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LECT, among rude and uncivilized nations, and
during the ages of ignorance and darkness, any
loose notions that are entertained concerning such subjects carry no authority. In those states of society, Taste has no materials on *which to operate. It is either totally suppressed, or appears in its lowest and most imperfect forin. We refer to the sentiments of mankind in polished and flourishing nations when arts are cultivated and manners refined ; when works of genius are subjected to free discussion, and Taste is improved by Science and Philosophy.
Even among nations, at such a period of society, I admit, that accidental causes may occasionally warp the proper operations of Tafte'; sometimes the state of religion, sometimes the form of government, may for a while pervert it; a licentious court may introduce a taste for false ornaments, and diffolute writings. The usage of one admired genius may procure approbation for his faults, and even render them fashionable. Sometimes envy may have power to bear down, for a little, productions of great merit; while popular humour, or party fpirit, may, at other times, exalt to a high, though short-lived, reputation, what little deserved it. But though such casual circumstances give the appearance of caprice to the judgments of Taste, that
appearance is easily corrected. In the course 1 ECT. of time, the genuine taste of human nature never fails to disclose itself, and to gain the ascendant over any fantastic and corrupted modes of Taste which may chance to have been introduced. These may have currency for a while, and mislead superficial judges ; but being subjected to examination, by degrees they pass away; while that alone remains which is founded on sound reason, and the native feelings of men.
I by no means pretend, that there is any standard of Taste, to which, in every particular instance, we can resort for clear and immediate determination. Where, indeed, is such a standard to be found for deciding any of those great controversies in reason and philosophy, which perpetually divide mankind ? In the present case, there was plainly no occasion for any
such strict and absolute provision to be made. In order to judge of what is morally good or evil, of what man ought, or ought not in duty to do, it was fit that the means of clear and precise determination should be afforded us.
But to ascertain in every case with the utmost exactness what is beautiful or elegant, was not at all necessary to the happiness of man. And therefore some diversity in feeling was here allowed to take place; and room was left for discussion and debate, concerning the degree
LECT. of approbation to which any work of genius is
The conclusion, which it is sufficient for us to rest upon, is, that Taste is far from being an arbitrary principle, which is subject to the fancy of every individual, and which admits of no criterion for determining whether it be false or true. Its foundation is the same in all human minds. It is built upon sentiments and perceptions which belong to our nature ; and which, in general, operate with the same uniformity as our other intellectual principles. When these sentiments are perverted by ignorance and prejudice, they are capable of being rectified by reason. Their sound and natural state is ultimately determined, by comparing them with the general Taste of mankind. Let men declaim as much as they please, concerning the caprice and the uncertainty of Taste, it is found, by experience, that there are beauties, which, if they be displayed in a properlight, have power to command lasting and general admiration. In every composition, what interests the imagination, and touches the heart, pleases all ages and all nations. There is a certain string, to which, when properly struck, the human heart is fo made as to answer.
Hence the universal testimony which the most improved nations of the earth have con.
spired, throughout a long tract of ages, to LECT. give to some few works of genius; such as the Iliad of Homer, and the Æneid of Virgil. Hence the authority which such works have acquired, as standards, in some degree, of poetical composition ; since from them we are enabled to collect what the sense of mankind is, concerning those beauties which give them the highest pleasure, and which therefore poetry ought to exhibit. Authority or prejudice may, in one age or country, give a temporary reputation to an indifferent poet, or a bad artist; but when foreigners, or when posterity examine his works, his faults are discerned, and the genuine Taste of human nature appears. “Opinionum commenta delet “ dies; naturæ judicia confirmat.” Time overthrows the illusions of opinion, but establishes the decisions of nature,
L E CTURE
R E III.
CRITICISM.-GENIUS. PLEASURES OF
Taste.-SUBLIMITY IN OBJECTS.
LECT. TASTE, Criticism, and Genius, are words
currently employed, without distinct ideas annexed to them. In beginning a course of Lectures where such words must often occur, it is necessary to ascertain their meaning, with some precision. Having in the last Lecture treated of Taste, I proceed to explain the nature and foundation of Criticism. True Criticisin is the application of Taste and of good sense to the several fine arts. The object which it proposes is, to distinguish what is beautiful and what is faulty in every performance; from particular instances to afcend to general principles ; and so to form rules or conclusions concerning the several kinds of beauty in works of Genius.
The rules of Criticisin are not formed by any induction, à priori, as it is called ; that