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appears. “ Opinionum commenta delet dies; na“ turæ judicia confirmat.” Time overthrows the illusions of opinion, but establishes the decisions of nature.
GENIUS. PLEASURES OF TASTE. -
TASTE, Criticism, and Genius, are words currently employed, without distinct ideas annexed to them. In beginning a course of Lectures where such words must often occur, it is necessary to ascertain their meaning with some precision. Having in the last Lecture treated of Taste, I proceed to explain the nature and foundation of Criticism. True Criticism is the application of Taste and of good sense to the several fine arts. The object which it proposes is, to distinguish what is beautiful and what is faulty in every performance; from particular instances to ascend to general principles; and so to form rules or conclusions concerning the several kinds of beauty in works of Genius.
The rules of Criticism are not formed by any in. duction, à priori, as it is called; that is, they are not formed by a train of abstract reasoning, independent of facts and observations. Criticism is an
art founded wholly on experience; on the observations of such beauties as have come nearest to the standard whích I before established; that is, 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 rules first discovered by logical reasoning, and then applied to poetry; but they were drawn from the practice of Homer and Sophocles : they were founded upon observing the superior pleasure which we receive from the relation of an action which is one and entire, beyond what we receive from the relation of scattered and unconnected facts. Such observations taking their rise at first from feeling and experience, were found on examination to be so consonant to reason, and to the principles of human nature, as to pass into established rules, and to be conveniently applied for judging of the excellency of any performance. This is the most natural account of the origin of Criticism.
A masterly genius, it is true, will of himself, untaught, compose in such a manner as shall be agree. able to the most material rules of Criticism ; for as these rules are founded in nature, nature will often suggest them in practice. Homer, it is more than probable, was acquainted with no systems of the art of poetry. Guided by genius alone, he composed in verse a regular story, which all posterity has admired. But this is no argument against the usefulness of criticism as an art. For as no human genius is perfect, there is no writer but may receive assistance from critical observations upon the beauties and faults of those who have gone before him. No observations or rules can indeed supply the defect
of genius, or inspire it where it is wanting. But they may often direct it into its proper channel ; : they may correct its extravagancies, and point out to it the most just and proper imitation of nature. Critical rules are designed chiefly to shew the faults that ought to be avoided. To nature we must be indebted for the production of eminent beauties.
From what has been said, we are enabled to form a judgment concerning those complaints which it has long been fashionable for petty authors to make against Critics and Criticism. Critics have been represented as the great abridgers of the native liberty of genius; as 'the imposers of unnatural shackles and bonds upon writers, from whose cruel persecution they must fly to the Public, and implore its protection. Such supplicatory prefaces are not calculated to give very favourable ideas of the genius: of the author. For every good writer will be pleased to have his work examined by the principles of sound understanding, and true Taste. The declamations against Criticism commonly proceed upon this supposition, that Critics are such as judge by rule, not by feeling ; which is so far from being true, that they who judge after this manner are Pedants, not Critics. For all the rules of genuine Criticism I have shewn to be ultimately founded on feeling; and Taste and Feeling are necessary to guide us in the application of these rules to every particular instance. As there is nothing in which all sorts of persons more readily affect to be judges than in works of Taste, there is no doubt that the number of incompetent Critics will always be great.
But this affords no more foundation for a general invective against Criticism, than the number of bad philosophers or reasoners affords against reason and philosophy.
An objection more plausible may be formed against Criticism, from the applause that some performances have received from the Public, which, when accurately considered, are found to contradict the rules established by Criticism. Now, according to the principles laid down in the last Lecture, the Public is the supreme judge to whom the last appeal must be made in every work of Taste; as the standard of Taste is founded on the sentiments that are natural and common to all men. But with respect to this, we are to observe, that the sense of the Public is often too hastily judged of. The genuine public Taste does not always appear in the first applause given upon the publication of any new work. There are both a great vulgar and a small, apt to be catched and dazzled by very superficial beauties, the admiration of which in a little time passes away: and sometimes a writer may acquire great temporary reputation merely by his compliance with the passions or prejudices, with the party-spirit or superstitious notions, that may chance to rule for a time almost a whole nation. In such cases, though the Public may seem to praise, true Criticism may with reason condemn; and it will in progress of time gain the ascendant: for the judgment of true Criticism, and the voice of the Public, when once become un. prejudiced and dispassionate, will ever coincide at last.
Instances I admit there are of some works, that contain gross transgressions of the laws of Criticism, acquiring, nevertheless, a general, and even a lasting admiration. Such are the plays of Shakespeare, which, considered as dramatic poems, are irregular in the highest degree. But then we are to remark, that they have gained the public admiration, not by their being irregular, not by their transgressions of the rules of art, but in spite of such transgressions. They possess other beauties which are conformable to just rules; and the force of these beauties has been so great as to overpower all censure, and to give the Public a degree of satisfaction superior to the disgust arising from their blemishes. Shakespeare pleases, not by his bringing the transactions of many years into one play; not by his grotesque mixtures of Tragedy and Comedy in one piece, nor by the strained thoughts, and affected witticisms, which he sometimes employs. These we consider as blemishes, and impute them to the grossness of the age in which he lived. But he pleases by his animated and masterly representations of characters, by the liveliness of his descriptions, the force of his sentiments, and his possessing, beyond all writers, the natural language of passion : beauties which true Criticism no less teaches us to place in the highest rank, than Nature teaches us to feel.
I proceed next to explain the meaning of another term, which there will be frequent occasion to employ in these Lectures; that is, Genius.
Taste and Genius are two words frequently joined together; and therefore, by inaccurate thinkers, confounded. They signify, however, two quite different things. The difference between them can be clearly pointed out; and it is of importance to remember it. Taste consists in the power of judging ; Genius, in the power of executing. One may have a considerable degree of Taste in Poetry, Eloquence, or any