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Title: The Connexion Between Taste and Morals - Two lectures
Author: Hopkins, Mark, 1802-1887
Language: English
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Is the prevalence of a cultivated taste, favorable to morals? Is there a
connexion, either in individuals, or in communities, between good taste
and good morals?

When I began to reflect upon this point with reference to a public
discussion of it, I put the above questions to three educated men, as I
happened to meet them. The first said, he had not thought of it, but
that, at the first view, he did not believe there was any such
connexion; the second said he should wish to see it proved before he
would believe it; and the third said, he thought there was such a
connexion. This difference of opinion among educated men, led me to
think that an investigation of the subject might be a matter of
interest, and perhaps of profit. As every thing, in this country,
depends upon a sound state of morals in the community, whatever bears
upon that, deserves our most careful scrutiny.

To discuss this subject understandingly, we must know precisely what we
are talking about. What then is taste? This term is sometimes used to
express mere desire, as a taste for dress, or for low pleasures. It can
hardly be necessary to say that that is not the meaning now attached to
it. Taste is defined by Alison, to be, "That faculty of the human mind
by which we perceive and enjoy whatever is beautiful or sublime in the
works of nature or of art." According to this definition, which is
sufficiently correct for our present purpose, it will be perceived that
there is, first, a perception of certain qualities in external objects,
and then, according to the nature of the object, an emotion of beauty,
or of sublimity in the mind. These emotions are, of course, incapable of
definition except by stating the occasions on which they arise, and can
be known only by being felt. To talk of an emotion to those who have not
felt it, is like talking of colors to the blind. And here I may remark,
that these terms, beauty and sublimity, have, in common with those
denoting sensations, an ambiguity which has often produced confusion. As
the term heat is used to denote both the sensation we feel on
approaching the fire, and that quality in the fire which produces the
sensation, so beauty and sublimity are sometimes used to express the
emotions in the mind, and sometimes those qualities in external objects
which are fitted to produce them, though there is, of course, in the
external object, no emotion, nor any thing resembling one.

If this account of taste be correct, it will be perceived that it
cannot, with any propriety, be compared, as it often has been, to a
bodily sense. The impression upon a bodily sense, necessarily follows
the presence of the object, and is uniform in all mankind. A tree
clothed in fresh foliage is necessarily seen, and seen to be green by
all who turn their eyes upon it. The same tree, when seen, may be
pronounced by one individual to be beautiful, by another, from some
peculiar association, to be the reverse, and by a third, however
beautiful in itself, it may be looked upon without any emotion at all.
It is, therefore, a great mistake to suppose, as many do, that those
qualities in objects which awaken the emotions of taste, act directly
and necessarily upon us, like those which affect the senses.

A second preliminary inquiry is, What are the causes which produce these
emotions? And here I barely remark, without inquiring after any common
principle by which they produce similar results, that these causes
differ widely from each other. The emotions may be awakened by natural
objects, by sound, by the products of the imagination, by the
combinations of the intellect, and by certain manifestations of the
affections and moral character.

A third inquiry is, how the taste can be cultivated? This obviously can
be done only on two conditions. The first is, that we put ourselves in
situations adapted to produce the emotions of taste; and the second is,
that we preserve a state of mind that will permit those emotions to
arise. This last, a proper state of mind, though less often considered,
is quite as important as the first. "It is," says the poet,

                  "The soul that sees; the outward eyes
  Present the object, but the mind descries,
  And thence delight, disgust, or cool indifference rise."

Upon him whose mind is engrossed by care, or ruffled by passion, the
most beautiful objects make no impression. To perceive and enjoy them,
the mind must be calm. The beauties and sublimities of nature are like
the stars, which the storm shuts out, but when the heavens are serene,
they come out, one after another, to the eye that is watching for them,
till the firmament glows with their light. He, therefore, and he only,
who, in a proper state of mind, will place himself in the presence of
beautiful or sublime objects, and will compare the effects produced
under different circumstances, will improve his taste, both in its
susceptibility to emotion, and in its power of discrimination.

