« PreviousContinue »
reforming the corrupt propensities which too LT. T. frequently prevail among mankind. Elegant speculations are sometimes found to Aoat on the surface of the mind, while bad passions possess the interior regions of the heart. At the same time this cannot but be admitted, that the exercise of taste is, in its native tendency, moral and purifying. From reading the most admired productions of genius, whether in poetry or prose, almost every one rises with some good impressions left on his mind; and though these may not always be durable, they are at least to be ranked
ainong the means of disposing the heart to virtue. One thing is certain, and I shall hereafter have occasion to illustrate it more fully, that, without possessing the virtuous affections in a strong degree, no man can attain eminence in the sublime parts of eloquence. He must feel what a good man feels, if he expects greatly to move, or to interest mankind. They are the ardent sentiments of honour, virtue, magnanimity, and public spirit, that only can kindle that fire of genius, and call up into the mind those high ideas, which attract the admiration of ages ; and if this spirit be neces. sary to produce the most distinguished efforts of eloquence, it must be necessary also to our relishing them with proper taste and feeling.
On these general topics I shall dwell no longer ; but proceed directly to the consideration of the subjects which are to employ the following Lectures. They divide themselves into five parts. First, fome introductory dissertations on the Nature of Taste, and upon the fources of its pleasures. Secondly, the confideration of Language : Thirdly, of Style: Fourthly, of Eloquence properly so called, or Public Speaking in its different kinds. Lastly, a critical examination of the most distinguished Species of Composition, both in prose and verse.
T A S T E.
HE nature of the present undertaking LECT.
leads me to begin with some enquiries concerning Tafte, as it is this faculty which is always appealed to in disquisitions concerning the merit of discourse and writing.
There are few subjects on which men talk more loosely and indistinctly than on Taste; few which it is more difficult to explain with precision; and none which in this course of Lectures will appear more dry or abstract, What I have to say on the subject shall be in the following order. I fall first explain the Nature of Taste as a power or faculty in the human mind. I shall next consider how far it is an improveable faculty. I Mall shew the sources of its improvement, and the characters of Taste in its most perfect state. I fall then examine the various Auctuations to
LECT. which it is liable, and enquire whether there
any standard to which we can bring the dif. ferent tastes of men, in order to distinguish the corrupted from the true.
Taste may be defined “ The power, of “ receiving pleasure from the beauties of naas ture and of art.” The first question that occurs concerning it is, whether it is to be considered as an internal sense, or as an exertion of reason? Reason is a very general term; but if we understand by it, that power of the mind which in speculative matters discovers truth, and in practical matters judges of the fitness of means to an end, I apprehend the question may be easily answered. For nothing can be more clear, than that Taste is not resolveable into any such operation of Reason. It is not merely through a discovery of the understanding, or a deduction of argument, that the mind receives pleasure from a beautiful prospect or a fine poem.
Such objects often strike us intuitively, and make a strong impression, when we are unable to assign the reasons of our being pleased.
They sometimes strike in the same manner the philosopher and the peasant ; the boy and the man. Hence the faculty by which we relish fuch beauties, seems more nearly allied to a feeling of sense, than to a process of the understanding; and accordingly, from an exter
bal fense it has borrowed its name; that sense LECT. by which we receive and distinguish the pleasures of food having, in several languages, given rise to the word Taste in the metaphorical meaning under which we now consider it. However, as, in all subjects which regard the operations of the mind, the inaccurate use of words is to be carefully avoided, it must not be inferred from what I have said, that Reason is entirely excluded from the exertions of Taste. Though Taste, beyond doubt, be ultimately founded on a certain natural and inItinctive sensibility to beauty, yet Reason, as I shall shew hereafter, aflists Taste in many of its operations, and serves to enlarge its power
Taste, in the sense in which I have explained it, is a faculty common in some degree to all men. Nothing that belongs to human nature is more general than the relish of beauty of one kind or other ; of what is orderly, proportioned, grand, harmonior e, new, or sprightly. In children, the rudiments of
* See Dr. Gerard's Essay on Tafte.—D'Alembert's Reflections on the use and abuse of philosophy in matters which relate to l'afte.-Reflexions Critiques sur la poësie et sur la peinture, tome ii. ch. 22–31. Elements of Criticism, chap. 25.-Mr. Home's Effay on the Standard of Taste.--Introduction to the Eflay on the Sublime and Beautiful.