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cumstance in external appearance, which is debased by low and common use; and they are led to exercise their invention, in the introduction of fome new peculiarities, which first become fashionable, then common, and last of all, are abandoned as vulgar.
It has been often remarked, that after a certain period in the progress of society, the public Taste becomes corrupted; and the different productions of the fine arts begin to degenerate from that simplicity, which they had attained in their state of greatest perfection. One reason of this decline is suggested by the foregoing observations.
From the account which has been given of the natural progress of Taste, in separating the genuine principles of beauty from superfluous and from offensive concomitants, it is evident, that there is a limit, beyond which the love of fimplicity cannot be carried. No bounds, indeed, can be set to the creations of genius; but as this quality occurs seldom in an eminent degree, it commonly happens, that after a period of great refinement of Taste, men begin to gratify their love of variety, by adding superfluous circumstances to the finished models exhibited by their predecessors, or by making other trifling alterations on them, with a view merely of diversifying the effect. These additions and alterations, indifferent, perhaps, or even in some degree offensive in them. selves, acquire soon a borrowed beauty, from the con. nexion in which we see them, or from the influence of fashion: the same cause which at first produced them, continues perpetually to increase their number; Bb 3
and Taste returns to barbarism, by almost the same steps which conducted it to perfection.
The truth of these remarks will appear still more striking to those who consider the wonderful effect which a writer of splendid genius, but of incorrect taste, has in misleading the public judgment. The peculiarities of such an author are consecrated by the connexion in which we see them, and even please, to a certain degree, when detached from the excellencies of his composition, by recalling to us the agreeable impressions with which they have been formerly associated. How many imitations have we feen, of the affectations of Sterne, by men who were unable to copy his beauties? And yet these imitations of his defects; of his abrupt manner; of his minute specification of circumstances ; and even of his dashes, produce, at first, fome effect on readers of sensibility, but of uncultivated taíte, in consequence of the ex. quisite strokes of the pathetic, and the fingular vein of humour, with which they are united in the original.
From what has been said, it is obvious, that the circumstances which please, in the objects of Taste, are of two kinds: First, those which are fitted to please by nature, or by associations which all mankind are led to form by their common condition; and Secondly, those which please in consequence of associations arising from local and accidental circumstances. Hence, there are two kinds of Taste: the one enabling us to judge of those beauties which have a foundation in the human constitution ; the other, of such objects as derive their principal recommenda. tion from the influence of fashion.
These two kinds of Taste are not always united in the same person : indeed, I am inclined to think, that they are united but rarely. The perfection of the one, depends much upon the degree in which we are able to free the mind from the influence of casual associa. tions; that of the other, on the contrary, depends on a facility of association, which enables us to fall in, at once, with all the turns of the fathion, and (as Shakespeare expresses it)“ to catch the tune of the times."
I shall endeavour to illustrate some of the foregoing remarks, by applying them to the subject of language, which affords numberless instances to exemplify the influence which the affociation of ideas has on our judgments in matters of Taste.
In the same manner in which an article of dress acquired an appearance of elegance or of vulgarity from the persons by whom it is habitually worn; so a particular mode of pronunciation acquires an air of fashion or of rusticity, from the persons by whom it is habitually employed. The Scotch accent is surely in itself as good as the English ; and with a few exceptions, is as agreeable to the ear : and yet how offensive does it appear, even to us, who have been accustomed to hear it from our infancy, when compared with that which is used by our southern neighbours !-No reason can be given for this, but that the capital of Scotland is now become a provincial town, and London is the seat of our court.
The distinction which is to be found, in the languages of all civilised nations, between low and polite modes of expression, arises from similar causes. It is, indeed, amusing to remark, the folicitude with which the higher
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orders, in the monarchies of modern Europe, avoid every circumstance in their exterior appearance and manner, which, iby the most remote association, may, in the minds of others, connect them with the idea of the multitude. Their whole dress and deportment and conversation are studiously arranged to convey an imposing notion of their consequence ; and to recal to the spectator, by numberless light and apparently unintentional hints, the agreeable impressions which are associated with the advantages of fortune.
To this influence of association on language, it is necessary for every writer to attend carefully, who wishes to express himself with elegance. For the attainment of correctness and purity in the use of words, the rules of grammarians and of critics may be a sufficient guide ; but it is not in the works of this class of authors, that the higher beauties of style are to be studied. As the air and manner of a gentleman can be acquired only by living habitually in the best society, so grace in composition must be attained by an habitual acquaintance with classical writers. It is indeed necessary for our information, that we should peruse occasionally, many books which have no merit in point of expression; but I believe it to be extremely useful to all literary men, to counteract the effect of this miscellaneous reading, by maintaining a constant and familiar acquaintance with a few of the most faultless models which the lan. guage affords. For want of some standard of this fort, we frequently see an author's taste in writing alter much to the worse in the course of his life ; and his later productions fall below the level of his early essays. D'Alembert tells us, that Voltaire had always lying
on his table, the Petit Carême of Maslıllon, and the tragedies of Racine; the former to fix his taste in prose composition, and the latter in poetry.
In avoiding, however, expressions which are debased by vulgar use, there is a danger of running into the other extreme, in questof fashionablewords and phrases. Such an affectation may, for a few years, gratify the vanity of an author, by giving him the air of a man of the world; but the reputation it bestows, is of a very transitory nature. The works which continue to please from age to age, are written with perfect fimplicity; while those which captivate the multitude by a display of meretricious ornaments, if, by chance, they should survive the fashions to which they are accommodated, remain only to furnish a subject of ridicule to posterity. The portrait of a beautiful woman, in the fashionable dress of the day, may please at the moment it is painted; nay, may perhaps please more than in any that the fancy of the artist could have suggested; but it is only in the plainest and simplest drapery, that the most perfect form can be transmitted with advantage to future times.
The exceptions which the history of literature seems to furnish to these observations, are only apparent, That, in the works of our best authors, there are many beauties which have long and generally been admired, and which yet owe their whole effect to association, cannot be disputed; but in such cases, it will always be found, that the associations which are the foundation of our pleasure, have, in consequence of some peculiar combination of circumstances, been more widely diffused, and more permanently established among man.