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Till something without me or within,
H. F. GOULD
30. Difference between Taste and Genius.
Taste and genius are two words frequently joined to gether, and therefore, by inaccurate thinkers, confounded. They signify, however, two quite different things. The difference between them can be clearly pointed out, and it is of importance to remember it. Taste consists in the power of judging; genius, in the power of executing.
One may have a considerable degree of taste in poetry, elo quence, or any of the fine arts, who has little or hardly any genius for composition or execution in any of these arts; but genius cannot be found without including taste also. Genius, therefore, deserves to be considered as a higher power of the mind than taste. Genius always imports something inventive or creative, which does not rest in mere sensibility to beauty where it is perceived, but which can, moreover, produce new beauties, and exhibit them in such a manner as strongly to impress the minds of others. Refined taste forms a good critic; but genius is further necessary to form the poet or the orator.
It is proper, also, to observe, that genius is a word which, in common acceptation, extends much farther than to the objects of taste. It is used to signify that talent or aptitude which we receive from nature for excelling in any one thing whatever. Thus we speak of a genius for mathematics, as well as a genius for poetry; of a genius for war, for politics, or for any mechanical employment.
This talent or aptitude for excelling in some one particular
is, I have said, what we receive from nature. By art and study, no doubt, it may be greatly improved, but by them alone it cannot be acquired. As genius is a higher faculty than taste, it is ever, according to the usual frugality of nature, more limited in the sphere of its operations. It is not uncommon to meet with persons who have an excellent taste
in several of the polite arts, such as music, poetry, painting, ' and eloquence, all together ; but to find one who is an excel
lent performer in all these arts, is much more rare; or rather, indeed, such a one is not to be looked for.
A sort of universal genius, or one who is equally and indifferently turned towards several different professions and arts, is not likely to excel in any. Although there may be some few exceptions, yet in general it holds, that when the bent of the mind is wholly directed towards some one object, exclusive, in a manner, of others, there is the fairest prospect of eminence in that, whatever it be. The rays must convergeto a point in order to glow intensely.
31. Talent and Genius.
Talent convinces — genius but excites ;
Talent gives all that vulgar critics need
Apollo, the god to whom inspiration and prophecy were considered to belong, had numerous oracles. The most renowned was that at Delphi, where he had also a temple illustrious beyond all others on account of its treasures and the costliness of the gifts bestowed there. The spot where the answer was given, was called Pythium, and the priestess who uttered it Pythia, from the surname of Apollo, a name which he received in consequence of killing the serpent Python. Some derive the name applied to this oracle and the priestess, from a Greek word, signifying to inquire, to learn, and the temple is sometimes called the Pythian temple. By a trope or figure of rhetoric, called antonomasia, the word Pythian may be used to signify what is supreme or excellent.
Isis was one of the chief deities of the Egyptians. The mysterious rites of Isis were, probably, in their origin symbolical. On one of her statues was this inscription : "I am all that has been or shall be ; no mortal has hitherto taken off my veil."
Some studies have this peculiar advantage, that they exercise our reason without fatiguing it. They lead to inquiries acute, but not painful; profound, but not dry or abstruse. They strew 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 labor to which it must submit in the acquisition of necessary erudition or the investigation of abstract truth.
The cultivation of taste is strongly 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 flourishing situations of fortune afford any man the power of filling all his hours with pleasure. Life must always languish in the hands of the idle. It will frequently languish .even in the hands of the busy, if thev have not some employment subsidiary to that which forms their main pursuit.
How, then, shall these vacant spaces, these 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, poetry, 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.
There are, indeed, few good dispositions of any kind with which the improvement of taste is not more or less connected. A cultivated taste increases sensibility to all the ten der and humane passions, by giving them frequent exercise ; while it tends to weaken the more violent and fierce emotions.
“ These polished arts have humanized mankind,
Softened the rude, and calmed the boisterous mind.” The elevated sentiments and high examples which poetry eloquence, and history are often bringing under our view naturally tend to nourish in our minds public spirit, the love of glory, contempt of external fortune, and the admiration of what is truly illustrious and great.
I will not go so far as to say that the improvement of taste and that of virtue are the same, or that they may always be expected to coexist in an equal degree. More powerful correctives than taste can apply, are necessary for reforming the corrupt propensities which too frequently prevail among mankind. Elegant speculations are sometimes found to float on the surface of the mind, while bad passions possess the interior regions of the heart.
At the same time, this cannot but be admitted, that the exercise of taste is, in its native tendency, moral and purifying. From reading the most admired.productions of genius, whether in poetry or prose, almost every one rises with some good impressions left on his mind; and though these may not always be durable, they are at least to be ranked among the means of disposing the heart to virtue.
One thing is certain — that without possessing the virtuous affections in a strong degree, no man can attain eminence in the sublime parts of eloquence. He must feel what a good