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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 fimplicity, which they had attained in their state of greatest perfection. One reason of this decline is fuggested by the foregoing observations.

From the account which has been given of the natural progress of Taste, in feparating the genuine principles of beauty from fuperfluous 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 Tafte, men begin to gratify their love of variety, by adding fu. perfluous circumstances to the finished models exhibited by their predeceflors, 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 themselves, acquire soon a borrowed beauty, from the connexion in which we see them, or from the influence of fashion; the fame cause which at first produced them, continues perpetually to increase their number; and Tafte returns to barbarism, by almost the same steps which conducted it to perfection.

The truth of these remarks will appear ftill more striking to those who consider the wonderful effect which a writer of splendid genius but of incorrect tafte, has in misleading the public judgment. The peculiarities of such an author are confecrated 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 seen, of the affectations of Sterne, by men who were unable to copy his beauties? And yet thefe imitations of his defects ; of his abrupt manner; of his minute specifications of circumstances; and even of his dalhes, produce, at first, fome effect on readers of fenfibility, but of uncultivated taste, in consequence of the exquisite 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 Twe kinds: First, those which are fitted to please by nature, or by associations which all man. kind 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 recommendation 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 associations ; that of the other, on the contrary, depends on a facility of affociation which enables us to fall in, at once, with all the turns of the fashion, and (as Shakespeare expresses it,) “to catch the tune of the times."

I shall endeavour to illustrate some of the forego. ing remarks, by applying them to the subject of language, which affords numberless instances to exemplify the influence which the association of ideas has on our judgments in matters of Taste. In the same manner in which an article of dress

Ss

acquires an appearance of elegance or of vulgarity from the persons by whom it is habitually worn; to 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 orders, in the monarchies of mod. ern Europe, avoid every circumstance in their exterior appearance and manner, which, by the most remote affociation, 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 flight and apparently unintentional hints, the agreeable impressions which are affociated 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 fufficient guide; but it is not in the works of this class of authors, that the higher beauties of ftyle are to be studied. As the air and manner of a gentleman can be acquired only by living habitu. ally in the best fociety, fo grace in composition must be attained by an habitual acquaintance with claffi. cal writers. It is indeed neceffary 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 language affords. For want of some standard of this fort, we frequently fee an author's taste in wri. ting alter much to the worse in the course of his life ; and his later productions fall below the level of his early efsays. D'Alembert tells us, that Vol. taire had always lying on his table, the Petit Car. ême of Massillon, 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 quest of fashionable words 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 simplicity; while those which captivate the multitude by a display of mere. tricious ornaments, if, by chance, they thould survive the fashions to which they are accommodated, remain only to furnith a subject of ridicule to pofterity. The portrait of a beautiful woman, in the falhionable 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 fuggefted ; 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 seeins to furnish to these observations, are only apparent. That, in the works of our beft authors, there are many beauties which have long and generally been admired, and which yet owe their whole effect to affociation, 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 mankind, than those which date their origin from the caprices of our own age are ever likely to be. An ad. miration for the classical remains of antiquity is, at present, not lefs general in Europe, than the advaná tages of a liberal education : and that such is the effect of this admiration, that there are certain caprices of Tafte, from which no man who is well edu. cated is entirely free. A composition in a modern language, which should sometimes depart from the ordinary modes of expression, from an affectation of the idioms which are consecrated in the classics, would please a very wide circle of readers, in consequence of the prevalence of claffical associations; and, therefore, such affectations, however absurd when carried to a degree of fingularity, are of a far superior class to those which are adapted to the fath. ions of the day. But still - the general principle holds true, that whatever beauties derive their ori, gin merely from casual afsociation, must appear ca. pricious to those to whom the association does not extend; and that the simplest style is that which continues longest to please, and which pleases most universally. In the writings of Mr. Harris, there is a certain classical air, which will always have many admirers, while antient learning continues to be cultivated; but which, to a mere English reader, appears somewbat unnatural and ungraceful, when compared with the composition of Swift or of Addison.

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