there is probably no cult in which
ideals of pecuniary merit have not been called in to supplement
the ideals of ceremonial adequacy that guide men's conception of
what is right in the matter of sacred apparatus.
     Similarly it is felt -- and the sentiment is acted upon --
that the priestly servitors of the divinity should not engage in
industrially productive work; that work of any kind -- any
employment which is of tangible human use -- must not be carried
on in the divine presence, or within the precincts of the
sanctuary; that whoever comes into the presence should come
cleansed of all profane industrial features in his apparel or
person, and should come clad in garments of more than everyday
expensiveness; that on holidays set apart in honor of or for
communion with the divinity no work that is of human use should
be performed by any one. Even the remoter, lay dependents should
render a vicarious leisure to the extent of one day in seven.
     In all these deliverances of men's uninstructed sense of
what is fit and proper in devout observance and in the relations
of the divinity, the effectual presence of the canons of
pecuniary reputability is obvious enough, whether these canons
have had their effect on the devout judgment in this respect
immediately or at the second remove.
     These canons of reputability have had a similar, but more
far-reaching and more specifically determinable, effect upon the
popular sense of beauty or serviceability in consumable goods.
The requirements of pecuniary decency have, to a very appreciable
extent, influenced the sense of beauty and of utility in articles
of use or beauty. Articles are to an extent preferred for use on
account of their being conspicuously wasteful; they are felt to
be serviceable somewhat in proportion as they are wasteful and
ill adapted to their ostensible use.
     The utility of articles valued for their beauty depends
closely upon the expensiveness of the articles. A homely
illustration will bring out this dependence. A hand-wrought
silver spoon, of a commercial value of some ten to twenty
dollars, is not ordinarily more serviceable -- in the first sense
of the word -- than a machine-made spoon of the same material. It
may not even be more serviceable than a machine-made spoon of
some "base" metal, such as aluminum, the value of which may be no
more than some ten to twenty cents. The former of the two
utensils is, in fact, commonly a less effective contrivance for
its ostensible purpose than the latter. The objection is of
course ready to hand that, in taking this view of the matter, one
of the chief uses, if not the chief use, of the costlier spoon is
ignored; the hand-wrought spoon gratifies our taste, our sense of
the beautiful, while that made by machinery out of the base metal
has no useful office beyond a brute efficiency. The facts are no
doubt as the objection states them, but it will be evident on
reJection that the objection is after all more plausible than
conclusive. It appears (1) that while the different materials of
which the two spoons are made each possesses beauty and
serviceability for the purpose for which it is used, the material
of the hand-wrought spoon is some one hundred times more valuable
than the baser metal, without very greatly excelling the latter
in intrinsic beauty of grain or color, and without being in any
appreciable degree superior in point of mechanical
serviceability; (2) if a close inspection should show that the
supposed hand-wrought spoon were in reality only a very clever
citation of hand-wrought goods, but an imitation so cleverly
wrought as to give the same impression of line and surface to any
but a minute examination by a trained eye, the utility of the
article, including the gratification which the user derives from
its contemplation as an object of beauty, would immediately
decline by some eighty or ninety per cent, or even more; (3) if
the two spoons are, to a fairly close observer, so nearly
identical in appearance that the lighter weight of the spurious
article alone betrays it, this identity of form and color will
scarcely add to the value of the machine-made spoon, nor
appreciably enhance the gratification of the user's "sense of
beauty" in contemplating it, so long as the cheaper spoon is not
a novelty, ad so long as it can be procured at a nominal cost.
     The case of the spoons is typical. The superior
gratification derived from the use and contemplation of costly
and supposedly beautiful products is, commonly, in great measure
a gratification of our sense of costliness masquerading under the
name of beauty. Our higher appreciation of the superior article
is an appreciation of its superior honorific character, much more
frequently than it is an unsophisticated appreciation of its
beauty. The requirement of conspicuous wastefulness is not
commonly present, consciously, in our canons of taste, but it is
none the less present as a constraining norm selectively shaping
and sustaining our sense of what is beautiful, and guiding our
discrimination with respect to what may legitimately be approved
as beautiful and what may not.
     It is at this point, where the beautiful and the honorific
meet and blend, that a discrimination between serviceability and
wastefulness is most difficult in any concrete case. It
frequently happens that an article which serves the honorific
purpose of conspicuous waste is at the same time a beautiful
object; and the same application of labor to which it owes its
utility for the former purpose may, and often does, give beauty
of form and color to the article. The question is further
complicated by the fact that many objects, as, for instance, the
precious stones and the metals and some other materials used for
adornment and decoration, owe their utility as items of
conspicuous waste to an antecedent utility as objects of beauty.
Gold, for instance, has a high degree of sensuous beauty very
many if not most of the highly prized works of art are
intrinsically beautiful, though often with material
qualification; the like is true of some stuffs used for clothing,
of some landscapes, and of many other things in less degree.
Except for this intrinsic beauty which they possess, these
objects would scarcely have been coveted as they are, or have
become monopolized objects of pride to their possessors and
users. But the utility of these things to the possessor is
commonly due less to their intrinsic beauty than to the honor
which their possession and consumption confers, or to the obloquy
which it wards off.
     Apart from their serviceability in other respects, these
objects are beautiful and have a utility as such; they are
valuable on this account if they can be appropriated or
monopolized; they are, therefore, coveted as valuable
possessions, and their exclusive enjoyment gratifies the
possessor's sense of pecuniary superiority at the same time that
their contemplation gratifies his sense of beauty. But their
beauty, in the naive sense of the word, is the occasion rather
than the ground of their monopolization or of their commercial
value. "Great as is the sensuous beauty of gems, their rarity and
price adds an expression of distinction to them, which they would
never have if they were cheap." There is, indeed, in the common
run of cases under this head, relatively little incentive to the
exclusive possession and use of these beautiful things, except on
the ground of their honorific character as items of conspicuous
waste. Most objects of this general class, with the partial
exception of articles of personal adornment, would serve all
other purposes than the honorific one equally well, whether owned
by the person viewing them or not; and even as regards personal
ornaments it is to be added that their chief purpose is to lend
clat to the person of their wearer (or owner) by comparison
with other persons who are compelled to do without. The aesthetic
serviceability of objects of beauty is not greatly nor
universally heightened by possession.
