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applied. A zealous Presbyterian might, no doubt, have
said more in their favour, without violating, or even con-
cealing the truth ; but, while zealous Presbyterians will
not write entertaining novels themselves, they cannot
expect to be treated in them with exactly the same favour 30
as if that had' been the character of their authors.

With regard to the author's picture of their opponents,
we must say that, with the exception of Claverhouse him-
self, whom he has invested gratuitously with many graces



148 TALES OF MY LANDLORD.

and liberalities to which we are persuaded he has no
title, and for whom, indeed, he has a foolish fondness,
with which it would be absurd to deal seriously — he has
shown no signs of a partiality that can be blamed, nor
^ exhibited many traits in them with which their enemies
have reason to quarrel. If any person can read his
strong and lively pictures of military insolence and
oppression, without feeling his blood boil within him, we
must conclude the fault to be in his own apathy, and not

10 in any softenings of the partial author: — nor do we
know any Whig writer who has exhibited the baseness
and cruelty of that wretched government, in more naked
and revolting deformity, than in his scene of the torture
at the Privy Council. The military executions of Claver-

15 house himself are admitted without palliation : and the
bloodthirstiness of Dalzell, and the brutality of Lauder-
dale, are represented in their true colours. In short, if
this author has been somewhat severe upon the Cove-
nanters, neither has he spared their oppressors ; and the

20 truth probably is, that never dreaming of being made
responsible for historical accuracy or fairness in a com-
position of this description, he has exaggerated a little on
both sides, for the sake of effect — and been carried, by
the bent of his humour, most frequently to exaggerate on

25 that which afforded the greatest scope for ridicule.



ESSAYS ON THE NATURE AND PRINCIPLES

OF TASTE.



By Archibald Alison, LL.B., F.R.S., Prebendary of Sariun, etc.

2 vols. 8vo.



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TP tp tt tt tt

It is unnecessary, however, to pursue these criticisms,
or, indeed, this hasty review of the speculation of other
writers, any fartlier. The few observations we have
already made, will enable the intelligent reader, both to
understand in a general way what has been already done 5
on the subject, and in some degree prepare him to
appreciate the merits of that theory, substantially the
same with Mr. Alison's, which we shall now proceed to
illustrate somewhat more in detail.

The basis of it is, that the beauty which we impute to 10
outward objects, is nothing more than the reflection of
our own inward emotions, and is made up entirely of
certain little portions of love, pity, or other affections,
which have been connected with these objects, and
still adhere as it were to' them, and move us anew 15
whenever they are presented to our observation. Before
proceeding to bring any proof of the truth of this
proposition, there are two things that it may be proper to
explain a little more distinctly. First, What are the
primary affections, by the suggestion of which we think 20
the sense of beauty is produced ? And, secondly, What
is the nature of the connection by which we suppose that
the objects we call beautiful are enabled to suggest these
affections ?



150 NATURE AND PRINCIPLES OF TASTE.

With regard to the first of these points, it fortunately
is not necessary either to enter into any tedious details,
or to have recourse to any nice distinctions. All
sensations that are not absolutely indifferent, and are, at
5 the same time, either agreeable, when experienced by
ourselves, or attractive when contemplated in others, may
form the foundation of the emotions of sublimity or
beauty. The love of sensation seems to be the ruling
appetite of human nature ; and many sensations, in which

10 the painful may be thought to predominate, are conse-
quently sought for with avidity, and recollected with
interest, even in our own persons. In the persons of
others, emotions still more painful are contemplated with
eagerness and delight : and therefore we must not be

15 surprised to find, that many of the pleasing sensations of
beauty or sublimity resolve themselves ultimately into
recollections of feelings that may appear to have a very
opposite character. The sum of the whole is, that every
feeling which it is agreeable to experience, to recal, or to

20 witness, may become the source of beauty in external
objects, when it is so connected with them as that their
appearance reminds us of that feeling. Now, in real
life, and from daily experience and observation, we know
that it is agreeable, in the first place, to recollect our own

