Page images
PDF
EPUB

other, he would not fail to be delighted with that which had the preference, and to pronounce it beautiful. But should he afterward become conversant with the works of a Vandyke or a Reynolds, he would discover the uncertainty of his former judgment, and what pleased him before as beautiful, he would then despise as defective. In this sense, we may be allowed to fay, that judgment in the fine arts is never certain, but when matured and refined to taste.

At the same time it may be doubted, whether genius and taste can be strictly considered as the fame faculty, differently exerting itself under different names. Genius, as the derivative sense of the word implies, denotes the faculty of inventing, or of forming new associations of ideas; but the business of selecting such images as are truly beautiful, seems to be the province of taste; which, as the term imports, is the faculty of discerning, or in its etymological sense, of feeling what is beautiful.

It is as usual, and perhaps as proper, to say a writer of taste, as a critic of talte: and it seems casy to conceive a writer of genius, that is, of strong creative powers, without taste to select such images as are truly beautiful, from the

group which throng before him. This defect is sometimes, perhaps oftenest, observable in writers of the greatest genius; and seems to arise from too quick a sensibility, which causes the novelty of various images, to make such a

F 4

power

powerful impression on their minds, as to prevent the timely interposition of judgment, to dissipate the charm which misleads them in their choice. But though taste is spoiled by too exquisite a fenfibility, yet without a certain degree of it, neither taste nor genius can exist. They spring from the same common stock; fenfibility, is the root of both: and though both may be improved and refined by excrcise, yet the seeds of each are fown by nature.

The poet himself, indeed, seems to have had the distinctions in view which I would endeavour to point out. He says;

“ Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true, “ But are not Critics to their judgment too ?

“ Yet if we look more closely, we shall find " Most have the feeds of judgment in their

" mind : “ Nature affords at least a glimm’ring light; « The lines, tho' touch'd but faintly, are

“ drawn right."

Taking these lines, and those before quoted together, it should secm from the context, that the poet uses judgment and taste, as two words denoting degrees of the same faculty, and that he considers genius as something distinct from both,

Among the causes which prevent the due culture of the feeds of judgment, our Author

reckons

reckons false learning, false reasoning, false wit, and false politeness : on which he farther expatiates in the second part. Against falfe wit, which is the most frequent cause of a perverfion of judgment, he is particularly severe.

“ Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past, “ Turn'd Critics next, and prov'd plain fools

at last. “Some neither can for Wits nor Critics pass, “ As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass. “ Those half-learn’d witlings, num'rous in

our isle, " As half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile; “ Unfinish'd things, one knows not what to call, “ Their generation's so equivocal.”

Nothing can be more keen and farcastic than these lines, in which the images are most happily chosen to heighten the fatire.

He next proceeds to deliver the precepts of criticism, recommending it to the critic in the first place to examine his own strength : nature he observes has set fixed limits to the human faculties—The lines by which he expreffes this sentiment are incomparable.

“Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit, “ And wisely curb'd proud man's pretending

66 wit.

“ As on the land while here the ocean gains, $ In other parts it leaves wide sandy plains;

« Thus

“ Thus in the soul while memory prevails,
“ The solid pow'r of understanding fails ;
56 Where beams of warm imagination play,
“ The memory's soft figures melt away.
“ One science only will one genius fit;
“ So vast is art, so narrow human wit."

The poetry as well as the philosophy of this passage, can scarcely be too much admired. How chaste and elegant, yet how strong and lively, is the imagery by which he illustrates the tendencies of the different faculties! There is

peculiar beauty in representing the beams of warm imagination, as melting away the soft figures of memory. Every epithet is so happily adapted, that it is impossible to change a word, without doing prejudice to the image.

Having shewn that nature is the proper foundation on which to establish criticism, he points out the aids which may be borrowed from art. He intimates that the rules of art were not in.vented by the fancy, but discovered in the book of nature: and are still nature, though methodized. This he explains by a happy illustration, wherein he gives a just definition of liberty ; from whence we may perceive how essentially it differs from that licentiousness, which too often usurps its name and character.

“ Nature, like Liberty, is but restrain'd

By the same Laws which first herself ordain'd.”

6

Thefe

These rules of art, he obferves, the critics borrowed from the antient poets, who drew them immediately from nature.

Just precepts thus from great examples giv'n, " She drew from them, what they deriv'd from

“ Heav'n. “ The gen'rous Critic fann'd the Poet's fire, " And taught the world with Reason to admire. " Then Criticism the Muse's handmaid prov'd, “ To dress her charms, and make her more

" belov'd: “ But following wits from that intention

“ stray'd, “ Who could not win the mistress, woo'd the

" maid;

“ Against the Poets their own arms they turn’d, Sure to hate most the men from whom they

learn'd. “ So modern 'Pothecaries, taught the art “ By Doctors' bills to play the Doctor's part, “ Bold in the practice of mistaken rules, 56 Prescribc, apply, and call their masters fools."

There is a great deal of sprightly wit and kecn raillery in this passage, in which the poet has drawn his obfervations from Quintilian; but has skilfully enlivened them, as he feldom fails to do any trite or borrowed sentiments, with all the graces of a splendid imagination.

Our author next observes, that there are graces þeyond the reach of precept,

.

« PreviousContinue »