Item of the Day: Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1812)

Full Title: Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste. By Archibald Alison. From the Edinburgh Edition of 1811. Boston: Published by Cummings and Hilliard; Cambridge: Printed by Hilliard & Metcalf, 1812.


TASTE is in general considered as that faculty of the human mind, by which we perceive and enjoy whatever is BEAUTIFUL or SUBLIME in the works of nature or art.

The perception of these qualities is attended with an emotion of pleasure, very distinguishable from every other pleasure of our nature, and which is accordingly distinguished by the name of the EMOTION of TASTE. The distinction of the objects of taste, into the sublime and beautiful, has produced a similar division of this emotion, into the EMOTION of SUBLIMITY and the EMOTION of BEAUTY.

The qualities that produce these emotions, are to be found in almost every class of the objects of human knowledge, and the emotions themselves afford one of the most extensive sources of human delight. They occur to us, amid every variety of EXTERNAL scenery, and among many diversities of disposition and affection in the MIND of man. The most pleasing arts of human invention are altogether directed to their pursuit: and even the necessary arts are exalted into dignity, by the genius that can unite beauty with use. From the earliest period of society, to its last stage of improvement, they afford an innocent and elegant amusement to private life, at the same time that they increase the splendour of national character; and in the progress of nations, as well as of individuals, while they attract attention from the pleasures they bestow, they serve to exalt the human mind, from corporeal to intellectual pursuits.

These qualities, however, though so important to human happiness, are not the objects of immediate observation; and in the attempt to investigate them, various circumstances unite to perplex our research. They are often obscured under the number of qualities with which they are accidentally combined: They result often from peculiar combinations of the qualities of objects, or the relation of certain parts of objects to each other: They are still oftener, perhaps, dependent upon the state of our own minds, and vary in their effects with the dispositions in which they happen to be observed. In all cases, while we feel the emotions they excite, we are ignorant of the causes by which they are produced; and when we seek to discover them, we have no other method of discovery, than that varied and patient EXPERIMENT, by which, amid these complicated circumstances, we may gradually ascertain the peculiar qualities which, by the CONSTITUTION of our NATURE, are permanently connected with the emotions we feel. . . .



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Filed under 1810's, Art, Culture, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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