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to perplex our research. They are often obscured under th« number of qualities with which they are accidentally combined; They result often from peculiar combinations of the qualities of objects, or the relation of certain parts of objects to each other: They are still oftener, perhaps, dependent upon the state of our own minds, and vary in their effects with the dispositions in which they happen to be observed. In all cases, while we feel the emotions they excite, we are ignorant of the causes by which they are produced; and when we seek to discover them, we have no other method of discovery, than that varied and patient Experiment, by which, amid these complicated circumstances, we may gradually ascertain the peculiar qualities which, by the Constitution of our Nature,are permanently connected with the emotions we feel.
In the employment of this mode of investigation, there are two great objects of attention and inquiry, which seem to include all that is either necessary, or perhaps possible, for us to discover on the subject of taste.
These objects are,
I. To investigate the Nature of those Qualities that produce the emotions of Taste: And,
II. To investigate the Nature of that Faculty, by which these emotions are received.
These investigations, however, are not to be considered only as objects of philosophical curiosity. They have an immediate relation to all the arts that are directed to the production either of the Beautiful or the Sublime; and they afford the only means by which the principles of these various arts can be ascertained. Without a just and accurate conception of the nature of these qualities, the Artist must be unable to determine, whether the beauty he creates is tempory or permanent, whether adapted to the accidental prejudices of his age, or to the uniform constitution of the human mind y and whatever the science of Criticism can afford for the improvement or correction of taste, must altogether depend upon the previous knowledge of the nature and laws of this faculty.
To both these inquiries, however, there is a preliminary investigation, which seems absolutely necessary, and without which every conclusion we form nfust be either imperfect or vague. In the investigation of Causes, the first and most important step, is the accurate examination of the Effect to be explained. In the science of mind, however, as well as in that of body, there are few effects altogether simple, or in which accidental circumstances are not combined with the proper effect. Unless, therefore, by means of repeated experiments, such accidental circumstances are accurately distinguished from the phenomena that permanently characterize the effect, we are under the necessity of including in the cause, the causes also of all the accidental circumstances with which the effect is accompanied.
With the emotions of Taste, in almost every instance, many other accidental emotions of pleasure are united: the various simple pleasures that arise from other qualities of the object; the pleasure of agreeable sensation, in the case of material objects; and in all, that pleasure which by the constitution of our natuce is annexed to the exercise of our faculties. Unless, therefore, we have previously acquired a distinct and accurate conception of that peculiar effect which is produced on our minds, when the emotions of taste are felt, and can precisely distinguish it from the effects that are produced by these accidental qualities, we must necessarily include in the causes of such emotions, those qualities also, which are the causes of the accidental pleasures with which this emotion is accompanied. The variety of systems that philosophers have adopted upon this subject, and the various emotions into which they have resolved the emotion of taste, while they afford a sufficient evidence of the numerous accidental pleasures that accompany these emotions, afford also a strong illustration of the necessity of previously ascertaining the nature of this effect, before we attempt to investigate its cause. With regard, therefore, to both these inquiries, the first and most important step is accurately to examine the nature of this Emotion itself, and its distinction from every other emotion of pleasure; and our capacity of discovering either the nature of the qualities that produce the emotions of taste, or the nature of the faculty by which they are received, will be exactly proportioned to our accuracy in ascertaining the nature of the emotion itself.
When we look back to the history of these investigations, and to the theories which have been so liberally formed upon the subject, there is one fact that must necessarily strike us, viz. That all these theories have uniformly taken for granted the simplicity of this emotion; that they have considered it as an emotion too plain, and too commonly felt,to admit of any analysis; that they have as uniformly, therefore, referred it to some one principle or law of the human mind; and that they have therefore concluded, that the discovery of that one principle was the essential key by which all the pleasures of taste were to be resolved.
While they have assumed this fundamental principle, the various theories of philosophers may, and indeed must, be included in the two following classes of supposition.
I. The first class is that which resolves the emotion of taste directly into an original law of our nature, which supposes a sense, or senses, by which the qualities of beauty and sublimity are perceived and felt, as their appropriate objects; and concludes, therefore, that the genuine object of the arts of taste, is to discover, and to imitate those qualities in every subject which the prescription of nature has thus made essentially either beautiful or sublime. . .. »
To this first class of hypotheses belong almost all the theories of music, of architecture, and of sculpture, the theory of Mr. Hogarth, of the Abbe Winkelman, and perhaps in its last result, also the theory of Sir Joshua Reynolds. It is the species of hypothesis which is naturally resorted to by all artists and amateurs—by those, whose habits of thought lead them to attend more to the causes of their emotions, than to the nature of the emotions themselves. , ,.
