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Title: An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Taste, and of the Origin of our Ideas of Beauty, etc.
Author: Reynolds, Frances, 1729-1807
Language: English
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Frances Reynolds


With an Introduction by James L. Clifford

The Augustan Reprint Society

Frances Reynolds 

_An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Taste, 
and of the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty, etc._

With an Introduction by James L. Clifford

Publication 27

Los Angeles
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
University of California


H. RICHARD ARCHER, _Clark Memorial Library_
RICHARD C. BOYS, _University of Michigan_
EDWARD NILES HOOKER, _University of California, Los Angeles_
JOHN LOFTIS, _University of California, Los Angeles_


W. EARL BRITTON, _University of Michigan_


EMMETT L. AVERY, _State College of Washington_
BENJAMIN BOYCE, _Duke University_
LOUIS I. BREDVOLD, _University of Michigan_
CLEANTH BROOKS, _Yale University_
JAMES L. CLIFFORD, _Columbia University_
ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, _University of Chicago_
SAMUEL H. MONK, _University of Minnesota_
ERNEST MOSSNER, _University of Texas_
JAMES SUTHERLAND, _Queen Mary College, London_
H.T. SWEDENBERG, JR., _University of California, Los Angeles_


Since the early nineteenth century it has been known that Frances
Reynolds, the sister of Sir Joshua, was the author of an essay on
taste, which she had printed but did not publish. Yet persistent
search failed to turn up a single copy. It remained one of those lost
pieces which every research scholar hoped someday to discover.

In 1935 it appeared that the search was over. Among some manuscripts
of Mrs. Thrale-Piozzi, long hidden in Wales, was found a printed copy
of an anonymous _Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Taste, and of
the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty_, which seemed to be the lost essay.
The date was correct; the _Enquiry_ was dedicated to Mrs. Montagu; it
contained a quotation from Dr. Johnson; and, best of all, there was
attached to the pamphlet a copy (in an unidentified handwriting) of
Johnson's well-known letter to Miss Reynolds concerning her essay.

Only one thing stood squarely in the way of the identification. James
Northcote in his _Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds_, published in 1818 (II,
116-19), after describing Johnson's connection with the manuscript,
gives two pages of short excerpts. Most of the quotations are general
statements such as "Dress is the strong indication of the moral
character" or "The fine arts comprehend all that is excellent in the
moral system, and, at the same time, open every path that tends to the
corruption of moral excellence." Unfortunately none of these excerpts
appears directly in the _Enquiry_. Although some of the ideas are
similar, the wording and specific details are different. By no stretch
of the imagination could they be considered to come from the same
piece. Thus Northcote blocked the solution of the mystery for nearly
fifteen years.

Recently, however, evidence has turned up which makes the attribution
a certainty. It is now obvious that Northcote must have been mistaken
in the source of his quotations. Writing as he did many years after
the events he was describing, Northcote either had found a copy of
the first draft of Miss Reynolds' essay, or erroneously quoted from
another anonymous piece which he assumed was by Miss Reynolds. In any
event he was not quoting from the final version which she wished the
world to see.

The story of Miss Reynolds' attempts to publish her essay can at
last be pieced together from various bits of evidence, some hitherto
unpublished. Just when the essay was written is uncertain. All that
we know is that a preliminary version was submitted to the rigorous
criticism of Dr. Johnson in 1781. Johnson, who had corrected some of
her verses in red ink the year before, commented on 21 July 1781:

    There is in these such force of comprehension, and such nicety
    of observation as Locke or Pascal might be proud of. This I
    say with intention to have you think that I speak my opinion.

    They cannot however be printed in their present state. Many
    of your notions seem not very clear in your own mind, many are
    not sufficiently developed and expanded for the common reader;
    the expression almost every where wants to be made clearer and
    smoother. You may by revisal and improvement make it a very
    elegant and curious work.[1]

But Miss Reynolds was not easily discouraged, and Johnson wrote again
on 8 April 1782:

    Your work is full of very penetrating meditation, and very
    forcible sentiment. I read it with a full perception of the
    sublime, with wonder and terrour, but I cannot think of any
    profit from it; it seems not born to be popular.

    Your system of the mental fabric is exceedingly obscure, and
    without more attention than will be willingly bestowed,
    is unintelligible. The Ideas of Beauty will be more easily
    understood, and are often charming. I was delighted with the
    different beauty of different ages.

    I would make it produce something if I could but I have indeed
    no hope. If a Bookseller would buy it at all, as it must be
    published without a name, he would give nothing for it worth
    your acceptance.[2]

In passing it might be pointed out that this letter has previously not
been associated with Miss Reynolds' essay on taste, largely because
the available text of the letter has been so faulty. Where Johnson
wrote "The Ideas of Beauty," obviously referring to the second section
of the _Enquiry_, Croker, followed by G.B. Hill, printed "The plans
of Burnaby." To this Hill added a note; "Burnaby, I conjecture, was a
character in the book," with the result that scholars have fruitlessly
been searching ever since for the fictitious Mr. Burnaby, One more
example of the dangers of using nineteenth-century transcripts!

Evidently Johnson's stringent objections temporarily halted her plans,
for we hear nothing more about the essay for two years. Meanwhile, as
appears from a later letter, she showed it to Bennett Langton, hoping
in vain for his help. Nevertheless, she was determined to go ahead and
print the work, even at her own expense. Johnson, still counted upon
for aid, wrote to her on 12 April 1784:

    I am not yet able to wait on you, but I can do your business
    commodiously enough. You must send me the copy to show the
    printer. If you will come to tea this afternoon we will talk
    together about it.[3]

On 30 April he commented further: "Mr. Allen has looked over the
papers and thinks one hundred copies will come to five pounds."
Something, however, made her suspicious of his advice, and on 28 May
there came an end to Johnson's connection with the matter. He wrote:
"I have returned your papers, and am glad that you laid aside the
thought of printing them."

But Miss Reynolds had no intention of permanently giving up her
project. Instead she rewrote parts of the essay which had displeased
her critics, and shortly after Johnson's death proceeded to have 250
copies privately printed, with a dedication to Mrs. Montagu. With
Johnson gone, "The Queen of the Bluestockings" must have appeared the
next best patron. That Mrs. Montagu, while no doubt flattered by the
dedication, was herself not overly enthusiastic about the essay may
be gathered from a letter written to her by Miss Reynolds on 12 July
1785. Miss Reynolds began by insisting that "the slightest hint" of
disapprobation on the part of Mrs. Montagu would "consign the work to
oblivion"; then continued:

    I never did entertain any desire to publish it, tho I might
    to sell it. And my desire of printing it, originated from a
    motive which tho' vain I allow, is an natural vanity I wishd
    to leave behind me a respectable memorial of my existence,
    which I then flatterd myself this would be. Ten impressions or
    twenty at the most, were all I wishd to have taken off. Why I
    had so many as 250 was because Dr. Johnson advised me to print
    that number, and to sell them, to stand the sale of them was
    his expression, but I must do Dr. Johnson the justice to say,
    that, that advice was given me with a proviso that no person
    was in the secret but himself, for on my informing him to
    the contrary, he declined or seemd to decline the affair of
    getting them printed for me, which I perceiving sent to him
    for the manuscript, foolishly entertaining a slight suspicion
    which I much reproach myself for, that some other motives
    besides the want of merit in the work had influenced this
    change of behaviour. Unluckily from the beginning I made too
    great allowance in its favour, from an opinion I had con
    too of Dr. Johnsons being strongly prejudiced against womens
    literary productions. But I deceived myself. He was sincere,
    he judged justly of the work, and his opinion exactly
    corresponded with yours![4]

Not that she regretted the cost of printing the 250 copies. That was a
minor consideration. She concluded:

    If I ever should shew it to any person it will be to Mr.
    Langton, from a motive of wishing him to see the alteration I
    have made in it for the better, since he saw it, and as it is
    also since Dr. Johnson saw it, and particularly that part
    he most objected to, my belief that I had obviated that
    objection, is another apology for my printing it.

