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We have now arrived at the second general head of our subject—the faculties employed in production and criticism. These are infinitely varied, and of course include the principle already treated; but all that needs to be said in this connection may be arranged under the heads of Taste, Originality, Imitation, Invention, Genius, Talent, Imagination, and Fancy.
TASTE, in æsthetic acceptation, is the faculty of criticism. And the office of criticism is to distinguish the beautiful from its opposites, and from all spurious claimants to its honors. The qualifications for this office must be the possession of a delicate susceptibility to the emotion of beauty, and a correct judgment concerning the real capabilities of things to produce the primary states of mind which always precede that ultimate emotion. In other words, Taste is the combined action of beauty and its intellectual antecedent.
If the view of this intellectual sequence were always equally clear and unembarrassed, there would be no occasion to add another word; but many causes operate to prevent a correct judgment upon the real merits of things, as well as to hinder the just development of susceptibility. These have given rise to a variety of opinions on the subject of Taste, as to what it is, and whether all good taste be the same.
The former of these questions we have already answered, although the full import of that answer can appear only after an examination of the proper objects of Taste. In treating of the latter it is common to employ the term “standard of taste," a phrase which, if it effects any thing at all, must lead astray. For it implies either the setting up of some one person's taste as the model upon which all others are to be shaped, which is unreasonable; or of some one species of excellence to which all others are to conform, which is impossible; or the measurement of the mental faculty by some material scale, which is absurd. And were it possible to establish such a model, or standard, and were it accordingly set up and acknowledged, no person could ever afterward exercise any Taste at all. Every thing bearing the name would be mere submission to authority; on which, by the way, both
authors and artists are naturally too much inclined to rely, and ask no further. Moreover, who has authority to set up such an imperial standard ? Certainly no person will claim it for himself, and none other is competent to confer it upon him, save the united voice of the public, which by that very act would constitute itself the authority. And this would amount to just leaving the matter where it was, and where, in this respect, it must forever remain. We can have standard weights and standard measures; but can never realize the conception of a standard taste. With equal propriety might we speak of a standard of reason, a standard of love, or of hate, or of imagination. Strange that the notion has not been laughed out of countenance long ago.
We have no design to appoint a great dictator of taste, whom all must obey; but simply to enquire, whether or not there is any thing like agreement among men, on this subject ? In other words, are there any principles of taste generally acknowledged among men? Nor is this an unimportant question ; for if it must be answered in the negative, there can be no such thing as æsthetic science, or rules to guide the labors of the artist.
It must be granted, that agreement on this head is not complete. All men do not enjoy pleasure, or the same degree of pleasure, from the same objects : what delights the uncivilized, may excite only contempt in the refined. The ornaments of beads and coarse paint, which to the Indian's eye enhance the beauty of the human figure, are ridiculous to the European ; while the Indian is incapable of appreciating many of the refined arts of his white brethren. The white man says of the Indian, that he has no taste, and probably the Indian has the same opinion of the white man; but is it not evident that they both possess that faculty, seeing that the exercise of it is the very subject on which they differ? But even in the history of civilized man, some variety has occurred from time to time in the decisions of taste. Among the Greeks, for example, the simple style of architecture, embodying the most complete repose, was deemed most beautiful. The Romans thought that simplicity too tame, and sought in all their public buildings to dazzle by luxurious ornament. The taste of the Middle Ages admired the dark and massive, and reviving Europe gave her love to the bewildering beauty and imposing grandeur of the Gothic. A similar diversity may be observed among judgments on the excellence of the other arts. In oratory, the flowery eloquence of Asia and Rhodes, the severe style of Attica, the graceful and impassioned flow of Cicero, the tawdry affectations of the later Empire, and the metaphysical quibbling of the Dark Ages, all had their admirers in their respective places and periods. And works of great popularity at one time, have, at another, sunk into utter neglect. The Euphuists of the days of Elizabeth, although they enjoyed unbounded applause in their own time, are now so completely neglected that the very fact of their existence constitutes an item of antiquarian knowledge. Amid this variety, is it possible to prove any one more correct than another, or must they all be accounted equally just? Only a brief comparison is needed to show that they are not all equally correct. For in general, the savage, when well educated, and furnished with just views of the real relations of things, coincides with the taste of the refined: what he continues to dislike in the fashions of civilization being only what men of good sense generally disapprove of, and what he continues to admire in his native wilds being nothing more than what those born in civilization would also admire, were they equally well acquainted with these, or had associated with them equally agreeable reminiscences. The peculiar notions of the savage are therefore erroneous, seeing that they are dispelled by more extensive knowledge.
Rome was possessed of wealth and dominion, and for centuries covered the world with architectural monuments of her gorgeous taste. The more modest beauty of the works of Greece was overlooked by the sumptuous masters of the world, and those who blindly followed in their train. But after the dominion of Roman luxury, and that obscuration of the intellect of Europe which followed upon its downfall, had passed away, and attention had been called to the works of Greece, the voice of the world became once more eloquent in their praise. All the nations of modern