« AnteriorContinuar »
CONTINUATION OF THE SUBJECT.-SPECIFIC PLEAsure connecTED WITH THE EXERCISE OF TASTE. –FASTIDIOUSNESS OF TASTE.-MISCELLANEOUS REMARKS ON THIS POWER, CONSIDERED IN ITs CONNECTION WITH CHARACTER AND HAPPINESS.
Before I quit this part of the subject, it is important for me to add, that, in proportion as taste is cultivated and matured, there arises a secondary pleasure peculiar to this acquired power; a pleasure essentially distinct from those primary pleasures which its appropriate objects afford. A man of strong sensibility, but destitute of taste, while he enjoys the beauties of a poem or a picture, will receive no positive uneasiness from the concomitant details which may diminish or obstruct the pleasing effect. To a person, on the contrary, of a cultivated taste, these will necessarily appear offensive blemishes, betraying a want of skill and judgment in the author; while, on the other hand, supposing them to have been avoided, and the genuine principles of beauty to have been exhibited pure and unadulterated, there would have been superadded to the pleasures operating on his natural sensibility, the acquired gratification of remarking the Taste as well as Genius displayed in the performance,
It is, however, in a very small number, comparatively speaking, of individuals, that taste is the native growth of the original principles and unborrowed habits of their own minds. In by far the greater proportion of men, what usurps that name, and is too frequently acknowledged as having a right to assume it, consists merely of a prompt application of certain technical rules, which pass current in the common circles of fashion or of literature ; and which are adopted by the multitude, without the slightest examination, as incontrovertible axioms. Such, for example, is that mechanical and pedantic taste which is imbibed passively on the authority of Aristotle or of Bossu, and which may, in general, be distinguished by a fluent command of that convenient and imposing phraseology, which is called by Sterne “the cant of criticism.”
These technical rules, at the same time, although often abused, are not without their value; for, although they can never supply the want of natural sensibility, or inspire a relish for beauty in a mind insensible to it before, they may yet point out many of the faults which an artist ought to avoid, and teach those critics how to censure, who are incapable of being taught how to admire. They may even communicate to such a critic, some degree of that secondary pleasure which was formerly mentioned as peculiar to taste ; the pleasure of remarking the coincidence between the execution of an artist, and the established rules of his art; or, if he should himself aspire to be an artist, they may enable him to produce what will not much offend, if it
should fail to please. What is commonly called Jastidiousness of taste, is an affectation chiefly ob“servable in persons of this description; being the natural effect of habits of common-place criticism on an eye blind to the perception of the beautiful. Instances, at the same time, may be conceived, in which this fastidiousness is real; arising from an unfortunate predominance of the secondary pleasures and pains, peculiar to taste, over those primary pleasures and pains which the object is fitted to produce. But this, I apprehend, is a case that can rarely occur in a mind possessed of common sensibility; more especially, if the cultivation of taste has been confined to that subordinate place which belongs to it, among the various other pursuits to which we are led by the speculative and active principles of our nature. The result of these observations is, that the utmost to be expected from rules of criticism is a technical correctness of taste ; meaning by that phrase, a power of judging, how far the artist has conformed himself to the established and acknowledged camons of his art, without any perception of those nameless excellencies, which have hitherto eluded the grasp of verbal description. . There is another species of Taste (unquestionably of a higher order than the technical taste we have now been considering), which is insensibly acquired by a diligent and habitual study of the most approved and consecrated standards of excellence; and which, in pronouncing its critical judgments, is secretly, and often unconsciously guided, by an ido
latrous comparison of what it sees, with the works of its favourite masters. This, I think, approaches nearly to what La Bruyere calls le Goilt de Comparaison. It is that kind of taste which commonly belongs to the connoisseur in painting ; and to which something perfectly analogous may be remarked in all the other fine arts. A person possessed of this sort of taste, if he should be surpassed in the correctness of his judgment by the technical critic, is much more likely to recognise the beauties of a new work, by their resemblance to those which are familiar to his memory; or, if he should himself attempt the task of execution, and possesses powers equal to the task, he may possibly, without any clear conception of his own merits, rival the originals he has been accustomed to admire. It was said by an ancient critic, that, in reading Seneca, it was impossible not to wish, that he had written “with the taste of ano“ther person, though with his own genius;”—suo ingenio, alieno judicio; *—and we find, in fact, that many who have failed as original writers, have seemed to surpass themselves, when they attempted to imitate. Warburton has remarked, and, in my opinion, with some truth, that Burke himself never wrote so well, as when he imitated Bolingbroke. If, on other occasions, he has soared higher than in his Vindication of Natural Society, he has certainly nowhere else (I speak at present merely of the style of his composition) sustained himself so long
* Velles cum suo ingenio dixisse, alieno judicio.—Quinct. Lib. X- cap. 1.
upon a steady wing. I do not, however, agree with Warburton in thinking, that this implied any defect in Mr Burke's genius, connected with that faculty of imitation which he so eminently possessed. The defect lay in his Taste, which, when left to itself, without the guidance of an acknowledged standard of excellence, appears not only to have been warped by some peculiar notions concerning the art of writing ; but to have been too wavering and versatile, to keep his imagination and his fancy (stimulated as they were by an ostentation of his intellectual riches, and by an ambition of Asiatic ornament) under due control. With the composition of Bolingbroke present to his thoughts, he has shewn with what ease he could equal its most finished beauties, while, on more than one occasion, a consciousness of his own strength has led him to display his superiority, by brandishing, in his sport, still heavier weapons than his master was able to wield. To one or other of these two classes, the taste of most professed critics will be found to belong ; and it is evident that they may both exist, where there is little or no sensibility to Beauty. That genuine and native Taste, the origin and growth of which I attempted to describe in the last chapter, is perhaps one of the rarest acquisitions of the human mind: nor will this appear surprising to those who consider with attention the combination of original qualities which it implies; the accidental nature of many of the circumstances which must conspire to afford due opportunities for its improvement; and the persevering habits of discriminating observation by