To this Mrs. Montagu returned a wordy and diffuse reply, commenting
that "having for many years past left off all metaphysical studies,"
she was "not a competent judge of any work on subjects of that
nature," yet insisting that she doubted if contemporary readers would
like it. It was obvious that Mrs. Montagu refused to be a party to
further dissemination of the printed copies. And there the matter
rested for almost three more years.

The wish to have some of the copies read by the general public proved
too strong, and on 15 April 1788 Miss Reynolds wrote again to Mrs.
Montagu, asking her aid in recovering a letter, or transcription of a
letter, of Johnson's:

    It is of great importance to me the recovery of this letter
    particularly so as I perceive I must not presume to hope for
    the only patronage that could countervail the loss of Dr.
    Johnsons, should I ever be induced to publish the work. I
    do not mean that I would publish the letter, but that the
    testimony it conveys of Dr. Johnsons approbation, would be
    highly advantageous to me in the disposal of the copy to
    a Bookseller, indeed _approbation_ is an improper Word,
    inadequate to the
    praises he bestows on the work, I durst not repeat his
    expressions tho I well remember them. Some friendly strictures
    also the letter contained, all these I remember I transcribed
    verbatim in a letter I sent to you in the beginning of the
    year 82. they begin

    Many of your notions seem not to be very clear in your own

It was not until the next year that with the help of James Northcote
she finally made active preparations to have the work published. As
Miss Reynolds wrote to Mrs. Montagu on 5 February,

    I forgot to say that Mr. Nurse recommended Mr. Northcote to a
    Mr. Bladen in Paternoster Row for a Publisher, but I sent
    in the utmost haste to him to prevent his taking any steps
    towards so disgraceful a place as I imagine that to be so

In preparation for the new printing, Miss Reynolds had further revised
her essay, and in order to enhance the value of the piece for general
readers she decided to add three letters from Johnson of which she
chanced to have copies. Totally unconnected with the essay, one was
to Sir Joseph Banks concerning the motto for his goat's collar; the
others concerned the unfortunate Dr. Dodd. But before going ahead she
again asked the advice of her patroness. Mrs. Montagu replied:

    I do not see that there is any objection to publishing the 3
    letters, but I own I think Dr Johnson judges too lightly of
    the crime of forgery ... I believe the tenderness of sentiment
    Dr Johnson expresses for Dr Dodd in his afflictions will do
    him honour in the eyes of the Publick, & therefore as his
    friend you may with propriety publish the letters.[7]

Mrs. Montagu concluded, "I wish some name that would do more honour to
your work was to appear in the dedication, but to be presented to
the publick with such a mark of Mrs Reynolds' friendly regard, will
certainly be esteemed an honour...."

Sometime between February and July 1789 the _Enquiry_ was reprinted,
this time by J. Smeeton (copies of this version may be found in the
Bodleian Library and the Library of Congress). The terminal date for
the reprinting is established by the fact that the three letters
of Johnson which were appended to the essay were reprinted without
comment in the July issue of the _European Magazine_.

Just where Miss Reynolds secured copies of the Johnson letters is
not certain. It is suggestive, however, that the letter to Banks had
originally been sent under cover to Sir Joshua Reynolds and that Sir
Joshua's copy is now among the Boswell papers at Yale University.
There would have been ample opportunity for Frances Reynolds also to
have secured a copy. And the letter to Charles Jenkinson of 20 June
1777 and to Dr. Dodd of 26 June were of the sort that an enterprising
lady might well have wheedled copies from the Doctor. The important
point is that the inclusion of the letters in the 1789 printing of the
_Enquiry_ provides incontrovertible proof of Miss Reynolds' connection
with the piece.

For this second printing the entire pamphlet was reset, with
numerous minor changes of wording and punctuation, but with no major
alterations in meaning. In general the textual improvements are such
as a bluestocking lady might well wish to make. It will be noted that
on pages 25 and 49 of the copy here reproduced someone has made minor
changes in wording in ink. These corrections are made in the later
printing. Moreover, at the end of the 1789 version there is an errata
list, indicating three alterations from the 1785 text which were
mistakes. The Dedication remained unchanged, but the geometrical
illustration was now placed facing the beginning of Chapter I.

The _Enquiry_ was written in what is now recognized as one of the most
exciting periods in the history of aesthetics, the late eighteenth
century being a crucial point in the gradual shift from absolute
classical standards to the relative approaches of the next age. Most
of the important thinkers of the day--Hume, Burke, Lord Kames, Adam
Smith, among others--were thinking deeply about the problem of taste.
And if Miss Reynolds' essay is not one of the most perceptive of the
discussions, it is at least one of the liveliest.

In brief, the _Enquiry_ is what one might expect from an intelligent
amateur, from one not a professional writer, yet one who has given
much thought to the problems of aesthetics. Of course, many of the
ideas are derivative, with echoes of the "moral sense" of Hutcheson,
the "line of grace" of Hogarth, and the terrible sublime of Burke. The
three divisions of the essay--the development of a mental system, the
origin of our ideas of Beauty, and the analysis of taste--follow the
customary pattern of eighteenth-century discussions. Yet the piece
is no slavish refurbishing of old phrases. It is packed with fresh
arguments and novel suggestions. If these are not always completely
coherent or logical, they do represent original thinking.

Twentieth-century readers may be astonished by some of the ideas:
witness the claim that Negroes could never arrive at true taste,
because their eyes were so accustomed to objects diametrically
opposite to taste. As a further example of Miss Reynolds' occasionally
muddled thinking there is the development of her initial assumption.
While the groundwork of man is perfection, this perfection has been
blemished and man is impelled to recapture it in the sublime. Yet
instead of analyzing this impulse, Miss Reynolds appears to take it
for granted. Nor does she consider how perfection is to be achieved
in taste, preferring to conclude with a diatribe in the manner of
Rousseau on the depravity of the times and the corrupting effect of
the arts. (For this and many of the following comments I am indebted
to Mr. Ralph Cohen of the College of the City of New York.)

The cause of some of the ambiguities in her discussion may perhaps be
traced to a rather careless use of terms. At one time "instinct"
or "impulsion," the moral force driving man toward perfection, is a
potentiality developed by cultivation, and at another a force that
is created by cultivation. Although the sublime is the apex of her
mathematically-definite program and is a moral quality attained by
the few, every human being has his point of sublimity in the idea of
a Supreme Being. On the one hand, beauty is a preconceived idea in
the human species; on the other it is not preconceived, but developed.
Finally, the rules of art are perceptions of moral virtue, yet art
which exhibits these rules can corrupt.

It is easy to pick flaws in Miss Reynolds' thinking, for the lack of
sustained logic which Johnson early recognized is apparent at every
turn. Yet for students of the history of ideas the _Enquiry_ contains
much of interest. As a painter, Miss Reynolds throughout stresses the
visual, a concentration which leads her to several valuable insights.
She divides form into two categories, masculine and feminine, but
makes a novel use of these Ciceronian divisions. All non-human
objects--flowers, animals, etc.--are seen as exhibiting male or female
attributes. It might almost be said that with this anthropomorphic
approach she is attempting to develop a "philosophical" basis for the
pathetic fallacy. Furthermore, if the human is used to measure beauty
in the non-human, the implication is that man, not God, is the measure
of beauty. By setting up man as the mediator between the material and
the divine, she points to the concentration in the next century on
human values.

When discussing the _Enquiry_ in his book on the _Sublime_, Samuel
Monk pointed out certain other tendencies which fore-shadow the
coming Romantic revolt. This shift may also be noted in Miss Reynolds'
extension of countenance, the reflection of internal virtue, to mean
"form," and the extension of internal virtue to mean "disposition,"
"object," or content. In developing this form-content division, she
stumbles on a key criticism of associationism: "From association of
ideas, any object may be pleasing, though absolutely devoid of beauty,
and displeasing with it. The form is _then_ out of the question; it is
some _real_ good or evil, with which the object, but not its form, is
associated." This notion that associationism leads away from the
work of art as such is a perceptive comment. Her notion that form and
disposition (or content) must correspond in order to give aesthetic
pleasure suggests, though the terms are different, certain of
Coleridge's basic ideas.

