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of men placed in such situations as are favourable to the proper exertions of taste. Every one must perceive, that among rude and uncivilized nations, and during the ages of ignorance and darkness, any loose notions that are entertained concerning such subjects, carry no authority. In those states of fo--ciety, taste has no materials on which to operate. It is either totally suppressed, or appears in its lowest and most imperfect form. We refer to the sentiments of mankind in polished and flourishing nations; when arts are cultivated and manners refined; when works of genius are subjected to free discussion, and taste is improved by science and philofophy.
Even among nations at such a period of society, I admit, that accidental causes may occasionally warp the proper operations of taste; sometimes the state of religion, sometimes the form of government, may for a while pervert it ; a licentious court may introduce a taste for false ornaments, and diffolute writings. The usage of one adınired genius may procure approbation for his faults, and even render them fashionable. Sometimes envy may have power to bear down, for a little, productions of great merit ; while popular humour, or party spirit, may, at other times, exalt to a high, though short-lived reputation, what little deserved it. But though such casual circumstances give the appearance of caprice to the judgments of taste, that appearance is easily corrected. In the course of time, the genuine taste of human nature never fails to disclose itself, and to gain the ascendant over any fantastic and corrupted modes of taste which may chance to have been introduced. These may have currency for a while, and mislead fuperficial judges; but being subjected to examination, by degrees they pass away ; while that alone remains which is founded on found reason, and the native feelings of men.
I by no means pretend, that there is any standard of taste, to which, in every particular instance, wę can resort for clear and immediate determination. Where, indeed, is such a standard to be found, for deciding any of those great controversies in reason and philosophy, which perpetually divide mankind ? In the present case, there was plainly no occasion for any such strict and absolute provision to be made. In order to judge of what is morally good or evil, of what man ought, or ought not in duty to do, it was fit that the means of clear and precise determination Mould be afforded us. But to ascertain in every case with the utmost exactness what is beautiful or elegant, was not at all necessary to the happiness of man. And therefore some diversity in feeling was here allowed to take place; and room was left for discussion and debate, concerning the degree of approbation to which any work of genius is entitled.
The conclusion, which it is sufficient for us to reiz upon, is, that taste is far from being an arbitrary principle, which is subject to the fancy of every individual, and which admits of no criterion for detcrmining whether it be false or truc. Its foundation is the same in all human minds. It is built apon sentiments and perceptions which belong to our nature ; and which, in general, operate with the fame uniformity as our other intellectual principles. When these sentiments are perverted by ignorance and prejudice, they are capable of being rectified by reason. Their found and natural state is uititimately determined, by comparing them with tlie general taste of mankind. Let men declaim as much as they please, concerning the caprice and the uncertainty of taste, it is found, by experience, that there are beauties, which, if they be displayed in a proper light, have power to command lasting and general admiration. In every compofition, what
interests the imagination, and touches the heart, pleales all ages and all nations. There is a certain string, to which, when properly struck, the human heart is so made as to anfwer.
Hence the universal testimony which the most improved nations of the earth have conspired, throughout a long tract of ages, to give to some few works of genius ; such as the Iliad of Homer, and the Æneid of Virgil. Hence the authority which such works have acquired as standards, in fome degree, of poetical composition ; since from them we are enabled to collect what the sense of mankind is, concerning 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 temporary reputation to an indifferent poet, or a bad artist : but when foreigners, or when posterity examine his. works, his faults are discerned, and the genuine taste of human nature appears.
“Opinionum commenta delet dies; naturæ judicia confirmat.” Time overthrows the illusions of opinion, but establishes the decisions of nature.
L E C T U R E
CRITICISM.-GENIUS.-PLEASURES OF TASTE.
SUBLIMITY IN OBJECTS.
ASTE, criticisin, and genias, are words cur
rently employed, without distinct ideas annexed to them. In beginning a course of lectures, where such words must often occur, it is necessary to ascertain their meaning with some precision. Having in the last lecture treated of taste, I proceed to explain the nature and foundation of criticism. True criticism is the application of taste and of good sense to the several fine arts. The object which it proposes is, to distinguish what is beautiful and what is faulty in every performance; from particular instances, to ascend to general principles; and so to form rules or conclusions, concerning the several kinds of beauty in works of genius.
The rules of criticism are not formed by any induction, a priori, as it is called ; that is, they are not formed by a train of abstract reasoning, independent of facts and observations. Criticism is an art founded wholly on experience on the obfervation of such beauties as have come nearest to the standard which I before established ; that is, of
fuch 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 rules first discovered by logical reasoning, and then applied to poetry; but they were drawn from the practice of Homer and Sophocles : they were founded upon observing the fuperior pleasure which we receive from the refation of an action which is one and entire, beyond what we receive from the relation of scattered and unconnected facts. Such observations, taking their rise at first from feeling and experience, were found, on examination, to be so confonant to reason, and to the principles of human naturę, as to pass into established rules, and to be conveniently applied for judging of the excellency of any performance. This is the most natural account of the origin of criticism.
A masterly genius, it is true, will, of himself, un-taught, compose in such a manner as shall be agreeable to the most material rules of criticism ; for as these rules are founded in nature, nature will often suggest them in practice. Homer, it is more than probable, was acquainted with no systems of the art of poetry. Guided by genius alone, he composed in verse a regular story, which all posterity has admired. But this is no argument against the usefulness of criticism as an art. For as no human genius is perfect, there is no writer but may re-. ceive assistance from critical observations upon the beauties and faults of those who have gone before him. No observations or rules can indeed supply the defect of genius, or inspire it where it is want. ing. But they may often direct it into its proper channel ; they may correct its extravagancies, and point out to it the most just and proper imitation of nature. Critical rules are designed chiefly to fhow the faults that ought to be avoided. To na