     The generalization for which the discussion so far affords
ground is that any valuable object in order to appeal to our
sense of beauty must conform to the requirements of beauty and of
expensiveness both. But this is not all. Beyond this the canon of
expensiveness also affects our tastes in such a way as to
inextricably blend the marks of expensiveness, in our
appreciation, with the beautiful features of the object, and to
subsume the resultant effect under the head of an appreciation of
beauty simply. The marks of expensiveness come to be accepted as
beautiful features of the expensive articles. They are pleasing
as being marks of honorific costliness, and the pleasure which
they afford on this score blends with that afforded by the
beautiful form and color of the object; so that we often declare
that an article of apparel, for instance, is "perfectly lovely,"
when pretty much all that an analysis of the aesthetic value of
the article would leave ground for is the declaration that it is
pecuniarily honorific.
     This blending and confusion of the elements of expensiveness
and of beauty is, perhaps, best exemplified in articles of dress
and of household furniture. The code of reputability in matters
of dress decides what shapes, colors, materials, and general
effects in human apparel are for the time to be accepted as
suitable; and departures from the code are offensive to our
taste, supposedly as being departures from aesthetic truth. The
approval with which we look upon fashionable attire is by no
means to be accounted pure make-believe. We readily, and for the
most part with utter sincerity, find those things pleasing that
are in vogue. Shaggy dress-stuffs and pronounced color effects,
for instance, offend us at times when the vogue is goods of a
high, glossy finish and neutral colors. A fancy bonnet of this
year's model unquestionably appeals to our sensibilities today
much more forcibly than an equally fancy bonnet of the model of
last year; although when viewed in the perspective of a quarter
of a century, it would, I apprehend, be a matter of the utmost
difficulty to award the palm for intrinsic beauty to the one
rather than to the other of these structures. So, again, it may
be remarked that, considered simply in their physical
juxtaposition with the human form, the high gloss of a
gentleman's hat or of a patent-leather shoe has no more of
intrinsic beauty than a similiarly high gloss on a threadbare
sleeve; and yet there is no question but that all well-bred
people (in the Occidental civilized communities) instinctively
and unaffectedly cleave to the one as a phenomenon of great
beauty, and eschew the other as offensive to every sense to which
it can appeal. It is extremely doubtful if any one could be
induced to wear such a contrivance as the high hat of civilized
society, except for some urgent reason based on other than
aesthetic grounds.
     By further habituation to an appreciative perception of the
marks of expensiveness in goods, and by habitually identifying
beauty with reputability, it comes about that a beautiful article
which is not expensive is accounted not beautiful. In this way it
has happened, for instance, that some beautiful flowers pass
conventionally for offensive weeds; others that can be cultivated
with relative ease are accepted and admired by the lower middle
class, who can afford no more expensive luxuries of this kind;
but these varieties are rejected as vulgar by those people who
are better able to pay for expensive flowers and who are educated
to a higher schedule of pecuniary beauty in the florist's
products; while still other flowers, of no greater intrinsic
beauty than these, are cultivated at great cost and call out much
admiration from flower-lovers whose tastes have been matured
under the critical guidance of a polite environment.
     The same variation in matters of taste, from one class of
society to another, is visible also as regards many other kinds
of consumable goods, as, for example, is the case with furniture,
houses, parks, and gardens. This diversity of views as to what is
beautiful in these various classes of goods is not a diversity of
the norm according to which the unsophisticated sense of the
beautiful works. It is not a constitutional difference of
endowments in the aesthetic respect, but rather a difference in
the code of reputability which specifies what objects properly
lie within the scope of honorific consumption for the class to
which the critic belongs. It is a difference in the traditions of
propriety with respect to the kinds of things which may, without
derogation to the consumer, be consumed under the head of objects
of taste and art. With a certain allowance for variations to be
accounted for on other grounds, these traditions are determined,
more or less rigidly, by the pecuniary plane of life of the
     Everyday life affords many curious illustrations of the way
in which the code of pecuniary beauty in articles of use varies
from class to class, as well as of the way in which the
conventional sense of beauty departs in its deliverances from the
sense untutored by the requirements of pecuniary repute. Such a
fact is the lawn, or the close-cropped yard or park, which
appeals so unaffectedly to the taste of the Western peoples. It
appears especially to appeal to the tastes of the well-to-do
classes in those communities in which the dolicho-blond element
predominates in an appreciable degree. The lawn unquestionably
has an element of sensuous beauty, simply as an object of
apperception, and as such no doubt it appeals pretty directly to
the eye of nearly all races and all classes; but it is, perhaps,
more unquestionably beautiful to the eye of the dolicho-blond
than to most other varieties of men. This higher appreciation of
a stretch of greensward in this ethnic element than in the other
elements of the population, goes along with certain other
features of the dolicho-blond temperament that indicate that this
racial element had once been for a long time a pastoral people
inhabiting a region with a humid climate. The close-cropped lawn
is beautiful in the eyes of a people whose inherited bent it is
to readily find pleasure in contemplating a well-preserved
pasture or grazing land.
     For the aesthetic purpose the lawn is a cow pasture; and in
some cases today -- where the expensiveness of the attendant
circumstances bars out any imputation of thrift -- the idyl of
the dolicho-blond is rehabilitated in the introduction of a cow
into a lawn or private ground. In such cases the cow made use of
is commonly of an expensive breed. The vulgar suggestion of
thrift, which is nearly inseparable from the cow, is a standing
objection to the decorative use of this animal. So that in all
cases, except where luxurious surroundings negate this
suggestion, the use of the cow as an object of taste must be
avoided. Where the predilection for some grazing animal to fill
out the suggestion of the pasture is too strong to be suppressed,
the cow's place is often given to some more or less inadequate
substitute, such as deer, antelopes, or some such exotic beast.
These substitutes, although less beautiful to the pastoral eye of
Western man than the cow, are in such cases preferred because of
their superior expensiveness or futility, and their consequent
repute. They are not vulgarly lucrative either in fact or in
     Public parks of course fall in the same category with the
lawn; they too, at their best, are imitations of the pasture.
Such a park is of course best kept by grazing, and the cattle on
the grass are themselves no mean addition to the beauty of the
thing, as need scarcely be insisted on with anyone who has once
seen a well-kept pasture. But it is worth noting, as an
expression of the pecuniary element in popular taste, that such a
method of keeping public grounds is seldom resorted to. The best
that is done by skilled workmen under the supervision of a
trained keeper is a more or less close imitation of a pasture,
but the result invariably falls somewhat short of the artistic
effect of grazing. But to the average popular apprehension a herd
of cattle so pointedly suggests thrift and usefulness that their
presence in the public pleasure ground would be intolerably
cheap. This method of keeping grounds is comparatively
inexpensive, therefore it is indecorous.
     Of the same general bearing is another feature of public
grounds. There is a studious exhibition of expensiveness coupled
with a make-believe of simplicity and crude serviceability.
