Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

The design of the present undertaking is, to examine the sensitive branch of human nature, to trace the objects that are naturally agreeable, as well as those that are naturally disagreeable; and by these means to discover, if we can, what are the genuine principles of the fine arts. The man who aspires to be a critic in these arts, must pierce still deeper: he must acquire a clear perception of what objects are lofty, what low, what proper or improper, what manly, and what mean or trivial. Hence a foundation for reasoning upon the taste of any individual, and for passing sentence upon it. Where it is conformable to principles, we can pronounce with certainty that it is correct; otherwise, that it is incorrect, and perhaps whimsical. Thus the fine arts, like morals, become a rational science; and, like morals, may be cultivated to a high degree of refinement.

Manifold are the advantages of criticism, when thus studied as a rational science. In the first place, a thorough acquaintance with the principles of the fine arts, redoubles the pleasure we derive from them. To the man who resigns himself entirely to sentiment or feeling, without interposing any sort of judgment, poetry, music and painting, are mere pastime: in the prime of life, indeed, they are delightful, being supported by the force of novelty and the heat of imagination : but in time they lose their relish, and are generally neglected in the maturity of life, which disposes to more serious and more important occupations. To those who deal in criticism as a regular science, governed by just principles, and giving scope to judgment as well as to fancy, the fine arts are a favorite entertainment; and in old age they maintain that relish which they produce in the morning of life.

In the next place, a philosophic inquiry into the principles of the fine arts, inures the reflecting mind to the most enticing sort of logic: the practice of reasoning upon subjects so agreeable, tends to a habit; and a habit, strengthening the reasoning faculties, prepares the mind for entering into subjects more intricate and abstract. To have, in that respect, a just conception of the importance of criticism, we need but reflect upon the common method of education; which, after some years spent in acquiring languages, hurries us, without the least preparatory discipline,

ng

[ocr errors]

into the most profound philosophy. A more effectual method to alienate the tender mind from abstract science, is beyond the reach of invention: and accordingly, with respect to such speculations, the bulk of our youth contract a sort of hobgoblin terror, which is seldom if ever subdued. Those who apply to the arts, are trained in a very different manner: they are led, step by step, from the easier parts of the operation, to what are more difficult; and are not permitted to make a new motion till they are perfected in those which go before. Thus the science of criticism may be considered as a middle link, connecting the different parts of education into a regular chain. This science furnishes an inviting opportunity to exercise the judgment: we delight to reason upon subjects that are equally pleasant and familiar: we proceed gradually from the simpler to the more involved cases: and in a due course of discipline, custom, which improves all our faculties, bestows acuteness on that of reason, sufficient to unravel all the intricacies of philosophy.

Nor ought it to be overlooked, that the reasonings employed on the fine arts, are of the same kind with those which regulate our conduct. Mathematical and metaphysical reasonings have no tendency to improve social intercourse; nor are they applicable to the common affairs of life: but a just taste of the fine arts, derived from rational principles, furnishes elegant subjects for conversation, and prepares us for acting in the social state with dignity and propriety.

The science of rational criticism tends to improve the heart no less than the understanding. It tends, in the first place, to moderate the selfish affections : by sweetening and harmonizing the temper, it is a strong antidote to the turbulence of passion and violence of pursuit: it procures to a man so much mental enjoyment, that in order to be occupied, he is not tempted to deliver up his youth to hunting, gaming, drinking ; nor his middle age to ambition; nor his old age to avarice. Pride and envy, two disgustful passions, find in the constitution no enemy more formi. dable than a delicate and discerning taste : the man upon whom nature and culture have bestowed this blessing, feels great delight in the virtuous dispositions and actions of others : he loves to cherish them, and to publish them to the world : faults and failings, it is true, are to him not less obvious; but these he avoids, or removes out of sight, beca se they give him pain. On the other hand, a man void of taste, upon whom even striking

[ocr errors]

beauties make but a faint impression, indulges pride or envy without control, and loves to brood over errors and blemishes; in a word, there are other passions, that, upon occasion, may disturb the peace of society more than those mentioned; but not another passion is so unwearied an antagonist to the sweets of social intercourse : pride and envy put a man perpetually in opposition to others, and dispose him to relish bad more than good qualities, even in a companion. How different that disposition of mind, where every virtue in a companion or neighbor, is, by refinement of taste, set in its strongest light, and defects or blemishes natural to all are suppressed, or kept out of view ?

