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that diversity of Tastes, which I have Thewed LECT. to be natural and allowable. But if the other man shall assert that Homer has no beauties whatever ; that he holds him to be a dull and spiritless writer, and that he would as soon peruse any old legend of Knight-errantry as the Iliad ; then I exclaim, that my antagonist either is void of all Taste, or that his Taste is corrupted in a miserable degree; and I appeal to whatever I think the standard of Taste, to shew him that he is in the wrong.
WHAT that standard is, to which, in fuch opposition of Tastes, we are obliged to have recourse, remains to be traced. A standard properly signifies, that which is of such undoubted authority as to be the test of other things of the same kind. Thus a standard weight or measure, is that which is appointed by law to regulate all other measures and weights. Thus the court is said to be the ftandard of good breeding; and the scripture, of theological truth,
WHEN we say that nature is the standard of Tafte, we lay down a principle very true and just, as far as it can be applied. There is no doubt, that in all cases where an imitation is intended of some object that exists in nature, as in representing human characters or actions, conformity to nature affords a full and distinct
LECT. criterion of what is truly beautiful. Reason
hath in such cases full scope for exerting its authority, for approving or condemning; by comparing the copy with the original. But there are innumerable cases in which this rule cannot be at all applied; and conformity to nature, is an expression frequently used, without any distinct or determinate meaning. We must therefore search for somewhat that can be rendered more clear and precise, to be the standard of Taste.
Taste, as I before explained it, is ultimately founded on an internal sense of beauty, which is natural to men, and which, in its application to particular objects, is capable of being guided and enlightened by reason. Now, were there any one person who possessed in full perfection all the powers of human nature, whose internal senses were in every instance exquisite and just, and whose reason was unerring and sure, the determinations of such a person concerning beauty, would, beyond doubt, be a perfect standard for the Taste of all others. Wherever their Taste differed from his, it could be imputed only to fome imperfection in their natural powers. But as there is no such living standard, no one person to whom all mankind will allow such submission to be due, what is there of fufficient authority to be the standard of the 7
various and opposite Tastes of men ? Most L E C T. certainly there is nothing but the Taste, as far as it can be gathered, of human nature. That which men concur the most in admiring, must be held to be beautiful. His Taste must be esteemed jult and true, which coincides with the general sentiments of men. In this standard we must rest. To the sense of mankind the ultimate appeal must ever lie, in all works of Taste. If any one should maintain that sugar was bitter and tobacco was sweet, no reasonings could avail to prove it. The Taste of such a person would infallibly be held to be diseased, merely because it differed so widely from the Taste of the species to which he belongs. In like manner, with regard to the objects of sentiment or internal Taste, the common feelings of men carry the same authority, and have a title to regulate the Taste of every individual.
But have we then, it will be said, no other criterion of what is beautiful, than the
approbațion of the majority ? Must we collect the voices of others, before we form any judgment for ourselves, of what deserves applause in Eloquence or Poetry? By no means; there are principles of reason and found judgment which can be applied to matters of Tafte, as well as to the subjects of science and philosophy. He who admires or censures any
LECT. work of genios, is always ready, if his Taste
be in any degree improved, to assign some reasons of his decision. He appeals to principles, and points out the grounds on which he proceeds. Taste is a fort of compound power, in which the light of the understanding always mingles, more or less, with the feelings of fentiment.
But, though reason can carry us a certain length in judging concerning works of Taste, it is not to be forgotten that the ultimate conclusions to which our reasonings lead, refer at last to sense and perception. We may speculate and argue concerning propriety of conduct in a Tragedy, or an Epic Poem. Just reasonings on the subject will correct the caprice of unenlightened Taste, and establish principles for judging of what deserves praise. But, at the same time, these reasonings appeal always, in the last resort, to feeling. The foundation upon which they reft, is what has been found from experience to please mankind universally. Upon this ground we prefer a simple and natural, to an artificial and affected style; a regular and well-connected story, to loose and scattered narratives; a catastrophe which is tender and pathetic, to one which leaves us unmoved. It is from consulting our own imagination and heart, and from attending to the feelings of others, that
any principles are formed which acquire autho- LE C T. rity in matters of Taste *.
When we refer to the concurring sentiments of men as the ultimate test of what is to be accounted beautiful in the arts, this is to be always understood of men placed in such situations as are favourable to the proper exertions of Tafte. Every one must perceive, thac
The difference between the authors who found the ftandard of Taste upon the common feelings of human nature ascertained by general approbation, and those who found it upon established principles which can be ascertained by Reason, is more an apparent than a real difference. Like many other literary controversies, it turns chiefly on modes of expression. For they who lay the greatest stress on sentiment and feeling, make no scruple of applying argument and reason to matters of Taste. They appeal, like other writers, to established principles, in judging of the excellencies of Eloquence or Poetry ; and plainly shew, that the general approbation to which they ultimately recur, is an approbation resulting from discussion as well as from sentiment. They, on the other hand, who, in order to vindicate Taste from any fufpicion of being arbitrary, maintain that it is ascertainable by the standard of Reason, admit nevertheless, that what pleases universally, muft on that account be held to be truly beautiful ; and that no rules or conclufions concerning objects of Taste, can have any juft authority, if they be found to contradict the general sentiments of men. These two fyftems, therefore, differ in reality very little from one another. Sentiment and Reason enter into both ; and by allowing to each of these powers its due place, both systems may be rendered confiftent. Accordingly, it is in this light that I have endeavoured to place the subject.