« Descartes and Harvey | ‘Lost Articles’ | On the Notes Variorum »

Taste

IS it in vain to account for the operations of Taste? Is it an unsubstantial form? a shadow, which may be seen, but not grasped? Its mutations, sometimes have been wonderful. I am at a loss to account on what principles the present instance took place. Vigneul Marville supplies me with this anecdote—

Brebeuf, when he was young, felt an enthusiastic inclination for the works of Horace. His friend Gautier, on the contrary, was infected with a taste for Lucan. This preference frequently occasioned disputes. To terminate these endless controversies, it was agreed that each of them should read the favourite poet of his friend; that they should examine with critical acumen, and decree with candour. The consequences are singular. Gautier read Horace, became enamoured of his verses, and never after quitted them: while Brebeuf was so charmed with Lucan, that he grew intoxicated with the Pharsalia; and, in translating this epic, out-lucan’d Lucan himself in his bornbastic and tumid verses.

That Gautier should reject Lucan, after a studious perusal of Horace, is not surprizing: the wonder is, how Brebeuf could forget so suddenly the graces and the rules of his master, Horace, to give into Lucan’s corrupted taste.

Mr. Burke, in his elegant Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful, says, that “what is called Taste, in its most general acceptation, is not a simple idea, but is partly made up of a perception of the primary pleasures of sense; of the secondary pleasures of the imagination; and of the conclusions of the reasoning faculty concerning the various relations of these, and concerning the human passions, manners, and actions. All these are requisite to form Taste; and the groundwork of all these is the same in the human mind: for, as the senses are the great originals of all our ideas, and consequently of all our pleasures, if they are not uncertain and arbitrary, the whole ground-work of Taste is common to all; and, therefore, there is a sufficient foundation for a conclusive reasoning for these matters.”

In another place he observes—“Sensibility and Judgment, which are the qualities that compose what is commonly called a Taste, vary exceedingly in various people. From a defect in the former of these qualities arises a want of Taste: a weakness in the latter constitutes a wrong or a bad one.”

If this account is just, the sensibility and the judgment of Brebeuf, of which the one was so lively, and the other so vigorous, when in his youthful days he was attached to Horace, must have undergone a total change when he became studiously fond of Lucan. Yet this is not to be conceived: for it is possible to enlarge and to strengthen our judgment; but, surely, not to eradicate a correct one; at least, when a man is in the vigour of life and health.

Bayle says, in the preface to his Republic of Letters, “TASTES differ so much, even among the wits, and even among those who pass for the most intelligent connoisseurs, that one should not be surprized, nor be vexed, not to have the approbation of all who are good judges.”

It was in a cloudy hour that Gray gave so harsh a decision on the enchanting Eloisa of Rousseau. Instead of contemplating the fine illusions of the imagination, and the poetic richness of the style, he only examined it on the inferior merit of plot and incident.

Men of a corrected taste frequently err, by not observing the temper of their mind at the moment of their examination of a production of Taste. By contemplating a statue in one point of view, we become insensible to those beautiful exertions, which perhaps the sculptor may have given on the other side.