25 pleasurable sensations, or to be enabled to form a lively
conception of the pleasures of other men, or even of
sentient beings of any description. We know likewise,
from the same sure authority, that there is a certain
delight in the remembrance of our past, or the conception

30 of our future emotions, even though attended with great
pain, provided the pain be not forced too rudely on the
mind, and be softened by the accompaniment of any
milder feeling. And finally, we know, in the same
manner, that the spectacle or conception of the emotions



NATURE AND PRINCIPLES OF TASTE. 151

of Others, even when in a high degree painful, is
extremely interesting and attractive, and draws us away,
not only from the consideration of indifferent objects,
but even from the pursuit of light or frivolous enjoyments.
All these are plain and familiar facts ; of the existence 5
of which, however they may be explained, no one can
entertain the slightest doubt — and into which, therefore,
we shall have made no inconsiderable progress, if we
can resolve the more mysterious fact, of the emotions
we receive from the contemplation of sublimity or 10
beauty.

Our proposition then is, that these emotions are not
original emotions, nor produced directly by any material
qualities in the objects which excite them ; but are
reflections, or images, of the more radical and familiar 15
emotions to which we have already alluded ; and are occa-
sioned, not by any inherent virtue in the objects before
us, but by the accidents, if we may so express ourselves,
by which these may have been enabled to suggest or
recal to us our past sensations or sympathies. We might 20
almost venture, indeed, to lay it down as an axiom, that,
except in the plain and palpable case of bodily pain or
pleasure, we can never be i?iterested in any thing but the
fortunes of sentient beings ; — and that every thing
partaking of the nature of mental emotion, must have 25
for its object the feeliftgs, past, present, or possible, of
something capable of sensation. Independent, therefore,
of all evidence, and without the help of any explanation,
we should have been apt to conclude, that the emotions
of beauty and sublimity must have for their objects the 3°
sufferings or enjoyments of sentient beings ; — and to
reject, as intrinsically absurd and incredible, the suppo-
sition that material objects, which obviously do neither
hurt nor delight the body, should yet excite, by their



152 NATURE AND PRINCIPLES OE TASTE.

mere physical qualities, the very powerful emotions which
are sometimes excited by the spectacle of beauty.

Of the feelings, by their connection with which external
objects become beautiful, we do not think it necessary to
5 speak more minutely ; — and, therefore, it only remains,
under this preliminary view of the subject, to explain the
nature of that connection by which we conceive this
effect to be produced. Here, also, there is but little
need for minuteness, or fulness of enumeration. Almost

10 every tie, by which two objects can be bound together
in the imagination, in such a manner as that the
presentment of the one shall recal the memory of the
other ; — or, in other words, almost every possible relation
which can subsist between such objects, may serve to

15 connect the things we call sublime and beautiful, with

feelings that are interesting or delightful. It may be

useful, however, to class these bonds of association

between mind and matter in a rude and general way.

It appears to us, then, that objects are sublime or

20 beautiful, first, when they are the natural signs, and
perpetual concomitants of pleasurable sensations, or, at
any rate, of some lively feeling of emotion in ourselves
or in some other sentient beings ; or, secondly, when they
are the arbitrary or accidental concomitants of such

25 feelings ; or, thirdly, when they bear some analogy or
fanciful resemblance to things with which these emotions
are necessarily connected. In endeavouring to illustrate
the nature of these several relations, we shall be led to
lay before our readers some proofs that appear to us

30 satisfactory of the truth of the general theory.

The most obvious, and the strongest association that
can be established between inward feelings and external
objects is, where the object is necessarily and universally
connected with the feeling by the law of nature, so that



