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are mirrors that may reflect all shades and all colours; and, in point of tact, do seldom reflect the same hues twice. No two interesting objects, perhaps, whether known by the name of Beautiful, Sublime, or Picturesque, ever produced exactly the same emotion in the' oeholder: and no one object, it is most probable, ever moved any two persons to the very same conceptions. As they may be associated with all the feelings and atfections of which the human mind is susceptible, so they may suggest those feelings in all their variety, and, in fact, do daily excite all sorts of emotions—running through every gradation, from extreme gaiety and elevation, to the borders of horror ana disgust.
Now, it is certainly true, that all the variety of emotions raised in this way. on the single basis of association, may be classed, in a rude way, under the denominations of sublime, beautiful, and picturesque, according as they partake of awe, tenderness, or admiration: and we have no other objection to this nomenclature, except its extreme imperfection, and the delusions to which we know that it has given occasion. If objects that interi'st by their association with ideas of power, anil danger, and terror, are to be distinguished by the peculiar name of sublime, why should there not be a separate name also for objects that interest by associations of mirth and gaiety—another for those tliat please by suggestions of softness and melancholy—another for such as are connected with impressions of comfort and tranquillity—and another for those that are related to pitv, and admiration, and love, and regret, and alf the other distinct emotions and alieetions of our nature! These are not in reality less distinguishable from each other, than from the emotions of awe and veneration that confer the title of sublime on their representatives; and while all the former are confounded under the comprehensive appellation of beauty, this partial attempt at distinction is only apt to mislead us into an erroneous opinion of our accuracy, and to make us believe, both that there is a greater conformity among the things that pass under the same name, and a greater diflerence between those that pass under different names, than is really the case. We have seen already, that the radical error of almost all preceding inquirers, has lain in supposing that every thing that passed under the name of beautiful, must have some real and inherent quality in common with every thing else that obtained that name: And it is scarcely necessary for us to observe, that it has been almost as general an opinion, that sublimity was not only something radically different from beauty, but actually opposite to it; whereas the fact is, that it is far more nearly related to some sorts of beauty, than many sorts of beauty are to each other; and that both are founded exactly upon the same principle of suggesting some past or possible emotion of some sentient being.
Upon this important point, we are happy to find our opinions confirmed by the authority of Mr. Stewart, who, in hi» Essay on the
Beautiful, already referred to, has observed, not only that there appears to him to be mi inconsistency or impropriety in such expressions as the sublime beauties of nature, or of the sacred Scriptures;—but has added, in express terms, that, I;to oppose the beautiful to the sublime, or to the picturesque, strikes him as something analogous to a contrast between the beautiful and the comic—the beautiful and the tragic—the beautiful and the pathetic —or the beautiful and the romantic."
The only other advantage which we thrill specify as likely to result from the general adoption of the theory we have been endeavouring to illustrate is, that it seems calculated to put an end to all these perplexing and vexatious questions about the stund aid of taste, which have given occasion to во much impertinent and so much elaborate discussion. If tilings are not beautiful in themselves, but only as they serve to suggest interesting conceptions to the mind, then every thing which does in point of fact suggest such a conception to any individual, is beautiful to that individual; and it is not only quite true that there is no room for disputing about tastes, but that all tastes are equally just and correct, in so far as each individual speaks only of his own emotions. AVhen a man calls a thing beautiful, however, he may indeed mean to make two very different assertions; —he may mean that it gives Aim pleasure by suggesting to him some interesting emotion; and, in this sense, there can be no doubt that, if he merely speak truth, the thing is beautiful; and that it pleases him precisely in the same way that all other things please thoso to whom they appear beautiful. But if he mean farther to say that the thing possesses some quality which should make it appear beautiful to every other person, and that it is owing to some prejudice or defect in them if it appear otherwise, then he is as unreasonable and absurd as he would think those who should attempt to convince him that he felt no emotion of beauty.
All tastes, then, are equally just and true, in so far as concerns the individual whose taste is in question; and what a man feels distinctly to be beautiful, t'j beautiful to him. whatever other people may think of it. All this follows clearly from the theory now in question: but it does not follow, from it, that all tastes are equally good or desirable, or that there is any difficulty in describing thawhich is really the best, and the most to be envied. The only use of the faculty of taste, is to afford an innocent delight, anj to assist in the cultivation of a finer morality; and that man certainly will have the most delight from this faculty, who has the most numerous and the most powerful perceptions of beaut)'. But, if beauty consist in the reflection of our affections and sympathies, it is plain that ht will always pee the most beauty whose aileo tions are the warmest and most exercised— whose imagination is the most powerful, and who has most accustomed himself to attend to the objects by which he is surrounded. In so far as mere "feeling and enjoyment are concerned, therefore, it seems evident, that the best taste must be that which belongs to the twst affections, the most active fancy, and the most attentive habits of observation. It will follow pretty exactly too, that all men's perceptions of beauty will be nearly in proportion to the degree of their sensibility and social »ympalhies; ami that those who have no affections towards sentient beings, will be as certainly insensible to beauty in external objects, as he, \vho cannot hear the sound of hi.* friend's voice, must be deaf to its echo.
