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tendency that he conceives the essence of the Beautiful to consist. In farther illustration of this, he observes, “that smooth things are relaxing; that “sweet things, which are the smooth of taste, are “relaxing too; and that sweet smells, which bear a “great affinity to sweet tastes, relax very remark“ably.” He adds, that “we often apply the quali“ty of sweetness metaphorically to visual objects;” after which observation, he proposes, “for the bet“ter carrying on this remarkable analogy of the “senses, to call sweetness the beautiful of the taste.” In order to convey a still more adequate idea of Mr Burke's mode of philosophizing on this subject, I shall quote a few of his remarks on the causes, “why Smoothness and Sweetness are beautiful.” The quotation is longer than I could have wished; but I was unwilling to attempt an abridgment of it in my own words, from my anxiety that his reasoning should have all the advantages which it may derive from his peculiar felicity of expression. “There can be no doubt, that bodies which are “rough and angular, rouse and vellicate the organs “ of feeling; causing a sense of pain, which consists “in the violent tension or contraction of the muscu“lar-fibres. On the contrary, the application of “smooth bodies relax 5–gentle stroking with a “smooth hand allays violent pains and cramps, and “relaxes the suffering parts from their unnatural “tension; and it has therefore, very often, no “mean effect in removing swellings and obstruc“tions. The sense of feeling is highly gratified “with smooth bodies. A bed smoothly laid and T
“soft, that is, where the resistance is every way in“considerable, is a great luxury; disposing to an “universal relaxation, and inducing, beyond any“thing else, that species of it called sleep. “Nor is it only in the touch that smooth bodies “eause positive pleasure by relaxation. In the “smell and taste we find all things agreeable to “them, and which are commonly called sweet, to “be of a smooth nature,” and that they all evident“ly tend to relax their respective sensories. Let “us first consider the taste. Since it is most easy “to inquire into the properties of liquids, and since “all things seem to want a fluid vehicle to make “ them tasted at all, I intend rather to consider “the liquid than the solid parts of our food. The “vehicles of all tastes are water and oil. And what “determines the taste, is some salt which affects “variously, according to its nature, or its manner
* In this part of his theory, Mr Burke has very closely followed Lucretius, whose fancy anticipated the same hypothesis, without the aid of microscopical observation.
“Huc accedit, uti mellis lactisque liquores
Lucret. Lib. II. l. 398.
-“ of being combined with other things. Water and “oil, simply considered, are capable of giving some “pleasure to the taste. Water, when simple, is “insipid, inodorous, colourless, and smooth; it is “found, when not cold, to be a great resolver of “spasms, and lubricator of the fibres: this power it “ probably owes to its smoothness. For, as fluidity “depends, according to the most general opinion, “ on the roundness, smoothness, and weak cohesion “ of the component parts of any body, and, as water “acts merely as a simple fluid, it follows, that the “cause of its fluidity is likewise the cause of its re“laxing quality; namely, the smoothness and slip“pery texture of its parts. The other fluid vehicle “ of tastes is oil. This, too, when simple, is insipid, “inodorous, colourless, and smooth to the touch “ and taste. It is smoother than water, and, in “many cases, yet more relaxing. Oil is, in some “degree, pleasant to the eye, the touch, and the “ taste, insipid as it is. Water is not so grateful; “which I do not know on what principle to account “for, other than that water is not so soft and smooth. “Suppose that to this oil, or water, were added a “certain quantity of a specific salt, which had a “power of putting the nervous papillae of the “ tongue in a gentle vibratory motion; as suppose “sugar dissolved in it; the smoothness of the oil, “and the vibratory power of the salt, cause the sense “we call sweetness. In all sweet bodies, sugar, or “a substance very little different from sugar, is con“stantly found; every species of salt, examined by “the microscope, has it own distinct, regular, invari
“able form. That of nitre is a pointed oblong; “that of sea-salt an exact cube; that of sugar a per“fect globe. If you have tried how smooth globu“lar bodies, as the marbles with which boys amuse “ themselves, have affected the touch, when they are “rolled backward and forward, and over one another, “you will easily conceive how sweetness, which
“consists in a salt of such nature, affects the taste; “for a single globe (though somewhat pleasant to “the feeling), yet, by the regularity of its form, and “the somewhat too sudden deviation of its parts from “a right line, it is nothing near so pleasant to the “touch as several globes, where the hand gently “rises to one, and falls to another; and this plea“sure is greatly increased if the globes are in mo“tion, and sliding over one another; for this soft va“riety prevents that weariness, which the uniform “disposition of the several globes would otherwise “produce. Thus, in sweet liquors, the parts of the “fluid vehicle, though most probably round, are yet “so minute, as to conceal the figure of their compo“nent parts from the nicest inquisition of the micro“scrope; and consequently, being so excessively “minute, they have a sort of flat simplicity to the “taste, resembling the effects of plain smooth bodies “ to the touch; for if a body be composed of round “parts, excessively small, and packed pretty closely “together, the surface will be, both to the sight and “touch, as if it were nearly plain and smooth. It is “clear, from their unveiling their figure to the mi“croscope, that the particles of sugar are consider
“ably larger than those of water or oil; and conse.
“quently, that their effects, from their roundness, “will be more distinct and palpable to the nervous “ papillae of that nice organ the tongue, They will “ induce that sense, called sweetness, which, in a “weak manner, we discover in oil, and in a yet weak“er in water; for, insipid as they are, water and “ oil are, in some degree, sweet; and it may be ob“ served, that insipid things of all kinds, approach “ more nearly to the nature of sweetness than to “ that of any other taste. “In the other senses, we have remarked that “smooth things are relaxing. Now, it ought to “appear that sweet things, which are the smooth “ of taste, are relaxing too.” “ That sweet “things are generally relaxing is evident, because “all such, especially those which are most oily, taken “frequently, and in a large quantity, very much en“feeble the tone of the stomach. Sweet smells, “which bear a great affinity to sweet tastes, relax “very remarkably. The smell of flowers disposes “ people to drowsiness; and this relaxing effect is “further apparent from the prejudice which people “ of weak nerves receive from their use.” If this theory of Mr Burke had led to no practical consequences, I should not have thought it worth while, notwithstanding its repugnance to my own opinions, to have made any reference to it here; but as it is intimately connected with some of his subsequent conclusions concerning Beauty, which I consider as not only unsound in their logical foundation, but as calculated to bias and mislead the Taste, I was anxious, before proceeding to an examination of