Private grounds also show the same physiognomy wherever they are
in the management or ownership of persons whose tastes have been
formed under middle-class habits of life or under the upper-class
traditions of no later a date than the childhood of the
generation that is now passing. Grounds which conform to the
instructed tastes of the latter-day upper class do not show these
features in so marked a degree. The reason for this difference in
tastes between the past and the incoming generation of the
well-bred lies in the changing economic situation. A similar
difference is perceptible in other respects, as well as in the
accepted ideals of pleasure grounds. In this country as in most
others, until the last half century but a very small proportion
of the population were possessed of such wealth as would exempt
them from thrift. Owing to imperfect means of communication, this
small fraction were scattered and out of effective touch with one
another. There was therefore no basis for a growth of taste in
disregard of expensiveness. The revolt of the well-bred taste
against vulgar thrift was unchecked. Wherever the unsophisticated
sense of beauty might show itself sporadically in an approval of
inexpensive or thrifty surroundings, it would lack the "social
confirmation" which nothing but a considerable body of
like-minded people can give. There was, therefore, no effective
upper-class opinion that would overlook evidences of possible
inexpensiveness in the management of grounds; and there was
consequently no appreciable divergence between the leisure-class
and the lower middle-class ideal in the physiognomy of pleasure
grounds. Both classes equally constructed their ideals with the
fear of pecuniary disrepute before their eyes.
     Today a divergence in ideals is beginning to be apparent.
The portion of the leisure class that has been consistently
exempt from work and from pecuniary cares for a generation or
more is now large enough to form and sustain opinion in matters
of taste. increased mobility of the members has also added to the
facility with which a "social confirmation" can be attained
within the class. Within this select class the exemption from
thrift is a matter so commonplace as to have lost much of its
utility as a basis of pecuniary decency. Therefore the latter-day
upper-class canons of taste do not so consistently insist on an
unremitting demonstration of expensiveness and a strict exclusion
of the appearance of thrift. So, a predilection for the rustic
and the "natural" in parks and grounds makes its appearance on
these higher social and intellectual levels. This predilection is
in large part an outcropping of the instinct of workmanship; and
it works out its results with varying degrees of consistency. It
is seldom altogether unaffected, and at times it shades off into
something not widely different from that make-believe of
rusticity which has been referred to above.
     A weakness for crudely serviceable contrivances that
pointedly suggest immediate and wasteless use is present even in
the middle-class tastes; but it is there kept well in hand under
the unbroken dominance of the canon of reputable futility.
Consequently it works out in a variety of ways and means for
shamming serviceability -- in such contrivances as rustic fences,
bridges, bowers, pavilions, and the like decorative features. An
expression of this affectation of serviceability, at what is
perhaps its widest divergence from the first promptings of the
sense of economic beauty, is afforded by the cast-iron rustic
fence and trellis or by a circuitous drive laid across level
     The select leisure class has outgrown the use of these
pseudo-serviceable variants of pecuniary beauty, at least at some
points. But the taste of the more recent accessions to the
leisure class proper and of the middle and lower classes still
requires a pecuniary beauty to supplement the aesthetic beauty,
even in those objects which are primarily admired for the beauty
that belongs to them as natural growths.
     The popular taste in these matters is to be seen in the
prevalent high appreciation of topiary work and of the
conventional flower-beds of public grounds. Perhaps as happy an
illustration as may be had of this dominance of pecuniary beauty
over aesthetic beauty in middle-class tastes is seen in the
reconstruction of the grounds lately occupied by the Columbian
Exposition. The evidence goes to show that the requirement of
reputable expensiveness is still present in good vigor even where
all ostensibly lavish display is avoided. The artistic effects
actually wrought in this work of reconstruction diverge somewhat
widely from the effect to which the same ground would have lent
itself in hands not guided by pecuniary canons of taste. And even
the better class of the city's population view the progress of
the work with an unreserved approval which suggests that there is
in this case little if any discrepancy between the tastes of the
upper and the lower or middle classes of the city. The sense of
beauty in the population of this representative city of the
advanced pecuniary culture is very chary of any departure from
its great cultural principle of conspicuous waste.
     The love of nature, perhaps itself borrowed from a
higher-class code of taste, sometimes expresses itself in
unexpected ways under the guidance of this canon of pecuniary
beauty, and leads to results that may seem incongruous to an
unreflecting beholder. The well-accepted practice of planting
trees in the treeless areas of this country, for instance, has
been carried over as an item of honorific expenditure into the
heavily wooded areas; so that it is by no means unusual for a
village or a farmer in the wooded country to clear the land of
its native trees and immediately replant saplings of certain
introduced varieties about the farmyard or along the streets. In
this way a forest growth of oak, elm, beech, butternut, hemlock,
basswood, and birch is cleared off to give room for saplings of
soft maple, cottonwood, and brittle willow. It is felt that the
inexpensiveness of leaving the forest trees standing would
derogate from the dignity that should invest an article which is
intended to serve a decorative and honorific end.
     The like pervading guidance of taste by pecuniary repute is
traceable in the prevalent standards of beauty in animals. The
part played by this canon of taste in assigning her place in the
popular aesthetic scale to the cow has already been spokes of.
Something to the same effect is true of the other domestic
animals, so far as they are in an appreciable degree industrially
useful to the community -- as, for instance, barnyard fowl, hogs,
cattle, sheep, goats, draught-horses. They are of the nature of
productive goods, and serve a useful, often a lucrative end;
therefore beauty is not readily imputed to them. The case is
different with those domestic animals which ordinarily serve no
industrial end; such as pigeons, parrots and other cage-birds,
cats, dogs, and fast horses. These commonly are items of
conspicuous consumption, and are therefore honorific in their
nature and may legitimately be accounted beautiful. This class of
animals are conventionally admired by the body of the upper
classes, while the pecuniarily lower classes -- and that select
minority of the leisure class among whom the rigorous canon that
abjures thrift is in a measure obsolescent -- find beauty in one
class of animals as in another, without drawing a hard and fast
line of pecuniary demarcation between the beautiful and the ugly.
     In the case of those domestic animals which are honorific
and are reputed beautiful, there is a subsidiary basis of merit
that should be spokes of. Apart from the birds which belong in
the honorific class of domestic animals, and which owe their
place in this class to their non-lucrative character alone, the
animals which merit particular attention are cats, dogs, and fast
horses. The cat is less reputable than the other two just named,
because she is less wasteful; she may eves serve a useful end. At
the same time the cat's temperament does not fit her for the
honorific purpose. She lives with man on terms of equality, knows
nothing of that relation of status which is the ancient basis of
all distinctions of worth, honor, and repute, and she does not
lend herself with facility to an invidious comparison between her
owner and his neighbors. The exception to this last rule occurs
in the case of such scarce and fanciful products as the Angora
cat, which have some slight honorific value on the ground of
expensiveness, and have, therefore, some special claim to beauty
on pecuniary grounds.