In so far as the sense of beauty is regarded as a mere source of enjoyment, this seems to be the only distinction that deserves to be attended to; and the only cultivation that lisle should ever receive, with a view to the uratitiralion of the individual, should be ihronsh the indirect channel of cultivating the affections and powers of observation. IF we aspire, however, to be creators, as well as observers of beauty, and place any part of oar happiness in ministering to the gratification of others—as artists, or poets, or authors of any sort—then, indeed, a new distinction of taste«, anil a far more laborious system of cultivation, will be necessary. A man who pursues only his own delight, will be as much charmed with objects that suggest powerful f-motions in consequence of personal and accidental associations, as with those that introduce similar emotions by means of associations that are universal and indestructible. To him, all objects of the former class are really as beautiful as those of the latter—and for his own gratification, the creation of that sort of beauty is just as important an occupation: but if he conceive the ambition of creating beauties for the admiration of others, he ranst be cautious to employ only such objects as are the natural signs, or the inseparable concomitants of emotions, of which the greater part of mankind are susceptible; and his taste will then deserve to be called bad and talse, if he obtrude upon the public, as beautiful, objects that are not likely to be associated in common minds with any interesting impressions.
For a man himself, then, there is no taste «hat is either bad or false; and the only difference worthy of being attended to, is that between a great deal and a very little. Some •л-ho have cold affections, sluggish imaginations, and no habits of observation, can with difficult v discern beauty in any thing; while others, who are full of kindness and sensibilitv. and who have been accustomed to atteiHÍ to all the objects around them, feel it almost in every thing. It is no matter what other jv-ople may think of the objects of their admiration; nor ought it ti be any concern
of theirs that the public would be astonished or offended, if they were called upon to join in that admiration. So long as no such call is made, this anticipated discrepancy of feeling need give them no uneasiness; and the suspicion of it should produce no contempt in any other persons. It is a strange, aberration indeed of vanity that makes us despise persons for being happy—for having sources of enjoyment in which we cannot share :—and yet this is the true source of the ridicule, which is so generally poured upon individuals who seek only to enjoy their peculiar tastes unmolested :—for, if there be any truth in the theory we have been expounding, no laste is bad for any other reason than because it is peculiar—as the objects in which it delights must actually serve to suggest to the individual those common emotions and universal affections upon which the sense of beauty is every where founded. The misfortune is, however, that we are apt to consider all persons who make known their peculiar relishes, and especially all who create any objects for their gratification, as in some measure dictating to the public, and setting upan idol for general adoration; and hence this intolerant interference with almost all peculiar perceptions of beauty, and the unsparing derision that pursues all deviations from acknowledged standards. This intolerance, we admit, is ol ten provoked by something of a spirit of prosclytism and arrogance, in those who mistake their own casual associations for natural or universal relations; and the consequence is, that mortified vanity ultimately dries up, even for them, the fountain of their peculiar enjoyment; and disenchants, by a new association of general contempt or ridicule, the scenes that had been consecrated by some innocent but accidental emotion.
As all men must have some peculiar associations, all men must have some peculiar notions of beauty, and. of course, to a certain extent, a taste that the public would be entitled to consider as falso or vitiated. For those who make no demands on public admiration, however, it is hard to be obliged to sacrifice this source of enjoyment; and, even for those who labour for applause, the wisest course, perhaps, if it were only practicable, would be. to have tu-o tastes—one to enjoy, and one to work by—one founded upon universal associations, according to which they finished those performances for which they challenged universal praise—and another guided by all casual and individual associations, through which they might still look fondly upon nature, and upon the objects of their secret admiration.
De Ja Littérature considérée dans ses Rapports avec les Institutions Sociales. Par МАП. te StaËl-holstein. Avec un Précis de la Vie et les Ecrits de l'Auteur. 2 tomes. 12mu. pp. 600. London: 1812.*
When we say that Madame de Staël is decidedly the most eminent literary female of her age, we do not mean to deny that there may be others whose writings are of more direct and indisputable utility—who are distinguished by greater justness and sobriety of thinking, and may pretend to have conferred more practical benefits on the existing generation. But it is impossible, we think, to deny, that she has pursued a more lofty as well as a more dangerous career ;—that she has treated of subjects of far greater difficulty, and far more extensive interest; and. even in her failures, has frequently given indication of greater powers, than have sufficed for the success of her more prudent contemporaries.