In the next place, delicacy of taste tends not less to invigorate the social affections, than to moderate those that are selfish. To be convinced of that tendency, we need only reflect that delicacy of taste necessarily heightens our feeling of pain and pleasure; and of course our sympathy, which is the capital branch of every social passion. Sympathy invites a communication of joys and sorrows, hopes and fears: such exercise, soothing and satisfactory in itself, is necessarily productive of mutual good-will and affection.

One other advantage of criticism is reserved to the last place, being of all the most important; which is, that it is a great support to morality. I insist on it with entire satisfaction, that no occupation attaches a man more to his duty, than that of cultivating a taste in the fine arts: a just relish for what is beautiful, proper, elegant, and ornamental, in writing or painting, in architecture or gardening, is a fine preparation for the same just relish of these qualities in character and behavior. To the man who has acquired a taste so acute and accomplished, every action, wrong or improper, must be highly disgustful: if, in any instance, the overbearing power of passion sway him from his duty, he returns to it with a doubled resolution never to be swayed a second time: he has now an additional motive to virtue, a conviction derived from experience, that happiness depends on regularity and order, and that disregard to justice or propriety never fails to be punished with shame and remorse.

With respect to the present undertaking, it is not the author's intention to compose a regular treatise upon each of the fine arts ; but only in general to exhibit their fundamental principles, drawn from human nature, the true source of criticism. The fine arts are intended to entertain us, by making pleasant impressions; and,

by that circunstance, are distinguished from the useful arts : but in order to make pleasant impressions, we ought, as above hinted, to know what objects are naturally agreeable, and what naturally disagreeable. That subject is here attempted, so far as necessary for unfolding the genuine principles of the fine arts; and the authòr assumes no merit from his performance, but that of evincing, perhaps more distinctly than hitherto has been done, that these principles, as well as every just rule of criticism, are founded upon the sensitive part of our nature. What the author has discovered or collected upon that subject, he chooses to impart in the gay and agreeable form of criticism ; imagining that this form will be more relished, and perhaps be not less instructive, than a regular and labored disquisition. His plan is, to ascend gradually to principles, from facts and experiments; instead of beginning with the former, handled abstractedly, and descending to the latter. But though criticism be thus his only declared aim, he will not disown, that all along it has been his view to explain the nature of man, considered as a sensitive being, capable of pleasure and pain: and though he flatters himself with having made some progress in that important science, he is however too sensible of its extent and difficulty, to undertake it professedly, or to avow it as the chief purpose of the present work.

REVIEW.
What is the design of this work ?
What is requisite in order to become a critic in the fine arts ?
What do the fine arts thus become?

What is the first advantage which arises from an acquaintance with the principles of the fine arts ?

To whom are the fine arts a favorite entertainment?

What habit is acquired by philosophic inquiry into the principles of the fine arts? liow may the science of criticism be considered ? Of what kind are the reasonings employed on the fine arts ? What does a just taste for the fine arts furnish ? How does the science of criticism tend to improve the hcart? To what vices is a discerning taste an enemy? In what does the man of taste delight? What does delicacy of taste invigorate ? What is the last and most important advantage of criticism? What occupation particularly attaches a man to his duty ? What additional motive to virtue has the man of taste ? From what are the fundamental principles of criticism drawn? Upon what is every just rule of criticism founded ? What is the author's plan? What other object hesides the science of criticism has the author kept in viow?

ELEMENTS OF CRITICISM.

CHAPTER I.

Association of Ideas.

WHILE awake we are conscious of a continued train of perceptions passing in our minds. It requires no activity to carry on, nor can we at will add an idea to this train, which is not regulated by chance.

The notions by which things are linked have great influence in directing the train of thought. The inherent properties of external objects are not more remarkable than the various relations that connect them together. Cause and effect, contiguity in time and place, high and low, prior and posterior, resemblance, contrast, and a thousand other relations, connect things without end. No single object appears solitary and devoid of connexion; some are intimately, some slightly connected; some near, others remote.

The train of thought is chiefly regulated by these relations. An external object suggests to the mind others with which it is related : thus the train of thoughts is composed. Such is the law of succession, which must be natural because it governs all human things. Sometimes, however, as after a profound sleep, an idea arises in the mind without any perceived connexion.

We can attend to some ideas and dismiss others. Among objects connected, one suggests many of its relations; choice is afforded; we can elect one and reject others. We can insist on what is commonly the slighter connexion Ideas left to their natural course are continued through the strictest connexions : the

« PoprzedniaDalej »