     The dog has advantages in the way of uselessness as well as
in special gifts of temperament. He is often spoken of, in an
eminent sense, as the friend of man, and his intelligence and
fidelity are praised. The meaning of this is that the dog is
man's servant and that he has the gift of an unquestioning
subservience and a slave's quickness in guessing his master's
mood. Coupled with these traits, which fit him well for the
relation of status -- and which must for the present purpose be
set down as serviceable traits -- the dog has some
characteristics which are of a more equivocal aesthetic value. He
is the filthiest of the domestic animals in his person and the
nastiest in his habits. For this he makes up is a servile,
fawning attitude towards his master, and a readiness to inflict
damage and discomfort on all else. The dog, then, commends
himself to our favor by affording play to our propensity for
mastery, and as he is also an item of expense, and commonly
serves no industrial purpose, he holds a well-assured place in
men's regard as a thing of good repute. The dog is at the same
time associated in our imagination with the chase -- a
meritorious employment and an expression of the honorable
predatory impulse. Standing on this vantage ground, whatever
beauty of form and motion and whatever commendable mental traits
he may possess are conventionally acknowledged and magnified. And
even those varieties of the dog which have been bred into
grotesque deformity by the dog-fancier are in good faith
accounted beautiful by many. These varieties of dogs -- and the
like is true of other fancy-bred animals -- are rated and graded
in aesthetic value somewhat in proportion to the degree of
grotesqueness and instability of the particular fashion which the
deformity takes in the given case. For the purpose in hand, this
differential utility on the ground of grotesqueness and
instability of structure is reducible to terms of a greater
scarcity and consequent expense. The commercial value of canine
monstrosities, such as the prevailing styles of pet dogs both for
men's and women's use, rests on their high cost of production,
and their value to their owners lies chiefly in their utility as
items of conspicuous consumption. In directly, through reflection
Upon their honorific expensiveness, a social worth is imputed to
them; and so, by an easy substitution of words and ideas, they
come to be admired and reputed beautiful. Since any attention
bestowed upon these animals is in no sense gainful or useful, it
is also reputable; and since the habit of giving them attention
is consequently not deprecated, it may grow into an habitual
attachment of great tenacity and of a most benevolent character.
So that in the affection bestowed on pet animals the canon of
expensiveness is present more or less remotely as a norm which
guides and shapes the sentiment and the selection of its object.
The like is true, as will be noticed presently, with respect to
affection for persons also; although the manner in which the norm
acts in that case is somewhat different.
     The case of the fast horse is much like that of the dog. He
is on the whole expensive, or wasteful and useless -- for the
industrial purpose. What productive use he may possess, in the
way of enhancing the well-being of the community or making the
way of life easier for men, takes the form of exhibitions of
force and facility of motion that gratify the popular aesthetic
sense. This is of course a substantial serviceability. The horse
is not endowed with the spiritual aptitude for servile dependence
in the same measure as the dog; but he ministers effectually to
his master's impulse to convert the "animate" forces of the
environment to his own use and discretion and so express his own
dominating individuality through them. The fast horse is at least
potentially a race-horse, of high or low degree; and it is as
such that he is peculiarly serviceable to his owner. The utility
of the fast horse lies largely in his efficiency as a means of
emulation; it gratifies the owner's sense of aggression and
dominance to have his own horse outstrip his neighbor's. This use
being not lucrative, but on the whole pretty consistently
wasteful, and quite conspicuously so, it is honorific, and
therefore gives the fast horse a strong presumptive position of
reputability. Beyond this, the race-horse proper has also a
similarly non-industrial but honorific use as a gambling
     The fast horse, then, is aesthetically fortunate, in that
the canon of pecuniary good repute legitimates a free
appreciation of whatever beauty or serviceability he may possess.
His pretensions have the countenance of the principle of
conspicuous waste and the backing of the predatory aptitude for
dominance and emulation. The horse is, moreover, a beautiful
animal, although the race-horse is so in no peculiar degree to
the uninstructed taste of those persons who belong neither in the
class of race-horse fanciers nor in the class whose sense of
beauty is held in abeyance by the moral constraint of the horse
fancier's award. To this untutored taste the most beautiful horse
seems to be a form which has suffered less radical alteration
than the race-horse under the breeder's selective development of
the animal. Still, when a writer or speaker -- especially of
those whose eloquence is most consistently commonplace wants an
illustration of animal grace and serviceability, for rhetorical
use, he habitually turns to the horse; and he commonly makes it
plain before he is done that what he has in mind is the
     It should be noted that in the graduated appreciation of
varieties of horses and of dogs, such as one meets with among
people of even moderately cultivated tastes in these matters,
there is also discernible another and more direct line of
influence of the leisure-class canons of reputability. In this
country, for instance, leisure-class tastes are to some extent
shaped on usages and habits which prevail, or which are
apprehended to prevail, among the leisure class of Great Britain.
In dogs this is true to a less extent than in horses. In horses,
more particularly in saddle horses -- which at their best serve
the purpose of wasteful display simply -- it will hold true in a
general way that a horse is more beautiful in proportion as he is
more English; the English leisure class being, for purposes of
reputable usage, the upper leisure class of this country, and so
the exemplar for the lower grades. This mimicry in the methods of
the apperception of beauty and in the forming of judgments of
taste need not result in a spurious, or at any rate not a
hypocritical or affected, predilection. The predilection is as
serious and as substantial an award of taste when it rests on
this basis as when it rests on any other, the difference is that
this taste is and as substantial an award of taste when it rests
on this basis as when it rests on any other; the difference is
that this taste is a taste for the reputably correct, not for the
aesthetically true.
     The mimicry, it should be said, extends further than to the
sense of beauty in horseflesh simply. It includes trappings and
horsemanship as well, so that the correct or reputably beautiful
seat or posture is also decided by English usage, as well as the
equestrian gait. To show how fortuitous may sometimes be the
circumstances which decide what shall be becoming and what not
under the pecuniary canon of beauty, it may be noted that this
English seat, and the peculiarly distressing gait which has made
an awkward seat necessary, are a survival from the time when the
English roads were so bad with mire and mud as to be virtually
impassable for a horse travelling at a more comfortable gait; so
that a person of decorous tastes in horsemanship today rides a
punch with docked tail, in an uncomfortable posture and at a
distressing gait, because the English roads during a great part
of the last century were impassable for a horse travelling at a
more horse-like gait, or for an animal built for moving with ease
over the firm and open country to which the horse is indigenous.
