Imágenes de páginas

the poet, in selecting and arranging those images that excite kindred emotions, is the magic power that affects him. He may be moved with an interesting story of a Bohemian Princess, though ignorant that no such Princess existed, or that Bohemia is not, according to Shakespeare's representation, a maritime country. Thus, with matchless pathetic abilities, with uncommon ardour of fancy, and force of expression, he may delineate the sufferings of kings and of princes; but by mistaking historical facts, and still more, by blending incongruous emotions, he may excite such disgust as shall diminish the pleasure he would otherwise have given us; and occasion our regret, that his knowledge had not been more extensive, or his critical discernment more improved.

But will not his feelings preserve him from error? Will not their immediate and lively interposition irradiate his mind, and give him a clearer view of the justness and truth of things, than he can receive from metaphysical reasoning or dry disquisition? Surely no feelings can communicate the knowledge of facts and though sensibility

of soul may dispose the mind to a readier discernment of relation and connection, in the objects of our attention, yet it is not by sensibility alone that we are capable of discerning. But allowing it to be so; allowing that there may be some spirits so finely framed, that, with powers of active invention, they can, independent of cool disquisition, and without enquiring after union and relation of parts, feel by immediate impulse, every effect of the most exquisite arrangement; and be able by attending to the degrees of pleasure they receive, to ascertain the precise proportion, the abundance, or defect of excellence, in a work: admitting the possibility of such endowment, he who is thus highly distinguished, is not, by means of this constitution, exempt from error; he is not placed beyond the risk of misjudging, nor rendered incapable of feeling amiss. He cannot be sure of his feelings. They are of a shifting and versatile nature. They depend on the present humour, or state of mind; and who can say of the present humour, that it will last for a moment? Who can assure us, espe

cially if we aspire at the honour of extreme sensibility and exquisite nerves, that our present mood shall not be totally different from that which shall follow? If so, the colours and attitudes of things will seem totally changed: we shall feel very different emotions, and entertain very opposite sentiments. Could the man of genius depend on his feelings; could he assure himself that no contrary motions would oppose the natural tendencies of a delicate spirit; or, in particuJar, that the influence of fashion would never efface from his heart the true impressions of beauty; or that the authority of maxims, specious or ill explained, would never pervert the operations of fancy; he might proceed with impetuous career; and, guided by the pleasing irradiations of feeling, he might scorn the toil of that minute attention by which alone he might gain discernment. Were there no adverse currents, strong, but of silent progress; no shifting gales to drive him out of his course, or no clouds to obscure the face of the sky, he might give full scope to his sails, and, observing no other direction than the beams of some bright constella

tion, he might proceed on a prosperous voyage, and land at length on some blissfulisland. But he has to encounter opposing currents, to contend with impetuous tempests; his guiding star may be obscured by a cloud, and his burnished vessel may be dashed upon rocks, or shipwrecked on dangerous sands.

[ocr errors]

The man of true taste must not only be capable of feeling, but of judging. He must ascertain his feelings, he must distinguish those that are just and natural, from those that are spurious. He must have steady principles of judgment; and establish a rule of belief to which his understanding may for ever appeal, and set at defiance the effects of fleeting emotion. We are not always in the same state of mind; we are more susceptible at one time than another even the same appearance shall at different moments affect us differently; and we shall be capable of relishing at one time, what, in a less happy mood, would have given us no sort of pleasure. Nay, our sensibility may be, occasionally, not only dull, but sickly; and we may be apt to find pleasure in those things, which, in them

selves, are neither wholesome nor innocent. Add to this, that feelings of respect for celebrated characters may be as powerful in our minds as those of beauty and harmony; or the authority of a favourite critic may seduce us into erroneous opinions. Thus it is manifest, that, trusting to feeling alone, our judgments may be capricious, unsteady, and inconsistent.

It is in morals as in criticism. Our judgments, and our conduct, must be established upon those maxims that may have been suggested by feeling, but which must derive their force and stability from reason and deep reflection. We must have certain rules to direct our deportment, in those moments of languor and dereliction, when the heart feels not the present influence of compassion, tenderness; and such amiable dispositions as produce excellent conduct. Those celestial visitants do not sojourn continually in the human breast. Reason, therefore, and reflection, ought to preserve such tokens and memorials of their pleasing intercourse, as shall make us, in their absence, act in full confidence that they are congenial with our nature, and will again

« AnteriorContinuar »