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have stumbled upon the question, Whether, and how far, do these rules agree with human nature. It could not surely be his opinion, that these poets, however eminent for genius, were entitled to give law to mankind; and that nothing now remains, but blind obedience to their arbitrary will : if in writing they followed no rule, why should they be imitated ? If they ftudied nature, and were obsequious to rational principles, why should these be concealed from us?
With respect to the present undertaking, it is not the author's intention to compose a regular treatise upon each of the fine arts; but only, in general, to exhibit their fundamental principles, drawn from human nature, the true source of criticism. The fine arts are intended to entertain us, by making pleasant impressions; and, by that circumstance, are distinguished from the useful arts : but, in order to make pleasant impressions, we ought, as above hinted, to know what objects are naturally agreeable, and what naturally disagreeable. That subject is here attempted, as far as necessary for unfolding the genuine principles of the fine arts; and the author assumes no merit from his performance, but that of evincing, perhaps more distinctly than hitherto has been done, that these principles, as well as every just rule of criticism, are founded upon the sensitive part of our nature. What the author hath discovered or collected upon that sub
ject, he chooses to impart in the gay and agree able form of criticism; imagining that this form will be more relished, and perhaps be no less instructive, than a regular and laboured disquifition. His plan is, to ascend gradually to principles, from facts and experiments; instead of beginning with the former, handled abstractedly, and descending to the latter. But, though cri. ticism is thus his only declared aim, he will not disown, that all along it has been his view, to explain the nature of Man, considered as a sen. sitive being capable of pleasure and pain : and, though he flatters himself with having made some progress in that important science, he is, however, too sensible of its extent and difficulty, to undertake it professedly, or to avow it as the chief purpose of the present work.
To censure works, not men, is the just prerogative of criticism ; and accordingly all personal censure is here avoided, unless where necessary to illustrate some general proposition. No praise is claimed on that account ; because censuring with a view merely to find fault, cannot be entertaining to any perion of humanity. Writers, one should imagine, ought, above all others,' to be reserved on that article, when they lie so open to retaliation. The author of this treatise, far from being confident of meriting no censure, en. tertains not even the flightest hope of such perfection. Amusement was at first the sole aim of
his inquiries : proceeding from one particular to another, the subject grew under his hand; and he was far advanced before the thought struck him, that his private meditations might be publicly useful. In public, however, he would not appear in a flovenly dress; and therefore he pretends not otherwise to apologise for his errors, than by observing, that in a new subject, no less nice than extensive, errors are in some measure unavoidable. Neither pretends he to justify his taste in every particular : that point must be extremely clear, which admits not variety of opinion; and in some matters susceptible of great refinement, time is perhaps the only infallible touchstone of taste: to that he appeals, and to that he chearfully submits.
N. B. THE ELEMENTS OF CRITICISM, meaning the whole, is a title too assuming for this work. A number of these elements or principles are here unfolded : but, as the author is far from imagining that he has completed the list, a more humble title is proper, such as may express any number of parts less than the whole. This he thinks is signified by the title he has chosen, viz. ELEMENTS OF CRITICISM.
MAN, while awake, is conscious of a
continued train of perceptions and ideas passing in his mind. It requires no activity on his part to carry on the train : nor can he at will add any idea to the train *. At the same time, we learn from daily experience, that
* For how should this be done? what idea is it that we are to add ? If we can specify the idea, that idea is already in the mind, and there is no occasion for any act of the will. If we cannot specify any idea, I next demand, how can a person will, or to what purpose, if there be nothing in view? We cannot form a conception of such a thing. If this argument need confirmation, I urge experience : whoever makes a trial will find, that ideas are linked together in the mind, forming a connected chain ; and that we have not the command of any idea independent of the chain. · VOL. I.