One other point might be stressed: Miss Reynolds takes an extreme
moralistic position toward the arts. Again and again it is insisted
that taste and beauty are moral attributes, not purely aesthetic
concepts. Chapter II ends with the ringing statement: "Of this I
am certain, that true refinement is the effect of true virtue; that
virtue is truth, and good; and that beauty dwells in them, and they
in her." And the next chapter begins: "Taste seems to be an inherent
impulsive tendency of the soul towards true good." On the other
hand, she sees that the arts are not to be encouraged because such
encouragement is apt to lead to the destruction of moral virtue--the
desire for fame and wealth. The value of art as education is dismissed
as of importance only to the few; the dangers of encouragement will
imperil the many. "Though the arts are thus beneficial to the growing
principles of taste, respecting a few individuals, it is well known
that their establishment in every nation has had a contrary effect on
the community in general...."

To conclude: despite its many deficiencies Frances Reynolds' _Enquiry_
is worth reading. It serves admirably to mirror the conflicting
eighteenth-century theories out of which our own aesthetic concepts
have been formed.

  James L. Clifford
  Columbia University

Notes to the Introduction

1. _Letters_, II, 223-24; corrected from original letter in possession
of Professor F.W. Hilles of Yale University, who has given invaluable
aid in the present investigation.

2. _Letters_, II, 249-50, corrected from the original by Dr. R.W.

3. Copy in possession of Mrs. Doreen Ashworth, Windlesham, Surrey.

4. Original in Huntington Library.

5. Original in possession of Mrs. Ashworth.

6. Rough draft in possession of Mrs. Ashworth.

7. Original in possession of Professor F.W. Hilles.


    Sunt certi denique fines,
  Quos ultra citraquè nequit consistere rectum.



Were I not prompted by gratitude, admiration, and affection, to
dedicate to you the best produce of my abilities, which I imagine this
to be, yet, as the subject, of which it particularly treats, is moral
excellence, the universal voice of mankind, with whom your very name
is synonymous with virtue itself, must plead my apology for taking
this liberty. Besides, madam, it was natural for me, as an author, to
with to avail myself of the advantage, which this address affords
me, of prepossessing the minds of my readers with an example of that
perfection to which all my arguments tend, as a preparative, or aid,
to their better comprehending my meaning.

The influence of virtue is every way beneficial! Your character,
not only secures me from all imputation of flattery, but this public
avowal of my admiration of its excellence conveys an honourable
testimony of the consistency of my principles; having endeavoured to
inculcate, that the love and esteem of true virtue is true honour. And
I may add, that the sweet gratification I feel, in the indulging the
strongest and best propension of my nature, in thus expatiating in its
praise, is true pleasure, true happiness.

I am, Madam,

    Your obliged,

      Most obedient,

  And most humble, servant,



A SKETCH of the MENTAL SYSTEM respecting our Perceptions of Taste, &c.

The mind of man, introspecting itself, seems, as it were, (in
conjunction with the inscrutable principles of nature,) placed in the
central point of the creation: from whence, impelled by her energetic
powers and illumined by her light, the intellectual faculties, like
rays, shoot forth in direct tendency to their ultimate point of
perfection; and, as they advance, each individual mind imperceptibly
imbibes the influence and light of each, and is by this imbibition
alone enabled to approach it.

But, though the light of nature and of reason direct the human mind
to perfection, or true good, yet, being in its progress perpetually
impeded by adventitious causes, casual occurrences, &c. &c. which
induce false opinions of good and evil, its progressive powers
generally stop at a middle point between mere uncultivated nature and
perfection, a medium which constitutes what we call common sense, and
which, in degree, seems as distant from the perfection of the mental
faculties as common form is from the perfection of form, _beauty_.

        BEAUTY | TRUTH

On meditating on this subject, and marking the progressive stages
or degrees of human excellence, the great leading general truths,
or mental rests, as I may call them, _the common, the beautiful, the
graceful, and the sublime_, I have been naturally led to form a kind
of diagrammatic representation of their respective distances, &c. &c.
which I present to my reader on the opposite page, requesting him to
refer to it now and then as he goes on, in order to facilitate his
comprehension of my meaning.

And here it may be necessary to premise, that, however whimsical and
absurd this delineation may appear to my reader, something analogous
to the thought may be found in the works of many eminent philosophers,
particularly in those of Bacon[A] and of Locke:[B] the latter
suggesting that the whole system of morality might be reduced to
mathematical demonstration; and the former, in his treatise on the
Advancement of Learning, gives a description of the stages of science
very much resembling my delineation of the stages of intellectual
perfection, or taste.

[Footnote A: Advancement of Learning, Book 2d.]

[Footnote B: Essay on human Understanding, Chap. 3d, Book the 4th, and
Chap. 12th, same Book, Sect. 8th.]

It could have been no dishonour to me to have been led by such
conductors! Yet, as the truth cannot dishonour me neither, I must
aver, that my little system was projected, and brought to the exact
state it now is in, without my having the least apprehension that any
thing similar had been suggested before by any person whatever; nor
have I, in consequence of the discovery I have lately made of the
opinions of these respectable authors, added or omitted a single
thought in my treatise. But to return from my digression.

In the exact center of my circle of humanity, I have placed nature,
or the springs of the intellectual powers, which tend, in a
straight line, to its boundary; and, on its boundary, I have placed
demonstrable beauty and truth, and the utmost power of rules; and,
midway; I have placed common sense and common form, half deriving
their existence from pure nature, and half from its highest
cultivation, as far as art or rules can teach. A conjunction which
would itself be the perfection of humanity, but that it is mixed with
all that is not nature, and all that is not art, and thereby made
mediocrity, i.e. _common sense_.

The intellectual powers, arriving at the limit of my common circle,
i.e. at the limit of the basis of my pyramidical system, where I
have placed the fixed proportions of beauty and of truth, (if they
progress,) mount up as a flame, with undulating[A] motion, refining
as they advance, and terminate in the pinnacle, or ultimate point,
_sublimity_; forming in the imagination the figure of a pyramid,
or cone, from the limit of whose base, (on which, as I have before
observed, I have placed demonstrable truth and beauty, the utmost
power of rules, &c.) from that limit up to the ultimate point of
sublimity, I call the region of intellectual pleasure, genius, or
taste; and in its center I place grace, whose influence pervades,
cheers, and nourishes, every part of it, an object which, in this
ideal region, is similar in its situation and degree to that of common
sense in the common or fundamental region. Grace seems to partake
of the perception both of beauty and of sublimity, as common sense
partakes of nature and of art. Grace is the characteristic object or
general form of the ideal region, and its perception is the general
limit of the powers of imagination or taste. Few, very few, attain to
the point of sublimity; the _ne plus ultra_ of human conception! the
alpha and omega. The sentiment of sublimity sinks into the source of
nature, and that of the source of nature mounts to the sentiment of
sublimity, each point seeming to each the cause and the effect; the
origin and the end!

[Footnote A: I use that expression, because it is the peculiar motion
of grace as well as of a flame.]

Having thus drawn the outline of my pyramidical mental system, I
propose to expatiate a little on each point or stage throughout the
great characteristic line of intellectual power.

The first point The exact center, _nature_, or the origin of our
intellectual faculties, admits of no investigation, its idea, as I
have observed before, loses itself in the sentiment of sublimity,
and we see nothing; and therefore I pass on to an object which is
perceptible, _the common general character of humanity_, _exterior and
inferior_. I have placed them on a line, because their ideas are so
analogous, that they unite in one.

Section 1. _Common Sense and common Form_.

Perfection seems to be the ground-work both of common sense and
of common form; and, what prevents each from being perfect, is the
adventitious blemishes, the additions to, and the diminutions from,
what is perfect, making the too little and the too large. But, these
defects being distributed in, small portions throughout the general
common form and common mind, they constitute an object, whether
visible or intellectual, between perfection and imperfection, namely,
that of mediocrity, neither exciting admiration nor disgust. And, as
experience gives the general idea of the common and true appearance
of the human form, as well to the rustic as to the most enlightened
philosopher, so consequently does it enable him to see deformity, or
what is an unusual appearance in that form.

