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STANDARD OF TASTE.
& That isorial
by any individual, it cannot proceed from taste, but from custom, imitation, or some peculiarity of mind.
Nature, in her scale of pleasures, has been sparing of divisions; she has wisely and benevolently filled every division with many pleasures, that individuals may be contented with their own lot, without envying that of others. Many hands must be employed to procure us the conveniences of life; and it is necessary that the different branches of business, whether more or less agreeable, be filled with hands: a taste too refined would obstruct that plan; for it would crowd some employments, leaving others, no less useful, totally neglected. Fortunately the plurality are not delicate in their choice, but fall in readily with the occupations, pleasures, food, and company, that fortune throws in their way; and if at first there be any displeasing circumstance, custom soon makes it easy.
The proverb will hold true as to the particulars now explained; but when applied in general to every subject of taste, the difficulties to be encountered are insuperable. We need only to mention the difficulty that arises from human nature itself. Do we not talk of a good and a bad taste ?-of a right and a wrong taste ?-and upon that supposition, do we not censure writers, painters, architects, and every one who deals in the fine arts? Are such criticisms absurd, and void of common sense?-have the foregoing expressions, familiar in all languages and among all people, no sort of meaning? This can hardly be ; for what is universal, must have a foundation in nature. If we can reach that foundation, the standard of taste will no longer be a secret.
We have a sense or conviction of a common nature in our own species, and in every species of animals: and this common nature is a model or standard for each individual that belongs to the kind. Hence it is a wonder to find an individual deviating from the common nature of the species, whether in its internal or external construction : a child born with aversion to
its mother's milk, is a wonder, no less than if born with out a mouth, or with more than one. This conviction of a common nature in every species, paves the
way for distributing things into genera and species ; to which we are prone.
With respect to the common nature of man in particular, we have a conviction that it is invariable not less than universal. Nor are we deceived: because, giving allowance for the difference of culture and gradual refinement of manners, the fact corresponds to our conviction.
We are so constituted, as to conceive this common nature to be invariable, perfect or right; and that individuals ought to be made conformable to it. Every remarkable deviation from the standard makes an impression upon us of imperfection, irregularity, or disorder: it is disagreeable, and raises in us a painful emotion; monstrous births, exciting the curiosity of a philosopher, fail not at the same time to excite a sort of horror.
This conviction of a common nature or standard, and of its perfection, accounts clearly for that remarkable conception we have of a right and a wrong sense or taste in morals, and also in the fine arts. A man who, avoiding objects generally agreeable, delights in objects generally disagreeable, is condemned as a monster; we disapprove his taste as bad or wrong because we have a clear conception that he deviates from the common standard.
Men are prone to flatter themselves, by taking it for granted that their opinions and their taste are in all
respects conformable to the common standard ; but there are exceptions without number, of persons who are addicted to gross amusements without having any relish for the more elegant pleasures afforded by the fine arts; yet these very persons, talking the same language with the rest of mankind, pronounce in favor of the more elegant pleasures, and invariably approve those who have a more refined taste, being
ashamed of their own as low and sensual. No reason can be given for this singular impartiality, other than the authority of the common standard with respect to the dignity of human ratuse and from the instances now given, we discover that the authority of that standard, even upon the most grovelling souls
, is so vigorous, as to prevail over self-partiality, and make them despise their own taste compared with the more elevated taste of others.
Thus, upon a conviction common to the species is erected a standard of taste; which standard, ascertaining what actions are right or wrong, proper or improper, has enabled moralists to establish rules for our conduct, from which no person is permitted to swerve. We have the same standard for ascertaining, in all the fine arts, what is beautiful or ugly, high or low, proper or improper, proportioned or disproportioned.
With respect to the fine arts, there is less differenca of taste than is commonly imagined. Nature has marked all her works with indelible characters of high or low, plain er elegant, strong or weak; which if perceived, are seldom misapprehended: and the same marks are equally perceptible in works of art. A defective taste is incurable; and it hurts none but the possessor, because it carries no authority to impose upon others. Differences about objects of taste are endless: but they generally concern trifles, or matters of equal rank, where preference may be given either way with impunity : it, on any occasion, persons differ where they ought not, a depraved taste will readily be discovered on one or other side, occasioned by imitation, custom, or corrupted manners, as described above. And considering that every individual partakes of a common nature, what is there that should occasion
any wide difference in taste or sentiment? By the principles that constitute the sensitive part of our nature, wonderful uniformity is preserved in the emotions and feelings of the different races of men; the same object making upon every person the same impression, the
same in kind, if not in degree. There have been, as above observed, aberrations from these principles; but soon or late they prevail, and restore the wanderer to the right track. 6. Whet influence
In general, every doubt with relation to the common sense of man, or standard of taste, may be cleared by the same appeal: and to unfold these principles has been the declared purpose of the present undertaking
REVIEW. Into what general proposition may we resolve the common proverb about taste? By what reasoning is this proposition supported ? Is the proverb true to a certain extent? What is the advantage of a variety of taste among mankind ? What difficulties arise when we apply the proverb to every subject of taste? What is the standard for each individual of a species ? What conception do we form of our common nature? For what does this conviction account?
How is the decisive authority of this common standard illustrated ? Upon what is a standard of taste erected ? Is it applied to the fine arts, as well as to morals ? Upon what are rules of conduct founded ? Why is there not much difference of taste in the fine arts? May a defective taste be cured? What do differences about objects of taste generally concern What preserves uniformity of emotions and feelings among men! Do these principles always ultimately prevail?