« PreviousContinue »
LECT. may be applied in furnishing materials for
those fashionable topics of discourse, and there-
But I should be sorry if we could not rest the merit of such studies on somewhat of solid and intrinsical use, independent of appearance and Show. The exercise of taste and of sound criticisin, is in truth one of the most improving employments of the understanding. To apply the principles of good sense to composition and discourse; to examine what is beau. tiful, and why it is so; to employ ourselves in distinguishing accurately between the specious and the folid, between affected and natural ornament, must certainly improve us not a little in the most valuable part of all philofophy, the philosophy of human nature. For fuch disquisitions are very intimately connected with the knowledge of ourselves. They neceffarily lead us to reflect on the operations of the imagination, and the movements of the heart; and increase our acquaintance with some of the most refined feelings which belong to our frame,
Logical and Ethical disquisitions move in a higher sphere ; and are conversant with objects of a more severe kind; the progress of the understanding in its search after know
ledge, and the direction of the will in the L E C T. proper pursuit of good. They point out to man the improvement of his nature as an intelligent being; and his duties as the subject of moral obligation. Belles Lettres and criticism chiefly consider him as a Being endowed with those powers of taste and imagination, which were intended to embellish his mind, and to supply him with rational and useful entertaininent. They open a field of investigation peculiar to themselves. All that relates to beauty, har. mony, grandeur, and elegance; all that can sooth the mind, gratify the fancy, or move the affections, belongs to their province. They present human nature under a different aspect from that which it assumes when viewed by other sciences. They bring to light various springs of action, which, without their aid, might have passed unobserved ; and which, though of a delicate nature, frequently exert a powerful influence on several departments of human life.
Such studies have also this peculiar advantage, that they exercise our reason without fatiguing it. They lead to enquiries acute, but not painful; profound, but not dry nor ab
truse. They strew Aowers in the path of fcience; and while they keep the mind bent, in fome degree, and active, they relieve it at the fame time from that more toilsome labour to
LE C T. which it must submit in the acquisition of ne
cessary erudition, or the investigation of ab:
The culcivation of taste is farther recommended by the happy effects which it naturally tends to produce on human life. The most busy man, in the most active sphere, cannot be always occupied by business. Men of serious professions cannot always be on the stretch of serious thought. Neither can the most gay and flourishing situations of fortune afford any man the power of filling all his hours with pleasure. Life must always languish in the hands of the idle. It will frequently languish even in the hands of the busy, if they have not some employment sub sidiary to that which forms their inain pursuit. How then shall these vacant spaces, those unemployed intervals, which, more or less; occur in the life of every one, be filled up? How can we contrive to dispose of them in any way that shall be more agreeable in itself, or more consonant to the dignity of the human mind, than in the entertainments of taste; and the study of polite literature ? He who is so happy as to have acquired a relish for these, has always at hand an innocent and irreproachable amusement for his leisure hours, to save him from the danger of many a pernicious passion. He is not in hazard of being
a burden to himself. He is not obliged to fly LECT. to low company, or to court the riot of loose pleasures, in order to cure the tediousness of existence.
PROVIDENCE seems plainly to have pointed out this useful purpose to which the pleasures of taste may be applied, by interposing them in a middle station between the pleasures of sense, and those of pure intellect. We were not designed to grovel always among objects so low as the former; nor are we capable of dwelling constantly in so high a region as the latter. The pleasures of taste refresh the mind after the toils of the intellect, and the labours of abstract study; and they gradually raise it above the attachments of sense, and prepare it for the enjoyments of virtue.
So consonant is this to experience, that, in the education of youth, no object has in every age appeared more important to wise men, than to tincture them early with a relish for the entertainments of taste. The transition is commonly made with ease from these to the discharge of the higher and more important duties of life. Good hopes may be entertained of those whose minds have this liberal and elegant turn.
It is favourable to many virtues. Whereas, to be entirely devoid of relish for eloquence, poetry, or any of the
LECT. fine arts, is juftly construed to be an unpro.
mising symptom of youth; and raises fufpicions of their being prone to low gratifications, or destined to drudge in the more vulgar and illiberal pursuits of life.
THERE are indeed few good dispositions of any kind with which the improvement of taste is not more or less connected. A cultivated taste increases sensibility to all the tender and humane paffions, by giving them frequent exercise ; while it tends to weaken the more violent and fierce emotions.
-Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes Emollit mores, nec finit effe feros *. The elevated sentiments and high examples which poetry, eloquence and history are often bringing under our view, naturally tend to nourish in our minds public spirit, the love of glory, contempt of external fortune, and the admiration of what is truly illustrious and great.
I will not go so far as to say that the im. provement of taste and of virtue is the fame; or that they may always be expected to coexist in an equal degree. More powerful correctives than taste can apply, are necessary for
* These polith'd arts have humaniz'd mankind, Soften'd the rude, and calm'd the boift'rous mind.