While other female writers have contented themselves, for the most part, with embellishing or explaining the trutns which the more robust intellect of the other sex had previously established—in making knowledge more familiar, or virtue more engaging—or, at most, in multiplying the finer distinctions which may be detected about the boundaries of taste or of morality—and in illustrating the importance of the minor virtues to the general happiness of life—this distinguished person has not only aimed at extending the boundaries of knowledge, and rectifying the errors of received opinions upon subjects of the greatest importance, but has vigorously applied herself to trace out the operation of general causes, and. by combining the past with the present, and pointing out the connection and reciprocal action of all coexistent phenomena, to devi'lope the harmonious system which actually prevails in the apparent chaos of human affairs; and to gain something like an assurance as to the complexion of that futurity towards which our thoughts are so anxiously driven, by the selfish as well as the generous principles of our nature.
We are not acquainted, indeed, with any writer who has made such bold and vigorous attempts to carry the generalizing spirit of true philosophy into the history of literature
* I reprinl this paper as containing a more comprehensive view of the progress of Literature, especially in the ancient world, than any other from which I could make the selection; and also, in some degree, for the sake of ihe general discussion on Perfectibility, which I siill think satisfactorily conducted. I regret that, in the body of the articli-. the portions that are taken from Madame de Staël are not better discriminated from those for which I only am responsible. The reader, however, will not go far wrong, if he attribute to that distinguished person the greater part of what may strike him as bold, imaginative, and original; and leave to me the humbler province of ihe sober, corrective, and iliatnutful.
and manners; or who has thrown so strong a light upon the capricious and apparently unaccountable diversities of national taste, genius, and morality—by connecting them \vith the political structure of society, the accidents of climate and external relation, and the variety of creeds and superstitions. In her lighter works, this spirit is indicated chiefly by the force and comprehensiveness of those general observations with which they abound; and which strike at once, by their justness and novelty, and by the great extent of their application. They prove also in how remark ( able a degree she possesses the rare talent of embodying in one luminous proposition those sentiments and impressions which float unquestioned and undefined over many an understanding, and give a colour to the character, and a bias to the conduct, of multitudes, who are not во much as aware of their existence. Besides all this, her novels bear testimony to the extraordinary accuracy and minuteness of her observation of human cha[ racier, and to her thorough knowledge of ! those dark and secret workings of the heart, , by which miser)' is so often elaborated from j the pure element of the affections. Her 1 knowledge, however, we must say. seems to be more of evil than of good: For the predominating sentiment in her fictions is. despaii of human happiness and human virtue; and their interest is founded almost entirely on the inherent and almost inevitable heartlessness of polished man. The impression which they leave upon the mind, therefore, though powerfully pathetic, is both painful and humiliating; at the same time that it proceeds, we are inclined to believe, upon the double error of supposing that the bulk of intelligent people are as selfish as those splendid victims of fashion and philosophy from whom her characters are selected; and that a sensibility to unkindness can long survive the extinction of all kindly emotions. The work before us, however, exhibits the fairest specimen which we have vet seen of the systematizing : spirit of the author, as well as of the moral enthusiasm by which she seems to be possessed.
The professed object of this work is to showthat all the peculiarities in the literature of different ages and countries, may be explained by a reference to the condition of society, and the political and religious institutions of each; —and at the вате time, to point out in what way the progress of letters has in its turn modified and affected the government and religion of those nations among whom they i have flourished. All this, however, is bot| tomed upon the more fundamental and faTourite proposition, that there is a progress, to produce these effects—that letters and intelligence are in a state of constant, universal, and irresistible advancement—in other words; that human nature is tending, by a slow and interminable progression, to a state of perfection. This fascinating idea seems to have been kept constantly in view by Madame de Staël, from the beginning* to the end of the work before us;—and though we conceive it to have been pursued with far too sanguine and assured a spirit, arid to have led in this way to most of what is rash and questionable in her conclusions, it is impossible to doubt that it has also helped her to many explanations that are equally solid and ingenious, and thrown a light upon many phenomena that would otherwise have appeared very dark and unaccountable.
