Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

were really our own. Without this moral sensibility our minds would not be open to receive those emotions of pity, joy, admiration, sorrow, and imaginary terror, which the best performances in the fine arts, particularly in poetry, are intended to raise within us; nor, by consequence, could we form a right estimate of the abilities of the author, or of the tendency and importance of his work.

The last thing requisite to form good taste is judgment, or good sense, which is indeed the principal thing, and may, without much impropriety, be said to comprehend all the rest. Without this we could not compare the imitations of Nature with Nature itself, so as to perceive how far they agree or differ; nor could we judge of the probability of events in a fable, or of the truth of sentiments; nor whether the plan of a work be according to rule or otherwise.

It might also have been stated, that as virtue is the perfection of beauty, the love of virtue is essential to true taste.

Q. What is the chief peculiarity of this faculty ?

A. Its great susceptibility of improvement when regularly and judiciously exercised. Q. What are the chief means of improving it?

A. The study of the best authors, and attention to all the finest models and specimens of composition.

Q. What are the chief characteristics of taste?

A. Delicacy and correctness; the one, however, to a certain degree implying the other, though not precisely the same. Q. In what does delicacy of taste chiefly consist ?

A. In a quick and accurate perception of all the finer and less obvious beauties of any performance. Q. In what does correctness consist?

A. In a ready detection of false ornament, and a due appreciation of all the more substantial qualities of a literary work.

Q. Are both attributable to the same source ?

A. Delicacy of taste is chiefly founded on feeling, and is more a gift of nature : correctness depends principally upon cultivation, and is more allied to reason and judgment.

Q. Is laste ever employed upon any thing besides language ?

A. Yes; it may be employed upon all sorts of ob jects, whether the product of nature or of art. Q. With what sort of objects is taste chiefly conversant?

A. Those chiefly which are distinguished for their beauty or sublimity.

CHAPTER VIII.

OF BEAUTY AND SUBLIMITY. Q. What do you understand by beauty?

A. An assemblage of properties which renders certain objects of perception highly agreeable.

Q. On what properties does beauty chiefly depend?

A. On shape, color, or the quality of fitness and utility. That which in the smallest compass exhibits the greatest variety of beauty, is a fine human face. It embraces variety, uniformity, proportion, conveni. ence, colors, delicacy, and the expression of moral and intellectual virtues. Human beauty, therefore, at least that of the face, is not merely a corporeal quality, but derives its origin and essential characters from the soul; and almost any person may, in some degree, acquire it who is at pains to improve his understanding, to repress criminal thoughts, and to cherish good affections; as every one must lose it, whatever features or complexiqthere may be to boast of, who leaves the mind uncurįvated, or a prey to evil passions, or a slave to trifling pursuits.

Q. What is sublimity ?

Ă. That quality in objects which, when they are contemplated, excites in the mind sentiments of awe and grandeur; makes us conscious of something like an expansion or elevation of our faculties, as if we were exerting our whole capacity to comprehend the vastness of the object.

Q. On what does the feeling of sublimity chiefly depend ?

A. On a perception of immense extent, whether of space, duration, or numbers, and of great power and energy.

Lysekere Q. Can you give an example of objects remarkable for their sublimity ?

A. The Deity; the source of happiness and the standard of perfection; who creates, preserves, pervades, and governs all things; whose power is unlimited, whose wisdom is perfect, whose goodness is without bounds, whose greatness is incomprehensihle; who was from all eternity, and of whose domin. ion there can be no end: he is undoubtedly, and beyond all comparison, tne most sublime object which it is possible to conceive or to contemplate ; and of all created sublimity, his works exhibit the most perfect and most astonishing examples. Such are The cloudless or starry sky—the troubled ocean-a majestic river-a deafening cataract-a lofty mount ain-volcanoes-earthquakes the solar system-the universe.

Q. What, probably, was the design of our Creator in bestowing upon us a capacity for deriving pleasure from great and sublime objects ?

A. It was, to raise our minds above the present world, and to prepare us for the contemplation of the Divine nature, and of the works of creation and Providence, which will, no doubt, constitute the supreme and final felicity of the good.

