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as it is florid and superficial, pleases at first; but being found incompatible with a just expression either of reason or passion, foon palls upon the taste, and is then rejected with disdain, at least rated at a much lower value.
It is impossible to continue in the practice of contemplating any order of beauty, without being frequently obliged to form comparisons between the several species and degrees of excellency, and estimating their proportion to each other. A man, who has had no opportunity of comparing the different kinds of beauty, is indeed totally unqualified to pronounce an opinion with regard to any object presented to him. . By comparison alone we fix the epithets of praise or blame, and learn how to assign the due degree of each. The coarseft dawbing of a sign-poft contains a certain lustre of colors and exactness of imitation, which are so far beauties, and would affect the mind of a peasant or Indian with the highest admiration. The most vulgar ballads are not entirely destitute of harmony or nature ; and none but a person, familiarized to superior beauties, would pronounce their numbers harsh, or narration uninteresting. A great inferiority of beauty gives pain to a person conversant in the highest excellency of the kind, and is for that reason pronounced a deformity : As the most finished object, with which we are acquainted, is naturally supposed to have reached the pinnacle of perfection, and to be entitled to the higheft applause. A man, who has had opportunities of feeing, and examining and weighing the several performances, admired in different ages and nations, can alone rate the merits of a work exhibited to his view, and asign its proper rank among the productions of genius.
But to enable him the more fully to execute this undertaking, he must preserve his mind free from all prejudice, and allow nothing to enter into his consideration, but the very object, which is submitted to his examination. We may observe, that every work of art, in order to produce its due effect on the mind, must be surveyed in a certain point of view, and cannot be fully relished by persons, whose situation, real or imaginary, is not conformable to that required by the performance. An orator addresses himself to a particular audience, and must have a regard to their particular genius, interests, opinions, paslions, and prejudices; otherwise he hopes in vain to govern their resolutions, and infame their af. fections. Should they even have entertained some prepossessions against him, however unreasonable, he must not overlook this disadvantage; but before he en. ters upon the subject, must endeavor to conciliate their affection, and acquire their good graces. A critic of a different age or nation, who should furuse this discourse, must have all these circumstances in his eye, and must place himself in the same situation as the audience, in order to form a true judgment of the ora. tion. In like manner, when any work is addressed to the public, tho? I should have a friendship or enmity with the author, I must depart from this particular situation ; and considering myself as a man in general, forget, if possible, my individual being and my peculiar circumstances. A person, influenced by prejudice, complies not with this condition ; but obstinately maintains his natural position, without entering into that required by the performance. If the work be addressed to persons of a ditrerent age or nation, he makes no allowance for their peculiar views and prejudices; but full of the manners of his own times, rashly condemns what seemed admirable in the eyes of those for whom alone the discourse was calculated. If the work be executed for the public, he never fufficiently enlarges his
comprehension, or forgets his interest as a friend or enemy, as a rival or commentator. By this means, his sentiments are perverted ; nor have the same beauties and blemishes the same influence upon him, as if he had imposed a proper violence on his imagination, and had forgot himself for a moment. So far his caste evidently departs from the true standard, and of consequence loses all credit and authority:
It is well known, that, in all questions, submitted to the understanding, prejudice is most destructive of found judgment, and perverts all operations of the intellectual faculties : It is no less contrary to good taste; nor has it less inAuence to corrupt our sentiments of beauty. It belongs to good sense to check its influence in both cases ; and in this respect, as well as in many others, reason, if not an esential part of taste, is at least requisite to the operations of this latter faculty. In all the nobler productions of genius, there is a mutual relation and correspondence of parts ; nor can either the beauties or blemishes be perceived by him, whose thought is not capacious enough to comprehend all those parts, and compare them with each other, in order to perceive the consistence and uniformity of the whole. Every work of art has also a certain end or purpose, for which it is calculated; and is to be deemed more or less perfect, as it is more or less fitted to attain this end. The object of eloquence is to persuade, of history to instruct, of poetry to please by means of the passions and the imagination. These ends we must carry constantly in our view, when we peruse any performance; and we must be able to judge how far the means employed are adapted to their respective purposes. Besides, every kind of composition, even the most poetical, is nothing but a chain of propositions and reasonings ; not always indeed the justest and most exact, but still plausible and specious, however disguised by the coloring of the imagination. The persons, introduced in tragedy and epic poetry, must be represented as reasoning and thinking, and concluding and acting, suit. able to their characters and circumstances; and without judgment, as well as taste and invention, a poet can never hope to succeed in so delicate an undertaking. Not to mention, that the same excellence of faculties which contributes to the improvement of reason, the same clearness of conception, the same exactness of distinction, the same vivacity of apprehension, are essential to the operations of true taste, and are its infallible concomitants. It seldom, or never happens, that a man of sense, who has experience in any art, cannot judge of its beauty; and it is no less rare to meet with a man, who has a just taste, without a found understanding.