NATURE AND PRINCIPLES OF TASTE. 153

it is always presented to the senses when the feeling is
impressed upon the mind — as the sight or the sound of
laughter, with the feeling of gaiety — of weeping, with
distress — of the sound of thunder, with ideas of danger
and power. Let us dwell for a moment on the last 5
instance. — Nothing, perhaps, in the whole range of
nature, is more strikingly and universally sublime than
the sound we have just mentioned ; yet it seems obvious,
that the sense of sublimity is produced, not by any
quality that is perceived by the ear, but altogether by the 10
impression of power and of danger that is necessarily
made upon the mind, whenever that sound is heard.
That it is not produced by any peculiarity in the sound
itself, is certain, from the mistakes that are frequently
made with regard to it. The noise of a cart rattling over 15
the stones, is often mistaken for thunder ; and as long
as the mistake lasts, this very vulgar and insignificant
noise is actually felt to be prodigiously sublime. It is so
felt, however, it is perfectly plain, merely because it is
then associated with ideas of prodigious power and 20
undefined danger ; — and the sublimity is accordingly
destroyed, the moment the association is dissolved, though
the sound itself and its effect on the organ, continue
exactly the same. This, therefore, is an instance in
which sublimity is distinctly proved to consist, not in any 25
physical quality of the object to which it is ascribed, but
in its necessary connection with that vast and uncontrolled
Power which is the natural object of awe and veneration.

The only other advantage which we shall specify as
likely to result from the general adoption of the theory 30
we have been endeavouring to illustrate is, that it seems



154 NATURE AND PRINCIPLES OF TASTE.

calculated to put an end to all these perplexing and
vexatious questions about the standard of taste, which
have given occasion to so much impertinent and so
much elaborate discussion. If things are not beautiful
5 in themselves, but only as they serve to suggest inter-
esting conceptions to the mind, then every thing which
does in point of fact suggest such a conception to any
individual, is beautiful to that individual ; and it is not
only quite true that there is no room for disputing about

10 tastes, but that all tastes are equally just and correct,
in so far as each individual speaks only of his own
emotions. When a man calls a thing beautiful, how-
ever, he may indeed, mean to make two very different
assertions ; — he may mean that it gives hif7i pleasure by

15 suggesting to him some interesting emotion ; and, in this
sense, there can be no doubt that, if he merely speak
truth, the thing is beautiful ; and that it pleases him
precisely in the same way that all other things please
those to whom they appear beautiful. But if he mean

20 farther to say that the thing possesses some quality
which should make it appear beautiful to every other
person, and that it is owing to some prejudice or defect
in them if it appear otherwise, then he is as unreasonable
and absurd as he would think those who should attempt

25 to convince him that he felt no emotion of beauty.

All tastes, then, are equally just and true, in so far as
concerns the individual whose taste is in question ; and
what a man feels distinctly to be beautiful, is beautiful to
him, whatever other people may think of it. All this

30 follows clearly from the theory now in question : but it
does not follow, from it, that all tastes are equally good
or desirable, or that there is any difficulty in describing
that which is really the best, and the most to be envied.
The only use of the faculty of taste is to afford an



NATURE AND PRINCIPLES OF TASTE. 155

innocent delight, and to assist in the cultivation of a
finer morality ; and that man certainly will have the most
delight from this faculty, who has the most numerous and
the most powerful perceptions of beauty. But, if beauty
consist in the reflection of our affections and sympathies, 5
it is plain that he will always see the most beauty whose
affections are the warmest and most exercised — whose
imagination is the most powerful, and who has most
accustomed himself to attend to the objects by which he
is surrounded. In so far as mere feeling and enjoyment 10
are concerned, therefore, it seems evident, that the best
taste must be that which belongs to the best affections,
the most active fancy, and the most attentive habits of
observation. It will follow pretty exactly too, that all
men's perceptions of beauty will be nearly in proportion 15
to the degree of their sensibility and social sympathies ;
and that those who have no affections towards sentient
beings, will be as certainly insensible to beauty in external
objects, as he, who cannot hear the sound of his friend's
voice, must be deaf to its echo. 20

In so far as the sense of beauty is regarded as a mere
source of enjoyment, this seems to be the only distinction
that deserves to be attended to ; and the only cultivation
that taste should ever receive, with a view to the gratifi-
cation of the individual, should be through the indirect 25
channel of cultivating the affections and powers of obser-
vation. If we aspire, however, to be creators, as well as
observers of beauty, and place any part of our happiness
in ministering to the gratification of others — as artists,
or poets, or authors of any sort — then, indeed, a new 30
distinction of tastes, and a far more laborious system of
cultivation, will be necessary. A man who pursues only
his own delight, will be as much charmed with objects
that suggest powerful emotions in consequence of per-



