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'Tis long disputed, whether poets claim
We have seen genius shine without the help of art, but taste must be cultivated by art, before it will produce agreeable fruit. This, however, we must still inculcate with Quin tilian, that study, precept, and observation, will nought avail, without the assistance of nature : Illud tamen imprimis testandum est, nihil præcepta atque artes valere, nisi adjuvante naturâ.
Yet even though nature has done her part, by implanting the seeds of taste, great pains must be taken, and great skill exerted, in raising them to a proper pitch of vegetation. The judicious tutor must gradually and tenderly unfold the mental faculties of the youth committed to his charge. He must cherish his delicate perception; store his mind with proper ideas; point out the different channels of observation; teach him to compare objects, to establish the limits of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood; to distinguish beauty from tinsel, and grace from affectation; in a word, to strengthen and improve by culture, experience, and instruction, those natural powers of feeling and sagacity which constitute the faculty called taste, and enable the professor to enjoy the delights of the Belles Lettres.
We cannot agree in opinion with those who imagine, that nature has been equally favourable to all men, in conferring upon them a fundamental capacity, which may be improved to all the refinement of taste and criticism. Every day's experience convinces us of the contrary. Of two youths educated under the same preceptor, instructed with the same care, and cultivated with the same assiduity, one shall not only comprehend, but even anticipate the lessons of his master, by dint of natural discernment, while the other toils in vain to imbibe the least tincture of instruction. Such indeed is the distinction between genius and stupidity, which every man has an opportunity of seeing among his friends and acquaintance. Not that we ought too hastily to decide upon the natural capacities of children, before we have maturely considered the peculiarity of disposition, and the bias by which genius may be strangely warped from the common path of education. A youth incapable of retaining one rule of grammar, or of acquiring the least knowledge of the classics, may nevertheless make great progress in mathematics; nay, be may have a strong genius for the mathematics without being able to comprehend a demonstration of Euclid; because his mind conceives in a peculiar manner, and is so intent upon contemplating the object in one particular point of view, that it cannot perceive it in any other. We have known an instance of a boy, who, while his master complained that he had not capacity to comprehend the properties of a right-angled triangle, had actually, in private, by the power of his genius, formed a mathematical system
of his own, discovered a series of curious theorems, and · even applied his deductions to practical machines of sur
prising construction. Besides, in the education of youth, we ought to remember, that some capacities are like the pyra præcocia ; they soon blow, and soon attain to all that degree of maturity which they are capable of acquiring; while, on the other hand, there are geniuses of slow growth, that are late in bursting the bud, and long in ripening. Yet the first shall yield a faint blossom and insipid fruit; whereas the produce of the other shall be distinguished and admired for its well-concocted juice and exquisite flavour. We have known a boy of five years of age surprise every body by playing on the violin in such a manner as seemed to promise a prodigy in music. He had all the assistance that art could afford; by the age of ten his genius was at the acme; yet, after that period, notwithstanding the most intense application, he never gave the least signs of improvement, At six he was admired as a miracle of music; at six-and-twenty he was neglected as an ordinary fiddler. The celebrated Dean Swift was a remarkable instance in the other extreme. He was long considered as an incorrigible dunce, and did not obtain his degree at the University but ex speciali gratia ; yet, when his powers began to unfold, he signalized himself by a very remarkable superiority of genius. When a youth, therefore, appears dull of apprehension, and seems to derive no advantage from study and instruction, the tutor must exercise his sagacity in discovering whether the soil be absolutely barren, or sown with seed repugnant to its nature, or of such a quality as requires repeated culture and length of time to set its juices in fermentation. These observations, however, relate to capacity in general, which we ought carefully to distinguish from taste. Capacity implies the power of retaining what is received ; taste is the power of relishing or rejecting whatever is offered for the entertainment of the imagination. A man may have capacity to acquire what is called learning and philosophy; but he must have also sensibility, before he feels those emotions with which taste receives the impressions of beauty.
Natural taste is apt to be seduced and debauched by vicious precept and bad example. There is a dangerous tinsel in false taste, by which the unwary mind and young imagination are cften fascinated. Nothing has been so often explained, and yet so little understood, as simplicity in writing. Simplicity in this acceptation has a larger signification than either the athoor of the Greeks, or the simplex of the Latins; for it implies beauty. It is the thóoy rai ndúr of Demetrius Phalereus, the simplex munditiis of Horace, and expressed by one word, naïveté, in the French language. It is, in fact, no other than beautiful nature, without affectation or extraneous ornament. In statuary, it is the Venus of Medicis; in architecture, the Pantheon. It would be an endless task to enumerate all the instances of this natural simplicity that occur in poetry and painting, among the ancients and moderns. We shall only mention two examples of it, the beauty of which consists in the pathetic.
Anaxagoras the philosopher, and preceptor of Pericles, being told that both his sons were dead, laid his hand upon his heart, and after a short pause, consoled himself with a reflection couched in tharee words, gะเน วินทะว, จะขยะมทหos, «I knew they were mortal.» The other instance we select from the tragedy of Macbeth. The gallant Macduff, being informed that his wife and children were murdered by order of the tyrant, pulls his hat over his eyes, and his internal agony bursts out into an exclamation of four words, the most expressive perhaps that ever were uttered : « He has no children.» This is the energetic language of simple nature, which is now grown into disrepute. By the present mode of education, we are forcibly warped from the bias of nature, and all simplicity in manners is rejected. We are taught to disguise and distort our sentiments, until the faculty of thinking is diverted into an unnatural channel ; and we not only relinquish and forget, but also become incapable of our original dispositions. We are totally changed into creatures of art and affectation. Our perception is abused, and even our senses are perverted. Our minds lose their native force and flavour. The imagination, sweated by artificial fire, produces nought but vapid bloom. The genius, instead of growing like a vigorous tree, extending its branches on every side, and bearing delicious fruit, resembles a stunted yew, tortured into some wretched form, projecting no shade, displaying no flower, diffusing no fragrance, yielding no fruit, and affording nothing but a barren conceit for the amusement of the idle spectator.
Thus debauched from nature, how can we relish her genuine productions? As well might a man distinguish objects through a prism, that presents nothing but a variety of colours to the eye; or a maid pining in the green sickness prefer a biscuit to a cinder. It has been often alleged, that the passions can never be wholly deposited ; and that, by appealing to these, a good writer will always be able to force himself into the hearts of his readers : but even the strongest passions are weakened, nay, sometimes totally extinguished, by mutual opposition, dissipation, and acquired insensibility. How often at the theatre is the tear of sympathy and the burst of laughter repressed by a ridiculous species of pride, refusing approbation to the author and actor, and renouncing society with the audience! This seeming insensibility is not owing to any original defect. Nature has stretched the string, though it has long ceased to vibrate. It may have been displaced and distracted by the violence of pride; it may have lost its tone through long disuse; or be so twisted or overstrained as to produce the most jarring discords.