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TASTE. TASTE is the power of receiving pleasure or pain from the beauties or deformities of nature and of art." It is a faculty common in some degree to all men. Through the circle of human nature nothing is more general than the relish of beauty of one kind or other ; of what is orderly, proportioned, grand, harmonious, new, or sprightly. Nor does there prevail less generally a disrelish of whatever is gross, disproportioned, disorderly, and discordant. In children the rudiments of taste appear very early in a thousand instances ; in their partiality for regular bodies, their fondness for pictures and statues, and their warm attachment to whatever is new or astonishing. The most stupid peasants receive pleasure from tales and ballads, and are delighted with the beautiful appearances of nature in rhe earth and heavens. Even in the deserts of America, where human nature appears in its most uncultivated state, the savages have their ornaments of dress, their war and their death songs, their harangues and their orators. The principles of taste must therefore be deeply founded in the human mind. To have some discernment of beauty is no less essential to man, than to possess the attributes of speech and reason.

Though no human being can be entirely devoid of this faculty, yet it is possessed in very different degrees. In some men only faint glimmerings of taste are visi. ble ; the beauties which they relish are of the coarsest kind ; and of these they have only a weak and confused impression; while in others taste rises to an acute discernment, and a lively enjoyment of the most refined beauties.

This inequality of taste among men is to be ascribed undoubtedly in part to the different frame of their natures; to nicer organs, and more delicate internal powers, with which some are endued beyond others ; yet it is owing still more to culture and education. Taste is certainly one of the most improveable faculties of our nature. We may easily be convinced of the truth of this assertion by only reflecting on that immense superiority, which education and improvement give to civilized above barbarous nations in refinement of taste ; and on the advantage, which they give in the same nation to those who have studied the liberal arts, above the rude and illiterate vulgar.

Reason and good sense have so extensive an influence on all the operations and decisions of taste, that a completely good taste may well be considered, as a power compounded of natural sensibility to beauty and of improved understanding. . To be satisfied of this, we may observe, that the greater part of the productions of genius are no other than imitations of nature ; represent.. ations of the characters, actions, or manners of men. Now the pleasure we experience from such imitations or representations is founded on mere taste ; but to judge, whether they be properly executed, belongs to che understanding, which compares the copy with the original.

In reading, for instance, the Æneid of Virgil, a great part of our pleasure arises from the proper conduct of the plan or story ; from all the parts being joined together with probability and due connexion ; from the adoption of the characters from nature, the correspondence of the sentiments to the characters, and of the style to the sentiments. The pleasure which is deri. ved from a poem so conducted, is felt or enjoyed by taste, as an internal sense ; but the discovery of this conduct in the poem is owing to the reason; and the more reason enables us to discover such propriety in the conduct, the greater will be our pleasure.

The constituents of taste, when brought to its most perfect state, are two, delicacy and correctness.

Delicacy of taste refers principally to the perfection

of that natural sensibility, on which taste is founded.. It implies those finer organs or powers, which enable us to discover beauties that are concealed from a vul. gar eye. It is judged of by the same marks that we cmploy in judging of the delicacy of an external sense. As the goodness of the palate is not tried by strong flavours, but by a mixture of ingredients, where notwithstanding the confusion, we remain sensible of each ; so delicacy of internal taste appears by quick and lively sensibility to its finest, most compounded, or most latent objects.

Correctness of taste respects the improvement this faculty receives through its connexion with the understanding. A man of correct taste is one who is never imposed on by counterfeit beauties; who carries always in his own mind that standard of good sense, which he employs in judging of every thing He estimates with propriety the relative merit of the several beauties, which he meets in any work of genius ; refers them to their proper classes ; assigns the principles as far as they can be traced, whence their power of pleasing is derived ; and is pleased himself precisely in that degree in which he ought, and no more.

Taste is certainly not an arbitrary principle, which is subject to the fancy of every individual, and which admits no criterion for determining whether it be true or false. Its foundation is the same in every human mind. It is built upon sentiments and perceptions, which are inseparable from our nature; and which generally operate with the same uniformity, as our other intellectual principles. When these sentiments are perverted by ignorance or prejudice, they may be rectified by reason. Their sound and natural state is finally determined by comparing them with the general taste of mankind. Let men declaim as much as they please, concerning the caprice and uncertainty of taste; it is found by experience, that there are beauties, which if displayed in a proper light, have power to command Jasting and universal admiration. In every composition, what interests the imagination, and touches the heart, gives pleasure to all ages and nations. There

is a certain string, wbich being properly struck, the human heart is so made, as to accord to it. .

Hence the universal testimony which the most im. proved nations of the earth through a long series of ages have concurred to bestow on some few works of genius ; such as the Iliad of Homer, and the Æneid of Virgil. Hence the authority which such works have obtained as standards of poetical composition ; since by them we are enabled to collect what the sense of man-' kind is, with respect to those beauties which give them the highest pleasure, and which therefore poetry ought to exhibit. Authority or prejudice may in one age or country give a short lived reputation to an indifferent poet or a bad artist ; but when foreigners or posterity examine his works, his faults are discovered, and the genuine taste of human nature is seen. Time overthrows the illusions of opinion, but establishes the decisions of nature.


LIMITY IN OBJECTS, True criticism is the application of taste and of good sense to the several fine arts. Ils design is to distinguish what is beautiful and what is faulty in every performance. From particular instances it ascends to general principles; and gradually forms rules or conclusions concerning the several kinds of beauty in works of genius.

Criticism is an art founded entirely on experience ; on the observation of such beauties, as have been found to please mankind most generally. For example, Aristotle's rules concerning the unity of action in dramatic and epic composition were not first discovered by logical reasoning and then applied to poetry ; but they were deduced from the practice of Homer and Sophocles. They were founded upon observing the superior pleasure which we derive from the relation of an action which is one and entire, beyond what we re. ceive from the relation of scattered and unconnected facts.

A superior genius indeed will of himself, uninstructed, compose in such a manner, as is agreeable to the most important rules of criticism ; for, as these rules are founded in naturt, nature will frequently suggest them in practice. Homer was acquainted with no sys. tem of the art of poetry. Guided by genius alone, he composed in verse a regular story, which all succeeding ages have admired. This however is no argument against the usefulness of criticism. For since no human genius is perfect, there is no writer, who may not receive assistance from critical observations upon the beauties and faults of those who have gone before him. No rules indeed can supply the defects of genius, or inspire it, where it is wanting ; but they may often guide it into its proper channel ; they may correct its extravagancies, and teach it the most just and proper imitation of nature. Critical rules are intended chiefly to point out the faults which ought to be avoided. We must be indebted to nature for the production of eminent beauties.

Genius is a word, which in common acceptation extends much farther, than to objects of taste. It signifies that talent or aplitude, which we receive from nature, in order to excel in any one thing whatever. A man is said to have a genius for mathematics as well as a genius for poetry; a genius for war, for politics, or for any mechanical employment.

Genius may be greatly improved by art and study ; but by them alone it cannot be acquired. As it is a higher faculty than taste, it is ever, according to the common frugality of nature, more limited in the sphere of its operations. There are persons, not unfrequently to be met, who have an excellent taste, in several of the polite arts ; such as music, poetry, painting and eloquence; but an excellent performer in all these arts is very seldom found; or rather is not to be looked for. A universal genius, or one who is equally and indifferently inclined towards several different professions and arts, is not likely to excel in any. Although there may be some few exceptions, yet in general it is true, that when the mind is wholly directed toward some one

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