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PROPER acquaintance with the circle of Liberal Arts is requisite to the study of Rhetoric and Belles Letters. 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 could stamp merit on a composition for richness or splendour of expression, when it possesses barren or erroneous sentiments. Oratory, it is true, has often been disgraced by attempts to establish a false criterion of its value. Writers have endeavoured to supply the want of matter by the graces of composition; and to court the temporary applause of the ignorant, instead of the lasting approbation of the discerning. But the prevalence of such imposture must be short and transitory. The body and substance of any valuable composition must be formed by knowledge and science. Rhetoric completes the structure, and adds the polish ; but firm and solid bodies alone are able to receive it.
Among the learned it has long been a contested, and remains still an undecided question, whether nature or art contributes most towards excellence in writing and discourse. Various may be the opinions, with respect to the manner in which art can most effectually furnish her aid for such a purpose; and it were presumption to advance, that mere 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 comprehend every thing which is requisite, they may afford considerable use and advantage. If they cannot inspire genius, they can give it direction and assistance. If they cannot make barrenness fruitful, they can correct redundancy. They discover the 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, perhaps, of producing great excellencies, they may at least be subservient to prevent the commission of considerable mistakes.
In the education of youth, no object has appeared more important to wise men, in every age, than to furnish them early with a relish for the entertainments of Taste. From these, to discharge the higher and more important duties of life, the transition is natural and easy. Of those minds which have this elegant and liberal turn, most pleasing hopes may be entertained. It affords the promise of many virtues. On the contrary, an entire insensibility of Eloquence, Poetry or any of the fine arts, may justly be considered as a perverse symptom of youth; and supposes them inclined to inferior gratifications, or capable of being engaged only in the more common and mechanical pursuits of life.
The improvement of Taste seems to be more or less connected with every good and virtuous disposition. By giving frequent exercise to all the tender and humane passions, a cultivated Taste increases sensibility; yet at the same time, it tends to soften the more viokent and angry emotions.
Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes,
Emollit mores nec finit esse feros.
Poetry, Eloquence, and History, are continually holding forward to our view those elevated sentiments and high examples which tend to nourish in our minds public spirit, the love of glory, contempt of external fortune, and the admiration of every thing that is truly great, noble, and illustrious.
TASTE 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 rudi. ments 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,
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 superiority, 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; repre. , sentations 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 original.
In reading, for instance, the neid 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 char. acters from nature, the correspondence of the sentiments to the characters, and of the style to the sentiments. The pleasure, which is deris 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 Correct.
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 juilging of the delicacy of an external sense. As the goodness of the palate is not tried by strong flavors, but by a mixture of ingredients, where, notwithstanding the confusion, we remain sensible of cach; 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 connection 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