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To find a kindred order; to exert
If such pleasures can require any other recomendation than their exquisite and dignified delight, their perfect innocence, their entire exemption from all disgust and remorse, do we not find it in their universality and ease of acquirement. To enjoy a fine painting, a correct and elegant building, a beautiful garden, it is not necessary we should own them. It is only necessary we should have chastened and improved that taste of which every man has from nature a portion, to derive from these expensive possessions every pleasure they can bestow. Thus it is that wealth spreads her bounty, even if reluctant, and is compelled, while she gratifies her vanity, to diffuse her enjoyments.
Further; every man has not only the means of gratification, thus cheaply furnished, but also the power of enjoying them. This is given him by nature. Whatever distance there may be between the rude and the refined taste, every one has more or less of it; afforded, indeed, in different portions, but always capable of much improvement. When therefore I have heard gentlemen excuse themselves from contributing their aid to this institution, by alleging they have no taste for such things, I have been astonished. It is not true. Does the gentleman mean to say, he cannot tell a straight line from a crooked one; that he cannot discern whether an imitation be correct or otherwise; that he has no pleasure in beauty, no disgust from deformity ? What is this taste they are so eager to disclaim ? There is no magic in the word:
" What, then, is taste, but these internal powers,
If this be taste, is any one willing to avow himself destitute of it? What does it require? Sight, sensibility, and judgment. That it is possessed in portions almost infinitely different; that it affords pleasure in different degrees to different men, is undoubtedly true: but, every man who sees, feels, and judges, has taste, which, by culture, he may enlarge and improve, .
Let us imagine some gross disproportion in a building, or deformity in a statue or picture, the most common eye would discover it, and be offended. This deformity may be so diminished, that a more accurate eye, and scrutinizing judgment is necessary to detect it, which is obtained by more experience, and, perhaps, a superior original sensibility or delicacy of mental organization. When a painter spreads over his canvass some animated scene of nature; or portrays the actions or passions of men, what is that taste which decides upon the merit of his work? It is the faculty of discerning whether his imitations are accurate, his combinations just, and whether grace and harmony pervade the whole. No man is without some portion of this discernment.
It is, indeed, so far from being true, that men, in general, are not competent to judge of the productions of the fine arts, that it is by public judgment their merit or demerit is finally established. This is the tribunal before which they stand or fall; and, generally speaking, it is not only impartial, but just and correct. Public opinion has, in more instances than one, triumphed over critics and connoisseurs, and the triumph has been sanctioned
by time and experience. Plays and poems finally take their rank in literature by the reception they meet with in the world, and not by the square and compass of the professed critic. Is not this taste, and a high exercise of its prerogatives? And this is all as it should be. The object of the fine arts, in all their branches, is to please; to engage attention, to fascinate. Now, these are emotions of which every man is susceptible. We require no critic or connoisseur to tell us whether we shall be delighted with a play, or subdued by the powers of music. Can any
that we must not be melted with the tenderness of Shakspeare, or prevent him from shaking our souls with terror? Is there a picture which has fascinated every eye; or a piece of music which has touched every heart, and can they be proved, by any course of reasoning to be bad ? It has long since been agreed, that the truest test of eloquence is the impression it makes upon the common audience; even upon the vulgar and unlearned. May not the same test be applied, not, perhaps, with equal confidence, or to the same extent, to other efforts of genius?
Professors of an art are frequently prejudiced by attachments to particular schools; to particular masters; by personal friendships; perhaps, sometimes, by envy or dislike: but the public voice speaks over such considerations; and, when combined in one sentiment, is seldom wrong, and always irresistible.
The highest efforts of art are but attempts to imitate Nature; and it is excellent in proportion as it succeeds in the imitation. Is it only to the man of education that Nature unfolds her excellence and offers her enjoyments? Is it only to him she displays her beauties, her perfections, her symmetry?
“Ask the swain
Nothing can be more obvious and natural than the connection between what are termed the useful arts and the fine arts; and hence is derived a strong inducement for encouraging the latter. The carpenter, the mason, nay, the mechanic of every description, will improve in the propriety and elegance of his design, and the excellence of his workmanship, by having placed before him models formed with correct proportion, with elegant symmetry, with true taste. By constantly observing what is just and beautiful, a desire of imitating it is excited; a spirit of emulation arises, and superior genius displays itself in the most ordinary works. Instead of immense piles of brick and mortar heaped together, without any unity or propriety of design, or justness of proportion, where expense is substituted for taste, and gaudy ornament for true elegance, we shall have the plain, chaste, but beautiful productions of legitimate architecture.
Nor is it only in constructing our dwellings and public edifices that the aid of the fine arts is necessary. It is equally required in selecting and disposing the internal decorations and furniture; which are sometimes, even in the houses of the most fashionable, most ridiculous and shocking.–Those mechanics, therefore, who are employed in these services, have the most indispensable occasion for cultivating their talents, and improving their
taste; especially while their employers are resolved not to do so. It is from the stores of antiquity this improvement is to be drawn. It may surprise some to learn, that most of the ornaments introduced to the persons and houses of the wealthy and the gay, under the irresistible recommendation of being “new fashions," are really some thousand years old; purloined from the relics of former ages.
The brilliant trinket that sheds its lustre from the bosom of a modern belle, performed the same kind office for some damsel, equally fair, who, centuries agone, mouldered to imperceptible atoms. How various! how inexhaustible is the profit and pleasure to be derived from the studies of antiquity !