II. The second class of hypotheses arises from the opposite view of the subject. It is that which resists the idea of any new or peculiar sense, distinct from the common principles of our nature; which supposes some one known and acknowledged principle1 or affection of mind, to be the foundation of all the emotions we receive from the objects of taste, and which resolves, therefore, all the various phenomena into some more general law of our intellectual or moral constitution. Of this kind are the hypotheses of M. Diderot, who attributes all our emotions of this kind to the perception of relation; of Mr. Hume, who resolves them into our sense of utility; of the venerable St. Austin, who, with nobler views, a thousand years ago, resolved them into the pleasure which belongs to the per* ception of order and design,&c. It is the species of hypothesis most natural to retired and philosophic minds; to those, whose habits have led them to attend more to the nature of the emotions they felt, than to the causes which produced them.
If the success of these long and varied inquiries has not corresponded to the genius or the industry of the philosophers who have pursued them, a suspicion may arise that there has been something faulty in the principle of their investigation: and that some fundamental assumption has been made, which ought first to have been patiently and securely ascertained. It was this suspicion that first led to the following inquiries: It seemed to me that the Simplicity Of The Emotion Of Taste, wasa principle much too hastily adopted; and that the consequences which followed from it (under both these classes of hypotheses), were very little reconcileable with the most common experience of human feeling; and from the examination of this preliminary question, I was led gradually to conclusions which seemed not only to me, but to others, whose opinion I value far more than my own, of an importance not unworthy of being presented to the public. In doing this, I am conscious that I have entered upon a new and untrodden path; and I feel all my own weakness in pursuing it; yet I trust my readers will believe, that I should not have pursued it so long, if I were not convinced that it would finally terminate in views not only important to the arts of taste, but important also to the philosophy of the human mind.
The inquiries which follow, naturally divide themselves into the following parts; and are to be prosecuted in the following order:
I. I shall begin with an Analysis of the Effect which is produced upon the mind, when the emotions of beauty or sublimity are felt. I shall endeavour to show, that this effect is very different from the determination of a Sense; that it is not in fact a simple, but a complex emotion; that it involves in all cases, 1st, the production of some simple emotion, or the exercise of some moral affection; and 2dly, the consequent excitement of a peculiar exercise of the imagination; that these concomitant effects are distinguishable, and very often distinguished in our experience; and that the peculiar pleasure of the Beautiful or the Sublime is only felt when these two effects are conjoined, and the complex emotion produced.
The prosecution of the subject will lead to another inquiry of some difficulty and extent, viz. into the origin of the beauty and sublimity of the qualities of Matter. To this subordinate inquiry I shall devote a separate Essay. I shall'endeavour to shew that all the phenomena are reducible to the same general principle, and that the qualities of matter are not beautiful or sublime in themselves, but as they are, by various means, the signs or expressions of qualities capable of producing emotion.
II. From this examination of the Effect I shall proceed, in the Second Part, to investigate the Causes which are productive of it; or, in other words, the sources of the beautiful and the sublime in nature and art.
In the course of this investigation I shall endeavour to shew, 1st, That there is no single emotion into which these varied effects can be resolved; that on the contrary,every simple emotion, and therefore every object which is capable of producing any simple emotion, may be the foundation of the complex emotion of beauty or sublimity. But, in the second place, that this complex emotion of beauty or sublimity is never produced,unless, beside the excitement of some simple emotion, the imagination also is excited, and the exercise of the two faculties combined in the general effect. The prosecution of the subject, will lead me to the principal object of the inquiry, to shew what is that Law Of Mind, according to which, in actual life, this exercise or employment of imagination is excited; and what are the means by which, in the different fine arts, the artist is able to awaken this important exercise of imagination, and to exalt objects of simple and common pleasure, into objects of beauty or sublimity.
In this part of the subject, there are two subordinate inquiries which will necessarily demand attention.
1. The qualities of sublimity and beauty, are discovered not only in pleasing or agreeable subjects, but frequently also in objects that are in themselves productive of Pain; and some of the noblest productions of the fine arts are founded upon subjects of Terror and Distress. It will form, therefore, an obvious and important inquiry to ascertain by what means this singular effect is produced in Real Nature, and by what means it may be produced in the compositions of Aiit.