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with so much rapture ; and whether, in estimating their comparative intenseness at different periods, he made due allowances for the effects of Association in modifying all our recollections of the past, and more particularly of our tenderest years. I can easily conceive, that a man of taste should now persuade himself that, when a boy, he read Blackmore’s Arthur, with far greater pleasure than that which he receives at present from the AEneid or Paradise Lost; because, in the former case, the original impressions received from the poem rise to his remembrance with a thousand borrowed charms: but I never can believe, that the pleasure communicated to the most enthusiastic school-boy by such a performance bears, in fact, any proportion, even in intenseness, to what Virgil and Milton must necessarily impart to every person possessed of a cultivated taste and an enlightened understanding. *—If Reynolds should have happened, in his old age, to revisit the village where he was born, with what transport would he probably recognise the most indifferent paintings to which the opportunities of his childhood afforded him access; and how apt would he be to overrate the pleasing impressions which he first received from these, by confounding them with the other attractions of his native spot! It is far from being unlikely he would fancy, for the instant, that he had never since been equally delighted: yet how extravagant would be the illusion, to compare any gratification of which his inexperienced mind could possibly be susceptible, with what he enjoyed at that moment of his after life, so admirably fancied by the poet: —— “When first the Vatican
* “Si donc on se refroidit sur les vers a mesure qu'on avance “en äge, ce n'est point par mépris pour la poésie; c'est au con“traire par l'idée de perfection qu'on y attache. C'est parce “qu'on a senti parles réflexions, et connu par l'expérience, la “distance enorme du médiocre à l’excellent, qu'on ne peut plus “souffrir le médiocre. Mais l'excellent gagne à cette compa“raison; moins on peut lire de vers, plus on goûte ceux que “le vrai talent sait produire. Il n'y a que les vers sans génie “qui perdent a ce refroidissement, et ce n'est pas là un grand “malheur.”—D'Alembert. Réflexions sur la Poésie.
The passive gratifications connected with the sensible impression of visible objects, were probably then much impaired by long use and habit; but how trif. ling this abatement, in the general effect, when compared with the intellectual pleasures so copiously superadded by his experience and observation ?—by his professional studies; by his own practice as a painter; by his powers of judgment, comparison, and reasoning; by his philosophical curiosity concerning the principles of his favourite art and the genius of this particular artist; in short, by every faculty and principle belonging to a rational and sensitive being, to which such an occasion could possibly afford any exercise 2 The greater the number of such intellectual enjoyments, that we can contrive to attach to those objects which fall under the province of Taste, the more powerful must the effect of these objects become:—Nor would I be understood to exclude, in this observation, the pleasures connected
with the severer sciences that regulate the mechanical processes of the different arts. Akenside has taken notice of the additional charms which Physical Science lends even to the beauties of Nature; and has illustrated this by an example, which to me has always appeared peculiarly fortunate, the redoubled delight which he himself experienced, when he first looked at the rainbow, after studying the Newtonian theory of light and colours:
“Nor ever yet
By waving these considerations, and granting Mr Burke's general doctrine to be true, that the pleasures of imagination are enjoyed with the most exquisite delight, when they are altogether uncontrolled by the reasoning faculty, the practical lesson will still be found, on either supposition, to be exactly the same; for it is only by combining the pleasures arising from both parts of our frame, that the duration of the former can be prolonged beyond the thoughtless period of youth; or that they can be enjoyed even then, for any length of time, without ending in satiety and languor. The activity which always accompanies the exercise of our reasoning powers seems, in fact, to be a zest essentially necessary, for enlivening the comparatively indolent state of mind, which the pleasures of Imagination and of Taste have a tendency to encourage. I will venture to add, however contrary to the prevailing opinion on this subject, that by a judicious combination of the pleasures of Reason with those of the Imagination, the vigour of the latter faculty may be preserved, in a great measure, unimpaired, even to the more advanced periods of life. According to the common doctrine, its gradual decline, after the short season of youth, is not merely the natural consequence of growing reason and experience, but the necessary effect of our physical organization: And yet numberless examples, in direct opposition to this conclusion, must immediately occur to every person at all acquainted with literary history. But as I must not enter here into details with respect to these, I shall content myself with a short quotation from Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose opinion on this point, I am happy to find, coincides entirely with my own ; and whose judgment, concerming a matter of fact so intimately connected with his ordinary habits of observation and of thought, is justly entitled to much deference. His opinion, too, it is to be remarked, is not only stated with perfect confidence; but the prejudice, to which it stands opposed, is treated with contempt and ridicule, as not entitled to a serious refutation. “We will allow a poet to express his meaning, “when his meaning is not well known to himself, “with a certain degree of obscurity, as it is one “source of the sublime. But when, in plain prose,
* Note (S s.)
“we gravely talk of attending to times and seasons “when the imagination shoots with the greatest “vigour; whether at the summer solstice or the “equinox; sagaciously observing, how much the “wild freedom and liberty of imagination is cramp“ed by attention to vulgar rules; and how this “same imagination begins to grow dim in advanced “age, smothered and deadened by too much judg“ment:—when we talk such language, and enter“tain such sentiments as these, we generally rest “contented with mere words, or at best entertain “notions, not only groundless, but pernicious.” “ I can believe, that a man, eminent “when young for possessing poetical imagination, “may, from having taken another road, so neglect “its cultivation as to shew less of its powers in his “latter life. But I am persuaded, that scarce a poet “is to be found, from Homer down to Dryden, “who preserved a sound mind in a sound body, and “continued practising his profession to the very “last, whose latter works are not as replete with “the fire of imagination, as those which were pro“duced in his more youthful days.” " After all, however, it cannot be denied, that the differences among individuals, in the natural history of this power, are immense ; and that instances very frequently occur, from which the prejudice now under consideration seems, on a superficial view, to receive no small countenance. If examples have now and then appeared of old men continuing to display it in its full perfection, how many are the cases, in
* Discourse delivered 10th Dec. 1776.