The question then, which we are now prepared to discuss, is, whether
such a cultivation and improvement of the taste, has a favorable effect
upon the moral character?

That it has such an effect, I infer, first, because we find in the
emotions of taste, to say the least, an innocent source of enjoyment for
our leisure hours, and the mind that is innocently happy, is less
accessible to temptation. Indolence, mere vacuity, we all know, is the
porch of vice, and the great dangers to the young arise from their
leisure hours--from the want of some means of innocent mental
exhilaration, in which they can be induced to spend those hours. It was
said by Franklin, that leisure was a time in which to do something
useful; but all are not Franklins. If leisure time can be, as it is by
many, usefully employed, so much the better; but he who should provide
for our youth the means and the inducements to spend their leisure time
innocently, would be a public benefactor. In our cities, where the
temptations to mere sensual gratification are so numerous and obtrusive,
and where natural objects are very much excluded, this is a point of
great importance, and of great difficulty. Until of late very little of
this kind has been attempted, unless theatres may be called an attempt.
But theatres with us are out of the question, for Miss Martineau says
that "the Americans have very little dramatic taste; and that the spirit
of puritanism still rises up in such fierce opposition to the stage, as
to forbid the hope that this grand means of intellectual exercise will
ever be made the instrument of moral good to society there, that it
might be made." She says, moreover, so hopeless is our case, that "those
who respect dramatic entertainments the most highly, will be the most
anxious that the American theatres should be closed." Theatres are
indeed out of the question, and I trust it will be a long time before we
shall make progress backwards, to that state of morals which is produced
by the instructions even of an English theatre.

It is in view of the want now under consideration, that the
establishment of Associations for literary purposes, and for procuring
popular lectures open to all, is not only a new, but a most promising
feature in the history of our cities. Man needs, and must have,
excitement and mental exhilaration, and our Creator, if we would but see
it, has not been inattentive to this want of our frame. No; to supply
it, we have the pleasures of rational social converse, the play of the
affections, the duties of kindness and benevolence--does a man feel
depressed, let him do a good action--and last, but not least, the
gratifications of taste: all the pleasure to be derived from the concord
of sweet sounds, from the charms of literature, from the forms and
colors and groupings of nature, from her sunrisings and sunsettings,
from her landscapes of mountain and valley and lake and river, from the
stars that roll in their courses, and the flowers that nod to each other
by the way-side.--These are the sources of mental exhilaration which God
has provided; and they are, to the artificial stimulants of theatrical
exhibitions and of gambling, what the cold water that was drank in Eden
is to brandy and gin. May I not here venture to say to young men,
'Beware how you spend your _leisure_ hours! your character and destiny
in life will probably turn upon it.' Among the means, as I have already
said, of spending these hours at least innocently, the gratifications of
taste are conspicuous. They seem for this very purpose to have been had
distinctly in view in the fitting up of this world; and so far as they
lure the mind from the lower gratifications of sense, they must be
favorable to morals.

