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294. REVOLUTIONS OF TASTE. — Though Taste is built upon the sentiments and perceptions which belong to our nature, and which, in general, operate with the same uniformity as our intellectual principles, yet, there have been various Revolutions of Taste. For, as peculiar circumstances have their influence on the taste of different individuals, so, the manners, customs, and peculiar circumstances of different ages, exert their influence on the taste of those ages. Still, as the nature, passions, and principles of men are ever the same, works of correct taste and true genius will survive the shock of opinions, and, in after ages, will receive the approbation of sound criticism and good taste.
295. Some works, indeed, have acquired a general and even a lasting admiration, though they contain many gross violations of the laws of good taste. But this arises from the fact, that, though their blemishes are many, yet their excellences afford an ample compensation. This is particularly the case with respect to the plays of Shakspeare.
296. OBJECTS ON WHICH TASTE IS EXERCISED.Taste is employed in judging both of the objects and scenes of Nature, and of works in the fine arts. In both cases, it determines as to the fitness of what is presented before it, to produce emotions of beauty or sublimity.
297. In describing or imitating objects in nature, taste will direct us to select the most beautiful part of the scene or object, to give its just delineation
or colouring, and to render it correspondent with the original. Taste, as exhibited in imitations, is considered as affording only a secondary kind of pleasure.
298. a. The highest efforts of taste are seen in those creations and combinations of beauty, which require the united aid of taste and imagination.
b. The most admired productions of the painter are not exact representations of objects and scenes in nature. For, in natural objects and scenes, that which is suited to excite emotions of beauty, is frequently mingled with objects of indifference or disgust. The artist, under the guidance of taste, collects together these scattered fragments of beauty, and, combining them in one view, with harmonious effect, presents to us objects and scenes more beautiful than those which can be found in nature.
c. The artist is not, however, confined to mere objects and scenes of nature for the materials of these new combinations. For, imagination enables him to call up to view, past sensations, and images of objects and scenes which exist only in his own mind. And while these scenes are flitting before him, he selects, under the guidance of taste, the most beautiful forms and happiest combinations, and fixes them on the canvas for our view. A similar process will be adopted by the Poet and Orator.
299. QUALITIES AND OBJECTS CALCULATED TO EXCITE EMOTIONS. — The qualities and objects calculated to excite emotions of beauty are numerous. The principal are such as excite pleasing emotions, either from the agreeableness and delicacy of their colour, the regularity or variety of figure, the gentleness of their motion, the possession of correct moral and social qualities, or their fitness to some particular end.
300. The objects calculated to raise in the mind emotions of grandeur and sublimity are altogether of the serious kind, possessing a degree of awfulness and solemnity which, while they raise the mind far above its ordinary state, fill it with wonder and astonishment, which it cannot well express. Thus, Objects that are either boundless in their extent, or of amazing height or depth, are calculated to raise emotions of grandeur and sublimity. Of this kind are wide-extended plains, to which the eye can see no limits; the firmament of heaven, the boundless ocean, the awful precipice or lofty mountain, and the vast and yawning chasm. Hence, also, infinite space, endless numbers, and eternal duration, fill the mind with great ideas.
301. The combination of great power and force is calculated to raise feelings of the sublime. Hence, the grandeur of earthquakes and burning mountains, of great conflagrations, of the stormy ocean, of thunder and lightning, and of armies engaged in battle.
302. Darkness, solitude, and silence tend to raise sublime ideas. Hence, the firmament, when filled with stars, strikes the imagination with a more awful grandeur than when we view it enlightened with all the splendour of the sun.
303. The same may be said of obscurity and disorder.
Thus, the most sublime ideas are those taken from the Su
preme Being, the most unknown but the greatest of all objects. - So, a great mass of rocks, thrown together by the hand of nature, with wildness and confusion, strikes the mind with more grandeur, than if the several parts had been adjusted to one another with the most accurate symmetry.
304. a. Sublime ideas are also excited by certain great actions of men, which have required either extraordinary vigour and force of mind, heroism, magnanimity, contempt of pleasure, or contempt of death.
6. Wherever in some high and critical situation, it has been justly observed, we behold a man of uncommon intrepidity, resting upon himself, superior to passion and to fear; animated by some great principle, to the contempt of popular opinion, of selfish interest, of dangers, or of death, there we are struck with a sense of the sublime.
305. SUBLIME IN WRITING. — The most striking instances of the sublime in writing occur in the Sacred Scriptures, and in the productions of the most early authors.
Thus, in the following passage in the 18th Psalm; – “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God : he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled ; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. He bowed the heavens, and came down : and darkness was under his feet. He rode upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.”
306. a. The Sublime in writing depends,First, On a proper choice of circumstances in the
description, by which the object is exhibited in its full and most striking point of view. — A storm or tempest, for instance, is a sublime object in nature. But to render it sublime in description, it is not enough, either to give mere general expressions concerning the violence of the tempest, or to de scribe its ordinary effects, in overthrowing trees and houses. It must be depicted with such circumstances as fill the mind with great and awful ideas. Few, very few writers indeed, succeed in this department.
b. Secondly, On the language, which must be concise, simple, and energetic. Indeed, the main secret of being sublime, is to say great things in few and plain words.
c. All attempts at invoking the muse, or breaking forth into general, unmeaning exclamations, concerning the greatness, terribleness or majesty of the object, must be rejected as puerile.
d. The preceding rule is intended to assist the student in discriminating the characteristics of this quality of writing, when he is perusing either history, poetry, or oratory. But all juvenile efforts at sublimity of style must be altogether discouraged.
307. OF THE TERM PICTURESQUE. — This term is applied to natural scenery, when a certain harmoniousness of effect is produced on the mind, and implies such a prominence and combination of objects as give an expression or character to the scene.. Picturesque scenes are generally of a limited