In the range which she here takes, indeed, she has need of all the lights and all the aids that can present themselves ;—for her work contains a critique and a theory of all the literature and philosophy in the world, from the days of Homer to the tenth year of the French revolution. She begins with the early learning and philosophy of Greece; and after characterizing the national taste and тешив of that illustrious people, in all its departments, and in the different stages of their progress, she proceeds to a similar investigation of the literature and science of the Romans; and then, after a hasty sketch of the decline of arts and letters in the later days of the empire, and of the actual progress of the human mind during the dark ages, when it is supposed to have slumbered in complete inactivity, ehe enters upon a more detailed examination of the peculiarities, and the causee of the peculiarities, of all the different aspects of national taste and genius that characterize the literature of Italy, Spain, England, Germany, and France—entering, as to each, into a pretty minute exposition of its general merits and defects—and not only of the circumstances in the situation of the country that have produced those characteristics. but even of the authors and productions, in •which they are chiefly exemplified. To go through all this with tolerable success^ and without committing any very gross or ridiculous blunders, evidently required, in the first place, a greater allowance of learning tluui has often fallen to the lot of persons of the learned gender, who lay a pretty bold claim to distinction upon the ground of their learning alone: and, in the next place, an extent of general knowledge, and a po\ver and comprehensiveness of thinking, that has still more rarely been the ornament of great scholars. Madam" de Staël may be surpassed, perhaps, in scholarship (so far as relates to accuracy at least, if not extent.) by some—and in sound philosophy by others. But there are few indeed who can boast of having so much of both; and no one, so far as we know, who has applied the one to the elucidation of the other with so much boldness and success. But it is time to give a little more particular account of her lucubrations.
There is a very eloquent and higfi-toned Introduction, illustrating, in a general way, the influence of literature on the morals, the glory, the freedom, and the enjoyments of the people among whom it flourishes. It is full of brilliant thoughts and profound observations; but we are most struck with those sentiments of mingled triumph and mortification by which she connect« these magnificent speculations with the tumultuous aspect of the times in which they were nourished.
"Que ne puis-je rappeler tou§ les esprits éclaire« à la jouissance des méditations philosophiques! Les contemporains d'une Révolution perdent souvent toul intérêt à la recherche de la vérité. Tant d'événemens décidés par la force, tant de crimes absous par le succès, tant de vertus flétries par le blâme, tant d'infortunes insultées par 1« pouvoir, tant de sentimena généreux devenus l'objet de la moquerie, tant de vils calculs philosophiquement commentée; tout lasse de l'espérance les hommes les plus fidèles au culte de la raison. Néanmoins ils doivent se ranimer en observant, dans l'histoire de l'esprit humain, qu'il n'a existé ni une pensée utile, ni une vérité profonde qui n'ait trouvé son siècle et ses admirateurs. C'est sans doute un triste effort que de transporter son intérêt, de reposer son attente, à travers l'avenir, sur nos successeurs, sur les étrangers bien loin de nous, sur les inconnus, sur tous les hommes enfin dont le souvenir et l'image ne
Peuvent se retracer à noire esprit. Mais, hélas! к on en excepte quelques amis inaltérables, la plupart de ceux qu'on se rappelle après dix années de révolution, contristen! votre cœur, étouffent vos mouvemens, en imposent à votre talent même, non par leur supériorité, mais par cette malveillance qui ne cause de la douleur qu'aux âmes douces, et ne fait souffrir que ceux qui ne la méritent pas."—Tom. i. p. 27, 28.
The connection between good morals and that improved state of intelligence which Madame de Staël considers as synonymous with the cultivation of literature, is too obvious to require any great exertion of her talents for its elucidation. She observes, with great truth, that much of the guilt and the misery which are vulgarly imputed to great talents, really arise from not having talent enough— and that the only certain cure for the errors which are produced by superficial thinking, , is tobe found in thinking more deeply:—At ! the same time it ought not to be (cigotten, that all men have not t hi; capacity of thinking deeply—and that the most general cultivation of literature will not invest every one with talents of the first order. If there be a degree of intelligence, therefore, that is more unfavourable to the interests of morality and just opinion, than an utter want of intelligence, it may be presumed, that, in very enlightened times, this will be the portion of the L'reater multitude—oral least that nations and individuals will have to pass through this troubled and dangerous sphere, in their way to the loftier and purer regions of perfect understanding. The better answer therefore probably is, that it is not intelligence that does the mischief in any case whatsoever, ; but the presumption that sometimes accompanies the lower degrees of it; and which ¡я l best disjoined ftom them, by making the ! higher degrees n.ore attainable. It is quite | true, as Madame de Staël observée, that the power of public opinion, which is ihe only sure and ultimate guardian either of freedom or of virtue, is greater or less exactly as the public is more or less enlightened; and that this public can never be trained to the habit ol" just and commanding sentiments, except under the influence of a sound and progressive literature. The abuse of power, and the abuse of the means of enjoyment, are the great sources of misery and depravity in an advanced stage of society. Both originate with those who stand on the highest stages of human fortune; and the cure is to be found, in both cases, only in the enlightened opinion of those who stand a little lower.