The remarks now made respect taste chiefly as a guard against evil; but
I cannot dismiss this head without noticing more fully its positive
influence, as a source of innocent enjoyment, upon morals. A good taste,
and I do not hold myself answerable for its perversions, involves a
ready susceptibility to the emotions of beauty and sublimity, and of
course a readiness to receive pleasure from the common appearances of
nature, and from every free and natural expression of good feeling. It
is, in my view, of the first importance both to character and to
happiness, that the young should cultivate a relish for those simple and
natural pleasures, the sources of which are open to all. It is important
to happiness. How much happiness does the young florist secure, who can
look upon the common violet as it opens its eye from under the snows of
the early spring, with much the same pleasure as upon the choice exotic
which is resorted to and exclusively admired by those who have
unfortunately been taught that it is vulgar to admire what is common!
How much happiness does he secure who is touched by a beautiful action
wherever he sees it, who appreciates sympathy wherever he finds it, and
however expressed! A mind rightly constituted in this respect, drinks in
enjoyment from the objects and occurrences of daily life, as the eye
does light. It is also essential to character. How many young men enter
life with a false estimate of the advantages which wealth and fashion
can confer; who find their happiness, not in the contemplation and
pursuit of appropriate objects, but in what others think of them, and to
whom the world becomes insipid unless _they_ make a figure in it! Let
now misfortune come upon such men, and the world fails them. _Their_
world is gone; they have no resource; they become, generally dishonest,
sometimes inefficient and gloomy, and commit suicide. These persons come
to consider the common and truly great blessings which God has given as
nothing unless they may possess those artificial and egotistical
enjoyments which arise from conventional society. They see not the
splendid ornaments and rich provisions which, to adopt, with a slight
accommodation, the beautiful language of another, are gathered round the
earth for them;--"its ocean of air above, its ocean of water beneath,
its zodiac of lights, its tent of dropping clouds, its striped coat of
climates, its fourfold year." It is nothing to them, if they have not
man for their servant, that "all the parts of nature incessantly work
into each other's hands for their profit; that the wind sows the seed,
the sun evaporates the sea, the wind blows the vapor to the field, the
ice on the other side of the planet condenses the rain on this, and thus
the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man." What a
change when such a person is brought back to a true relish of the simple
pleasures of nature! Even sickness, depriving him for a time of what he
had undervalued, if it bring him back to this, is a blessing; and then
the result may be stated in the words of Gray:--

  "See the wretch who long has tost
    On the thorny bed of pain,
  At length regain his vigor lost,
    And breathe and walk again."


  "The meanest flow'ret of the vale,
  The simplest note that swells the gale,
  The common sun, the air, the skies,
  To him are opening paradise!"

Then, though he may hold little property by that title which the law
gives, he yet feels that the universe is his for those nobler purposes
for which it was intended to act on the spirit:

  "His are the mountains, and the valleys his,
  And the resplendent rivers;"

and he looks back upon his former discontent as the petulance of a
child. The simple beauties and the glad voices of nature have made him a
man again.

But again, I infer that there is a connexion between good taste and good
morals, because there is an analogy between those qualities in matter
which excite the emotions of taste, and those relations on which morals
depend. So much is this the case, that some philosophers found morality
upon a theory of the beautiful, considering it a sublime harmony. In all
beautiful objects in nature, or in art, there is an order, a propriety,
a fitness, a proportion; and the impression which these make upon us is
so analogous to that which is made by virtuous conduct, that we use the
same terms to express both. To me, indeed, it seems that beauty in
matter is to moral beauty what instinct is to reason, or what the light
of the moon is to that of the sun; containing some of the same elements,
but destitute of the highest. Hence, as we should naturally expect,
morals furnish that region in the province of taste in which she gathers
those flowers that are richest in beauty and sweetest in perfume.

                  "Is aught so fair,
  In all the dewy landscape of the spring,
  In the bright eye of Hesper, or the morn,
  In nature's fairest forms, is aught so fair
  As virtuous friendship?"

But I observe again, that as there is the analogy just pointed out
between their causes, so there is an affinity between the emotions
themselves of taste and correct moral feeling, and the transition from
one to the other is obvious. This point requires illustration. That our
emotions are associated in groups, is practically known to every body.
Even the child does not ask his father for a sixpence when he is in an
ill temper, because he knows the transition is not easy from ill temper
to generosity. Deep grief cannot pass at once to sudden joy. It must be
by a gradual transition, first to a tender melancholy, and then to
cheerfulness, and then to joy. "The garment of sorrow," as Coleridge
expresses it, "must be drawn off so gradually, and that to be put in its
stead so gradually slipt on and feel so like the former, that the
sufferer shall be sensible of the change only by the refreshment." It is
by understanding well these affinities of the feelings that the orator
can continue to control them as they pass over their widest range. The
necessity of a suitable state of mind in order that the emotions of
taste may arise, has already been noticed, and what I now observe is,
that a state of correct moral feeling is more favorable to these
emotions than any other. There is between them such an affinity that
they readily associate with each other; while there is, between the
emotions of taste and a vicious state of mind, no such affinity, but
they are to a great extent incompatible.

