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Taste which I have enumerated, that Pleasure is to be referred, which we receive from poetry, eloquence, or fine writing? My answer is, Not to any one, but to them all. This singular advantage writing and discourse possess, that they encompass so large and rich a field on all sides, and have power to exhibit, in great perfection, not a single set of objects only, but almost the whole of those which give Pleasure to Taste and Imagination : whether that Pleasure arise from Sublimity, from Beauty in its different forms, from Design and Art, from Moral Sentiment, from Novelty, from Harmony, from Wit, Humour, and Ridicule. To whichsoever of these the peculiar bent of a person's Taste lies, from some writer or other he has it always in his power to receive the gratification of it.
Now this high power which eloquence and poetry possess, of supplying Taste and Imagination with such a wide circle of pleasures, they derive altogether from their having a greater capacity of Imitation and Description than is possessed by any other art. Of all the means which human ingenuity has contrived for recalling the images of real objects, and awakening, by representation, similar emotions to those which are raised by the original, none is so full and extensive as that which is executed by words and writing. Through the assistance of this happy invention, there is nothing, either in the natural or moral world but what can be represented and set before the mind, in colours very strong and lively. Hence it is usual among critical writers to speak of Discourse as the chief of all the imitative or mimetic arts; they compare it with painting and with sculpture, and in many respects prefer it justly before them, ;
This style was first introduced by Aristotle in his Poetics; and, since his time, has acquired a general currency among modern authors. But, as it is of consequence to introduce as much precision as possible into critical language, I must observe, that this manner of speaking is not accurate. Neither discourse in general, nor poetry in particular, can be called altogether imitative arts. We must distinguish betwixt Imitation and Description, which are ideas that should not be confounded. Imitation is performed by means of somewhat that has a natural likeness and resemblance to the thing imitated ; and of consequence is understood by all ; such are statues and pictures. Description, again, is the raising in the mind the conception of an object by means of some arbitrary or instituted symbols, understood only by those who agree in the institution of them; such are words and writing. Words have no natural resemblance to the ideas or objects which they are employed to signify; but a statue or picture has a natural likeness to the original. And therefore Imitation and Description differ considerably in their nature from each other.
As far, indeed, as the poet introduces into his work persons actually speaking; and, by the words which he puts into their mouths, represents the discourse which they might be supposed to hold; so far his art may more accurately be called Imitative: and this is the case in all dramatic composition. But, in Narrative or Descriptive works, it can with : no propriety be called so. Who, for instance, would call Virgil's Description of a tempest, in the first Æneid, an Imitation of a storm ? If we heard of the Imitation of a battle we might naturally think of some mock-fight, or representation of a battle on the stage, but would never apprehend that it meant one of Homer's Descriptions in the Iliad. I admit at the same time, that Imitation and Description agree in their principal effect, of recalling, by external signs, the ideas of things which they do not see. But though in this they coincide, yet it should not be forgotten, that the terms themselves are not synonymous ; that they import different means of effecting the same end; and of course make different
l impressions on the mind.
Though in the execution of particular parts Poetry is certainly Descriptive rather than Imitative, yet there is a qualified sense, in which Poetry, in the general, may be termed an Imitative art. The subject of the Poet (as Dr. Gerard has shewn in the Appendix to his Essay on Taste) is intended to be an Imitation, not of things really existing, but of the course of nature; that is, a feigned representation of such events, or such scenes, as, though they never had a being, yet might have existed; and which, therefore, by their probability, bear a resemblance to nature. It was probably in this sense that Aristotle termed Poetry a mimetic art. How far either the Imitation or the Description which Poetry employs, is superior to the imitative Powers of Painting and Music, is well shewn by Mr. Harris, in his Treatise on Music, Painting, and Poetry. The chief advantage which Poetry or Discourse in general enjoys, is that whereas, by the nature of his art, the Painter is confined to the representation of a single moment, Writing and Discourse can trace a transaction through its whole progress. That moment indeed which the Painter pitches upon for the subject of his picture, he may be said to exhibit with more advantage than the Poet or Orator; inasmuch as he sets before us, in one view, all the minute concurrent circumstances of the event which happens in one individual point of time, as they appear in nature ; while Discourse is obliged to exhibit them in succession, and by means of a detail, which is in danger of becoming tedious, in order to be clear; or, if not tedious, is in danger of being obscure. But to that point of time which he
Whether we consider Poetry in particular, and Discourse in general, as Imitative or Descriptive; it is evident, that their whole power in recalling the impressions of real objects, is derived from the significancy of words. As their excellency flows altogether from this source, we must, in order to make way for further enquiries, begin at the fountain head. 1 shall, therefore, in the next Lecture, enter upon the consideration of Language: of the origin, the progress, and construction of which I purpose to treat at some length.
Having finished my observations on the Pleasures of Taste, which we meant to be introductory to the principal subject of these Lectures, I now begin to treat of Language; which is the foundation of the whole power of eloquence. This will lead to a considerable discussion; and there are few subjects belonging to polite literature which more merit such a discussion. I shall first give a History of the Rise and Progress of Language in several particulars, from its early to its more advanced periods; which shall be followed by a similar History of the Rise and Progress of Writing. I shall next give some account of the Construction of Language, or the Principles of Universal Grammar; and shall, lastly, apply these observations more particularly to the English Tongue.*
has chosen, the Painter being entirely confined, he cannot exhibit various stages of the same action or event; and he is subject to this farther defect, that he can only exhibit objects as they appear to the eye, and can very imperfectly delineate characters and sentiments, which are the noblest subjects of Imitation or Description. The power of representing these with full advantage, gives a high superiority to Discourse and Writing above all other imitative arts.
Language, in general, signifies the expression of our ideas by certain articulate sounds, which are used as the signs of those ideas. By articulate sounds are meant those modulations of simple voice, or of sound emitted from the thorax, which are formed by means of the mouth and its several organs, the teeth, the tongue, the lips, and the palate. How far there is any natural connection between the ideas of the mind and the sounds emitted, will appear from what
* See Dr. Adam Smith's Dissertation on the Formation of Languages. - Treatise of the Origin and Progress of Language, in 3 vols. – Harris's Hermes, or a Philosophical Inquiry concerning Language and Universal Grammar.- Essai sur l'Origine des Connoissances Humaines, par l'Abbé Condillac. - Principes de Grammaire, par Marsais. — Grammaire Generale et Raisonée. Traité de la Formation Mechanique des Langues, par le Presideur de Brosses. — Discours sur l'Inegalité parmi les Hommes, par Rous
Grammaire Generale, par. Beauzee. - Principes de la Traduction, par Batteux.- Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses, vol. ii. Sanctii Minerva, cum notis Perizonii. — Les Vrais Principes de la Langue Françoise, par l'Abbé Girard.