But, though unusual defects seem to be evident to every eye, it is
only to the man of taste and nice discernment that the same degree of
unusual beauties are equally perceptible; which corresponds with my
opinion, that the ground-work of humanity is perfection, and that its
blemishes only tinge its pure white, not discolour it so much, but,
when held at a distance, i.e. in abstract idea, it is still a white,
like a sheet of paper, or cloth of the most perfect white, regularly
checkered over with a variety of figures of every colour, and placed
at a distance, appearing to the eye a white, a mezzo common white;
and, as any unusual figure, I mean unusually large and opaque, on this
mezzo ground, would be more conspicuous than any of a greater degree
of transparency or a more perfect white could be by an absence of any
of the figures; so any degree of deformity is, more opposite to the
general common form than beauty, and any degree of insanity is more
opposite to common sense than intellectual excellence.

And, (to continue my allusion,) as those tints, or blemishes, which
obscure the ground, must be discharged to make a perfect white, so
must the artist, in creating beauty, discharge the blemishes that
tinge and obscure the human form, and which give it the character of
mediocrity, till the perfect white, or total absence of defect, or
beauty, result.

Common sense seems to be diffusive truth, and common form diffusive
beauty; and, as this diffusion is always existing with us, externally
and internally, it is no wonder that we should more easily perceive
what is in opposition to it, _evil_, than what is in unison with it,

On a line with common form and common sense I place common ease of
body and of mind: unfelt health, unfelt good, or that arising to the
degree of _satisfaction_ and _content_; in fine, whatever we call
_commonly_ good, and requisite for the well-being of humanity.

Section 2. _Beauty and Truth_.

I mean that beauty which is demonstrable truth, and that truth which
is demonstrable beauty. _Exactitude. Completion. The just medium. The
satisfactory rest of the mind. Perfection_. A point, indeed, in which
the mind cannot rest! It must go forward or backward. If the latter,
it relapses into the dominion of error; if the former, if assumes
the charms of _design_, or _intention_. The artist, arrived at the
ultimate limit of rules, or demonstrable truth, stands, as it were,
between the visible and invisible world; between that of sense and
intellect; the common and the uncommon; and his productions will be a
conjunction of both. He looks back through all the variety of common
nature, and reviews, through the medium of truth and beauty, the
various objects it exhibits; and on its spotless ground, i.e. the
abstract idea of nature without defects, can only exist in idea,
he arranges those objects, objects, so as they may best produce the
effects he aims at in his art. He does not attempt to obliterate
any character in the common circle of nature; but, following her
own oeconomy, he endeavours, by juxtaposition, &c. to make each
subservient to each in creating delight, and giving beauty to the
_whole_. But, to descend from the abstract general idea to the
particular idea of beauty, or idea of a particular form:

We discard every thing, that is not beauty, to compose beauty; but
every thing that is not beauty is not therefore deformity. The wrong
we see in each individual we do not call deformity: when it is so, it
stands on the limit of the common circle, in opposition to beauty.

From common form seem to originate beauty and deformity; and, as they
recede from each other in opposite directions, they become less and
less like their parent, _common form_, but never totally unlike; for
it is their likeness to that form that constitutes the one beauty, and
the other deformity; for, were there no resemblance in deformity
to the common form, it would be a different species, and no longer
disgust; and none in beauty, it would no longer please.

There is no particular common form, but which, to create beauty, an
artist, who studies the perfection of the human form, must improve in
some, if not in every part; to effect which, considered as mere form
only, rules will suffice, but, considered as grace, it must express a
sentiment that no rules can give!

That all feel the same sentiment of admiration for that which they
think the most perfect, however the objects may differ, has induced
some to believe that beauty is an arbitrary idea, and that it exists
only in the imagination! But does it follow, that, because it is not
possible for the savage or the man of taste to judge of any object
but as experience enables him to judge, that therefore there is no
preeminence in that form which is beauty to the one above that which
is beauty to the other?

Somewhere there must exist, whether perceived or not, the perfection,
or highest point of excellence of the human form respecting
proportion; and somewhere there must exist, or does at times exist,
the highest excellence of its expression, i.e. the moral charm of the
human countenance, _grace_.

The artist, who has only seen the beauty of his own nation, will from
that form his standard of perfection. But, when he comes to extend his
enquiry, when he has viewed the beauty of other nations, particularly
that form and that expression which the Grecian artists (who were
probably on a line with the Grecian philosophers) modelled from their
ideas of beauty! he will quit his partiality for the beauty of his own
country, and prefer that of the Grecian, which I imagine is preferable
to that of the whole world! The only criterion to prove it so, I mean
its form, would be to select from every nation the most perfect in it,
and from that number to choose the most perfect, were this possible
to be done, respecting the external form of beauty: it could not
respecting the internal expression of beauty, _grace_; for who shall
be the world's arbiter of the ne plus ultra of grace!

That the artists of all ages and of all nations have terminated their
enquiries after beauty in that of the Grecian form is the highest
proof that can be given of its superior excellence to that of all the

Common form, as I have observed before, is so much nearer beauty than
deformity, that it is, in abstract idea, the model to compose beauty
of form from. The _universal_ appearance of nature is, to every eye,
right, fit, faultless, &c. therefore, if every part of the copy be the
same, particularly, I mean, in the _human_ form, beauty of form must

The beauty of every part of the human body, forming a _perfect_ whole,
is analogous to an instrument of music in perfect concord, and mere
exactitude of proportion in its parts, exclusive of the idea of mind,
would, I imagine, have no more effect upon the spectator than the mere
concord of the strings of an instrument has on the hearer; it amounts
to no more than blameless right, nor, till influenced by sentiment,
can it go farther.

But, as we are incapable of separating the idea of the human form from
the human mind, and as the touch of an instrument in perfect concord
gives a presentiment of harmony, so does the perception of the
concordance of the parts of a beautiful form give a perception of
grace. The mind, as I have observed before, cannot rest in fixed
perfection, the _Spotless white_; and its natural transition from
beauty must be into the region of grace.

Section 3. _Grace_.

The principles, which constitute grace, genius, or taste, are one;
which is denominated grace in the object, genius in the production of
the object, and taste in the perception of it.

The existence of grace _seems_ to depend more upon the character of
mental than of corporeal beauty. All its motions seem to indicate and,
to be regulated by the utmost delicacy of sentiment! I have placed it
between the highest sentiment of the human mind, _sublmity_, that
no rules can teach, and the highest sentiment that rules can teach,
_exact beauty_, the two extremes of the vrai reel and the vrai ideal.
Grace seems, as it were, to hang between the influence of both; the
irregular sublime giving character and relief to the negative and
determined qualities of beauty; and beauty, i.e. truth, confining
within due bounds the eccentric qualities of sublimity, forming, both
to sight and in idea, orderly variety, _the waving line_, neither
straight nor crooked. The waving line is the symbol, or memento, as
I may say, of grace, wherever it is seen in whatever form, animate or
inanimate; and may be justly styled the line of taste or grace!

The perception of grace seems not to be intirely new nor intirely
familiar to us; but is, as it were, what we have had a presentiment of
in the mind, without examining it, and which the graceful object, or
action, &c. calls forth to our view. Being so much our own idea, we
like to behold it, to dwell upon it; and yet, not being a familiar
idea, it creates a pleasing mild degree of admiration.

Grace seems half celestial; for all the virtues accompany, indeed
compose, the perception; for none, I imagine, can have a perception of
grace that has none of the charms of virtue.

The sentiment of grace, caused by the motion of beauty, music, poetry,
beneficence, compassion, &c. may be ranked as the highest intellectual
pleasure the mind is capable of perceiving, and brings with it a sort
of undetermined consciousness of the delicacy of our own perceptions
in making the discovery, a degree of that glorying that Longinus
observes always accompanies the perception of the sublime.

You can no more define grace than you can happiness. The mind cannot
so stedfastly behold it as to investigate its real properties. Grace
is indeed the point of happiness in the ideal region, both because it
arises spontaneously, without effort, &c. and because it seems partly
_within_ our own power, and partly _without_ it.

