Page images




stan,lard of good sense, which he employs in judging every thing. He estimates with propriety the relative merit 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 pleasing is derived; and is pleased himself precily in that degree, in which he ought, and no

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 Æneid 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 overthrows the illusions of opinion, but establishes the decisions of nature.



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

every 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 reason



ing, 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 ipdeed 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 inspire it, where it is wanting; but they may often guide it into its proper channel; they may correct its extravagancies, and teach it the most just and proper imitation of nature. Critical rules are intended chiefly to point out the faults which ought to be avoided, We must be indebted to nature for the production: of eminent beauties.

Genius is a word, which in common acceptation extends much farther, than to objects of Taste. It signifies that talent or aptitude, which we receive from nature, in order to excel in any one thing whatever. A man is said to have a genius for ..nathematics as well as a genius for

Pleasures of Taste.

poetry; a genius for war, for politics, or for any mechanical employment.

Genius may be greatly improved by art and study; by them alone it cannot be acquired. As it is a higher faculty than Taste, it is ever, according to the common frugality of nature, more limited in the sphere of its operations. There are persons, not unfrequently to be met, who have an excellent Taste in several of the polite arts ; such as music, poetry, painting, and eloquence; butan excellent performer in all these arts is very seldom found ; or rather is not to be looked for. A universal Genius, or one who is equally and indifferently inclined toward several different professions and arts, is not likely to excel in any. Although there may be some few exceptions, yet in general it is true, that, when the mind is wholly directed toward some one object exclusively of others, there is the fairest prospect of eminence in that, whatever it may be. Extreme heat can be produced, only when the rays converge to a single point. Young persons are highly interested in this remark; since it may teach them to examine with care, and to pursue with ardour that path, which nature has marked out for their peculiar exertions.

The nature of Taste, the nature and importance of Criticism, and the distinction between Taste and Genius, being thus explained; the sources of the PLEASURES OF TASTE shall next be considered. Here a very extensive field is opened; no less, than all the pleasures of the Imagination, as they are generally called, whether afforded us by natural objeets, or by imitations and descriptions of them. It is not however necessa- :

Pleasures of Taste.

ry to the purpose of the present work, that all these be examined fully; the pleasure, which we receive from discourse or writing, being the principal object of them. Our design is to give some opening into the Pleasures of Taste in general, and to insist more particularly upon Sublimity and Beauty.

We are far from having yet attained any system concerning this subject. A regular inquiry into it was first attempted by Mr. Addison in his Essay on the pleasures of the Imagination. By him these Pleasures are ranged under three heads, Beauty, Grandeur, and Novelty. His speculations on this subject, if not remarkably profound, are very beautiful and entertaining; and he has the merit of having discovered a track, which was before untrodden. Since his time the advances, made in this part of philosophical criticism, are not considerable; which is owing doubtless to that thinness and subtilty, which are discovered to be properties of all the feelings of Taste. It is difficult to enumerate the several objects, which give pleasure to Taste; it is more difficult to de.. fine all those which have been discovered, and to. range them in proper classes ;; and, when we would proceed farther, and investigate the efficient causes of the pleasure, which we receive from such objects, here we find ourselves at the greatest loss. For example, we all learn by experience that some figures of bodies appear more beautiful than others; on farther enquiry we discover that the regularity of some figures and the graceful variety of others are the foundation of the beauty, which we discern in them ; but, when we endeavour to go a step beyond this, and inquire,

[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »