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NATURE OF INTELLECTUAL TASTE.
3. 69. Definition of taste and some of its characteristics.
At this point in the examination of the Sensibilities, we turn aside for a moment to consider a subject, which is closely and indissolubly connected with those emotions, which have thus far received our attention ; we refer to intellectual TASTE. It is sometimes the case, that a strong light is thrown upon a subject by the mere position which it occupies, in reference to other topics closely related to it. It is for this reason, that the subject of Taste, one both philosophically and practically of great importance, is introduced in this immediate connnection.
If we were required to give a definition, we should say, that Taste, in the most general sense of the term, is the power of judging of the beauty or deformity of objects, founded on the experience of emotions ; particularly those of beauty, grandeur, and sublimity.
In view of this definition, there are two things to be noticed.- (1) Taste is not a Sensitive, but an Intellectual power ; its decisions, although in consequence of its close connection with the feelings it may often seem to be otherwise, are not acts of the Heart, but of the Understanding. So that in the arrangement of the mental powers, notwithstanding its introduction here, it belongs strictly to the First, rather than the Second great division of the mind.—(2) Taste, as is obviously implied in the definition, is not an original power, distinct from every other, and having a nature of its own ; but seems to be rather a modification or form of the Judgment. It differs from other exhibitions of the Judgment merely in the circumstance of its being exercised in a particular way, viz, in view of certain emotions and the causes of these emotions. In accordance with this view, an old English writer has correctly said ; “ What we call taste is a kind of extempore judgment; it is a settled habit of distinguishing, without staying to attend to rules or ratiocination, and arises from long use and experience."'* $. 70. Distinguishable from mere quickness of feeling or sensibility.
If taste be an intellectual power originating in the understanding rather than the heart, then it seems to follow, and is unquestionably the fact, that it is not to be confounded with mere quickness of feeling, with mere sensibility. At the same time it is to be recollected, that there is no taste, which is absolutely exclusive of sensibility ; and that, though they are not identical, they are closely connected together. Without any degree of sensibility there would be no possibility of emotion ; and consequently, as it is the peculiarity of taste, the very thing which constitutes it what it is, to sit in judgment on emotions, the extinction of the sensibility involves the extinction of taste. And it is for this reason we are led to say, that they are closely connected, although they are not identical.
And that they are not identical is not only obvious from the fact, that the sensitive and the intellectual, the understanding and the heart are in their nature necessarily distinct froin each other; hut also from the fact, that we sometimes find men of great sensibility, who are acknowledged by common consent to be deficient in the other attribute. Indeed the excess of their sensibility seems in some cases to be an obstacle in the way of the perfection of their taste ; the very cause of that deficiency of taste, which they are perceived to manifest. When the excitement of feeling attendant on viewing an object is very great, it is a matter of course, that the powers of perception and judgment, which are employed in the examination of its qualities considered as the cause of this internal excitement, will be perplexed and hindered. So that it is sometimes necessary to check
*Hughes as quoted by Stewart, Essay III, Chap. 3d.
for a time the tide of feeling, to contract and embank the fountains of sensibility, in order that the taste, which penetrates back of feeling into the causes and conditions of feeling, inay suitably discharge its appropriate office.
71. Of the process involved in the formation of taste. Although every man of entire sanity of mind possesses the materials or elements, which are prerequisite to taste, yet not every man is spoken of and regarded as possessing the thing itself. The materials must be moulded into a certain shape, the elements must be compacted into a specific form, before they will be considered as entitling their possessor to the honor of that valuable attribute. When we speak of a man of taste, we imply in the expressions, that he has a knowledge of and is able to foretell, with a considerable degree of accuracy, what works will be found generally pleasing, or the opposite. This ability, as it exists in the man of taste, has sometimes been thought to be original or implanted ; but it is not so. Generally speaking, it is the result of a long, and frequently a laborious process of induction. He, who aspires to the possession of this power, must condescend as preparatory to obtaining it, to subject his judgment to a course of training and discipline. Accordingly he contemplates the works of nature and art, first, in reference to himself; he examines the nature of the emotions which are excited in his own bosom, whether of beauty or of a different kind ; and is thus enabled to decide, so far as he is himself concerned, whether the object is to be regarded as beautiful or not. He accordingly sets down soine objects and qualities of objects as pleasing, others as displeasing ; or what is the same thing, he characterizes some as beautiful and others as deformed ; and others, again, as possessing the marks of grandeur, or of sublimity.