The external world often gives back to us but the image of our own
thoughts, and hence may seem almost as variable as the dim forms of
twilight to which the imagination gives its own shape. This tendency of
the mind to cast its own hue over nature, or rather to receive different
emotions from external objects, according to its own state, is well
illustrated by Crabbe, in his tale called "The Lover's Journey." In this
tale, Orlando, the lover, starts on a pleasant morning with the
expectation of finding the object of his affections at a village, where
she had agreed to meet him. The first part of his journey lay across a
heath covered with furze. But hear him:--

                "Men may say
  A heath is barren; nothing is so gay;
  Barren or bare to call this charming scene
  Argues a mind possessed by care or spleen."

And thus he went on, admiring the wholesome wormwood and the vigorous
brier, till he reached the village, and then disappointment came. The
lady had gone to a village some miles further on, under circumstances
that vexed him, and led him to doubt her affection. He doubted even
whether he should proceed, but at length determined to see and upbraid
her. Now hear him again, as he passes along by the side of a beautiful

  "I hate these scenes, Orlando angry cried;
  And these proud farmers, yes, I hate their pride;
  See that sleek fellow, how he stalks along,
  Strong as an ox, and ignorant as strong.
  These deep, fat meadows I detest; it shocks
  One's feelings there to see the grazing ox;--
  For slaughter fatted--as a lady's smile
  Rejoices man, and means his death the while."

And if mere disappointment, without a consciousness of guilt and
remorse, could produce such effects, what must we expect when the mind
is not at peace with itself? Tendencies are shown by extreme cases, and
it is in perfect consistency with the nature of things that Milton makes
Satan exclaim, on seeing Eden in its united innocence and beauty,

  "O hell! what do mine eyes with grief behold!"

Who can imagine a miser, even, to say nothing of a thief, or a drunkard,
lifting his eyes from his buried heaps, and enjoying the scene before
him, however beautiful? While he who performs a deed of charity at the
end of his walk, will find nature wearing a richer dress on his return.
The mind conscious of rectitude is at peace with itself, and is in that
calm state which permits it to enjoy whatever is pleasing.

But not only, as in the cases now mentioned, is a right state of moral
feeling favorable to taste, but the emotions of taste also tend to
introduce moral ideas and emotions. It is, as I conceive, chiefly from
this fact that nature has a tendency to lead the mind "up to nature's
God;" for we must all be conscious that when we view nature as beautiful
or sublime, this tendency is strongest. No one can have stood by
Niagara, or upon the White Mountains, without feeling this. Hence the
groves and the high hills were the first places of worship. Hence the
Indian sacrifices to the Great Spirit when he passes through the wild
rapids. And as we associate the beauties of nature with the wisdom and
goodness of God, so do we, in many cases, instinctively infer from the
displays of taste in man, something of his moral character. Who, for
example, in travelling through a solitary forest, if he should come, as
there are many such, to a neat log-house, with a trellised woodbine at
the door, and with every thing orderly and clean about it, would not
expect to pass by unmolested, or, if he should call, to be civilly and
kindly treated?--whereas, if every thing bore the appearance of filth
and dilapidation, and the only signs of taste were those which indicated
a taste for rum, he might well quicken his pace for fear he should be
waylaid. No one expects to find indications of taste about the dwelling
of a drunkard, or of one abandoned to any low vice. I appeal to any one
who hears me, whether he has not felt that it was an indication of a
good moral character, and an encouragement to charity, when he has
entered some poor dwelling and found that there was still kept alive, in
the midst of poverty, a susceptibility to the emotions, and a regard to
the requisitions of taste.