Our taste for the sublime, cherished into a habit and directed to proper objects, may, therefore, promote our moral improvement, by leading us to contemplate the Creator in his wonderful works; by keeping us at a distance from vice, which is the vilest of all things, and by recommending virtue for its intrinsic dignity and loveliness.

Q. What gives occasion to the emotion of moral beauty and sublimity ?

A. The emotion of moral beauty arises where we observe a coincidence between the sense of duty and certain inferior principles of action. The emotion of moral sublimity is awakened when the sense of duty is opposed by inclination or affection, or by any or all the inferior principles of action, and triumphs over them. Its principle consists in a power of self-control and of self-sacrifice, in those cases in which they are difficult.

[ocr errors]

Q. Can you illustrate these remarks by an example?

Ă. The conduct of that young man, who labors hard and denies himself that he may support an aged mother, or add to her comfort, is highly beautiful; but natural affection co-operates with a sense of duty, and, therefore, it is not sublime. The act of our Savior upon the cross, of remembering his mother and providing for her wants, was beautiful — how beautiful! His prayer for his murderers was sublime. It is, in general, acts of tenderness, gentleness, condescension, pity, gratitude, humanity, that are beautiful; while it is, on the other hand, acts of magnanimity, of fortitude, of inflexible justice, of high patriotism, and, on proper occasions, of contempt of danger and of death, that are sublime. Hence we see why it is that periods of difficulty, and oppression, and persecution, are favorable to the exhibition of the moral sublime. Such was the Reformation under Luther.

For an admirable view of this and kindred topics, you may consult two lectures by President Hopkins, on the “ Connection between Taste and Morals,” whence we have copied freely in this article.

Q. Is the sense of the beautiful a part of our nature ?

A. It is as really so as the sense of the true or of the right, and “the forms, and shades, and groups of thought,” that are fitted to produce the emotion of beauty in us, are as diversified as the sights or sounds which supply the ever-changing pleasures of the eye and the ear.

Q. How is this sense of the beautiful to be improved ? 4. “ It would seem,” says Professor Hadduck, " that the sense of beauty of which we are made capable by nature, is developed in the mind by exercise ; and though, like other powers, it may be conferred on men in different degrees, is always nourished and matured by its appropriate aliment - THE BEAUTIFUL.LIt is strengthened by being indulged. It is called out by being appealed to ; and the aid which theory and criticism afford in its cultivation, is merely to point out and supply appropriate objects—the natural occasions for its exercise."

Q. What do you mean by beauty of language ?

A. That quality which it possesses, when it may be read or listened to with a high degree of pleasure.

Q. And what is sublimity in language ?

A. That quality which it possesses, when it excites in the mind of the reader or hearer, grand and exalted notions of the objects described.

Q. What sort of language may be said to be most in accordance with correct taste?

A. That in which beauty and sublimity are both conspicuous, the one quality serving to shed lustre upon the other. Q. Can you give examples of the beauty of language ?

A. The following are from the “ Poetry of Life," by Mrs. Ellis :

“ There is poetry in the low-roofed cottage standing on the skirts of the wood, beneath the overshadowing oak, around which the children of many generations have gamboled, while the wreathing smoke coils up among the dark green foliage, and the gray thatch is contrasted with golden moss and glittering ivy. We stand and gaze, delighted with this picture of rural peace and privileged seclusion. We long to shake off the shackles of artificial society, the wearying cares of life, the imperative control of fashion, or the toil and traffic of the busy world, and to dwell, for the remainder of our days, in a quiet spot like this, where affection, that is too often lost in the game of life, might unfold her store of fireside comforts, and where we and ours might constitute one unbroken chain of social fellowship, under the shelter of serenity and peace.”

“Nature is full of poetry, from the high mountain to the shel. tered valley, from the bleak promontory to the myrtle grove, from the star-lit heavens to the slumbering earth."

Speaking of a modern poet, Mrs. Ellis beautifully observes,

“ His charmed numbers flow on like the free current of a melodious stream, whose associations are with the sunbeams and the shadows, the leafy boughs, the song of the forest birds, the dew upon the flowery bank, and all things sweet, and genial, and delightful, whose influence is around us in our happiest moments, and whose essence is the wealth that lies hoarded in the treasury of nature.”

To exhibit the justness of the above criticism, are quoted the following among other fine specimens ·

« ForrigeFortsett »