     It is not only with respect to consumable goods -- including
domestic animals -- that the canons of taste have been colored by
the canons of pecuniary reputability. Something to the like
effect is to be said for beauty in persons. In order to avoid
whatever may be matter of controversy, no weight will be given in
this connection to such popular predilection as there may be for
the dignified (leisurely) bearing and poly presence that are by
vulgar tradition associated with opulence in mature men. These
traits are in some measure accepted as elements of personal
beauty. But there are certain elements of feminine beauty, on the
other hand, which come in under this head, and which are of so
concrete and specific a character as to admit of itemized
appreciation. It is more or less a rule that in communities which
are at the stage of economic development at which women are
valued by the upper class for their service, the ideal of female
beauty is a robust, large-limbed woman. The ground of
appreciation is the physique, while the conformation of the face
is of secondary weight only. A well-known instance of this ideal
of the early predatory culture is that of the maidens of the
Homeric poems.
     This ideal suffers a change in the succeeding development,
when, in the conventional scheme, the office of the high-class
wife comes to be a vicarious leisure simply. The ideal then
includes the characteristics which are supposed to result from or
to go with a life of leisure consistently enforced. The ideal
accepted under these circumstances may be gathered from
descriptions of beautiful women by poets and writers of the
chivalric times. In the conventional scheme of those days ladies
of high degree were conceived to be in perpetual tutelage, and to
be scrupulously exempt from all useful work. The resulting
chivalric or romantic ideal of beauty takes cognizance chiefly of
the face, and dwells on its delicacy, and on the delicacy of the
hands and feet, the slender figure, and especially the slender
waist. In the pictured representations of the women of that time,
and in modern romantic imitators of the chivalric thought and
feeling, the waist is attenuated to a degree that implies extreme
debility. The same ideal is still extant among a considerable
portion of the population of modern industrial communities; but
it is to be said that it has retained its hold most tenaciously
in those modern communities which are least advanced in point of
economic and civil development, and which show the most
considerable survivals of status and of predatory institutions.
That is to say, the chivalric ideal is best preserved in those
existing communities which are substantially least modern.
Survivals of this lackadaisical or romantic ideal occur freely in
the tastes of the well-to-do classes of Continental countries.
     In modern communities which have reached the higher levels
of industrial development, the upper leisure class has
accumulated so great a mass of wealth as to place its women above
all imputation of vulgarly productive labor. Here the status of
women as vicarious consumers is beginning to lose its place in
the sections of the body of the people; and as a consequence the
ideal of feminine beauty is beginning to change back again from
the infirmly delicate, translucent, and hazardously slender, to a
woman of the archaic type that does not disown her hands and
feet, nor, indeed, the other gross material facts of her person.
In the course of economic development the ideal of beauty among
the peoples of the Western culture has shifted from the woman of
physical presence to the lady, and it is beginning to shift back
again to the woman; and all in obedience to the changing
conditions of pecuniary emulation. The exigencies of emulation at
one time required lusty slaves; at another time they required a
conspicuous performance of vicarious leisure and consequently an
obvious disability; but the situation is now beginning to outgrow
this last requirement, since, under the higher efficiency of
modern industry, leisure in women is possible so far down the
scale of reputability that it will no longer serve as a
definitive mark of the highest pecuniary grade.
     Apart from this general control exercised by the norm of
conspicuous waste over the ideal of feminine beauty, there are
one or two details which merit specific mention as showing how it
may exercise an extreme constraint in detail over men's sense of
beauty in women. It has already been noticed that at the stages
of economic evolution at which conspicuous leisure is much
regarded as a means of good repute, the ideal requires delicate
and diminutive bands and feet and a slender waist. These
features, together with the other, related faults of structure
that commonly go with them, go to show that the person so
affected is incapable of useful effort and must therefore be
supported in idleness by her owner. She is useless and expensive,
and she is consequently valuable as evidence of pecuniary
strength. It results that at this cultural stage women take
thought to alter their persons, so as to conform more nearly to
the requirements of the instructed taste of the time; and under
the guidance of the canon of pecuniary decency, the men find the
resulting artificially induced pathological features attractive.
So, for instance, the constricted waist which has had so wide and
persistent a vogue in the communities of the Western culture, and
so also the deformed foot of the Chinese. Both of these are
mutilations of unquestioned repulsiveness to the untrained sense.
It requires habituation to become reconciled to them. Yet there
is no room to question their attractiveness to men into whose
scheme of life they fit as honorific items sanctioned by the
requirements of pecuniary reputability. They are items of
pecuniary and cultural beauty which have come to do duty as
elements of the ideal of womanliness.
     The connection here indicated between the aesthetic value
and the invidious pecuniary value of things is of course not
present in the consciousness of the valuer. So far as a person,
in forming a judgment of taste, takes thought and reflects that
the object of beauty under consideration is wasteful and
reputable, and therefore may legitimately be accounted beautiful;
so far the judgment is not a bona fide judgment of taste and does
not come up for consideration in this connection. The connection
which is here insisted on between the reputability and the
apprehended beauty of objects lies through the effect which the
fact of reputability has upon the valuer's habits of thought. He
is in the habit of forming judgments of value of various
kinds-economic, moral, aesthetic, or reputable concerning the
objects with which he has to do, and his attitude of commendation
towards a given object on any other ground will affect the degree
of his appreciation of the object when he comes to value it for
the aesthetic purpose. This is more particularly true as regards
valuation on grounds so closely related to the aesthetic ground
as that of reputability. The valuation for the aesthetic purpose
and for the purpose of repute are not held apart as distinctly as
might be. Confusion is especially apt to arise between these two
kinds of valuation, because the value of objects for repute is
not habitually distinguished in speech by the use of a special
descriptive term. The result is that the terms in familiar use to
designate categories or elements of beauty are applied to cover
this unnamed element of pecuniary merit, and the corresponding
confusion of ideas follows by easy consequence. The demands of
reputability in this way coalesce in the popular apprehension
with the demands of the sense of beauty, and beauty which is not
accompanied by the accredited marks of good repute is not
accepted. But the requirements of pecuniary reputability and
those of beauty in the naive sense do not in any appreciable
degree coincide. The elimination from our surroundings of the
pecuniarily unfit, therefore, results in a more or less thorough
elimination of that considerable range of elements of beauty
which do not happen to conform to the pecuniary requirement.