As common sense, in my fundamental circle, seems diffusive truth, so
grace, in my ideal circle, seems diffusive sublimity; every perception
of the former seems to be tinged, as it were, with the colour of the

Section 4. _Sublimity_.

Where pure grace ends, the awe of the sublime begins, composed of the
influence of pain, of pleasure, of grace, and deformity, playing into
each other, that the mind is unable to determine which to call it,
pain, pleasure, or terror. Without a conjunction of these powers there
could be no sublimity.

Those only who have passed through the degrees, _common sense, truth_
and _grace_, i.e. the sentiment of grace, can have a sentiment of
sublimity. It is the mild admiration of grace raised to _wonder_
and _astonishment_; to a sentiment of _power_ out of _our power_ to
produce or control. Grace must have been as familiar to the intellect,
in order to discover sublimity, as common sense in the common region
must have been to the discovery of truth and beauty. In fine, genius,
or taste, which is the sentiment of grace, and which I have called the
common sense of the ideal region, can alone discover the true sublime.

It is a pinnacle of beatitude bordering upon horror, deformity,
madness! an eminence from whence the mind, that dares to look farther,
is lost! It seems to stand, or rather to waver, between certainty
and uncertainty, between security and destruction. It is the point of
terror, of undetermined fear, of undetermined power!

The idea of the supreme Being is, I imagine, in every breast, from the
clown to the greatest philosopher, his point of sublimity!


On the ORIGIN of our IDEAS of BEAUTY.

In proportion as the principles of beauty exist in the common form,
undetermined to the common eye, so do they exist in common sense,
undetermined to the common mind. It is cultivation that calls them
into view, gives them a determined form, creates the object, and the
perception, that

                     'Truth and good are one,
  And beauty dwells in them, and they in her.'

But, though all truth resolves into one truth, one beauty, one
good, as all colours resolve into one light; though the scientifical
intellectual colours, classes, or leading principles of science, the
_physical_, the _moral_, the _metaphysical_, &c. &c. resolve into
intellectual light, beauty, or good; it is, I imagine, the moral
truth, that is the characteristic truth of beauty: for, were we to
analyse the pleasing emotions we feel at the sight of beauty, we
should, I imagine, find them composed of our most refined moral
affections; and hence the universal interesting charm of beauty. And,
as those affections refine by culture, hence the different degrees of
the sentiments which beauty creates in the rustic, and in the man of
taste. The former perceives only the physical charm of beauty, the
freshness of colour, the bloom of youth, &c. but, to the man of taste,
the physical pleases only through the medium of the moral: _the body
charms because the soul is seen_; beauty, in his breast, is the source
from whence _endless streams of fair ideas flow_, extending throughout
the whole region of taste, no object of which but is more or less
related to the principles of human beauty. But taste, though a subject
almost inseparable from that of beauty, I must forbear to enlarge upon
in this chapter, as I propose to make it the particular subject of my

It is but at that period, at which we begin to perceive the charms of
moral virtue, that we begin to perceive the real charms of beauty. It
is true, a man may attain, by experience, the knowledge of its just
proportions; without that concomitant sentiment. He may be unconscious
of the characteristic moral charm resulting from the whole. And
an artist, I imagine, by the habitual practice of the rules which
constitute beauty, may produce forms which charm the moral sense of
others, without being conscious of it himself; the utmost limit of
the rules of the imitative arts being so intimately united with the
intuitive principles of taste, or refined moral sense, that the mind
in general cannot distinguish where the one ends or the other begins.
The artist, who separates them, _leans on the second cause_ instead of
the first.

As the strongest proof that the moral sense is the governing principle
of beauty, we may remark, that the human form, from infancy to
old age, has its peculiar beauty annexed to it from the virtue
or affection that nature gives it, and which it exhibits in the
countenance. The negative virtue, innocence, is the beauty of the
child. The more formed virtues, benevolence, generosity, compassion,
&c. are the virtues of youth, and its beauty. The fixed and determined
virtues, justice, temperance, fortitude, &c. compose the beauty of
manhood. The philosophic and religious cast of countenance is the
beauty of old age. Now, were any of these expressions misapplied, i.e.
commuted, they would disgust rather than please: without congruity
there could be no virtue; without virtue, no beauty, no sentiment of

And thus the beauty of each sex is seen only through the medium of
the virtues belonging to each. The beauty of the masculine sex is seen
only through the medium of the masculine virtues; the beauty of the
feminine only through the medium of the feminine. The moral sense
gives each its distinct portion of the same virtues, but draws a line
which neither can pass without a diminution of their specific
beauty. The softness and mildness of the feminine expression would
be displeasing in a man. The robust and determined expression of
the rigid virtues, justice, fortitude, &c. would be displeasing in a
woman. However perfect the Form, if an incongruity that touches the
well-being of humanity mingles with the idea, the Form will not afford
the pleasing perception of beauty: though the eye may be capable of
seeing its regularity, &c. so far is it from pleasing, that it is
the more disgusting from its semblance to virtue, because that that
semblance is a contradiction to her laws.

May it not be owing to these expressions, so familiar to every eye,
that the general sense of good taste eternally exists? They are the
legible characters of human excellence, no where visible but in the
human countenance, every observation of which improves and confirms
the moral sentiment, or image of beauty, implanted by nature in the
mind of man.

The origin of the idea of beauty is the same in every breast, savage
and civilized. Every nation's characteristic Form or expression of
beauty will be a representation, or portrait, of their characteristic
virtue, their happiness, their good. Thus, in the opinion of the wild
savage, that face or form will be the most beautiful that assimilates
with his idea of savage virtues, corporeal strength, courage, &c.
_perfections that are placed in bones and nerves_: as that of the most
cultivated nations, witness the Grecians, will indicate or portray the
most refined mental virtues. And hence we may conclude, if there be
any dignity, any truth, any beauty, in virtue, there must be a _real_
difference, _superior_ and _inferior_ characteristic power of pleasing
in the exterior of the human form.

It is cultivation that gives birth to beauty as well as to virtue,
by calling forth the visible object to correspond with the invisible
intellectual object. In the face or form of an idiot, or the lowest
rustic, there is no beauty; and, supposing a nation of idiots, and
that they never could improve in mental beauty, they never could, I
imagine, improve in corporeal, even though their natural form was upon
an equality with the rest of mankind; for, without sentiment, they
could not only be incapable of expressing any sentiment analogous to
beauty, but, wanting the surrounding influence of a moral system, i.e.
of the general influence of education on the exterior, they could not
suppress or veil a semblance incongruous with beauty. What no person
felt no person could teach.

In cultivated nations, every precept for exterior appearance, from the
first rudiments of the dancing-master to the motion of grace, has for
its object _mind_, that is, a desire to impress upon the spectator a
favourable idea of our mental character; but, passed the true point of
cultivation, they lose with the sentiment of mental excellence that of
true beauty; witness the exterior artificial appearance of humanity
in a neighbouring nation, which probably is on a par with the most
uncultivated rustic. The one does not enough for nature, the other
too much. But, as the former has an object before him, to which nature
herself directs him, the other is receding from it; and, as it is more
agreeable, more easy, and more natural, to the human mind, to learn
than to unlearn, I should sooner expect the most uncultivated nation,
the negro excepted, to arrive at taste in true beauty than them. The
negro-race seems to be the farthest removed from the line of true
cultivation of any of the human species; their defect of form and
complexion being, I imagine, as strong an obstacle to their acquiring
true taste (the produce of mental cultivation) as any natural defect
they may have in their intellectual faculties. For if, as I have
observed, the total want of cultivation would preclude external
beauty, the total want of external beauty would preclude the power
of cultivation. It appears to me inconceivable, that the negro-race
supposing their mental powers were upon a level with other nations,
could ever arrive at true taste, when their eye is accustomed _only_
to objects so diametrically opposite to taste as the face and form of
negroes are! Our being used or not used to the object cannot make us
perceive any similarity in the lineaments of their countenance to the
lineaments, if I may so say, of our refined virtues and affections,
which alone constitute beauty; and therefore I am induced to believe
that they are a lower order of human beings than the Europeans.

