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The Fine Arts are so closely connected with the subject of taste, that I subjoin to this chapter a short account of what is meant by them.
The Fine, Elegant, or Polite Arts, for these epithets are synonymous, are so called in distinction from the Useful Arts. The former are designed to please; the latter aim at the supply of human wants. It is true, that works in the useful arts may be so constructed as to please, at the same time that they subserve our necessities. And on the other hand, works that please and are designed to please, may be useful.
Hence it may be difficult in regard to some productions in the arts, to say to which they belong, the Useful, or the Elegant ; still there is ground for the distinction that has been made, and according to the design-to please, or to be useful, we say that some arts are elegant and others useful.
Of the Fine Arts, some are imitative, and others symbolical. Some exhibit an exact representation of the object or scene they would present before the mind ; such are Painting and Sculpture. These are called imitative fine arts. Others make use of signs which have been agreed upon among men for the representation of objects; such are Music and Poetry. These, in distinction from the former, may be called symbolical fine arts.
It has been stated, that the design of works in the fine arts, is to please. This may be effected in two different ways. The object or scene brought before the mind, may be such as is suited to excite grateful emotions, or the mind
may be pleased with the skill that is shown in the execution of the work. In the former case, when the object or scene represented has no original in nature, but is a creation of the artist's mind, while we regard the object of the work, and notice how the different parts of it tend to the promotion of this object, we are said to observe the primary beauties, or beauties of design. But whether the scene or object represented be an exact copy of some original in nature, or a creation of the artist's mind, if the attention be directed only to the skill shewn in the execution of the work, we are said to observe secondary beauties, or the beauties of execution. The art of writing or composition, whether elegant or useful, is one of the symbolical arts. There is no exact imitation of what is designed to be brought before the mind, but objects and scenes are represented by words as symbols. This must evidently increase the difficulty of the artist, or writer; for though he may have in his own mind distinct views of what is fitted to excite emotions of taste, and may connect these views with the signs which he uses, yet, if the reader do not attach the same views to the signs used, they will fail to excite in his mind the emotions designed to be produced. Much then will depend upon the skill with which these signs are used, and hence it is, that in literary productions, so much attention is paid, with the design of pleasing, to the execution of the work. We
may here also see a reason, why the beauties of design in literary productions, are said to be addressed to the imagination of the readers. As we have seen in the last chapter, it is by the aid of the imagination that the artist is able to design those objects and scenes, which are the creations of his own mind. When these creations have been formed, they are represented by the signs that are used. Now it is obviously the imagination of the reader, which must interpret these signs. They are intended to set his imagination in exercise, and to cause it to present before the mind an object or scene, similar to that which the writer had in view when using these signs; and if the reader have no powers of imagination, the attempt of the writer to place before him a scene fitted to excite grateful emotions, will be vain.
It is an easy inference from what has been said in this
chapter, that the cultivation and improvement of taste in the several fine arts, will be promoted by a familiarity with models of excellence in those arts. He who would cultivate a taste for painting or music, or fine writing, will seek after the works of those who excel in these different departments. But it may here be remarked generally in respect to taste, that it is improved by whatever gives enlargement and improvement to the mind. Taste, as judgment, calls into exercise various intellectual faculties; comparisons are to be instituted, inferences to be made, and conclusions to be drawn; and the. more perfectly this work is performed, the higher is the order of taste possessed. Education, then, as furnishing mental discipline, and accustoming the mind to processes of analysis and investigation, is conducive to the improvement of the taste. And since, as has been stated, much that comes under cognizance of taste is addressed to the imagination, especially in the symbolical fine arts, the cultivation of this faculty of the mind will be closely connected with whatever calls for the exercise of the taste.
ON LITERARY TASTE.
LITERARY taste is the judgment of whatever of a literary nature is designed to excite emotions of beauty, grandeur and sublimity, founded upon the past experience of emotions of the same kind. It is the object of this chapter to explain the nature of literary taste as thus defined, and to offer, in connexion with examples, such directions and cautions as may aid in its improvement. The word literature is most frequently used to denote something in distinction from science. In this sense, it refers to certain classes of writing. Such are Poetry and Fictitious Prose, Historical, Epistolary, and Essay Writing. On the other hand, a treatise on Optics or Electricity, or a work on Intellectual Philosophy, is classed under the head of science. The ground of this distinction is, that in the one case there are favourable opportunities for interesting and pleasing the mind by the mode of exhibiting objects and scenes, or from the nature of what is exhibited; while, in the other, the attention is principally directed to the elucidation and establishment of scientific principles, or to those intellectual employments which afford exercise to the reasoning powers.
There is, however, a more extended sense, in which the word literature is used. It is often intended to refer merely to the use of words as a mode of exhibiting the thoughts and views of the mind, and thus embraces all that is committed to letters. In this sense of the word, we might speak of Euclid's Elements of Geometry as a literary work, and say of the literature of any particular age, that it is of a scientific kind,
As it is not the object of this part of the work to direct the attention of the student to particular classes of literary productions, I shall here consider the word literature as used in its most extensive sense, and consequently in treating of attempts of a literary kind to excite emotions of taste, I shall refer to what is more particularly connected with the style.
If now we examine the various classes of literary productions, we find attempts to excite emotions of taste which are common in some degree to all. Such are well chosen words, well turned expressions and happy illustrations. These are called the ornaments of style, and though not essential to the communication of the writer's thoughts, they are often highly useful. They allure and fix the attention, and aid in the full and clear exhibition of what is communicated.
Of these ornaments of style, some have been classified and have received appropriate names. Such are Similes, Metaphors, Allusions, and Personifications; others are of a more incidental nature. The former will be examined in the present chapter; of the latter, some mention will be made, when treating of the different qualities of style.
Before entering upon the examination of the classified ornaments of style, I wish to bring distinctly to view the different principles, on which these attempts to excite emotions of taste are founded. In this way, the student will be enabled more fully to understand the reasons of the different directions and cautions which
may and to discern more clearly the nature and object of lite
It was stated in the last chapter, that from the original constitution of the human mind, we are fitted to feel emotions of beauty and sublimity as regards objects and scenes in nature. A passage of descriptive writing will enable me to illustrate what is here meant.