I have just observed, that there is an affinity between correct moral
feeling and the emotions of taste. I now observe, that the highest
pleasures of taste cannot be enjoyed without correct views on great
moral subjects, and especially respecting the being and attributes of
God. Whatever may be said of the power of material objects, in
themselves considered, to produce the emotions of taste, it is certain
that their chief power depends on the conceptions of the mind which they
awaken as signs. A single instance will illustrate this. Most of us have
probably felt the emotion of sublimity on hearing what we supposed to be
distant thunder, which vanished, and perhaps seemed ridiculous, the
moment we ascertained that the sound was produced by the rumbling of a
cart. In this case, it is obvious that the emotion depended, not on the
sound itself, but on the conception of the mind awakened by it. Now this
is pre-eminently the case in the works of nature. How different must be
the emotions awakened by a view of the evening firmament in the mind of
him who should suppose the stars to be mere points of light, set at no
great distance above him, and moving around the earth solely for the
convenience of man, from those awakened in the mind of him to whom those
points of light indicate the existence of an infinite space; and of
suns, and worlds, and systems without number, and at distances which
cause the wing of the strongest imagination to flag! How different the
emotions produced by the comet now, as it returns at its predicted
period, from those excited as it fired

            "the length of Ophiucus huge
  In the Arctic sky, and, from his horrid hair,"

was supposed to shake "pestilence and war!" As, therefore, he who cannot
see beyond the stars as they appear to the sense, must lose by far the
highest pleasure which they are adapted as objects of taste to give; so
he who knows the physical structure of the universe, and who yet does
not see in it, and behind it, an infinite and beneficent Intelligence,
cannot have connected with his view those conceptions which awaken the
highest emotions of beauty and sublimity.

The relations of man to nature are much less intimate than those of God,
and yet our emotions in view of nature are greatly modified by the view
which we take of _His_ dignity and moral character. It was when Hamlet
supposed there was foul corruption and a general want of principle in
society, that "this goodly frame, the earth," seemed to him but "a
steril promontory;" "this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this
brave o'erhanging firmament," why, it appeared no other thing to him
"than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors." It was when her
inhabitants were oppressed and degraded, that the natural beauty, which
is still as bright as ever on the shores of Greece, seemed in the eye of
the poet but as

            "The loveliness in death
  That parts not quite with parting breath,
  But beauty with that fearful bloom,
  That hue which haunts it to the tomb,
  So coldly sweet, so deadly fair,
  We start, for life is wanting there."
  "'Twas Greece, but living Greece no more."

We must all have felt that a shade of sadness was cast over the face of
nature when we have thought of the passions, and wars, and lust, and
rapine of man, in connexion with her quiet scenes. On the other hand,
were the moral state of the world what we trust it shall one day
be,--did universal purity, and goodness, and love reign,--would not the
sun seem to shine with a more benignant radiance; instead of the thorn,
would there not come up the fir-tree: would not the mountains and hills
break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field clap their

And if the emotions of taste are thus modified by our views of man, how
much more must they be by those respecting God! How must a blank atheism
hang the heavens in sackcloth, and cover the earth with a pall, and turn
the mute promisings of nature into a mockery, and make of her mighty
fabric one great charnel-house of death, without the hope of a
resurrection! On the other hand, how must the beauty and sublimity of
nature and of the universe be heightened, the moment we perceive them in
their connexion with God! Nothing is more common than to hear those, who
emerge from that practical atheism in which most men live, speak of the
new perceptions of beauty and sublimity with which they look upon the
works of nature:--

  "In that blest moment, Nature, throwing wide
  Her veil opaque, discloses, with a smile,
  The Author of her beauties, who, retired
  Behind his own creation, works unseen
  By the _impure_, and hears his power denied."