Thus, tho' the principles of taste be universal, and nearly, if not entirely the fame in all men ; yet few are qualified to give judgment on any work of art, or. establish their own sentiment as the standard of beauty. The organs of internal sensation are seldom so perfect as to allow the general principles their full play, and produce a feeling correspondent to those principles. They either labor under some defect, or are vitiated by some disorder; and by that means, excite a fentiment, which may be pronounced erroneous. When the critic has no delicacy, he judges without any distinction, and is only affected by the grosser and more palpable qualities of the object: The finer touches pass unnoticed and disregarded. Where he is not aided by practice, his verdict is attended with confufion and hesitation. Where no comparison has been employed, the most frivo. Jous beauties, such as rather merit the name of defects, are the objects of his adall preju
end, is the true nacter; and then
them, they must acknowicer of fact; and they muri fufficient for our pre
miration. Where he lies under the influence of prejudice, all his natural sentiments are perverted. Where good sense is wanting, he is not qualified to difcern the beauties of design and reasoning, which are the highest and most excellent. Under fome or other of these imperfections, the generality of men labor ; and hence a true judge in the finer arts is observed, even during the most polished ages, to be so rare a character : Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character; and the joint verdict of such, wherever they are to be found, is the true standard of taste and beauty.
But where are such critics to be found? By what marks are they to be known ? How distinguish them from pretenders? These questions are embarrassing; and seem to throw us back into the same uncertainty, from which, during the course of this differtation, we have endeavored to extricate ourselves.
But if we consider the matter aright, these are questions of fact, not of sentia ment. Whether any particular person be endowed with good sense and a delicate imagination, free from prejudice, may often be the subject of dispute, and be liable to great discussion and enquiry : But that such a character is valuable and estimable will be agreed by all mankind. Where these doubts occur, men can do no more than in other disputable questions, which are submitted to the understanding: They must produce the best arguments, which their invention suggests to them; they must acknowlege a true and decisive standard to exist somewhere, to wit, real existence and matter of fact; and they must have indulgence to such as differ from them in their appeals to this standard. It is sufficient for our present purpose, if we have proved, that the taste of all individuals is not upon an equal footing, and that some men in general, however difficult to be particularly pitched upon, will be acknowleged by universal sentiment to have a preference above others,
But in reality the difficulty of finding, even in particulars, the standard of taste, is not so great as it is represented. Tho' in speculation, we may readily avow a certain criterion in science and deny it in sentiment, the matter is found in practice to be much more hard to ascertain in the former case than in the latter. Theories of abstract philosophy, fyftems of profound theology have prevailed during one age : In a successive period, these have been universally exploded : Their absurdity has been detected : Other theories and systems have supplied their place, which again gave way to their successors: And nothing has been experienced more liable to the revolutions of chance and fashion than these pretended decisions of science. The case is not the same with the beauties of eloquence and poetry. Just expressions of passion and nature are sure, after a little time, to gain public vogue, which they maintain for ever. Aristotle and Plato, and EPICURUS and DESCARTES, may fuccessively yield to each other : But TERENCE and VirGIL maintain an universal, undisputed empire over the minds of men. The ab. ftract philosophy of Cicero has lost its credit: The vehemence of his oratory is still the object of our admiration.
Tho' men of delicate taste are rare, they are easily to be distinguished in fociety by the soundness of their understanding and the superiority of their faculties above the rest of mankind. The ascendant, which they acquire, gives a prevaJence to that lively approbation, with which they receive any productions of genius, and renders it generally predominant. Many men, when left to themselves,
have but à faint and dubious perception of beauty, who yet are capable of relishing any fine stroke, which is pointed out to them. Every convert to the admiration of the real poet or orator is the cause of some new conversion. And tho' prejudices may prevail for a time, they never unite in celebrating any rival to the true genius, but yield at last to the force of nature and just sentiment. And thus tho' a civilized nation may easily be mistaken in the choice of their admired philosopher, they never have been found long to err, in their affection for a favorite epic or tragic author.
But notwithstanding all our endeavors to fix a standard of taste, and reconcile the various apprehensions of men, there still remain two sources of variation, which are not sufficient indeed to confound all the boundaries of beauty and deformity, but will often serve to vary the degrees of our approbation or blame. The one is the different humors of particular men; the other, the particular mánners and opinions of our age and country. . The general principles of taste are uniform in human nature: Where men vary in their judgments, some defect or perversion in the faculties may commonly be remarked ; proceeding either from prejudice, from want of practice, or want of delicacy; and there is just reason for approving one taste, and condemning another. But where there is such a diversity in the internal frame or external situation as is entirely blameless on both sides, and leaves no room to give one the preference above the other; in that case a certain diversity of judgment is unavoidable, and we seek in vain for a standard, by which we can reconcile the contrary sentiments.