Beauty is an assemblage of every human charm; yet what we call the
_agreeable_ is often more captivating.

The agreeable, in person, is composed of beauties and defects, as is
the common form, but differently composed. The beauties and defects
of the latter are blended into the idea of mediocrity; those of the
former are always distinct and perceptible, contrasting each other,
they engage the attention, and create a kind of pleasing _re-creation_
to the mental faculties; and, in proportion as we can bring them
to unite with our governing principles of pleasure, they create
affection, which gives the person a more fascinating charm than beauty

It is the mental character that is the moving principle of affection;
and any strong peculiarity, that contradicts not the moral sense,
i.e. that is not _unnatural_, gives the object an accessary charm, and
raises the affection to passion. The object is at once the common and
the uncommon; an union, which constitutes all we call excellent, all
we admire!

The perception of the charms of the agreeable seem to be wrought up
to excellence by the operation of our own powers. We ourselves
have blended its beauties and defects into the sentiment of beauty,
_pleasure_; and hence, probably, the strength and durability of the
passion which it creates. Beauty, on the contrary, is composed to our
hands, _full_, _perfect_, and _intire_; its idea is also a compound of
the common and the uncommon, being at once like and unlike the general
form; but inherently it has no contrast, and therefore affords no
recreation, no pleasing exercise, to the mental faculties; there is
nothing to re-create, nothing to wish; and hence the instability
of the passion which it inspires. Perfect beauty is, like perfect
happiness, lost as soon as it is attained.

It is, I imagine, to the principles of the masculine and the feminine
character, that we owe the perception of beauty or taste, in any
object whatever, throughout all nature and all art that imitates
nature; and, in objects which differ from the human form, the
principles must be in the extreme, because the object is then merely
symbolical. Thus, the meekness of the lamb, and the high-spirited
prancing steed; the gentle dove, and the impetuous eagle; the placid
lake, and the swelling ocean; the lowly valley, and the aspiring
mountain. It is the feminine character that is the sweetest, the most
interesting, image of beauty; the masculine partakes of the sublime.
Thus it will be found, that, in every object that is universally
pleasing, there exist principles which are analogous to those that
constitute beauty in the human species; and that its appearance does
always, in some degree, move the affections, though the mind may be
unconscious of its similitude to any idea in which the affections are
concerned. But the test of the object's possessing the principles
of beauty is when we are able to assimilate its appearance with
some amiable interesting affection; and, according as that affection
prevails in the breast of the spectator, it will appear with an
additional power of pleasing.

From association of ideas, any object may be pleasing, though
absolutely devoid of beauty, and displeasing with it. The form is
_then_ out of the question; it is some _real_ good or evil, with which
the object, but not its form, is associated.

It is observable, that those animals I have mentioned (and I imagine
all animals that are symbolical of our affections have the same) have
a double character of beauty, or reference to the affection that is
moved: i.e. their form and their disposition, exactly corresponding
with each other. Probably on that union depends their power of
pleasing; their _form alone_, so different from human beauty, could
not sufficiently engage the attention, or afford the interesting
perception, which the consistency of truth does, in the _intire_ of an

Every object of taste has _at least_ a double reference to mental
pleasure, whether the object, in the philosophical scale of our
perceptions, belongs to those of _sense_ or _intellect_. Thus, the
beauty of the rose would not certainly be so perceptible to us,
wanting its fragrance, and, with a nauseous smell, would not probably
be admitted, as I may say, into the rank of _agreeableness_, though
it is in reality a beautiful and pleasing object; nor, supposing the
thistle, or any other ugly flower, possessed of the fragrance of the
rose, should we therefore think it an object of taste, any more than
we can think the form of an elephant beautiful, though endued with
almost intellectual beauty.

In the form and colour of flowers, there appears to me a striking
analogy to the character of human beauty. They afford an ocular
demonstration, in the pleasure with which we contemplate their
particular forms, that the pleasure, we receive from the beauty of the
human form, originates from mental character: witness the charm of
the infant, innocence of the snow-drop, of the soft elegance of the
hyacinth, &c. and, on the contrary, our dis-relish of the gaudy tulip,
the robust, unmeaning, masculine, piony, hollyhock, &c. &c.

It is, I imagine, from a resemblance to some pre-conceived idea of
beauty in the human species, that we are particularly pleased with
the sight of one flower more than with another, though the mind
is unconscious of the cause. And thus the pleasure, caused by the
apparent beauty of every object throughout the system of human
perception, is, according to my sentiment of that pleasure, the same
intellectual principle, _moral good_, however diversified, modified,
and diminished, even to an unconsciousness or almost imperceptible
degree of relation to it. In fine, the true principles of beauty, in
every object, may be all _resolved_ into the same principle. But to

I have no more doubt that the principles of beauty are moral, than
that the principles of happiness are moral. It is the perception of
true beauty, in its various modifications, that makes up the sum
of human happiness; and hence the diversity of opinions concerning
beauty, but which, however diverse, are never contradictory, but as
mens opinions in morals are so; for every view of beauty assimilates
with some good, and of course must be in unison.

If, in the human system, there exists a principle which constitutes
true pleasure, that principle must be that which constitutes human
excellence; and, if the visible object which excites true pleasure
must necessarily possess the principles of true pleasure, then must
every object, which universally and invariably pleases, be relative to
the principle that constitutes human excellence, morality.

Whatever appears, to each individual, the most excellent in the human
system, at once constitutes his idea of _happiness_, of _morality_,
and of _beauty_; and all mankind, I imagine, would agree in the same
idea, had all the same opportunities of seeing and knowing what was

As I imagine the difference in national beauty is marked by the
difference in national morals, so, of course, must the difference of
the opinions of individuals on the subject of beauty be. In fine,
as the moral sense of mankind is coarse or refined, so will be their
taste of beauty.

Of this I am certain, that true refinement is the effect of true
virtue; that virtue is truth, and good; and that beauty dwells in
them, and they in her.



Taste seems to be an inherent impulsive tendency of the soul towards
true good, given by nature to all alike, and which improves in its
sentiment as the reasoning faculties improve in their knowledge of
what _is_ true good.

All the human faculties are, as one may say, constituents of the
principle or faculty of taste. But its perception seems to be shared
between the judgement and the imagination: to the former seems to
belong the truth, or good, of an object of taste; to the latter its
beauty or grace; and the stamina vitæ, or radical principles of taste,
exist, I imagine, in the natural affections of the soul.

What the impulsive spring is, which moves the affections invariably to
perceive pleasure in the perception of good and beauty, and disgust
in the perception of evil or deformity, I leave to my metaphysical
readers to determine. I am afraid to give it an appellation so
incongruous to the general idea of taste, as that of conscience.

Yet, however absurd it may appear, I will venture to say, that, if
my readers will give themselves the trouble to analyse the grateful
sensation or sentiment, we call _taste_ i.e. their sentiment of what
is truly good, beautiful, right, just, ornamental, honourable, &c.
&c. they will find it to originate from, and end in, some moral or
religious principle. Indeed, some objects (the highest in the scale of
our perceptions of excellence) bring with them an immediate conviction
of the truth of this assertion; witness the devotional sentiment which
the view of the main ocean inspires; the rising and setting sun; the
contemplation of the celestial orbs, &c. witness the noblest object
of the creation, when viewed in his highest character. Does not the
perception of human excellence immediately relate to the source of all

The general diffusion of intellectual light, throughout mankind,
constitutes rationality; and the aggregated excellence, or light of
rationality, constitutes morality. It is, I imagine, in this second
or purified light, that taste begins to exist. It is at this period of
cultivation that the mind begins to perceive its true good; that the
natural affections rectify, methodize, and refine, in a word, become
moral affections, through whose medium, i.e. the _moral sense_, the
soul perceives every object of taste.