     The underlying norms of taste are of very ancient growth,
probably far antedating the advent of the pecuniary institutions
that are here under discussion. Consequently, by force of the
past selective adaptation of men's habits of thought, it happens
that the requirements of beauty, simply, are for the most part
best satisfied by inexpensive contrivances and structures which
in a straightforward manner suggest both the office which they
are to perform and the method of serving their end, It may be in
place to recall the modern psychological position. Beauty of form
seems to be a question of facility of apperception. The
proposition could perhaps safely be made broader than this. If
abstraction is made from association, suggestion, and
"expression," classed as elements of beauty, then beauty in any
perceived object means that the mid readily unfolds its
apperceptive activity in the directions which the object in
question affords. But the directions in which activity readily
unfolds or expresses itself are the directions to which long and
close habituation bas made the mind prone. So far as concerns the
essential elements of beauty, this habituation is an habituation
so close and long as to have induced not only a proclivity to the
apperceptive form in question, but an adaptation of physiological
structure and function as well. So far as the economic interest
enters into the constitution of beauty, it enters as a suggestion
or expression of adequacy to a purpose, a manifest and readily
inferable subservience to the life process. This expression of
economic facility or economic serviceability in any object --
what may be called the economic beauty of the object-is best
sewed by neat and unambiguous suggestion of its office and its
efficiency for the material ends of life.
     On this ground, among objects of use the simple and
unadorned article is aesthetically the best. But since the
pecuniary canon of reputability rejects the inexpensive in
articles appropriated to individual consumption, the satisfaction
of our craving for beautiful things must be sought by way of
compromise. The canons of beauty must be circumvented by some
contrivance which will give evidence of a reputably wasteful
expenditure, at the same time that it meets the demands of our
critical sense of the useful and the beautiful, or at least meets
the demand of some habit which has come to do duty in place of
that sense. Such an auxiliary sense of taste is the sense of
novelty; and this latter is helped out in its surrogateship by
the curiosity with which men view ingenious and puzzling
contrivances. Hence it comes that most objects alleged to be
beautiful, and doing duty as such, show considerable ingenuity of
design and are calculated to puzzle the beholder -- to bewilder
him with irrelevant suggestions and hints of the improbable -- at
the same time that they give evidence of an expenditure of labor
in excess of what would give them their fullest efficency for
their ostensible economic end.
     This may be shown by an illustration taken from outside the
range of our everyday habits and everyday contact, and so outside
the range of our bias. Such are the remarkable feather mantles of
Hawaii, or the well-known cawed handles of the ceremonial adzes
of several Polynesian islands, These are undeniably beautiful,
both in the sense that they offer a pleasing composition of form,
lines, and color, and in the sense that they evince great skill
and ingenuity in design and construction. At the same time the
articles are manifestly ill fitted to serve any other economic
purpose. But it is not always that the evolution of ingenious and
puzzling contrivances under the guidance of the canon of wasted
effort works out so happy a result. The result is quite as often
a virtually complete suppression of all elements that would bear
scrutiny as expressions of beauty, or of serviceability, and the
substitution of evidences of misspent ingenuity and labor, backed
by a conspicuous ineptitude; until many of the objects with which
we surround ourselves in everyday life, and even many articles of
everyday dress and ornament, are such as would not be tolerated
except under the stress of prescriptive tradition. Illustrations
of this substitution of ingenuity and expense in place of beauty
and serviceability are to be seen, for instance, in domestic
architecture, in domestic art or fancy work, in various articles
of apparel, especially of feminine and priestly apparel.
     The canon of beauty requires expression of the generic. The
"novelty" due to the demands of conspicuous waste traverses this
canon of beauty, in that it results in making the physiognomy of
our objects of taste a congeries of idiosyncrasies; and the
idiosyncrasies are, moreover, under the selective surveillance of
the canon of expensiveness.
     This process of selective adaptation of designs to the end
of conspicuous waste, and the substitution of pecuniary beauty
for aesthetic beauty, has been especially effective in the
development of architecture. It would be extremely difficult to
find a modern civilized residence or public building which can
claim anything better than relative inoffensiveness in the eyes
of anyone who will dissociate the elements of beauty from those
of honorific waste. The endless variety of fronts presented by
the better class of tenements and apartment houses in our cities
is an endless variety of architectural distress and of
suggestions of expensive discomfort. Considered as objects of
beauty, the dead walls of the sides and back of these structures,
left untouched by the hands of the artist, are commonly the best
feature of the building.
     What has been said of the influence of the law of
conspicuous waste upon the canons of taste will hold true, with
but a slight change of terms, of its influence upon our notions
of the serviceability of goods for other ends than the aesthetic
one. Goods are produced and consumed as a means to the fuller
unfolding of human life; and their utility consists, in the first
instance, in their efficiency as means to this end. The end is,
in the first instance, the fullness of life of the individual,
taken in absolute terms. But the human proclivity to emulation
has seized upon the consumption of goods as a means to an
invidious comparison, and has thereby invested constable goods
with a secondary utility as evidence of relative ability to pay.
This indirect or secondary use of consumable goods lends an
honorific character to consumption and presently also to the
goods which best serve the emulative end of consumption. The
consumption of expensive goods is meritorious, and the goods
which contain an appreciable element of cost in excess of what
goes to give them serviceability for their ostensible mechanical
purpose are honorific. The marks of superfluous costliness in the
goods are therefore marks of worth -- of high efficency for the
indirect, invidious end to be served by their consumption; and
conversely. goods are humilific, and therefore unattractive, if
they show too thrifty an adaptation to the mechanical end sought
and do not include a margin of expensiveness on which to rest a
complacent invidious comparison. This indirect utility gives much
of their value to the "better" grades of goods. In order to
appeal to the cultivated sense of utility, an article must
contain a modicum of this indirect utility.
     While men may have set out with disapproving an inexpensive
manner of living because it indicated inability to spend much,
and so indicated a lack of pecuniary success, they end by falling
into the habit of disapproving cheap things as being
intrinsically dishonorable or unworthy because they are cheap. As
time has gone on, each succeeding generation has received this
tradition of meritorious expenditure from the generation before
it, and has in its turn further elaborated and fortified the
traditional canon of pecuniary reputability in goods consumed;
until we have finally reached such a degree of conviction as to
the unworthiness of all inexpensive things, that we have no
longer any misgivings in formulating the maxim, "Cheap and
nasty."  So thoroughly has the habit of approving the expensive
and disapproving the inexpensive been ingrained into our thinking
that we instinctively insist upon at least some measure of
wasteful expensiveness in all our consumption, even in the case
of goods which are consumed in strict privacy and without the
slightest thought of display. We all feel, sincerely and without
misgiving, that we are the more lifted up in spirit for having,
even in the privacy of our own household, eaten our daily meal by
the help of hand-wrought silver utensils, from hand-painted china
(often of dubious artistic value) laid on high-priced table
linen. Any retrogression from the standard of living which we are
accustomed to regard as worthy in this respect is felt to be a
grievous violation of our human dignity. So, also, for the last
dozen years candles have been a more pleasing source of light at
dinner than any other. Candlelight is now softer, less
distressing to well-bred eyes, than oil, gas, or electric light.
