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is, they are not formed by a train of abstract L E C T. reasoning, independent of facts and observations. Criticism is an art founded wholly on experience; on the observation of such beauties as have come nearest to the standard which I before established; that is, of such beauties as have been found to please mankind most generally. For example; Aristotle's rules concerning the unity of action in dramatic and epic composition, were not rules first dircovered by logical reasoning, and then applied to poetry; but they were drawn from the practice of Homer and Sophocles: they were founded upon observing the superior pleasure which we receive from the relation of an action which is one and entire, beyond what we receive from the relation of scattered and unconnected facts. Such observations taking their rise at first, from feeling and experience, were found on examination to be so consonant to reason, and to the principles of human nature, as to pass into established rules, and to be conveniently applied for judging of the excellency of any performance. This is the most natural account of the origin of Criticism.
A MASTERLY genius, it is true, will of himself, untaught, compose in such a manner as shall be agreeable to the most material rules of Criticism; for as these rules are founded in
LECT. nature, nature will often suggest them in
practice. Homer, it is more than probable,
Critical rules are defigned chiefly to shew the faults that ought to be avoided. To nature we must be indebted for the production of eminent beauties.
From what has been said, we are enabled to form a judgment concerning those complaints which it has long been fashionable for petty authors to make against Critics and Criticism. Critics have been represented as the great abridgers of the native liberty of genius ; as the imposers of unnatural shackles and bonds upon writers, from whose cruel persecution they must fy to the Public, and implore its protection. Such fupplicatory
prefaces are not calculated to give very favour- LECT. able ideas of the genius of the author. For every good writer will be pleased to have his work examined by the principles of found understanding; and true Tafte. The declamations against Criticism commonly proceed upon this supposition, that Critics are such as judge by rule, not by feeling; which is so far from being true, that they who judge after this manner are pedants, not Critics. For all the rules of genuine Criticisın I have thewn to be ultimately founded on feeling; and Taste and Feeling are necessary to guide us in the application of these rules to every particular instance. As there is nothing in which all sorts of persons more readily affect to be judges than in works of Taste, there is no doubt that the number of incompetent Critics will always be great.
But this affords no more foundation for a general invective against Criticism, than the number of bad philosophers or reasoners affords against reason and philosophy.
An objection more plausible may be formed against Criticism, from the applause that some performances have received from the Public; which, when accurately considered, are found to contradict the rules established by Critieism. Now, according to the principles laid down in the last Lecture, the Public is the supreme VOL. I.
LEC T. judge to whom the last appeal must be made
in every work of Taste; as the standard of
INSTANCES, I admit, there are, of some works that contain gross transgressions of the laws of Criticism, acquiring, nevertheless, a general, and even a lasting admiration. Such are the plays of Shakespeare, which, considered as dramatic poems, are irregular in the highest 8
degree. But then we are to remark, that LECT. they have gained the public admiration, not by their being irregular, not by their transgressions of the rules of art, but in spite of such transgressions. They poffefs other beauties which are conformable to just rules ; and the force of these beauties has been fo great as to overpower all cenfure, and to give the Public a degree of satisfaction superior to the disgust arising from their blemishes. Shakespeare pleases, not by his bringing the transactions of many years into one play; not by his grotesque mixtures of Tragedy and Comedy in one piece, nor by the strained thoughts, and affected witticisms, which he fometimes employs.
There we consider as blemishes, and impute them to the grossness of the age in which he lived. But he pleases by his animated and masterly representations of characters, by the liveliness of his descriptions, the force of his sentiments, and his poffeffing, beyond ali writers, the natural language of paffion: Beauties which true Criticism no less teaches us to place in the highest rank, than nature teaches us to feel,
I PROCEED next to explain the meaning of another term, which there will be frequent occasion to employ in these Lectures; that is, Genius.