156 NATURE AND PRINCIPLES OF TASTE.

sonal and accidental associations, as with those that
introduce similar emotions by means of associations that
are universal and indestructible. To him, all objects of
the former class are really as beautiful as those of the
5 latter — and for his own gratification, the creation of
that sort of beauty is just as important an occupation :
but if he conceive the ambition of creating beauties for
the admiration of others, he must be cautious to employ
only such objects as are the natural signs, or the insepara-

10 ble concomitants of emotions, of which the greater part
of mankind are susceptible ; and his taste will then deserve
to be called bad and false, if he obtrude upon the public,
as beautiful, objects that are not likely to be associated
in common minds with any interesting impressions.

15 For a man himself, then, there is no taste that is either
bad or false ; and the only difference worthy of being
attended to, is that between a great deal and a very
little. Some who have cold affections, sluggish imagina-
tions, and no habits of observation, can with difficulty

20 discern beauty in any thing ; while others, who are
full of kindness and sensibility, and who have been
accustomed to attend to all the objects around them,
feel it almost in every thing. It is no matter what other
people may think of the objects of their admiration ; nor

25 ought it to be any concern of theirs that the public would
be astonished or offended, if they were called upon to
join in that admiration. So long as no such call is
made, this anticipated discrepancy of feeling need give
them no uneasiness ; and the suspicion of it should pro-

30 duce no contempt in any other persons. It is a strange
aberration indeed of vanity that makes us despise persons
for being happy — for having sources of enjoyment in
which we cannot share : — and yet this is the true source
of the ridicule, which is so generally poured upon indi-



NATURE AND PRINCIPLES OF TASTE. 157

viduals who seek only to enjoy their peculiar tastes
unmolested : — for, if there be any truth in the theory
we have been expounding, no taste is bad for any other
reason than because it is peculiar — as the objects in
which it delights n*ust actually serve to suggest to the 5
individual those common emotions and universal affec-
tions upon which the sense of beauty is every where
founded. The misfortune is, however, that we are apt
to consider all persons who make known their peculiar
relishes, and especially all who create any objects for 10
their gratification, as in some measure dictating to the
public, and setting up an idol for general adoration ; and
hence this intolerant interference with almost all peculiar
perceptions of beauty, and the unsparing derision that
pursues all deviations from acknowledged standards. 15
This intolerance, we admit, is often provoked by some-
thing of a spirit of proselytism and arrogance, in those
who mistake their own casual associations for natural
or universal relations ; and the consequence is, that
mortified vanity ultimately dries up, even for them, the 20
fountain of their peculiar enjoyment ; and disenchants,
by a new association of general contempt or ridicule, the
scenes that had been consecrated by some innocent but
accidental emotion.

As all men must have some peculiar associations, all 25
men must have some peculiar notions of beauty, and, of
course, to a certain extent, a taste that the public would
be entitled to consider as false or vitiated. For those
who make no demands on public admiration, however, it
is hard to be obliged to sacrifice this source of enjoy- 30
ment ; and, even for those who labour for applause, the
wisest course, perhaps, if it were only practicable, would
be, to have hvo tastes — one to enjoy, and one to work
by — one founded upon universal associations, according



158 NATURE AND PRINCIPLES OF TASTE.

to which they finished those performances for which they
challenged univeral praise — and another guided by all
casual and individual associations, through which they
might still look fondly upon nature, and upon the objects
5 of their secret admiration.



WILHELM MEISTER'S APPRENTICESHIP.



A Novel. From the German of Goethe, j vols. i2Tfio, pp. lojo.

Edinbiirgh, 1824.