Taste is intellectual pleasure, an approving sense of truth, of good,
and of beauty. The latter seems the visible or ostensible principle
of the two former, and is that in which the universal idea of taste is
comprised. All are pleased with the sight of beauty; but all are by
no means sensible that the principles that make it pleasing, that
constitute a form beautiful, are those, or, to be more intelligible,
relate to those, that constitute man's highest excellence, his first
interest, his chief good. Few, indeed, even among those who possess
taste, if they have not accustomed themselves to investigate its
principles, will readily conceive that they are thus deeply rooted
in the mental frame. Indeed, the generality of mankind seem rather to
think that taste has no principles at all, or, if any, that they begin
and end with the prevailing mode, fashion, &c. of the times; a notion
which, though in the highest degree absurd, corroborates my opinion,
that the universal perception of taste (the true and the false) exists
in the idea of honour.

The compound word, or phrase, _le vrai idéal_, universally adopted to
denote an object of taste, is the most exact and literal definition of
its sentiment that can be conceived; for it implies the union of
the judgement and the imagination, without which there could be no
sentiment of taste. The judgement, as I observed, perceives the truth
of the object, the imagination its beauty; they may be said to relate
to each other, in the perception of an object of taste, as a luminous
polish does to the substance from whence it proceeds: the substance
can exist without its polish, but the polish cannot exist without its
substance. The perception of taste seems to me, if I may so express
myself, to be illusive, but not erroneous; in a word, to exist in our
idea of true honour, i.e. in the polish, lustre, or ornament, of true

As the universal idea or sentiment of taste is honour, so the
universal object of its perception is ornament, from the object, whose
excellence we contemplate as an ornament or honour to human nature, to
every object which in the slightest degree indicates the influence
of that excellence. Take away the idea of that influence in the moral
sphere, and taste is annihilated; and, in the natural sphere, take
away the idea of divine influence, and taste cannot exist. Every
sentiment of taste, as I observed before, ultimately relates to the
one or to the other of these principles; indeed, strictly speaking, as
the moral relates to the divine, it may be said ultimately to do the

In the progress of civilization, the polishing principle, which I call
taste, is chiefly found in the highest sphere of life, highest both
for internal and external advantages, wealth accelerates the last
degree of cultivation, by giving efficacy to the principles of true
honour; but it also accelerates its corruption, by giving efficacy
to the principles of false honour, by which the true loses its
distinction, becomes less and less apparent, nay, by degrees, less and
less real. Wealth becoming the object of honour, every principle of
true taste must be reversed. Hence the _dire polish_ of the obdurate
heart, repelling the force of nature. Hence avarice and profusion,
dissipation, luxurious banqueting, &c. supersede the love of oeconomy,
domestic comfort, the sweet reciprocation of the natural affections,
&c. &c. Hence the greatest evils of society: the sorrows of the
virtuous poor, _the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes_,
in a word, the general corruption of morals, and, of course, of true

The vulgar, who are strangers to the internal principles of honour,
always annex their ideas of taste to the external appearances of the
highest rank of life, which being easily acquired, particularly that
of dress, the prevalency of modes and fashions, however absurd,
is universally adopted. Those of false taste adopt them to attract
notice; those of true taste, to avoid it. But, at this present, the
difficulty of avoiding singularity in dress is, I imagine, much to be
lamented by women of taste and virtue, the prevailing mode of feminine
attire being diametrically opposite to every principle of feminine
excellence; a melancholy proof of our being arrived at the last stage
of depravity!

I could expatiate largely on this subject, but it would be
inconsistent with my plan, which the reader may perceive, throughout
the whole work, to be a mere outline only.

The three grand co-existing principles of taste, virtue, honour, and
ornament, run through all its perceptions. Their triple union cannot
be broken; but taste is nominally distinguished by the one or the
other, according as its objects, situations, circumstances, &c. vary.
Ornament and honour seem the public character of taste; virtue to be
the private and domestic, where, though unperceived by the vulgar,
to the eye of taste[A] she appears in her highest ornament, highest

[Footnote A: Truth can only judge itself. BACON.]

Taste seems to comprize three orders or degrees in its universal

The first is composed of those objects which immediately relate to the
divinity, among which man claims the preeminence, when viewed in his
highest character: witness the inexpressible charm which the natural
virtuous affections of the soul inspire, when moved by some strong
impulse, such as parental tenderness, filial piety, friendship, &c.
&c. &c. Do they not unite the moral sentiment to the dïvine?

The second is in the immediate external effects of true taste, or
moral virtue, in the social sphere; the order, beauty, and honour,
which every object derives from its influence; and, of course, its
sentiment must be intimately related to moral excellence.

The third and last degree is general ornament and honour, appearing
in fashions, arts of decoration, &c. &c. objects which seeming not
immediately to affect the interests of humanity, the taste they
exhibit in this sphere appears as an uncertain light, sometimes bright
and sometimes obscured; or rather as refracted rays of taste, broken
by the general love of novelty and superfluity; two principles which,
though they are, to a certain degree, essential to exterior ornament,
and the sentiment of true taste, are those in which taste always
begins to corrupt. To illustrate my meaning: true ornament seems
equally to partake of the idea of utility and superfluity, and every
sentiment of taste seems equally to partake of the idea of novelty and
of custom; for, were the object perfectly familiar to us, we should
feel no degree of admiration, without which we could feel no sentiment
of taste; and, were it totally new, unlike any thing we had ever seen,
it would excite wonder instead of admiration, which is a sentiment as
distant from taste as the love of fame is from the love of honour.

This sphere, the last in my scale of the perceptions of taste, and
which borders upon every thing that is contrary to its laws, is
properly the sphere of Fancy, who seems an undisciplined offspring of
Taste; sometimes sporting within the bounds of parental authority, and
sometimes beyond them. Fancy seems to bear the same affinity to Taste
as Pleasure does to Happiness.

Every object of taste is relative to some principle of excellence
from which it derives its power of pleasing; of course, the highest
sentiment of taste must exist in the relative principle to our highest
object of excellence.

True ornament is, to the eye, what eloquence is to the ear: their
principles throughout are one, the truth or beauty of which exists in
its exact relation or adaptation to the object it adorns, constituting
the _just_, the _true_, the _beautiful_, objects, or qualities,
which, in the conscious eye of taste, _relate_ to moral beauty. The
perception of the first relation, i.e. the adaptation of any thing
ornamental to the object it adorns, may, in a great measure, be
learned by habit and general observation; but the higher relation,
the second concoction (as one may say) of its principles, the moral
relation, is the immediate operation of taste.

Ornament and harmonious sound are pleasing to the corporeal sense,
but, when wanting a relative object, please but for a short time; and,
if incongruously joined to an object, i.e. to one with which it can
have no relation, will, as soon as the understanding perceives the
incongruity, become a principle of disgust.

As the virtues differ, in some degree, as the character of the sexes
differ,[A] of course so must the sentiment of taste differ. To the
man I would give the laws of taste; to the woman, its sensibility. The
taste of the former seems more derived from reason; that of the
latter from instinct: witness their impulsive maternal affection; that
inherent ornament of their sex, modesty; their tender susceptibility
of the benevolent virtues, pity, compassion, &c. &c.

[Footnote A: Vide page 23.]

Taste, however, is as far removed from mere instinct as from mere
reason. I only mean to say, that the taste of the masculine character
is rather on the side of reason, or the understanding; that of the
feminine on the side of instinct, and, let me add, imagination. The
taste of the one and of the other seems to differ as justice does from
mercy, as modesty from virtue, as grace from sublimity, &c. &c. And,
as exterior feminine grace is the most perfect visible object of
taste, the highest degree of feminine excellence, externally and
internally united, must of course constitute woman, the most perfect
existing object of taste in the creation.

The cultivation of the social moral affections is the cultivation
of taste, and the domestic sphere is the true and almost only one
in which it can appear in its highest dignity. It is peculiarly
appropriated to feminine taste, and I may say it is _absolutely_
the only one in which it can appear in its true lustre. True taste,
particularly the feminine, is retired, calm, modest; it is the private
honour of the heart, and is, I imagine, incompatible with the love of

In the present state of society, taste seems to be equally excluded
from the highest and from the lowest sphere of life. The one seems
to be too much encumbered with artificial imaginary necessities; the
other too much encumbered with the real and natural necessities of
life, to attend to its cultivation. It is in the former that taste is
universally thought to reside, which is because the idea of taste
is inseparable from that of honour. It is that, indeed, in which the
general taste of the nation is exhibited. It is its _face_, as I may
say, which expresses the internal character of the heart.

