« AnteriorContinuar »
and to point out, on every occasion, the advantages of virtue over vice : but how much less affecting are their animadversions than the testimony of the person concerned! Whatever belongs to the part of the chorus has hardly the force of dramatic imitation. The chorus is in a manner without personal character, or interest, and no way an agent in the drama. We cannot sympathize with the cool reflections of these idle spectators as we do with the sentiments of the persons in whose circumstances and situation we are interested.
HUGH BLAIR, 1718–1800.
Dr. Hugo Blair, the son of John Blair a respectable merchant of Edinburgh, was born in that city on the 7th of April, 1718. After having gone through the usual grammatical course at the High School, he entered the University of Edinburgh, in 1730, where he spent eleven years in the study of literature, philosophy, and divinity. Here he commenced a method of study, wbich contributed much to the accuracy and extent of his knowledge, and which he practised, occasionally, even in the latter part of his life. It consisted in making abstracts of the most important works which he read, and in digesting them according to the train of his own thoughts. In 1739, he received the degree of A. M., and in 1741, he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Edinburgh. In the following year, he was settled in the parish of Colessie, in Fifeshire, but was not permitted to remain long in this rural retreat; for a vacancy occurring in the Canongate Church, in Edinburgh, he was elected its minister. In this station, Dr. Blair remained eleven years, discharging with great fidelity the various duties of the pastoral office, and attracting general admiration for the chaste eloquence of his palpit discourses.
In 1754, he was transferred from the Canongate to Lady Yester's Church, and in 1758 was promoted to the High Church of Edinburgh, the most important ecclesiastical charge in the kingdom. Hitherto his attention was devoted almost exclusively to the attainment of eminence in bis own profession; but, in 1759, he delivered a course of Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres with such success, that the University instituted a rhetorical class under his direction, and the king founded a professorship, to the chair of which Dr. Blair was appointed. In 1763, be published a “ Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian," which, though much overrated, evinced critical taste and learning.' In 1777, appeared the first volume of bis sermons, which were received with great favor, and had a very extensive circulation. In 1783, he resigned his professorship, and published his celebrated “ Lectures on Rhetoric," which have been a text-book in most of our colleges for half a century. The latter years of his life he spent in literary leisure, giving to the public three more volumes of sermons, and, in the suminer of 1800, began to prepare an additional volume; but he did not live to complete it—his death occurring December 27th of that year. He had married, in 1748, his cousin, Miss Bannatine, by whom he had a son and a daughter; but he survived them all.
the nooms which Mamherson
Though the sermons of Dr. Blair have not the popularity they once enjoyed, they are still very pleasing compositions of the kind; but they may be considered rather as didactic treatises than sermons. Though not profound, they are written with great taste and elegance, and, by inculcating Christian morality, without any allusion to controversial topics, are suited to all classes of Christians.' They blend, in a happy manner, the light of argument with the warmth of exhortation; but they never produce deep emotion-never sound the depths of the heart. But it is by his “ Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres” that Dr. Blair is now chiefly known; and they are deservedly popular. Though not equal to Campbell's “Philosophy of Rhetoric" in depth of thought or in ingenious original research, they are written in a most pleasing style, convey a large amount of valuable information, suggest many most useful hints, and contain an accurate analysis of the principles of literary composition in almost every species of writing, and an able digest of the rules of eloquence as adapted to the pulpit, the bar, or to popular assemblies. In short, they form an admirable system of rules for forming the style and cultivating the taste of youth; and the time will be far distant, if it ever arrives, when they shall cease to be a text-book in every well-devised course of study for a liberal education.
ON THE CULTIVATION OF TASTE. Belles lettres and criticism chiefly consider man as a being endowed with those powers of taste and imagination which were intended to embellish his mind, and to supply him with rational and useful entertainment. They open a field of investigation peculiar to themselves. All that relates to beauty, harmony, grandeur, and elegance; all that can soothe the mind, gratify the fancy, or move the affections, belongs to their province. They'present human nature under a different aspect from that which it assumes when viewed by other sciences. They bring to light various springs of action, which, without their aid, might have passed unobserved; and which, though of a delicate nature, frequently exert a powerful influence on several departments of human life.
flowers in the path of science; and while they keep the mind bent, in some degree, and active, they relieve it at the same time from that more toilsome labour to which it must submit in the acquisition of necessary erudition, or the investigation of abstract truth.
The cultivation of taste is further recommended by the happy effects which it naturally tends to produce on human life. The most busy man, in the most active sphere, cannot be always occupied by business. Men of serious professions cannot always be on the stretch of serious thought. Neither can the most gay and fivurishing situations of fortune afford any man the power of filling all his hours with pleasure. Life must always languish in the bands of the idle. It will frequently languish even in the hands of the busy, if they have not some employments subsidiary to that which forms their main pursuit. How then shall these vacant spaces, those unemployed intervals, which more or less occur in the life of every one, be filled up? How can we contrive to dispose of them in any way that shall be more agreeable in itself, or more consonant to the dignity of the human mind, than in the entertainments of taste, and the study of polite literature? He who is so happy as to have acquired a relish for these, has always at hand an innocent and irreproachable amusement for his leisure hours, to save him from the danger of many a pernicious passion. He is not in hazard of being a burden to himself. He is not obliged to fly to low company, or to court the riot of loose pleasures, in order to cure the tediousness of existence.
