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Though no human being can be entirely devoid of this faculty, yet it is possessed in very different degrees. In some men only faint glimmerings of Taste are visible; the beauties, which they relish are of the coarsest kind; and of these they have only a weak and confused impression; while in others, Taste rises to an acute discernment, and a lively enjoyment of the most refined beauties.
This inequality of Taste among men is to be ascribed undoubtedly in part to the different frame of their natures; to nicer organs, and more delicate internal powers, with which some are endued beyond others; yet it is owing still more to culture and education. Taste is certainly one of the most improveable faculties of our nature. We may easily be convinced of the truth of this assertion by only reflecting on that immense superioty, which education and improvement give, to civilized above barbarous nations in refinement of Taste; and on the advantage, which they give in the same nation to those, who have studied the liberal arts, above the rude and illiterate vulgar.
Reason and good sense have so extensive an influence on all the operations and decisions of Taste, that a completely good Taste may well be considered, as a power compounded of natural sensibility to beauty and of improved understanding. To be satisfied of this, we may observe, that the greater part of the productions of Genius are no other than imitations of nature; represen tations of the characters, actions, or manners of men.
Now the pleasure we experience from such imitations or representations is founded on mere Taste; but to judge, whether they be properly executed, belongs to the understanding, which compares the copy with the origi
In reading, for instance, the Eneid of Virgil a great part of our pleasure arises from the proper conduct of the plan or story; from all the parts being joined together with probability and due connection; from the adoption of the characters from nature, the correspondence of the sentiments to the characters, and of the style to the sentiments. The pleasure, which is derived from a poem so conducted, is felt or enjoyed by Taste, as an internal sense; but the discovery of this conduct in the poem is owing to reason; and the more reason enables us to discover such propriety in the conduct, the greater will be our pleasure.
The constituents of Taste, when brought to its most perfect state, are two, Delicacy and Correctness.
Delicacy of Taste refers principally to the perfection of that natural sensibility, on which Taste is founded. It implies those finer organs or powers, which enable us to discover beauties, that are concealed from a vulgar eye. It is judged of by the same marks, that we employ in judging of the delicacy of an internal sense. As the goodness of the palate is not tried by strong flavours, but by a mixture of ingredients, where, notwithstanding the confusion, we remain sensible of each; so delicacy of internal Taste appears by a quick and
lively sensibility to its finest, most compounded, or most latent objects.
Correctness of Taste respects the improvement this faculty receives through its connexion with the understanding. A man of Correct Taste is one, who is never imposed on by counterfeit beauties; who carries always in his own mind that standard of good sense, which he employs in judging of every thing. He estimates with propriety the relative mérit of the several beauties, which he meets in any work of genius; refers them to their proper classes; assigns the principles as far as they can be traced, whence their power of pleasing is derived; and is pleased himself precisely in that degree, in which he ought, and no more.
Taste is certainly not an arbitrary principle, which is subject to the fancy of every individual, and which admits no criterion for determining, whether it be true or false. Its foundation is the same in every human mind. It is built upon sentiments and perceptions, which are inseparable from our nature; and which generally operate with the same uniformity, as our other intellectual principles. When these sentiments are perverted by ignorance or prejudice, they may be rectified by reason. Their sound and natural state is finally determined by comparing them with the general Taste of mankind. Let men declaim as much as they please, concerning the caprice and uncertainty of Taste; it is found by experience, that there are beauties, which if displayed in a proper light, have power to command
lasting and universal admiration. In every composition, what interests the imagination, and touches the heart, gives pleasure to all ages and nations. There is a certain string, which being properly struck, the human heart is so made, as to accord to it.
Hence the universal testimony, which the most improved nations of the earth through a long series of ages have concurred to bestow on some few works of genius; such as the Iliad of Homer, and the Eneid of Virgil. Hence the authority, which such works have obtained, as standards of poetical composition; since by them we are enabled to collect, what the sense of mankind is with respect to those beauties, which give them the highest pleasure, and which therefore poetry ought to exhibit. Authority or prejudice may in one age or country give a short-lived reputation to an indifferent poet, or a bad artist; but, when foreigners, or posterity examine his works, his faults are discovered, and the genuine Taste of human nature is seen. Time over throws the illusions of opinion, but establishes the deci sions of nature.
CRITICISM. GENIUS. PLEASURES OF TASTE. SUBLIMITY IN OBJECTS.
A TRUE Criticism is the application of Taste and of good sense to the several fine arts. Its design is to distinguish, what is beautiful and what is faulty in eve
ry performance. From particular instances it ascends to general principles; and gradually forms rules or conclusions concerning the several kinds of Beauty in works of Genius.
Criticism is an art, founded entirely on experience; on the observation of such beauties, as have been found to please mankind most generally. For example, Aristotle's rules concerning the unity of action in dramatic and epic composition were not first discovered by logical reasoning, and then applied to poetry; but they were deduced from the practice of Homer and Sophocles. They were founded upon observing the superior pleasure, which we derive from the relation of an action, which is one and entire beyond, what we receive from the relation of scattered and unconnected facts.
A superior Genius indeed will of himself uninstructed, compose in such manner, as is agreeable to the most important rules of Criticism; for, as these rules are founded in nature, nature will frequently suggest them in practice. Homer was acquainted with no system of the art of poetry. Guided by Genius alone, he composed in verse a regular story, which all succeeding ages have admired.. This however is no argument against the usefulness of Criticism. For since no human genius is perfect, there is no writer, who may not receive assistance from critical observations upon the beauties and faults of those, who have gone before him. No rules indeed can supply the defects of genius, or