ページの画像
PDF
ePub

good; a position, which, though it may pass unnoticed in flight matters, and when we speak of the lefser differences among the tastes of men, yet when we apply it to the extremes, prefently shows its abfurdity. For is there any one who will feriously maintain that the taste of a Hottentot or a Laplander is as delicate and as correc? as that of a. Longinus or an Addison ! or, that he can be charged with no defe&t or incapacity who thinks a common news-writer as excellent an historian as Tacitus? As it would be held downright extravagance to talk in this manner, we are led unavoidably to this conclusion, that there is some foundation for the preference of one man's taste to that of another; or, that there is a good and a bad, a right and a wrong in taste, as in other things.

But to prevent mistakes on this fubject, it is neceffary to observe, next, that the diversity of tastes which prevails among mankind, does not in every cafe infcr corruption of taste, or oblige us to seek for fome standard in order to determine who are in the right. The tastes of men may differ very considerably as to their object, and yet none of them be wrong. One man relishes poetry most; another takes pleafure in nothing but history. One prefers comedy ; another, tragedy. One admires the simple; another, the ornamented style. The young are amused with gay and sprightly compositions. The elderly are more entertained with those of a graver caft. Some nations delight in bold pictures of manners, and strong representations of paffion. Others incline to more correct and regular elegance both in dcscription and sentiment. Though all differ, yet all pitch upon some one beauty which peculiarly suits their turn of mind; and therefore no one has a title to condemn the rest. It is not in matters of taste, as in questions of mere reason, where there is but one conclusion that can be true, and all the

rest are erroneous. Truth, which is the object of 1 reason, is one; beauty, which is the object of taste, is manifold. Taste therefore admits of latitude and diversity of objects, in fufficient consistency with goodness or juftness of taste.

But then, to explain this matter thoroughly, I must observe farther, that this admissible diversity of tastes can only have place where the objects of taste are different. Where it is with respect to the fame object that men disagree, when one condemns that as ugly, which another admires as highly beautiful; then it is no longer diversity, but direct opposition of taste that takes place; and therefore one must be in the right and another in the wrong, unless that absurd paradox were allowed to hold, that all tastes are equally good and true. One man prefers Virgil to Homer. Suppose that I, on the other hand, admire Homer more than Virgil. I have as yet no reason to say that our tastes are contradicto- ! ry. The other person is most struck with the elegance and tenderness which are the characteristics of Virgil; I, with the simplicity and fire of Homer. As long as neither of us deny that both Homer and Virgil have great beauties, our difference falls within the compass of that diversity of tastes, which I have showed to be natural and allowable. But if the other man fhall assert that Homer has no beauties whatever ; that he holds him to be a dull and spiritless writer, and that he would as soon peruse any old legend of knight-errantry as the Iliad ; then I exclaim, that my antagonist either is void of all taste, or that his taste is corrupted in a miserable degree ; and I appeal to whatever I think the standard of taste, to show him that he is in the wrong.

What that standard is, to which, in such opposition of tastes, we are obliged to have recourse, remains to be traced. A standard properly signifies, that which is of such undoubted authority as to be Vol. I.

E

the test of other things of the same kind. Thus a standard weight or measure, is that which is appointed by law to regulate all other measures and weights. Thus the court is said to be the standard of good breeding ; and the scripture, of theological truth.

When we say that nature is the standard of tafte, we lay down a principle very true and just, as far as it can be applied. There is no doubt, that in all cases where an imitation is intended of fome object that exists in nature, as in representing human characters or actions, conformity to nature affords a full and distinct criterion of what is truly beautiful. Peason hath in such cases full scope for exerting its authority, for approving or condemning ; by comparing the copy with the original. But there are innumerable cases in which this rule cannot be at all applied ; and conformity to nature, is an expresfion frequently used, without any distinct or determinate meaning. We must therefore search for somewhat that can be rendered more clear and precise, to be the standard of taste.

