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her mind is so unfurnished, it is impossible her conversation can afford any entertainment to men of sense and reflection.
I must add, that history is not only a valuable part of knowledge, but opens the door to many other parts, and affords materials to most of the sciences. And indeed, if we consider the shortness of human life, and our limited knowledge, even of what passes in our time, we must be senşible, that we should be for ever children in understanding, were it not for this invention, which extends our experience to all past ages, and to the most distant nations; making them contribute as much to our improvement in wisdom, as if they had actually lain under our observation.
A man acquainted with history may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every conutry.
ON SENSE, TASTE, AND GENIUS. The human genius, with the best assistance, and the finest examples, breaks forth but slowly; and the greatest men have but gradually acquired a just taste, and chaste simple conceptions of beauty. At an immature age, the sense of beauty is weak and confused, and requires an excess of colouring to catch its attention. It then prefers extravagance and rant to justness, a gross false wit to the engaging light of nature, and the showy, rich, and glaring, to the fine and amiable. This is the
childhood of taste: but as the human genius strengthens and grows to maturity, if it be assisted by a happy education, the sense of universal beauty awakes; it begins to be disgusted with the false and mishapen deceptions that pleased before, and rests with delight on elegant simplicity, on pictures of easy beauty and unaffected grandeur.
The progress of the fine arts in the human mind may be fixed at three remarkable degrees, from their foundation to the loftiest height. The basis is a sense of beauty and of the sublime, the second step we may. call taste, and the last genius.
A sense of the beautiful and of the great is universal, which appears from the uniformity thereof in the most distant ages and nations. What was engaging and sublime in ancient Greece and Rome, are so at this day : and, as I observed before, there is not the least necessity of improvement or science, to discover the charms of a graceful or noble deportment. There is a fine but an ineffectual light in the breast of man. After nightfall we have admired the planet Venus: the beauty and vivacity of her lustre, the immense distance from which we judged her beams issued, and the silence of the night, all concurred to strike us with an agreeable amazement. But she shone in distinguished beauty, without giving sufficient light to direct our steps, or show us the objects around us. Thus in unimproved nature, the light of the mind is bright and useless. In utter barbarity, our prospect of it is still less fixed; it appears, and then
seems wholly to vanish in
the savage breast, like the same planet Venus, when she has but just raised her orient beams to mariners above the waves, and is now descried, and now lost, through the swelling billows.
The next step is taste, the subject of our inquiry, which consists in a distinct, unconfused knowledge of the great and beautiful. Although you see not many possessed of a good taste, yet the generality of mankind are capable of it. The very populace of Athens had acquired a good taste by habit and fine example, so that a delicacy of judgment seemed natural to all who breathed the air of that elegant city: we find a manly and elevated sense distingnish the common people of Rome and of all the cities of Greece, while the level of mankind was preserved in those cities; while the Plebeians had a share in the government, and an utter separation was not made between them and the nobles, by wealth and luxury. But when once the common people are rent asunder wholly from the great and opulent, and made subservient to the luxury of the latter; then the taste of nature infallibly takes her flight from both par. ties. The poor by a sordid habit, and an attention wholly confined to mean views, and the rich by an attention to the changeable modes of fancy, and a vitiated preference for the rich and costly, lose view of simple beauty and grandeur. It may seem a paradox, and yet I am firmly persuaded, that it would be easier at this day to give a good taste to the young savages of America, than to the noble youth of Europe.
Genius, the pride of man, as man is of the creation, has been possessed but by few, even in the brightest ages. Men of superior genius, while they see the rest of mankind painfully struggling to comprehend obvious truths, glance themselves through the most remote consequences, like lightning through a path that cannot be traced. They see the beauties of nature with life and warmth, and paint them forcibly without effort, as the morning sun does the scenes he rises upon; and in several instances, communicate to objects a morning freshness and unaccountable lustre, that is not seen in the creation of nature. The poet, the statuary, the painter, have produced images that left nature far behind.
The constellations of extraordinary personages who appeared in Greece and Rome, at or near the same period of time, after ages of darkness to which we know no beginning; and the long bar. renness of those countries after in great men, prove that genius owes much of its lustre to a personal contest of glory, and the strong rivalship of great examples within actual view and knowledge; and that great parts alone are not able to lift a person out of barbarity. It is further to be observed, that when the inspiring spirit of the fine arts retired, and left inanimate and cold the breasts of poets, painters, and statuaries, men of taste still remained, who distinguished and admired the beauteous monuments of genius; but the power of execution was lost; and although monarchs loved and courted the arts, yet they refused to return. From whence it is evident, that peither taste, nor natural parts, form the creating genius that inspired the great masters of antiquity, and that they owed their extraordinary powers to something different from both.
If we consider the numbers of men who wrote well, and excelled in every department of the liberal arts, in the ages of genius, and the simpli. city that always attends beauty; we must be led to think, that although few perhaps can reach to the supreme beauty of imagination displayed by the first-rate poets, orators. and philosophers ; yet most men are capable of just thinking and agreeable writing. Nature lies very near our reflection, and will appear, if we be not misled and prejudiced before the sense of beauty grows to maturity. The populace of Athens and Rome prove strongly, that uncommon parts or great learning are not necessary to make men think justly.
HOW TASTE IS DEPRAVED AND LOST.
Let us now consider by what means taste is usually depraved and lost in a nation, that is neither conquered by barbarians, nor has lost the improve. ments in agriculture, husbandry, and defence, that allow men leisure for reflection and embellishment. I observed before, that this natural light is not so clear in the greatest men, but it may lie oppressed by barbarity. When people of mean parts, and of pride without genius, get into elevated stations, they want a taste for simple grandeur, and mistake forit what is uncommonly glaring and extraordinary; whence proceeds false wit of