There are few things that at first sight appear more
capricious and unaccountable, than the diversities of
national taste ; and yet there are not many, that, to a
certain extent at least, admit of a clearer explanation.
They form evidently a section in the great chapter of 5
National Character ; and, proceeding on the assumption,
that human nature is everywhere fundamentally the same,
it is not perhaps very difficult to indicate, in a general
way, the circumstances which have distmguished it into
so many local varieties. * 10

These may be divided into two great classes, — the
one embracing all that relates to the newness or antiquity
of the society to which they belong, or, in other words, to
the stage which any particular nation has attained in that
great progress from rudeness to refinement, in which all 15
are engaged ; — the other comprehending what may be
termed the accidental causes by which the character and
condition of communities may be affected ; such as their
government, their relative position as to power and
civilization to neighbouring countries, their prevailing 20
occupations, determined in some degree by the capabili-
ties of their soil and climate, and more than all perhaps,
as to the question of taste, the still more accidental
circumstance of the character of their first models of



i6o WILHELM MEISTER'S APPRENTICESHIP.

excellence, or the kind of merit by which their admiration
and national vanity had first been excited.

It is needless to illustrate these obvious sources of
peculiarity at any considerable length. It is not more
5 certain, that all primitive communities proceed to civiliza-
tion by nearly the same stages, than that the progress of
taste is marked by corresponding gradations, and may, in
most cases, be distinguished into periods, the order and
succession of which is nearly as uniform and determined.

lo If tribes of savage men always proceed, under ordinary
circumstances, from the occupation of hunting to that of
pasturage, from that to agriculture, and from that to
commerce and manufactures, the sequence is scarcely
less invariable in the history of letters and art. In

15 the former, verse is uniformly antecedent to prose —
marvellous legends to correct history — exaggerated sen-
timents to just representations of nature. Invention, in
short, regularly comes before judgment, warmth of feeling
before correct reasoning — and splendid declamation and

20 broad humour before dedicate simplicity or refined wit. In
the arts again, the progress is strictly analogous — from
mere monstrosity to ostentatious displays of labour and
design, first in massive formality, and next in fantastical
minuteness, variety, and flutter of parts ; — and then,

25 through the gradations of startling contrasts and over-
wrought expression, to the repose and simplicity of
graceful nature.

These considerations alone explain much of that
contrariety of taste by which different nations are dis-

30 tinguished. They not only start in the great career of
improvement at different times, but they advance in it
with different velocities — some lingering longer in one
stage than another — some obstructed and some helped
forward, by circumstances operating on them from within



WILHELM MEISTEK'S APPRENTICESHIP. i6i

or from without. It is the unavoidable consequence,
however, of their being in any one particular position,
that they will judge of their own productions and those
of their neighbours, according to that standard of taste
which belongs to the place they then hold in this great 5
circle ; — and that a whole people will look on their
neighbours with wonder and scorn, for admiring what
their own grandfathers looked on with equal admiration,
— while they themselves are scorned and vilified in
return, for tastes which will infallibly be adopted by the 10
grandchildren of those who despise them.

What we have termed the accidental causes of great
differences in beings of the same nature, do not of course
admit of quite so simple an exposition. But it is not in
reality more difficult to prove their existence and explain 15
their operation^ Where great and degrading despotisms
have been early established, either by the aid of super-
stition or of mere force, as in most of the states in Asia,
or where small tribes of mixed descent have been engaged
in perpetual contention for freedom and superiority, as in 20
ancient Greece — where the ambition and faculties of
individuals have been chained up by the institution of
castes and indelible separations, as in India and Egypt,
or where all men practise all occupations and aspire to
all honours, as in Germany or Britain — where the sole 25
occupation of the people has been war, as in infant
Rome, or where a vast pacific population has been for
ages inured to mechanical drudgery, as in China — it
is needless to say, that very opposite notions of what
conduces to delight and amusement must necessarily 30
prevail ; and that the Taste of the nation must be
affected both by the sentiments which it has been
taught to cultivate, and the capacities it has been led
to unfold.



1 62 WILHELM MEISTER'S APPRENTICESHIP.

The influence of early models, however, is perhaps
the most considerable of any ; and may be easily enough
understood. When men have been accustomed to any


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Online LibraryFrancis Jeffrey JeffreySelections from the essays of Francis Jeffrey → online text (page 15 of 21)