All our investigations into nature show that man has no faculties to
which there are not corresponding and adequate objects. As infinite as
he is in reason, yet the works of God are not exhausted by the
operations of that reason. No intellectual Alexander ever sat down and
wept for the want of more worlds to conquer. As vast as is his
imagination, the revelations of astronomy, as sober facts, go beyond any
thing that the imagination had conceived. And is it so, that, in the
region of taste alone, the faculties of man have no adequate object? But
it is only when nature, like the Bible, is seen to be full of God, that
she is clothed with her true sublimity. It is only when "the heavens
declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handy work," that
they correspond to the highest conceptions either of the taste or of the
intellect. Man rests in the Infinite alone, and the universe without a
God is not in harmony with his constitution, even when he is considered
as endowed with taste only. But if our views on moral subjects thus
modify the emotions of taste, it cannot be doubted that those emotions
react upon our moral views, tending to elevate and purify them.

I remark again, that the emotions of taste are favorable to morals,
because they are disinterested. As admiration becomes intense, men
forget themselves, and, in proportion as they thus find enjoyment, they
are prepared for that higher enjoyment which a disinterested performance
of duty brings with it. Whenever we see excellence in another, we are
bound to admire it without reference to sect or party; and admiration,
thus bestowed, is almost always connected with a high moral character.
The beauty who can truly forget herself in her admiration for another,
deserves admiration for qualities far higher and nobler than beauty.

I only observe further, that a cultivated taste is favorable to morals,
because the cultivation of one of our powers has a tendency to
strengthen the rest.--This, I know, is disputed, and it is even supposed
that the union of certain powers in any high degree is impossible. Thus,
it is often supposed that a remarkable memory and a sound judgment do
not go together; and it must be confessed that the memory may be so
cultivated as not to strengthen the judgment. But when I speak of
cultivating a faculty, I mean cultivating it on correct principles and
with reference to the end for which it was given. Those who remember
events as isolated, or only as they are connected by the relations of
time and place, and who do not see and remember them as connected by the
relations of cause and effect, means and end, premises and conclusion,
do not, by such an exercise of the memory, strengthen the judgment,
though they certainly show that it has great need of being strengthened.
Of what possible use can it be, to the forming of a correct judgment on
any point, for a good woman to remember the precise age of every child
in the neighborhood? It is these walking chronicles, these living
almanacs, who will tell you the weather for all time past, if not for
all time to come, who get the credit of having great memories and little
judgment. But such a memory is, to one cultivated on correct principles,
only what a room full of minerals and birds and fish and insects and
rubbish, promiscuously tumbled together, is to a well-arranged museum.
Who does not know that experience is the best enlightener of the
judgment?--And where does experience garner her stores but in the
memory? It is obvious that he who has the best memory of past events, in
their true connexions, will have the best possible materials for forming
a judgment of the future. The same opposition is generally supposed to
exist between the imagination and the judgment. But it occasionally
happens that an individual, like Edmund Burke, unites the most gorgeous
imagination with the profoundest judgment; and then it is seen that the
analogies which the imagination suggests yield important lights to the
judgment instead of misleading it. I know that the imagination, striking
its roots into the hotbed of novel-reading, may overtop the judgment;
but, judiciously cultivated, I contend that it is not unfavorable to the
judgment. And if, in these cases, a judicious cultivation of one power
tends to strengthen the other, much more will the cultivation of taste
have a favorable tendency upon the moral nature, since these departments
of the mind have never been supposed to be in opposition, but are, as we
have seen, closely allied to each other.

But all this time it has probably been objected that, however plausible
the reasoning may be on this subject, it is yet contrary to experience.
If it were so, it might perhaps be said of it, as was said by Euler of a
demonstrated property of the arch, "this is contrary to all experience,
but is nevertheless true:"--it is so in the nature of things, but the
materials are refractory. But let us see how far it is contrary to
experience; or rather, whether we cannot, so far as it is thus contrary,
satisfactorily account for it.

