« AnteriorContinuar »
oN THE CULTURE OF CERTAIN INTELLECTUAL HABITS CONNECTED WITH THE FIRST ELEMENTS OF TASTE.
DEPENDENCE OF TASTE ON A RELISH FOR THE PLEASURES OF IMAGINATION.—REMARKS ON THE PREVAILING IDEA, THAT THESE ARE TO BE ENJOYED IN PERFECTION IN YOUTH ALONE.
IN what I have hitherto said with respect to Taste, I have considered it chiefly as the native growth of the individual mind to which it belongs; endeavouring to trace it to its first principles or seeds in our intellectual. frame. In cases, however, where nature has not been so liberal as to render the formation of this power possible, merely from the mind's own internal resources, much may be done by judicious culture in early life; and in all cases whatever, in such a state of society as ours, its growth, even when most completely spontaneous, cannot fail to be influenced, in a greater or less degree, by instruction, by imitation, by the contagion of example, and by various other adventitious causes. It is reasonable also to believe, that there are numberless minds, in which the seeds of taste, though profusely sown, continue altogether dormant through life; either in consequence of a total want of opportunity to cultivate the habits by which it is to be matured, or of an attention exclusively directed to other objects. In instances such as these, it is the province of education to lend her succour; to invigorate, by due exercise, those principles in which an original weakness may be suspected ; and by removing the obstacles which check the expansion of our powers in any of the directions in which nature disposes them to shoot, to enable her to accomplish and perfect her own designs. To suggest practical rules for this important purpose would be inconsistent with the limits of a short Essay; and I shall, therefore, confine myself to a few slight hints with respect to some of the more essential propositions on which such rules must proceed. Before I enter on this subject, it is necessary to premise, that my aim is not to explain how a vitiated or false taste in any of the fine arts may be corrected; or in what manner an imperfect taste may be trained by culture to a state of higher refinement; but to inquire, in the case of an individual, whose thoughts have hitherto been totally engrossed with other pursuits, how far it may be possible, by engaging his attention to a new class of pleasures, to bring his mind into that track of observation and study, by the steady pursuit of which alone (as I have already endeavoured to shew) the power of taste is to be gradully and slowly formed. In prosecuting this speculation, I shall have a view more particularly to that species of Taste which has for its object the beauties of External Nature, whether presented directly to the senses, or recalled to the imagination, with the modifications and heightenings of poetical or creative invention. Without some portion of this taste, while an essential blank is left in the circle of his most refined enjoyments, the intellectual frame of man is incomplete and mutilated; and, although the fact be undoubtedly the same, more or less, with a taste in music, in painting, in architecture, and various other arts, the difference in point of degree is so immense, as to render the effects unsusceptible of comparison. Nor is this all. The transition from a Taste for the beautiful, to that more comprehensive Taste which extends to all the other pleasures of which poetical fiction is the vehicle, is easy and infallible; and accordingly we shall find, as we proceed in our argument, the subject to which it relates swell insensibly in its dimensions, and branch out on every side into numberless ramifications. The hints, therefore, which I am now to suggest, limited as some of them may appear to be in their immediate scope, may, perhaps, contribute to direct into the right path, such of my readers as may aim at conclusions more general than mine. In the meantime, I must beg leave to remind them, that, amid such an infinity of aspects as the objects and the principle of taste present to our curiosity, a selection of the happiest points of view is all that is possible; and that, in fixing upon these, I must necessarily be guided by the intimacy of that relation, which they seem to myself to bear to the Philosophy of the Human Mind. I have observed, in a former work, that what is commonly called sensibility depends, in a great measure, on the state of the imaginalion." In the passage to which I allude, my remark has a more peculiar reference to moral sensibility, or to what may be called, for the sake of distinction, the sensibility of the heart. But it will be found to apply also with great force (although I acknowledge, not without some limitations) to the sensibility of taste. In so far as the pleasures of Taste depend on association; on the perception of uses or fitnesses; on sympathy with the enjoyments of animated things, or on other circumstances of a similar nature, the remark will, I apprehend, apply literally; and it only fails with respect to those organical pleasures (the pleasures, for example, depending on the sensibility of the eye to colours, and of the ear to musical tones) over which the imagination cannot be supposed to have much influence. But, that these organical pleasures, although the parent stock on which all our more complicated feelings of Beauty are afterwards grafted, as well as the means by which the various exciting causes of these feelings are united and consolidated under the same common appellation;–that these organical pleasures, I say, form by far the
most inconsiderable part of that general impression or effect which is produced by the objects of taste on a cultivated mind, has, I trust, been already sufficiently shewn. The sensibility of taste, therefore (we may conclude), depends chiefly, in the mind of any individual, on the associations and other intellectual processes connected with the objects about which taste is conversant; and, consequently, the only effectual means of developing this sensibility (the most essential of all the elements of Taste, and, indeed, the seminal principle of the whole), must begin with the culture of Imagination. With respect to this last power, it may contribute to the clearness of some of the following reasonings, to premise, that although, according to the idea of it which I endeavoured formerly to illustrate, * its most distinguishing characteristic is a faculty of creation (or, to speak more correctly, of invention and of new combination), yet, when considered in its relation to Taste, this inventive faculty is the least important ingredient in its composition. All that is essentially necessary is a capacity of seizing, and comprehending, and presenting in a lively manner to one’s own mind, whatever combinations are formed by the imagination of others. When such combinations have for their materials nothing but what is borrowed from sensible objects, this capacity differs so little from what I before called Conception, t
* Philosophy of the Human Mind, Vol. I. + Ibid.