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Lectures on Rhetoric:
ASTE is the power of receiving pleasure or pain from the beauties or deformities of nature and of art.” It is a faculty common in some degree to all men. Through the circle of human nature, nothing is more general, than the relish of beauty of one kind or other; of what is orderly, proportioned, grand, harmonious, new, or sprightly. Nor does there prevail less generally a disrelish of whatever is gross, disproportioned, disorderly, and discordant. In children the rudiments of taste appear very early in a thousand instances; in their partiality for regu. lar bodies, their fondness for pictures and statues, and their warm attachment to whatever is new or astonishing. The most stupid peasants receive pleasure from tales and ballads, and are delighted with the beautiful appearances of nature in the earth and heavens. Even in the deserts of America, where human nature appears in its most uncultivated state, the savages have their ornaments ofdress, their war and their death songs, their harangues and their orators. The principles of taste must therefore be deeply founded in the human mind. To have some discernment
of beauty is no less essential to man, than to possess the attributes of speech and reason.
Though no human being can be entirely devoid of this faculty, yet it is possessed in very different degrees. In some men only faint glimmerings 'of taste are visible; the beauties, which they relish are of the coarsest kind; and of these they have only a weak and confused impression ; while in others, taste rises to an acute discernment, and a lively enjoyment of the most refined beauties.)
This inequality of taste among men is to be 'ascribed undoubtedly in part, to the different frame of their natures; to nicer organs, and more delicate internal powers, with which some are endued beyond others; yet it is owing still more to culture and education. Taste is certainly one of the most improvable faculties of our nature, We may easily be convinced of the truth of this assertion by only reflecting on that immense superiority, which education and improvement give to civilized, above barbarous nations, in refinement of taste; and on the advantage, which they give in the same nation, to those, who have studied the liberal arts, above the rude and illiterate vulgar.
Reason and good sense have so extensive an influence on all the operations and decisions of taste, that a completely good taste may well be considered, as, a power compounded of natural sensibility to beauty, and of improved understanding. To be satisfied of this, we may observe, that the greater part of the productions of genius are no other than imitations of nature; represeptations of the characters, actions, or man
ners of men. ) Now the pleasure we experience from such imitations or representations, is founded on mere taste;/ but to judge whether they be properly executed, belongs to the understanding, which compares the copy with the original.
In reading, for instance, the Æneid of Virgil, a great part of our pleasure arises from the proper conduct of the plan or story; from all the parts being joined together with probability and due connexion; from the adoption of the characters from nature, the correspondence of the sentiments to the characters, and of the style to the sentiments. The pleasure, which is derived from a poem so conducted, is felt or enjoyed by taste, as an internal sense; but the discovery of this conduct in the poem is owing to reason; and the more reason enables us to discover such propriety in the conduct, the greater will be our pleasure.
The constituents of taste, when brought to its most perfect state, are two, delicacy and correctness.
Delicacy of taste refers principally to the perfection of that natural sensibility, on which taste is founded. It implies those finer organs or powers, which enable us to discover beauties, that are concealed from a vulgar eye. It is judged of by the same marks, that we employ in judging of the delicacy of an external sense. As the goodness of the palate is not tried by strong flavours, but by a mixture of ingredients, where otwithstanding the confusion, we remain sensible of each; so delicacy of internal taste appears, by a quick and lively sensibility to its finest, most compounded, or most latent objects.
Correctness of taste respects the improvement this faculty receives through its connexion with the understanding. A man of correct taste is one, who is never imposed on by counterfeit beauties; who carries always, in his own mind, that standard of good sense, which he employs in judging of every thing. He estimates with propriety the relative merit of the several beauties, which he meets in any work of genius; refers them to their proper classes; assigns the principles, as far as they can be traced, whence their power of pleasing is derived; and is pleased himself precisely in that degree, in which he ought, and no more.
Taste is certainly not an arbitrary principle, which is subject to the fancy of every individual, and which admits no criterion for determining, whether it be true or false. Its foundation is the same in every human mind. It is built upon sentiments and perceptions, which are inseperable from our nature; and which generally operate with the same uniformity, as our other intellectyal principles. When these sentiments are perverted by ignorance or prejudice, they may be rectified by reason. Their sound and natural state is finally determined by comparing them with the general taste of mankind. Let men declaim as much as they please, concerning the caprice and uncertainty of taste; it is found by experience, that there are beauties, which, if displayed in a proper light, have power to command lasting and universal admiration. Ini every composition, what interests the imagination, and touches the heart, gives pleasure to all ages and nations.
There is a certain string, which being properly struck, the human heart is so made, as to accord to it.
Hence the universal testimony, which the most improved nations of the earth, through a long series of ages, have concurred to bestow on some few works of genius; such as the Iliad of Homer, and the Æneid of Virgil. Hence the authority which such works have obtained, as standards of poetical composition; since by them we are enabled to collect, what the sense of mankind is, with respect to 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 short lived reputation to an indifferent poet, or a bad artist ; but when foreigners or posterity examine his works, his faults are discovered, and the genuine taste of human nature is seen. Time overthrows the illusions of opinion, but establishes the decisions of nature.
CRITICISM. GENIUS, PLEASURES OF TASTE.
SUBLIMITY IN OBJECTS.
True criticism is the application of taste and of good sense, to the several fine arts. Its de sign is to distinguish, what is beautiful, and what is faulty, in every performance. From particular instances it ascends to general principles; and gradually forms rules or conclusions concerning the several kinds of beauty in works of genius.
Criticism is an art, founded entirely on expe. rience; on the observation of such beauties, as have been found to please mankind most generally, For example, Aristotle's rules concerming