The same could not have been said thirty years ago, when candles
were, or recently had been, the cheapest available light for
domestic use. Nor are candles even now found to give an
acceptable or effective light for any other than a ceremonial
     A political sage still living has summed up the conclusion
of this whole matter in the dictum : "A cheap coat makes a cheap
man," and there is probably no one who does not feel the
convincing force of the maxim.
     The habit of looking for the marks of superfluous
expensiveness in goods, and of requiring that all goods should
afford some utility of the indirect or invidious sort, leads to a
change in the standards by which the utility of goods is gauged.
The honorific element and the element of brute efficiency are not
held apart in the consumer's appreciation of commodities, and the
two together go to make up the unanalyzed aggregate
serviceability of the goods. Under the resulting standard of
serviceability, no article will pass muster on the strength of
material sufficiency alone. In order to completeness and full
acceptability to the consumer it must also show the honorific
element. It results that the producers of articles of consumption
direct their efforts to the production of goods that shall meet
this demand for the honorific element. They will do this with all
the more alacrity and effect, since they are themselves under the
dominance of the same standard of worth in goods, and would be
sincerely grieved at the sight of goods which lack the proper
honorific finish. Hence it has come about that there are today no
goods supplied in any trade which do not contain the honorific
element in greater or less degree. Any consumer who might,
Diogenes-like, insist on the elimination of all honorific or
wasteful elements from his consumption, would be unable to supply
his most trivial wants in the modern market. Indeed, even if he
resorted to supplying his wants directly by his own efforts, he
would find it difficult if not impossible to divest himself of
the current habits of thought on this head; so that he could
scarcely compass a supply of the necessaries of life for a day's
consumption without instinctively and by oversight incorporating
in his home-made product something of this honorific,
quasi-decorative element of wasted labor.
     It is notorious that in their selection of serviceable goods
in the retail market purchasers are guided more by the finish and
workmanship of the goods than by any marks of substantial
serviceability. Goods, in order to sell, must have some
appreciable amount of labor spent in giving them the marks of
decent expensiveness, in addition to what goes to give them
efficiency for the material use which they are to serve. This
habit of making obvious costliness a canon of serviceability of
course acts to enhance the aggregate cost of articles of
consumption. It puts us on our guard against cheapness by
identifying merit in some degree with cost. There is ordinarily a
consistent effort on the part of the consumer to obtain goods of
the required serviceability at as advantageous a bargain as may
be; but the conventional requirement of obvious costliness, as a
voucher and a constituent of the serviceability of the goods,
leads him to reject as under grade such goods as do not contain a
large element of conspicuous waste.
     It is to be added that a large share of those features of
consumable goods which figure in popular apprehension as marks of
serviceability, and to which reference is here had as elements of
conspicuous waste, commend themselves to the consumer also on
other grounds than that of expensiveness alone. They usually give
evidence of skill and effective workmanship, even if they do not
contribute to the substantial serviceability of the goods; and it
is no doubt largely on some such ground that any particular mark
of honorific serviceability first comes into vogue and afterward
maintains its footing as a normal constituent element of the
worth of an article. A display of efficient workmanship is
pleasing simply as such, even where its remoter, for the time
unconsidered, outcome is futile. There is a gratification of the
artistic sense in the contemplation of skillful work. But it is
also to be added that no such evidence of skillful workmanship,
or of ingenious and effective adaptation of means to an end,
will, in the long run, enjoy the approbation of the modern
civilized consumer unless it has the sanction of the Canon of
conspicuous waste.
     The position here taken is enforced in a felicitous manner
by the place assigned in the economy of consumption to machine
products. The point of material difference between machine-made
goods and the hand-wrought goods which serve the same purposes
is, ordinarily, that the former serve their primary purpose more
adequately. They are a more perfect product -- show a more
perfect adaptation of means to end. This does not save them from
disesteem and deprecation, for they fall short under the test of
honorific waste. Hand labor is a more wasteful method of
production; hence the goods turned out by this method are more
serviceable for the purpose of pecuniary reputability; hence the
marks of hand labor come to be honorific, and the goods which
exhibit these marks take rank as of higher grade than the
corresponding machine product. Commonly, if not invariably, the
honorific marks of hand labor are certain imperfections and
irregularities in the lines of the hand-wrought article, showing
where the workman has fallen short in the execution of the
design. The ground of the superiority of hand-wrought goods,
therefore, is a certain margin of crudeness. This margin must
never be so wide as to show bungling workmanship, since that
would be evidence of low cost, nor so narrow as to suggest the
ideal precision attained only by the machine, for that would be
evidence of low cost.
     The appreciation of those evidences of honorific crUdeness
to which hand-wrought goods owe their superior worth and charm in
the eyes of well-bred people is a matter of nice discrimination.
It requires training and the formation of right habits of thought
with respect to what may be called the physiognomy of goods.
Machine-made goods of daily use are often admired and preferred
precisely on account of their excessive perfection by the vulgar
and the underbred who have not given due thought to the
punctilios of elegant consumption. The ceremonial inferiority of
machine products goes to show that the perfection of skill and
workmanship embodied in any costly innovations in the finish of
goods is not sufficient of itself to secure them acceptance and
permanent favor. The innovation must have the support of the
canon of conspicuous waste. Any feature in the physiognomy of
goods, however pleasing in itself, and however well it may
approve itself to the taste for effective work, will not be
tolerated if it proves obnoxious to this norm of pecuniary
     The ceremonial inferiority or uncleanness in consumable
goods due to "commonness," or in other words to their slight cost
of production, has been taken very seriously by many persons. The
objection to machine products is often formulated as an objection
to the commonness of such goods. What is common is within the
(pecuniary) reach of many people. Its consumption is therefore
not honorific, since it does not serve the purpose of a favorable
invidious comparison with other consumers. Hence the consumption,
or even the sight of such goods, is inseparable from an odious
suggestion of the lower levels of human life, and one comes away
from their contemplation with a pervading sense of meanness that
is extremely distasteful and depressing to a person of
sensibility. In persons whose tastes assert themselves
imperiously, and who have not the gift, habit, or incentive to
discriminate between the grounds of their various judgments of
taste, the deliverances of the sense of the honorific coalesce
with those of the sense of beauty and of the sense of
serviceability -- in the manner already spoken of; the resulting
composite valuation serves as a judgment of the object's beauty
or its serviceability, according as the valuer's bias or interest
inclines him to apprehend the object in the one or the other of
these aspects. It follows not infrequently that the marks of
cheapness or commonness are accepted as definitive marks of
artistic unfitness, and a code or schedule of aesthetic
proprieties on the one hand, and of aesthetic abominations On the
other, is constructed on this basis for guidance in questions of
     As has already been pointed out, the cheap, and therefore
indecorous, articles of daily consumption in modern industrial
communities are commonly machine products; and the generic
feature of the physiognomy of machine-made goods as compared with
the hand-wrought article is their greater perfection in
workmanship and greater accuracy in the detail execution of the
design. Hence it comes about that the visible imperfections of
the hand-wrought goods, being honorific, are accounted marks of
superiority in point of beauty, Or serviceability, or both. Hence
has arisen that exaltation of the defective, of which John Ruskin
and William Morris were such eager spokesmen in their time; and
on this ground their propaganda of crudity and wasted effort has
been taken up and carried forward since their time. And hence
also the propaganda for a return to handicraft and household
industry. So much of the work and speculations of this group of
men as fairly comes under the characterization here given would
have been impossible at a time when the visibly more perfect
goods were not the cheaper.