Taste, as I before explaine:1 it, is ultimately founded on an internal sense of beauty, which is natural to men, and which, in its application to particular objects, is capable of being guided and enlightened by reason. Now, were there any one person who possessed in full perfection all the powers of human naturc, whose internal senses were in every

instance exquisite and just, and whose reason was unerring and fure, the determinations of such a person concerning beauty, would, beyond doubt, be a perfect Itandard for the taste of all others. Wherever their taste differed from his, it could be imputed only to some imperfection in their natural powers. But as there is no such living standard, no one person to whom all mankind will allow such submission to be due, what is there of sufficient authority to be the

Standard of the various and opposite tastes of men ? Most certainly there is nothing but the taste, as far as it can be gathered, of human nature. That which men concur the most in admiring, must be held to be beautiful. His taste must be esteemed just and true, which coincides with the general sentiments of men. In this itandard we must reft. To the sense of mankind the ultimate appeal must ever lie, in all works of taste. If any one should maintain that sugar was bitter and tobacco was sweet, no reafonings could avail to prove it. The taste of such a person would infallibly be held to be diseased, merely because it differed fo widely from the taste of the species to which he belongs. In like manner, with regard to the objects of sentiment or internal taste, the common feelings of men carry the same authority, and have a title to regulate the taste of every individual.

But have we then, it will be said, no other crite-rion of what is beautiful, than the approbation of the majority ? Must we collect the voices of others, before we form any judgment for ourselves, of what deserves applause in eloquence or poetry? By no means; there are principles of reason and found judgment which can be applied to matters of taste as well as to the subjects of science and philosophy. He who admires or censures any work of genius, is always ready, if his taste be in any degree improved, to assign some reasons of his decision. He appeals to prin-. ciples, and points out the grounds on which he proceeds. Taste is a fort of compound power, in which the light of the understanding always mingles, more or less, with the feelings of fcntiment.

But, though reason can carry us a certain length in judging concerning works of taste, it is not to be forgotten that the ultimate conclusions to which our reasonings lead, refer at last to fense and perception. We may fpeculate and argue concerning pro

priety of conduct in a tragedy, or an epic poem. Just reasonings on the subject will correct the caprice of unenlightened taste, and establish principles for judging of what deserves praise. But, at the same time, these reasonings appeal always, in the last refort, to feeling. The foundation upon which they rest, is what has been found from experience to please mankind universally. Upon this ground we prefer a fimple and natural, to an artificial and affected style ; a regular and well-connected story, to loose and scattered narratives ; a catastrophe which is tender and pathetic, to one which leaves us unmoved. It is from consulting our own imagination and heart, and from attending to the feelings of others, that any principles are formed which acquire authority in matters of taste. *

When we refer to the concurring sentiments of men, as the ultimate test of what is to be accounted beautiful in the arts, this is to be always understood

* The difference between the authors who found the standard of taste upon the common feelings of human nature, ascertaired by general approbation, and those who found it upon establithed principles, which can be ascertained by reason, is inore an apparent than a real difference. Like many other literary controversies, it turns chiefly on modes of expression. For they who lay the greatest Itrefs on sentiment and feeling, make no scruple of applying argument and reason to matters of talte. They appeal, like other writers, to established principles, in judging of the excellencies of eloquence or poetry; and plainly fhoiv, that the general approbation, to which they ultimately recur, is an approbation refuliing from discusion as well as from fontinent. They, on the other hand, who, in order to vindicate taste from any fufpicion of being arbitrary, maintain that it is ascertainable by the standard of reason, admit, nevertheless, that what pleafes univerfally, must, on that account, be held to be truly beautiful, and that no rules or conclusions, concerning objects of taite, can have any just authority, if they be found to contradict the general fentiments of men. These two fvstems, therefore, differ in reality very little from one another. Sentine:it and reason enter into both; and by allow. ing to each of these powers its due place, boti fyítems may be rendered confiftent. Accordingly, it is in this light that I have endeavoured to place the subject.

« 前へ次へ »