Page images
PDF
EPUB

with such remarks and directions as may aid in its acquisition and improvement.

Definition of Taste. The decisions of taste are judgments passed on whatever is designed to excite emotions of bequty, of grandeur or of sublimity. The power of thus judging is founded on the experience of emotions of the same class, and is called taste; and hence he who exercises this power successfully, is called a man of taste. By judgment, as the word is here used, I mean the determining of the fitness of particular causes for producing certain effects. The chemist would produce a mixture having certain properties, - a certain degree of hardness, a required color or taste. With this view he unites several simples; and in selecting the simples that are to be united for producing the required mixture, and in determining the quantity of each to be used, there is judgment. In the same manner, where taste is exercised, there is a certain effect to be produced, and in determining the fitness of means for producing this effect there is judgment.

For a full account of the emotions here mentioned, the student must be referred to works on the philosophy of the mind. But it is necessary, that a short statement of what is meant by them should here be given.

If we reflect on the different emotions, of which we are conscious in the notice of actions and objects around us, we find that some of them are of a moral nature, and we speak of the actions which excite them as virtuous or vicious. Other emotions are included under what are called the passions, and we speak of the objects which excite them as objects of desire or aversion of fear or remorse, or of some other passion.' We think also of such objects as affecting our happiness. But distinct, both from emotions of a moral nature, and from those included under the passions, there is

a third class of emotions, which is particularly referred to in the preceding definition of taste, and these will now be exhibited.

When the sun goes down in the west, the surrounding clouds reflect to our view a rich variety of colors. We gaze on the splendid scene, and there is a pleasant emotion excited in our minds.

In reading the story of the two friends, Damon and Pythias, who were objects of the cruelty of Dionysius, we are struck with the closeness of their friendship; and while we think on the fidelity of the returning friend, and on their mutual contest for death, a pleasing emotion arises in the mind.

When examining Dr. Paley's reasoning in proof of the existence of the Deity, and observing how every part is brought to bear on the particular object in view, while one example after another gives additional strength to the argument, we admire the skill of the reasoner and the perfection of his work, and in view of this skill and this finished work, a grateful emotion arises in the mind.

It will be observed in these examples, that the emotion excited is not strong,

that it is of a grateful kind, and that it may continue for some time. This is called an emotion of beauty.

The traveller, when he stands on the banks of the Mississippi, and looks upon that noble river, flowing on with the power of collected waters, and bearing on its bosom the wealth of the surrounding region, is conscious of emotions, which, as they rise and swell within his breast, correspond to the scene on which he looks.

Burke has given the following biographical notice of Howard the celebrated philanthropist.

“ He has visited all Europe, - not to survey the sumptuousness of palaces, or the stateliness of temples ; not to

make accurate measurements of the remains of ancient grandeur; not to form a scale of the curiosities of modern art; not to collect medals, or collate manuscripts;

- but to dive into the depths of dungeons; to plunge into the insection of hospitals, to survey the mansions of sorrow and pain; to take the gauge and dimensions of misery, depression and contempt; to remember the forgotten, to attend to the neglected, to visit the forsaken, and to compare and collate the distresses of all men in all countries. His plan is original; and it is as full of genius, as it is of humanity. It was a voyage of discovery, a circumnavigation of charity."

No one can read this passage, and not feel a high degree of admiration in view of the devotedness and elevation of purpose it describes.

When the orator stands up before collected thousands, and for an hour sways them at his will by the powers of his eloquence, who, in that vast throng, can regard the speaker before him and feel no admiration of his genius ?

The emotions excited in these and similar instances, have been called emotions of grandeur. They differ from those of beauty in that they are more elevating and ennobling,

Byron, in his description of a thunder storm in the Alps, has the following passage :

- Far along,
From peak to peak, the rattling crags among,
Leaps the live thunder! not from one lone cloud,
But every mountain now hath found a tongue;
And Jura answers through her misty shroud,

Back to the joyous Alps who call to her aloud." Who in the midst of Alpine scenery could thus listen to the voice of the leaping thunder, and not start with strong ernotion ?

We are told, that when Washington appeared before Congress, to resign his military power at the close of the war, “ he was received as the founder and guardian of the

republic. They silently retraced the scenes of danger and distress, through which they had passed together. They recalled to mind the blessings of freedom and peace purchased by his arm. Every heart was big with emotion Tears of admiration and gratitude burst from every eye.

In the presence of this august assembly, the Commander in chief of the armies of the United States, after piously recounting the blessings, which divine providence had conferred on his country, and commending that country to the continued care of its Almighty Protector, advanced, and resigned the great powers, which had been committed to his trust. How much must this closing act have added to the deep interest of the scene !

We are told, that when Newton drew near to the close of those calculations, which confirmed his discovery of the laws, by which the planets are bound in their courses, he was so overwhelmed with emotion, that he could not proceed, and was obliged to ask the assistance of a friend. No one can think of the mighty intellectual work that was then accomplished, and not feel as he did, an overpowering emotion.

To the emotions excited in these last mentioned examples is applied the epithet sublime. They are less permanent than those of grandeur, but more thrilling and exalting.

In these examples, the emotions which are excited, arise neither from a moral approbation of the objects or actions as virtuous, nor from a personal interest in them as affecting our happiness. How, then, are they excited ?

The answers to this inquiry have been numerous. Some have said, that there is a distinct sense, which enables the mind to discern in objects something which is fitted to excite emotions of taste, and which is suited to this purpose, in the same manner as the sense of hearing is suited to sounds. Others have attempted to resolve the whole into

the principle of the association of ideas, and have said, that in every instance where an emotion of the kind mentioned is excited, some associated thoughts connected with our happiness, are brought before the mind. Thus, in the second of the examples given, they would say, that the grateful emotion arises from the thought of our own past friendships, or of how much we should enjoy in the possession of a faithful friend. Others account for these emotions by referring them to what are called primary laws of our nature. So far as these emotions are excited in view of natural objects and scenes, they say, that our Creator has so formed us and adapted us to the world in which we live, that the view of certain objects and scenes is fitted to excite in the mind certain corresponding emotions. - At the same time they allow, that much influence is to be ascribed to the principle of association. In reference to works of art, another original principle is also recognized, which is called the love of fitness or adaptation. The last theory, is that of Brown, and is the one now generally received. For a full explanation of it, the student is referred to his work on Intellectual Philosophy. It is enough for my present purpose to have pointed out the class of emotions which comes under the cognizance of taste, and to have referred to some of the attempts to explain them.

It will be observed, that the examples which are given, are drawn from three different classes of objects, natural, moral, and intellectual. But since, in the classification of emotions, as those of beauty, grandeur and sublimity, we obviously refer to the emotions as they exist in the mind, and not to the objects by which they are excited, this diversity in the exciting objects is not regarded. Neither is it of importance, that these different classes of emotions should here be separately considered. It is difficult in many cases to mark the transition from one to another, and

« PreviousContinue »