     It is of course only as to the economic value of this school
of aesthetic teaching that anything is intended to be said or can
be said here. What is said is not to be taken in the sense of
depreciation, but chiefly as a characterization of the tendency
of this teaching in its effect on consumption and on the
production of consumable goods.
     The manner in which the bias of this growth of taste has
worked itself out in production is perhaps most cogently
exemplified in the book manufacture with which Morris busied
himself during the later years of his life; but what holds true
of the work of the Kelmscott Press in an eminent degree, holds
true with but slightly abated force when applied to latter-day
artistic book-making generally -- as to type, paper,
illustration, binding materials, and binder's work. The claims to
excellence put forward by the later products of the bookmaker's
industry rest in some measure on the degree of its approximation
to the crudities of the time when the work of book-making was a
doubtful struggle with refractory materials carried on by means
of insufficient appliances. These products, since they require
hand labor, are more expensive; they are also less convenient for
use than the books turned out with a view to serviceability
alone; they therefore argue ability on the part of the purchaser
to consume freely, as well as ability to waste time and effort.
It is on this basis that the printers of today are returning to
"old-style," and other more or less obsolete styles of type which
are less legible and give a cruder appearance to the page than
the "modern." Even a scientific periodical, with ostensibly no
purpose but the most effective presentation of matter with which
its science is concerned, will concede so much to the demands of
this pecuniary beauty as to publish its scientific discussions in
oldstyle type, on laid paper, and with uncut edges. But books
which are not ostensibly concerned with the effective
presentation of their contents alone, of course go farther in
this direction. Here we have a somewhat cruder type, printed on
hand-laid, deckel-edged paper, with excessive margins and uncut
leaves, with bindings of a painstaking crudeness and elaborate
ineptitude. The Kelmscott Press reduced the matter to an
absurdity -- as seen from the point of view of brute
serviceability alone -- by issuing books for modern use, edited
with the obsolete spelling, printed in black-letter, and bound in
limp vellum fitted with thongs. As a further characteristic
feature which fixes the economic place of artistic book-making,
there is the fact that these more elegant books are, at their
best, printed in limited editions. A limited edition is in effect
a guarantee -- somewhat crude, it is true -- that this book is
scarce and that it therefore is costly and lends pecuniary
distinction to its consumer.
     The special attractiveness of these book-products to the
book-buyer of cultivated taste lies, of course, not in a
conscious, naive recognition of their costliness and superior
clumsiness. Here, as in the parallel case of the superiority of
hand-wrought articles over machine products, the conscious ground
of preference is an intrinsic excellence imputed to the costlier
and more awkward article. The superior excellence imputed to the
book which imitates the products of antique and obsolete
processes is conceived to be chiefly a superior utility in the
aesthetic respect; but it is not unusual to find a well-bred
book-lover insisting that the clumsier product is also more
serviceable as a vehicle of printed speech. So far as regards the
superior aesthetic value of the decadent book, the chances are
that the book-lover's contention has some ground. The book is
designed with an eye single to its beauty, and the result is
commonly some measure of success on the part of the designer.
What is insisted on here, however, is that the canon of taste
under which the designer works is a canon formed under the
surveillance of the law of conspicuous waste, and that this law
acts selectively to eliminate any canon of taste that does not
conform to its demands. That is to say, while the decadent book
may be beautiful, the limits within which the designer may work
are fixed by requirements of a non-aesthetic kind. The product,
if it is beautiful, must also at the same time be costly and ill
adapted to its ostensible use. This mandatory canon of taste in
the case of the book-designer, however, is not shaped entirely by
the law of waste in its first form; the canon is to some extent
shaped in conformity to that secondary expression of the
predatory temperament, veneration for the archaic or obsolete,
which in one of its special developments is called classicism.
     In aesthetic theory it might be extremely difficult, if not
quite impracticable, to draw a line between the canon of
classicism, or regard for the archaic, and the canon of beauty,
For the aesthetic purpose such a distinction need scarcely be
drawn, and indeed it need not exist. For a theory of taste the
expression of an accepted ideal of archaism, on whatever basis it
may have been accepted, is perhaps best rated as an element of
beauty; there need be no question of its legitimation. But for
the present purpose -- for the purpose of determining what
economic grounds are present in the accepted canons of taste and
what is their significance for the distribution and consumption
of goods -- the distinction is not similarly beside the point.
The position of machine products in the civilized scheme of
consumption serves to point out the nature of the relation which
subsists between the canon of conspicuous waste and the code of
proprieties in consumption. Neither in matters of art and taste
proper, nor as regards the current sense of the serviceability of
goods, does this canon act as a principle of innovation or
initiative. It does not go into the future as a creative
principle which makes innovations and adds new items of
consumption and new elements of cost. The principle in question
is, in a certain sense, a negative rather than a positive law. It
is a regulative rather than a creative principle. It very rarely
initiates or originates any usage or custom directly. Its action
is selective only. Conspicuous wastefulness does not directly
afford ground for variation and growth, but conformity to its
requirements is a condition to the survival of such innovations
as may be made on other grounds. In whatever way usages and
customs and methods of expenditure arise, they are all subject to
the selective action of this norm of reputability; and the degree
in which they conform to its requirements is a test of their
fitness to survive in the competition with other similar usages
and customs. Other thing being equal, the more obviously wasteful
usage or method stands the better chance of survival under this
law. The law of conspicuous waste does not account for the origin
of variations, but only for the persistence of such forms as are
fit to survive under its dominance. It acts to conserve the fit,
not to originate the acceptable. Its office is to prove all
things and to hold fast that which is good for its purpose.