Liberty, it will not be disputed, is still more clearly dependent on intelligence than morality itself. When the governors are ignorant, they are naturally tyrannical. Force is the obvious resource of those who are incapable of convincing; and the more unworthy any one is of the power with which he is invested, the more rigorously will he exercise that power. But it is in the intelligence of the people themselves that the chief bulwark of their freedom will be found to consist, and all the principles of political amelioration to originate. This is true, however, as Madame de Staël observes, only of what she terms "la haute littérature;" or the general cultivation of philosophy, eloquence, history, and those other departments of learning which refer chielly to the heart and the understandbig, and depend upon a knowledge of human nature, and an attentive study of all thai contributes to its actual enjoyments. What is merely for delight, again, and addresses itself exclusively to the imagination, has neither so noble a genealogy, nor half so illustrious a progeny. Poetry and works of gaiety and amusement, together with music and the sister arts of painting and sculpture, have a much slighter connection either with virtue or with freedom. Though among their most graceful ornaments, they may yet flourish under tyrants, and be relished in the midst of the greatest and most debasing corruption of manners. It is a fine and a just remark too, of Madame de Staël, that the pursuits which minister to mere delight, and give to lile its charm and voluptuousness, generally produce a great indifference about dying. They supersede and displace all the stronger passions and affections, by which alone we are bound very closely to existence; and, while they habituate the mind to transitory and passive impressions, seem naturally connected with those images of indolence and intoxication and slumber, to which the idea of death is so roadily assimilated, in characters of this description. When life, in short, is considered as nothing more than an amusement, its termination is contemplated with far less emotion, and its course, upon the whole, is overshadowed with deeper clouds of ennui, than when it is presented as a scene of high duties and honourable labours, and holds out to us at every turn—not the perishable pastimes of the passing hour, but the fixed and distant objects of those serious and
lofty aims which connect us with a long futurity.
The introduction ends with an eloquent profession of the authors unshaken faith in the philosophical creed of Perfectibility :— upon which, as it does not happen to be our creed, and is very frequently brought into notice in the course of the work, we must here be indulged with a few preliminary observations.
This splendid illusion, which seems to have succeeded that of Optimism in the favour of philosophical enthusiasts, and rests, like it, upon the notion that the whole scheme of a beneficent Providence is to be developed in this world, is supported by Madame de Staèl upon a variety of grounds: and as, like most other illusions, it has a considerable admixture of truth, it is supported, in many points, upon grounds that are both solid and ingenious. She relies chiefly, of course, upon the experience of the past; and. in particular^ upon the marked and decideu superiority of the modems in respect of thought and reflection—their more profound knowledge of human feelings, and more comprehensive views of human affairs. She ascribes less importance than is usually done to our attainments in mere science, and the arts that relate to matter; and augurs less confidently as to the future fortune of the species, from the exploits of Newton, Wratt, ana Davy, than from those of Bacon, Bossuet, Locke, ríume, and Voltaire. In eloquence, too, and in taste and fancy, she admits that there has been a less conspicuous advancement; because, in these things, there is a natural limit or point of perfection, which has been already attained: But there are no boundaries to the increase of human knowledge, or to the discovery of the means of human happiness; and every step that is gained in those higher walks, is gained, she conceives, for posterity, and for ever.
The great objection derived from the signal check which the arts and civility of life received from the inroads of the northern barbarians on the decline of the Roman power, and the long period of darkness and degradation which ensued, she endeavours to obviate, by a very bold and ingenious speculation. It is her object here to show that the invasion of the northern tribes not only promoted their own civilization more effectually than any thing else could have done, but actually imparted to the genius of the vanquished, a character of energy, solidity, and seriousness, which could never have sprung up of itself in the volatile regions of the South. The amalgamation of the two races, she thinks, has produced a michty improvement on both; and the vivacity, the elegance and versatility of the warmer latitudes, been mingled, infinitely to their mutual advantage, with the majestic melancholy, the profound thought, and the sterner morality of the North. This combination, a^ain, she conceives, could have been effected in no way so happily as by the successful invasion of the ruder people; and the conciliating influence of that common faith, which at once repressed the frivolous,