[ocr errors]

ture we must be indebted for the production of eminent beauties.

From what has been said, we are enabled to form a judgment concerning those complaints, which it his been long fashionable for petty authors to make, against critics and criticism. Critics have been represented as the great abridgers of the native liberty of genius-as the imposers of unnatural fhackles and bonds upon writers, from whose cruel persecution they must fly to the public and implore its protegion. Şuch supplicatory prefaces are not calculated to give very favourable ideas of the genius of the author. For every good writer will be pleased to have his work examined by the principles of sound understanding and true taste. The declamations against criticisin commonly proceed upon this supposition, that critics are such as judge by rule, not by feeling ; which is so far from being true, that they who judge after this manner are pedants, not critics. For all the rules of genuine criticism I have shown to be ultimately founded on feeling ; and taste and feeling are necessary to guide us in the application of these rules to every particular instance. As there is nothing in which all sorts of persons more readily affect to be judges, than in works of taste, there is no doubt, that the number of incompetent critics will always be great. But this affords no more foundation for a general invective against criticisin, than the number of bad philosophers or reasoners affords against reason and philosophy.

An objection more plausible may be formed againft criticism, from the applause that some perform. ances have received from the public, which, when accurately considered, are found to contradict the rules established by criticisin. Now, according to the principles laid down in the last lecture, the public is the supreme judge to whom the last ap

peal must be made in every work of taste ; as the itandard of taste is founded on the sentiments that are natural and common to all men.' But with respect to this, we are to observe, that the sense of the public is often too hastily judged of. The genuine public taite does not always appear in the first applause given upon the publication of any new work. There are both a great vulgar and a small, apt to be catched and dazzled by very fuperficial beauties, the admiration of which, in a little time, passes away: and sometimes a writer may acquire great temporary reputation merely by his compliance with the passions or prejudices, with the party-fpirit or superstitious notions, that may chance to rule for a time almost a whole nation. In such cases, though the public may seem to praise, true criticisin may with reason condemy ; and it will in progress of time gain the ascendant : for the judgment of true criticism, and the voice of the public, when once become unprejudiced and dispassionate, will ever coincide at last.

Instances, I admit, there are, of some works that contain gross transgressions of the laws of criticisin, acquiring, nevertheless, a general, and even a lasting admiration. Such are the plays of Shakefpeare, which, considered as dramatic poems, are irregular in the highest degree. But then we are to remark, that they have gained the public admiration, not by their being irregular, not by their transgressions of the rules of art, but in spite of such tranfgreitions. They poffefs other beauties which are conformable to just rules; and the force of these bcanties has been so great, as to overpower all censure, and to give the public a degree of satisfa. tion fuperior to the disgust ariling from their blemitres. Shakespeare pleases, not by his bringing the transactions of many years into one play--not by his grotcfque mistures of tragedy and comedy in one piece--nor by the Itrained thoughts, and affected witticisms, which he sometimes employs. These we consider as blemishes, and impute them to the groffness of the age in which he lived. But he pleases by his animated and masterly representations of characters, by the liveliness of his descriptions, the force of his sentiments, and his possessing, beyond all writers, the natural language of pallion : beauties which true criticism no less teaches us to place in the highest rank, than nature teaches us to feel.

I proceed next to explain the meaning of another term, which there will be frequent occasion to employ in these lectures; that is, genius.

Taste and genius are two words frequently joined together ; and therefore, by inaccurate

thinkers confounded. They fignify, however, two quite different things. The difference between them can be clearly pointed out ; and it is of importance to remember it. Taste consists in the power of judging: genius, in the power of executing. One may have a considerable degree of taste in poetry, eloquence, or any of the fine arts, who has little or hardly any genius for composition or execution in any of these arts : but genius cannot be found without including taste alfo. Genius, therefore, delerves to be considered as a higher power of the mind than taste. Genius always imports something inventive or crcative ; which does not rest in mere sensibility to beauty where it is perceived, but which can, moreover, produce new beauties, and exhibit them in such a manner as strongly to impress the minds of others. Renned taste forms a good critic; but genius is farther necessary to forni the poet or the orator.

It is proper also to observe, that genius is a word, which, in common acceptation, extends much farther than to the objekts of taste. It is used to signify

that talent or aptitude which we receive from nature, for excelling in any one thing whatever. Thus we speak of a genius for mathematics, as well as a genius for poetry--of a genius for war, for politics, or for any mechanical employment.

This talent or aptitude for excelling in some one particular, is, I have said, what we receive from nature. By art and study, no doubt, it may be greatly improved ; but by them alone it cannot be acquired. As genius is a higher faculty than tafte, it is ever, according to the usual frugality of nature, more limited in the sphere of its operations. It is not uncommon to meet with persons who have an excellent taste in several of the polite arts, such as music, poetry, painting, and eloquence, all together : buț, to find one who is an excellent performer in all these arts, is much more rare; or rather, indeed, such an one is not to be looked for. A fort of universal genius, or one who is equally and indifferently turned towards several different professions and arts, is not likely to excel in any. Although there may be some few exceptions, yet in general it holds, that when the bent of the mind is wholly directed towards some one object, exclufive, in a manner, of others, there is the fairelt prospect of eminence in that, whatever it be. The rays must converge to a point, in order to glow intensely. This remark I here choose to make, on account of its great importance to young people ; in leading them to cxamine with care, and to pursue with ardour, the current and pointing of nature towards those exertions of genius in which they are most likely to excel.

A genius for any of the fine arts, as I bcforcobserved, always supposes taste ; and it is clear, that the improvement of taste will serve hoth to forward and to correct the operations of genius. In proportion as the taste of a poct, or orator, be

comes more refined with respect to the beauties of composition, it will certainly affist him to produce the more finished beauties in his work. Genius, however, in a poet or orator, may sometimes exist in a higer degree than taste; that is, genius may be bold and strong, when taste is neither very delicate, nor very correct. This is often the case in the infancy of arts; a period when genius frequently exerts itself with great vigour, and executes with much warmth ; while taste, which requires experience, and improves by flower degrees, hath not yet attained to its full growth. Homer, and Shakespeare are proofs of what I now assert; in whose admirable writings are found instances of rudeness and indelicacy, which the more refined taste of later writers, who had far inferior genius to them, would have taught them to avoid. As all human perfection is limited, this may very probably be the law of our nature, that it is not given to one man to execute with vigour and fire, and, at the same time, to attend to all the lefser, and more refined graces that belong to the exact perfection of his work: wliile, on tlie other hand, a thorough taste for those inferior graces, is, for the most part, accompanied with a diminution of sublimity and force.

Having thus explained the nature of taste, the nature and importance of criticisin, and the distincon between taste and genius ; I am now to consider the sources of the pleasures of taste. Here opens a very extensive field; no less than all the pleasures of the imagination, as they are commonly called, whether afforded us by natural objects, or by the imitations and defcriptions of them. But it is not necessary to the purpose of my lcatures, that all these should be examined fully'; the pleasure wiiich we receive from discourse, or writing, being the main object of them. All that I propofc, is

« 前へ次へ »