Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

LECT. correct without being delicate. But still a

predominancy of one or other quality in the
mixture is often visible. The power of Deli-
cacy is chiefly seen in discerning the true me.
rit of a work; the power of Correctness, in re-
jecting false pretensions to merit.

leans more to feeling; Correctness more to
reason and judgment. The former is more
the gift of nature; the latter, more the pro-
duct of culture and art. Among the antient
critics, Longinus poffeffed most Delicacy;
Aristotle, moft Correctness. Among the mo-
derns, Mr. Addison is a high example of deli-
cate Taste; Dean Swift, had he written on the
fubject of criticism, would perhaps have afford.
ed the example of a correct one,

Having viewed Taste in its most improved and perfect state, I come next to consider its deviations froin that state, the fluctuations and changes to which it is liable; and to enquire whether, in the midst of these, there be any means of distinguishing a true from a corrupted Taste. This brings us to the most difficult part of our task. For it must be acknowledged, that no principle of the human mind is, in içs operations, more Auctuating and capricious than Taste, Its variations have been so great and frequent, as to create a fufpicion with some, of its being merely arbitrary; grounded on no foundation, ascertain



able by no standard, but wholly dependent on LEC T. changing fancy; the consequence of which would be, that all studies or regular enquiries concerning the objects of Taste were vain. Ín architecture, the Grecian models were long esteemed the most perfect. In succeeding ages, the Gothic architecture alone prevailed, and afterwards the Grecian Tafte revived in all its vigour, and engrossed the public admiration. In eloquence and poetry, the Asiatics at no time relished any thing but what was full of ornament, and splendid in a degree that we should denominate gawdy; whilst the Greeks admired only chaste and simple beauties, and despised the Asiatic ostentation. In our own country, how many writings that were greatly extolled two or three centuries ago, are now fallen into entire disrepute and oblivion? Without going back to remote instances, how very different is the taste of poetry which prevails in Great Britain now, from what prevailed there no longer ago than the reign of king Charles II. which the authors too of that time deemed an Augustan age : when nothing was in vogue but an affected brilliancy of wit; when the simple majesty of Milton was overlooked, and Paradife Lost almost entirely unknown; when Cowley's laboured and unnatural conceits were admired as the very quintessence of genius; Waller's gay sprightliness was mistaken for the tender spirit of Love VOL. I.



L E CT, poetry; and such writers as Suckling and

Etheridge were held in esteem for dramatic composition


The question is, what conclusion we are to form from such instances as these? Is there any thing that can be called a standard of Taste, by appealing to which we may diftinguish between a good and a bad Taste ? Or, is there in truth no such distinction; and are we to hold that, according to the proverb, there is no disputing of Tastes; but that whatever pleases is right, for that reason that it does please? This is the question, and a very nice and subtile one it is, which we are now to discuss.

I begin by observing, that if there be no fuch thing as any standard of Taste, this confequence must immediately follow, that all Tastes are equally good; a position, which though it may pass unnoticed in Night matters, and when we speak of the lesser differences among

the Tastes of men, yet when we apply it to the extremes, presently shows its absurdity. For is there any one who will feriously maintain that the Taste of a Hottentot or a Laplander is as delicate and as correct as that of a Longinus or an Addison ? or, that he can be charged with no defect or incapacity who thinks a common news-writer as excellent



an Hiftorian as Tacitus ? As it would be held L E C T. downright extravagance to talk in this manner, we are led unavoidably to this conclusion, that there is some foundation for the preference of one man's Taste to that of another; or, that there is a good and a bad, a right and a wrong in Taste, as in other things.

But to prevent mistakes on this subject, it is necessary to observe next, that the diversity of Tastes which prevails among mankind, does not in every case infer corruption of Taste, or oblige us to seek for some standard in order to determine who are in the right. The Tastes of men may differ very considerably as to their object, and yet none of them be wrong. One man relishes poetry most; another takes pleasure in nothing but History. One prefers Comedy; another, Tragedy. One admires the simple ; another, the ornamented style. The young are amused with gay and sprightly compositions. The elderly are more entertained with those of a graver caft. Some nations delight in bold pictures of manners, and strong representations of passion. Others incline to more correct and regular elegance both in description and sentiment. Though all differ, yet all pitch upon some one beauty which peculiarly suits their turn of mind; and therefore no one has a title to condeinn the rest. . It is not in matters of Taste, as in


D 2

[ocr errors]


L E C T. questions of mere reason, where there is but

one conclusion that can be true, and all the rest
are erroneous. Truth, which is the object of
reason, is one ; Beauty, which is the object of
Taste, is manifold. Taste therefore admits.
of latitude and diversity of objects, in fuffi-
cient consistency with goodness or juftness of

[ocr errors]

But then, to explain this matter thoroughly,
I must observe farther, that this admissible di-
versity of Tastes can only have place where the
objects of Taste are different. Where it is
with respect to the same object that men dis-
agree, when one condemns that as ugly, which
another admires as highly beautiful; then it is
no longer diversity, but direct opposition of
Taste that takes place; and therefore one must
be in the right, and another in the wrong, un- .
less that absurd paradox were allowed to hold,
that all Taftes are equally good and true.
One man prefers Virgil to Homer. Suppose
that I, on the other hand, admire Homer
more than Virgil. I have as yet no reason to
say that our Tastes are contradictory. The
other person is most struck with the elegance
and tenderness which are the characteristics
of Virgil; }, with the fimplicity and fire of
Homer. As long as neither of us deny that
both Homer and Virgil have great beauties,
our difference falls within the compass of


« PreviousContinue »