Providence seems plainly to have pointed out this useful purpose to which the pleasures of taste may be applied, by interposing them in a middle station between the pleasures of sense and those of pure intellect. We were not designed to grovel always among objects so low as the former; nor are we capable of dwelling constantly in so high a region as the latter. The pleasures of taste refresh the mind after the toils of the intellect and the labors of abstract study; and they gradually raise it above the attachments of sense, and prepare it for the enjoyments of virtue.
So consonant is this to experience, that, in the education of youth, no object has in every age appeared more important to wise men than to tincture them early with a relish for the entertainments of taste. The transition is commonly made with ease from these to the discharge of the higher and more important duties of life. Good hopes may be entertained of those whose minds have this liberal and elegant turn. It is favorable to many virtues. Whereas to be entirely devoid of relish for eloquence, poctry, or any of the fine arts, is justly construed to be an unpromising symptom of youth ; and raises suspicions of their being prone to low gratifications, or destined to drudge in the more vulgar and illiberal pursuits of life.
DELICACY AND CORRECTNESS OF TASTE.
The characters of taste, when brought to its most improved state, are all reducible to two-Delicacy and Correctness.
Delicacy of taste respects principally the perfection of that natural sensibility on which taste is founded. It implies those finer organs or powers which enable us to discover beauties that lie hid from a vulgar eye. One may have strong sensibility, and yet be deficient in delicate taste. He may be deeply impressed by such beauties as he perceives; but he perceives only what is in some degree coarse, what is bold and palpable; while chaster and simpler ornaments escape his notice. In this state, taste generally exists among rude and unrefined nations. But a person of delicate taste both feels strongly and feels accurately. He sees distinctions and differences where others see none; the most latent beauty does not escape him, and he is sensible of the smallest blemish. Delicacy of taste is judged of by the same marks that we use in judging of the delicacy of an external sense. As the goodness of the palate is not tried by strong flavors, but by a mixture of ingredients, where, notwithstanding the confusion, we remain sensible of each ; in like manner delicacy of internal taste appears by a quick and lively sensibility to its finest, most compounded, or most latent objects.
Correctness of taste respects chiefly the improvement which that faculty receives through its connection with the understanding. man of correct taste is one who is never imposed on by counterfeit beauties; who carries always in his mind that standard of good sense which he employs in judging of every thing. He estimates with propriety the comparative merit of the several beauties which he meets with in any work of genius; refers them to their proper classes; assigns the principles, as far as they can be traced, whence their power of pleasing flows; and is pleased himself precisely in that degree in which he ought, and no more.
It is true that these two qualities of taste, delicacy and correctness, mutually imply each other. No taste can be exquisitely delicate without being correct; nor can be thoroughly correct without being delicate. But still a predominancy of one or other quality in the mixture is often visible. The power of delicacy is chiefly seen in discerning the true merit of a work; the power of correctness, in rejecting false pretensions to merit. Delicacy leans more to feeling; correctness more to reason and judgment. The former is more the gift of nature; the latter, 'more the product of culture and art. Among the ancient critics, Longinus possessed most delicacy; Aristotle, most correctness. Among the moderns, Mr. Addison is a high example of delicate taste; Dean Swift, had he written on the subject of criticism, would perhaps have afforded the example of a correct one.
It is not easy to describe, in words, the precise impression which great and sublime objects make upon us, when we behold them; but every one has a conception of it. It produces a sort of internal elevation and expansion; it raises the mind much above its ordinary state, and fills it with a degree of wonder and astonishment, which it cannot well express. The emotion is certainly delightful; but it is altogether of the serious kind; a degree of awfulness and solemnity, even approaching to severity, commonly attends it when at its height; very distinguishable from the more gay and brisk emotion raised by beautiful objects.
The simplest form of external grandeur appears in the vast and boundless prospects presented to us by nature; such as wide-extended plains, to which the eye can see no limits; the firmament of heaven; or the boundless expanse of the ocean. All vastness produces the impression of sublimity. It is to be remarked, however, that space extended in length makes not so strong an impression as height or depth. Though a boundless plain be a grand object, yet a high mountain, to which we look up, or an awful precipice or tower, whence we look down on the objects which lie below, is still more so. The excessive grandeur of the firmament arises from its height joined to its boundless extent; and that of the ocean, not from its extent alone, but from the perpetual motion and irresistible force of that mass of waters.
Wherever space is concerned, it is clear that amplitude or greatness of extent, in one dimension or other, is necessary to grandeur. Remove all bounds from any object, and you presently render it sublime. Hence infinite space, endless numbers, and eternal duration fill the mind with great ideas.
In general, we may observe that great power and strength exerted always raise sublime ideas; and perhaps the most copious source of these is derived from this quarter. Hence the grandeur of earthquakes and burning mountains; of great conflagrations; of the stormy ocean, and overflowing waters; of tempests of wind; of thunder and lightning; and of all the uncommon violence of the elements. Nothing is more sublime than mighty power and strength. A stream that runs within its banks is a beautiful object, but when