A young man, whose passions are warm, will be more sensibly touched with amorous and tender images, than a man more advanced in years, who takes pleasure in wise and philosophical reflections concerning the conduct of life and moderation of the passions. At twenty, Ovis may be the favorite author ; HORACE at forty; and perhaps Tacitus at fifty. Vainly would we, in such cases, endeavor to enter into the sentiments of others, and divest ourselves of those propensities, which are natural to us. We chuse our favorite author as we do our friend, from a conformity of humors and dispositions. Mirth or passion, sentiment or reflection; which ever of these most predominates in our temper, it gives us a peculiar sympathy with the writer, who resembles us.
One person is more pleased with the sublime; another with the tender; a third with raillery. One has a strong sensibility to blemishes, and is extremely studious of correctness: Another has a more lively feeling of beauties, and pardons twenty absurdities and defects for one elevated or pathetic stroke. The ear of this man is entirely turned towards conciseness and energy; that man is delighted with a copious, rich, and harmonious expression. Simplicity is affected by one; ornament by another. Comedy, tragedy, satire, ndes have each their partizans, who prefer that particular species of writing to all others. It is plainly an error in a critic, to confine his approbation to one species or style of writing, and condemn all the rest. But it is almost impossible not to feel a predilection for that which suits our particular turn and disposicion. Such preferences are innocent and unavoidable, and can never reasonably be the object of dispute, because there is no standard, by which they can be decided.
For a like reason, we are more pleased with pictures of characters, which refemble such as are found in our own age or country, than with those which de. scribe a different set of customs. 'Tis not without some effort, that we reconcile
ourourselves to the fimplicity of antient manners, and behold princesses drawing water from a spring, and kings and heroes dressing their own victuals. We may allow in general, that the representation of such manners is no fault in the author, nor deformity in the piece; but we are not fo sensibly touched with them. For this reason, comedy is not transferred easily from one age or nation to another. A FRENCHMAN or ENGLISHMAN is not pleased with the ANDRIA of TERENCE, or CLITIA of MACHIAVEL, where the fine lady, upon whom all the play turns, never once appears to the spectators, but is always kept behind the scenes, suitable to the reserved humor of the ancient Greeks and modern ITALIANS. A man of learning and reflection can make allowance for these peculiarities of manners; but a common audience can never divest themselves so far of their usual ideas and fentiments as to relish pictures which no way resemble them.
And here there occurs a reflection, which may, perhaps, be useful in examining the celebrated controversy concerning antient and modern learning; where we, often find the one side excusing any seeming absurdity in the antients from the manners of the age, and the others refusing to admit this excuse, or at least, admitting it only as an apology for the author, not for the performance. In my opinion, the proper bounds in this fubject have seldom been fixed between the contending parties. Where any innocent peculiarities of manners are represented, such as those abovementioned, they ought certainly to be admitted ; and a man who is shocked with them, gives an evident proof of false delicacy and refinement. The poets monument more durable than brass, must fall to the ground like common brick or clay, were men to make no allowance for the continual revolutions of manners and customis, and would admit nothing but what was suitable to the prevailing fashion. Must we throw aside the pictures of our ancestors, because of their ruffs and fardingales ? But where the ideas of morality and decency alter from one age to another, and where vicious manners are described, without being marked with the proper characters of blame and disapprobation; this must be allowed to disfigure the poem, and to be a real deformity. I cannot, nor is it proper I should, enter into such sentiments ; and however I may excuse the poet, on account of the manners of his age, I never can relish the composition. The want of humanity and of decency, so conspicuous in the characters drawn by reveral of the antient poets, even sometimes by Homer and the GREEK tragedians, diminishes considerably the merit of their noble performances, and gives modern authors a great advantage over them. We are not interested in the fortunes and sentiments of such rough heroes : We are displeased to find the limits of vice and virtue fo confounded? And whatever indulgence we may give the writer on account of his prejudices, we cannot prevail on ourselves to enter into his sentiments, or bear an affection to characters, which we plainly discover to be blameable.
The case is not the same with níoral principles as with speculative opinions of any kind. These are in continual flux and revolution. The son embraces a different fyftem from the father. Nay, there scarce is any man, who can boast of great constancy and uniformity in this particular. Whatever speculative errors' may be found in the polite writings of any age or country, they detract but little from the value of those compositions. There needs but a certain turn of thought or imagination to make us enter into all the opinions, which then prevailed, and relish the sentiments or conclusions derived from them. But a very violent effort is requisite to change our judgment of manners, and excite sentiments of ap
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