In this sphere, namely, the most exalted station of mankind, what true
taste it does exhibit is placed in the strongest point of view; its
contrary principles are also the same, particularly so to those who
have been rightly educated at a distance from it; to such, the wrong
will instruct as much as the right; but sure I am, that it is not,
at this _period_, the proper sphere for the infant mind to expand and
improve in. The wrong will be too familiar to the mind to disgust;
and the right, which I imagine is chiefly confined to the _records_
of taste in the fine arts, will be too remote (wanting the preparatory
love of nature and virtue) to please.

It is not, I imagine, from objects of excellence in the arts, that
the mind receives the first impressions of taste, though from them
the impressions, we have already received, may be strengthened and
improved. The truths they exhibit awaken the recollection of what
has pleased us in nature; and we exult in the confirmation of our
judgement and taste on finding those objects represented, by genius,
in their best and fairest light. Of course, the excellence we perceive
in the fine arts, which is always relative to moral excellence, must
tend to the improvement of taste.[A]

[Footnote A: L'esprit de l'homme est naturellement plein d'un nombre
infini d'idées confuses du vrai, que souvent il n'entrevoit qu'à demi;
et rien ne lui est plus agréable, que lorsqu'on lui offre quelqu'une
de ces idées bien éclaircie et mise dans un beau jour. BOILEAU,

But, though the arts are thus beneficial to the growing principles
of taste, reflecting a few individuals, it is well known that their
establishment in every nation has had a contrary effect on the
community in general; for, in proportion to the encouragement given
them, as that encouragement immediately promotes two of the most
pernicious principles that can affect the human heart, the most
destructive of moral virtue, namely, the love of fame and the love of
riches, the general diffusion of corruption must ensue, and of course
the extinction of the natural principles of taste, or relish of the
human soul of what is truly beautiful, truly honourable, truly good.

To conclude. I will not presume to say, that a man without taste is
without virtue; but I think I may venture to say, that it is only
as he can have virtue without loving virtue, that he can have virtue
without having taste; the definition of taste being, according to my
apprehension of its perception, the _love_ of virtue. And, as that
love springs from, and tends to, the source of all virtue, all good,
may I not add, that it is but as a man can be religious without
devotion, that a man can be religious without taste? the sentiment
of devotion seeming to be, an aggregation of our most virtuous, most
refined, conscious, energies of soul, in the awful vertical point of

  'From thee, great God, we spring, to thee we tend,
  Path, motive, guide, original, and end!'



William Andrews Clark Memorial Library: University of California

_General Editors_

H. RICHARD ARCHER, _Clark Memorial Library_
R.C. BOYS, _University of Michigan_
E.N. HOOKER, _University of California, Los Angeles_
JOHN LOFTIS, _University of California, Los Angeles_

The society exists to make available inexpensive reprints (usually
facsimile reproductions) of rare seventeenth and eighteenth century

The editorial policy of the Society continues unchanged. As in the past,
the editors welcome suggestions concerning publications.

All correspondence concerning subscriptions in the United States and
Canada should be addressed to the William Andrews Clark Memorial
Library, 2205 West Adams Blvd., Los Angeles 18, California.
Correspondence concerning editoral matters may be addressed to any of
the general editors. Membership fee continues $2.50 per year. British
and European subscribers should address B.H. Blackwell, Broad Street,
Oxford, England. 

Publications for the fifth year [1950-1951]

(_At least six items, most of them from the following list, will be

FRANCES REYNOLDS (?): _An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Taste,
and of the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty, &c._ (1785). Introduction by
James L. Clifford.

THOMAS BAKER: _The Fine Lady's Airs_ (1709). Introduction by John
Harrington Smith.

DANIEL DEFOE: _Vindication of the Press_ (1718). Introduction by Ortho
Clinton Williams.

JOHN EVELYN: _An Apologie for the Royal Party_ (1659); _A Panegyric to
Charles the Second_ (1661). Introduction by Geoffery Keynes.

CHARLES MACKLIN: _Man of the World_ (1781). Introduction by Dougald

_Prefaces to Fiction_. Selected and with an Introduction by Benjamin


SIR WILLIAM PETTY: _The Advice of W.P. to Mr. Samuel Hartlib for the
Advancement of some particular Parts of Learning_ (1648).

THOMAS GRAY: _An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard_ (1751).
(Facsimile of first edition and of portions of Gray's manuscripts of
the poem).

       *       *       *       *       *

  To the Augustan Reprint Society     _Subscriber's Name and Address:_
  _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
  2205 West Adams Boulevard
  Los Angeles 18, California_

  _As_ MEMBERSHIP FEE _I enclose for the years marked:_
  The current year                         $ 2.50
  The current & the 4th year                 5.00
  The current, 3rd, & 4th year               7.50
  The current, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th year         10.00
  The current, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th year    11.50
    (_Publications no. 3 & 4 are out of print_)

Make check or money order payable to THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY

NOTE: _All income of the Society is devoted to defraying cost of
printing and mailing_.

_William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_


First Year (1946-1947)

1. Richard Blackmore's _Essay upon Wit_ (1716), and Addison's
_Freeholder_ No. 45 (1716).

2. Samuel Cobb's _Of Poetry_ and _Discourse on Criticism_ (1707).

3. _Letter to A.H. Esq.; concerning the Stage_ (1698), and Richard
Willis' _Occasional Paper No. IX_ (1698). (OUT OF PRINT)

4. _Essay on Wit_ (1748), together with Characters by Flecknoe, and
Joseph Warton's _Adventurer_ Nos. 127 and 133. (OUT OF PRINT)

5. Samuel Wesley's _Epistle to a Friend Concerning Poetry_ (1700) and
_Essay on Heroic Poetry_ (1693).

6. _Representation of the Impiety and Immorality of the Stage_(1704)
and _Some Thoughts Concerning the Stage_ (1704).

Second Year (1947-1948)

7. John Gay's _The Present State of Wit_ (1711); and a section on Wit
from _The English Theophrastus_ (1702).

8. Rapin's _De Carmine Pastorali_, translated by Creech (1684).

9. T. Hanmer's (?) _Some Remarks on the Tragedy of Hamlet_ (1736).

10. Corbyn Morris _Essay towards Fixing the True Standards of Wit,
etc_. (1744).

11. Thomas Purney's _Discourse on the Pastoral_ (1717).

12. Essays on the Stage, selected, with an Introduction by Joseph Wood

Third Year (1948-1949)

13. Sir John Falstaff (pseud.), _The Theatre_ (1720).

14. Edward Moore's _The Gamester_ (1753).

15. John Oldmixon's _Reflections on Dr. Swift's Letter to Harley_
(1712); and Arthur Mainwaring's _The British Academy_ (1712).

16. Nevil Payne's _Fatal Jealousy_ (1673).

17. Nicholas Rowe's _Some Account of the Life of Mr. William
Shakespear_ (1709).

18. Aaron Hill's Preface to _The Creation_; and Thomas Brereton's
Preface to _Esther_.

Fourth Year (1949-1950)

19. Susanna Centlivre's _The Busie Body_ (1709).

20. Lewis Theobald's _Preface to The Works of Shakespeare_ (1734).

21. _Critical Remarks on Sir Charles Gradison, Clarissa, and Pamela_

22. Samuel Johnson's _The Vanity of Human Wishes_ (1749) and Two
_Rambler_ papers (1750).

23. John Dryden's _His Majesties Declaration Defended_ (1681).

24. Pierre Nicole's _An Essay on True and Apparent Beauty in Which
from Settled Principles is Rendered the Grounds for Choosing and
Rejecting Epigrams_, translated by J.V. Cunningham.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Taste, and of the Origin of our Ideas of Beauty, etc." ***

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