Not only this, he endeavors to ascertain the impressions, which the same objects make upon the minds of others, and carefully compares the result of this inquiry with his own feelings, in order the more effectually to exclude from his decisions the possibility of mistake. In this way, sustainel by the emotions of his own heart and the concurrent feelings of others, he is enabled to detect and to point out, in regard to a particular object, not merely the general fact of its beauty, but the elements of it; in other words, the specific things and relations in the object, on which its beauty is based. — Having frequently repeated this process in respect to those objects, which happen to come within his particular province or department, he becomes so familiar with the principles of beauty and sublimity within its limits, that he is, to that ertent at least, regarded as a man of taste. A reputation which it is vain to suppose can be secured without some such process of repeated examination and comparison.
$. 72. Instantaneousness of the decisions of taste. There is one distinctive peculiarity in the operations of taste, which may at first sight be thought to be inconsistent with that process of comparison and examination, which has just been mentioned, viz, its rapidity of action, the instantaneousness of its decisions. It is this circumstance probably more than any other, which has originated and cherished the idea, too often prevalent, that taste is an original faculty distinct from every other, and never possessed where it is not given by nature. The instantaneousness of operation, which has been mentioned, is undoubtedly the result of Habit, and is easily explainable by a reference to the tendencies and effects of that great principle of the mind. By the term Habit, in its application to the mind, we express the well known fact, that the mental action acquires facility and strength from repetition and practice. But so many instances in illustration of its nature and results have already been given, we cannot suppose it to be necessary to delay upon the subject here. And if the nature of habit is understood, and if it is applicable, as it unquestionably is, to the matter under consideration, then the mystery, which may be thought to rest on the instantaneousness of the operations of taste, at once vanishes.
The military engineer by a single glance of the eye detects the aptitudes and peculiarities of a military position ; the experienced mechanician in like manner detects with a rapidity, which to others has the appearance of intuition, the parts and the relations, the hindrances and the impulsions of a complicated machine. It is HABIT, which is the
secret of the power, manifested in both of these cases; and in a multitude of others like them. And for the same reason the man of taste, availing himself of the immense power, which Habit has given to his critical judgment, discriminates in the works of genius, by an instantaneus perception, the elements of their beauty or sublimity.
§. 73. Of the permanency of beauty. Before leaving this subject, there is one other topic, which is deserving of a brief notice. We refer to the question, whether we are to regard beauty as truly real and permanent, or as accidental and transitory? In other words, whether we are to look upon it as something essential to nature, so that in its original and intrinsic elements it will be found to affect all mankind nearly alike in all countries and ages ; or as merely a pleasing illusion of the imagination, dependent wholly upon some interesting conjuncture of time and circumstances?—The doctrines, which have been advanced, help us in answering this interesting question. Various considerations point distinctly to the conclusion, that beauty, so far as it may exist independently of association, has its foundation in nature, possesses its fixed causes and relations, and may justly be regarded, in respect to the human mind at least, as something permanent.
This view is sustained, in the first place, by the fact, which has already appeared, that beauty in the first instance is original, and not associated. That beauty, in some proper and real sense of the term, exists, is a fact; that the human mind is readily accessible to its influence, is a fact also ; and, in the case of primary or intrinsic beauty, no other reason can be given either of its existence or of its influence, than that such is the constitution of nature. And this state of things seems clearly to involve its permanency. If all beauty were associated, as some seem to have contended, it would be very different ; we could not, in that case, predicate of what is beautiful to-day, that it would be so to-morrow; but it would be found constantly changing. But the fact, that a large portion of it is intrinsic, appears necessarily to furnish a basis of the permanency of that portion at least.
In the second place, the doctrine, that beauty, in distinc