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A PROPER acquaintance with the circle of Liberal Arts is requisite to the study of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. To extend the knowledge of them must be the first care of those, who wish either to write with reputation, or so to express themselves in public, as to command attention. Among the ancients it was an essential principle, that the orator ought to be conversant in every department of learning. No art indeed can be contrived, which can stamp merit on a composi tion, rich or splendid in expression, but barren or erroneous in sentiment. Oratory, it is true, has often been disgraced by attempts to establish a false criterion of its value. Writers have endeavoured to supply want of matter by graces of composition; and courted the temporary applause of the ignorant, instead of the lasting ap probation of the discerning. But such imposture must be short and transitory. The body and substance of any valuable composition must be formed of knowledge and science. Rhetoric completes the structure, and adds the polish; but firm and solid bodies only are able to receive it.
Among the learned it has long been a contested, and remains still an undecided question,
whether Nature or Art contribute most toward excellence in writing and discourse. Various may be the opinions with respect to the manner, in which Art can most effectually furnish aid for such a purpose; and it were presumption to assert, that rhetorical rules, how just soever, are sufficient to form an orator. Private application and study, supposing natural genius to be favourable, are certainly superior to any system of public instruction. But, though rules and instructions cannot effect every thing which is requisite, they may be of considerable use. If they cannot inspire genius, they can give it direction and assistance. If they cannot make barrenness fruitful, they can correct redundancy. They present proper models for imitation; they point out the principal beauties which ought to be studied, and the chief faults which ought to be avoided ; and consequently tend to enlighten Taste, and to, conduct Genius from unnatural deviations into its proper channel. Though they are incapable of producing great excellencies; they may at least serve to prevent considerable mistakes.
In the education of youth, no object has appeared more important to wise men in every age, than to excite in them an early relish for the entertainments of Taste. From these to the discharge of the higher and more important duties of life the transition is natural and easy. Of those minds, which have this elegant and liberal turn,
the most pleasing hopes may be entertained. On the contrary, entire insensibility to eloquence, poe try, or any of the fine arts, may justly be considered as a bad symptom in youth; and supposes them inclined to low gratifications, or capable of being engaged only in the common pursuits of life.
Improvement of Taste seems to be more or less connected with every good and virtuous dis. position. By giving frequent exercise to the tender and humane passions, a cultivated taste increases sensibility; yet at the same time it tends to soften the more violent and angry emotions.
Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes
Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros.
These polish'd arts have humaniz'd mankind,
Poetry, Eloquence and History continually exhibit to our view those elevated sentiments and high examples, which tend to nourish in our minds public spirit, love of glory, contempt of external fortune, and admiration of every thing truly great, noble, and illustrious.
ASTE is the power of receiving pleasure or pain from the beauties or deformities of Nature "and of Art." It is a faculty common in some degree to all men. Through the circle of human nature, nothing is more general, than the relish of Beauty of one kind or other; of what is orderly, proportioned, grand, harmonious, new, or sprightly. Nor does there prevail less generally a disrelish of whatever is gross, disproportioned, disorderly, and discordant. In children the rudiments of Taste appear very early in a thousand instances; in their partiality for regular bodies, their fondness for pictures and statues, and their warm attachment to whatever is new or astonishing. The most stupid peasants receive pleasure from tales and ballads, and are delighted with the beautiful appearances of nature in the earth and heavens. Even in the deserts of America, where human nature appears in its most uncultivated state, the savages have their ornaments of dress, their war and their death songs, their harangues and their orators. The principles of Taste must therefore be deeply founded in the human mind. To have some discernment of Beauty is no less essential to man than to possess the attributes of speech and reason.