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ON THE

NATURE AND PRINCIPLES

OF

TASTE.

1767-isa
BY ARCHIBALD ALISON, LL. B. F. R. S.
.

PREBENDARY OF SARUM, &c. &c.
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JAN 4 1911

Taste is in general considered as that faculty of the human mind, by which we perceive and enjoy whatever is BEAUTIFUL or SUBLIME in the works of nature or art.

The perception of these qualities is attended with an emotion of pleasure, very distinguishable from every other pleasure of our nature, and which is accordingly distinguished by the name of the EMOTION of TASTE. The distinction of the objects of taste, into the sublime and beautiful, has produced a similar division of this emotion, into the EMOTION of SUBLIMITY and the EMOTION of

BEAUTY.

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The qualities that produce these emotions, are to be found in almost every class of the objects of human knowledge, and the emotions themselves afford one of the most extensive sources of human delight. They occur to us, amid every variety of EXTERNAL scenery, and among many diversities of disposition and affection in the mind of man. The most pleasing arts of human invention are altogether directed to their pursuit : and even the necessary arts are exalted into dignity, by the genius that can unite beauty with use. From the earliest period of society, to its last stage of improvement, they afford an innocent and elegant amusement to private life, at the same time that they increase the splendour of national character; and in the progress of nations, as well as of individuals, while they attract attention from the pleasures they bestow, they serve to exalt the human mind, from corporeal to intellectual pursuits.

These qualities, however, though so important to human happiness, are not the objects of immediate observation; and in the attempt to investigate them, various circumstances unite to perplex our research

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They are often obscured under the number of qualities with whicla they are. aceidentaly.combined: They result often from peculiar combinations of the qualities of objects, or the relation of certain parts of abjects to each other : They are still oftener, perhaps, dependent upãr the state of our own minds, and vary in their effects with the dispositions in which they happen to be observed. In all cases, while we feel the emotions they excite, we are ignorant of the causes by which they are produced ; and when we seek to discover thern, we have no other method of discovery, than that varied and patient EXPERIMENT, by which, amid these complicated circumstances, we may gradually ascertain the peculiar qualities which, by the CONSTITUTION of our NATURE, are permanently connected with the emotions we feel.

In the employment of this mode of investigation, there are two great objects of attention and inquiry, which seem to include all that is either necessary, or perhaps possible, for us to discover on the subject of taste.

These objects are,

I, To investigate the NATURE of those QUALITIES that produce the emotions of TASTE : And,

II. To investigate the NATURE of that FACULTY, by which these emotions are received.

These investigations, however, are not to be considered only ag objects of philosophical curiosity. They have an immediate relation to all the arts that are directed to the production either of the BEAUTIFUL or the SUBLIME ; and they afford the only means by which the principles of these various arts can be ascertained. Without a just and accurate conception of the nature of these qualities, the ARTIST must be unable to determine, whether the beauty he creates is temporary or permanent, whether adapted to the accidental prejudices of his age, or to the uniform constitution of the human mind ; and whatever the science of orỊTICISM can afford for the improvement or correction of taste, must altogether depend upon the previous knowledge of the nature and laws of this faculty.

To both these inquiries, however, there is a preliminary investigation, which seems absolutely necessary, and without which every conclusion we form must be either imperfect or vague. In the investigation of CAUSES, the first and most important step, is the accurate examination of the EFFECT to be explained. In the science of mind, however, as well as in that of body, there are few effects altogether simple, or in which accidental circumstances are not combined with the proper effect. Unless, therefore, by means of repeated experiments, such accidental circumstances are accurately distinguished from the phenomena that permanently characterize the effect, we are under the necessity of including in the cause, the causes also of all the accidental circumstances with which the effect is accompanied

With the emotions of taste, in almost every instance, many other accidental emotions of pleasure are united : the various simple pleasures that arise from other qualities of the object ; the pleasure of agreeable sensation, in the case of material objects ; and in all, that pleasure which by the constitution of our nature is annexed to the exercise of our faculties. Unless, therefore, we have previously acquired a distinct and accurate conception of that peculiar effect which is produced on our minds, when the emotions of taste are felt, and can precisely distinguish it from the effects that are produced by these accidental qualities, we must necessarily include in the causes of such emotions, those qualities also, which are the causes of the accidental pleasures with which this emotion is accompanied. The variety of systems that philosophers have adopted upon this subject, and the various emotions into which they have resolved the emotion of taste, while they afford a sufficient evidence of the numerous accidental pleasures that accompany these emotions, afford also a strong illustration of the necessity of previously ascertaining the nature of this effect, before we attempt to investigate its cause. With regard, therefore, to both these inquiries, the first and most important step is accurately to examine the nature of this EMOTION itself, and its distinction from every other emotion of pleasure ; and our capacity of discovering either the nature of the qualities that produce the emotions of taste, or the nature of the faculty by which they are received, will be exactly proportioned to our accuracy in ascertaining the nature of the emotion itself.

When we look back to the history of these investigations, and to the theories which have been so liberally formed upon the subject, there is one fact that must necessarily strike us, viz. That all these theories have uniformly taken for granted the simplicity of this emotion ; that they have considered it as an emotion too plain, and too commonly felt, to admit of any analysis; that they have as uniformly,

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