In order to this, we must make, as it seems to me, three important
distinctions. And, first, we must distinguish between taste considered
as a power of judging, and as a susceptibility to emotion. This
distinction is often overlooked. Mr. Blair, for instance, defines taste
to be, "the power of receiving pleasure or pain from the beauties or
deformities of nature and of art;" in which, regard is had to the
susceptibility only. But afterwards, when contrasting taste with genius,
he says--"Taste is the power of judging, genius is the power of
executing;" in which the susceptibility to emotion is left out of sight.
Can I make this distinction obvious? When an unpractised person sees for
the first time a grand historical picture, or reads a beautiful poem, he
gives himself up to the emotion; he is absorbed; he takes no note of
time; he forgets where he is, and neither knows nor cares why he is
pleased. The eye drinks in beauty as the thirsty man the cold water, and
it refreshes the soul. He sees the picture, or reads the poem, again and
again, and at length sits down to give an account to a friend of that
which had pleased him. Now, he wishes to state the reasons why he was
pleased, and he begins to inquire what those qualities were which
produced the effect. Here is the rudiment of philosophical criticism,
and he goes on perhaps investigating, till he discovers those general
principles of taste according to which the work was executed. As long,
however, as his mind is thus occupied in analyzing, he feels no emotion
of beauty or sublimity. But as this is an enticing species of logic, he
may follow it till a work of art shall give him pleasure only by its
conformity to certain principles, true or false, which he may have
established for himself, and till he becomes a cold critic, or perhaps a
reviewer by trade. He may become a mere teller in the bank of taste, to
pronounce on what is genuine, and hand it over to others to be used and
enjoyed. Now, a man who writes a skilful review of a work of genius, and
tells us why we are or ought to be pleased, is supposed to be a man of
taste; and the writing of the review is considered as an exercise of
taste. This is true of taste considered as a power of judging, but not
as a power of feeling. If it were so, the mass of men would be in a
pitiable condition. God no more intended that the uninitiated should
wait to be pleased with the beauty which they see, until its principles
are analyzed, and they are told when and why they ought to be pleased,
than He intended they should wait to be cheered and warmed by the rays
of the sun, till they should see light decomposed into the seven colors
of the prismatic image. But it is by cherishing and keeping alive these
universal emotions, which belong to the race, and which find excitement
everywhere, that I suppose there is a healthful effect produced on the
moral character. The power of genuine philosophical criticism; the power
of going back, if I may so express it, into the workshop of nature, and
seeing how she mixes her colors, is a rare, a valuable and a dignified
power; but it is still an exercise of the intellect, and I am not aware
that it has any peculiarly favorable effect upon the moral character.
Indeed, when literature and the fine arts become fashionable, and much
the subject of conversation, there is a vast deal of this kind of
criticism, which is fallen into from imitation and vanity, and which can
have no good effect upon morals except as it supplies the place of
scandal. It is not, then, in an egotistical and vain community, who read
works of genius, and look at pictures, not to admire and enjoy them, but
that they may themselves talk about them and be admired, that any good
effect upon the moral character is to be expected from the prevalence of
what they are pleased to call taste. How far this comes to be the case
with communities in which taste is said to be prevalent, and morals are
corrupt, I leave others to judge.

The second distinction which I would make, is that between the
cultivation of a taste for the fine arts and for natural objects. This I
consider a distinction of much importance on this subject; and I propose
to give some reasons why the cultivation of the fine arts--as painting,
sculpture, architecture, poetry--has less tendency than a taste for
natural objects to improve the character. This I am bound to do; because
it is well known that certain nations, as the Spartans and ancient
Romans, considered a taste for the fine arts as having a tendency to
corrupt morals; and some of the sterner moralists of modern times,
especially religious moralists, have objected to it on the same ground.
It must also be conceded that those nations, as the Greeks and Italians,
among whom these arts have flourished most, have been exceedingly
corrupt, and that that corruption has co-existed with an advanced state
of the arts in question.

And, first, I remark, that a taste for the fine arts cannot be general
in a community of any considerable extent. If we suppose such a taste,
when formed, to have a tendency to improve the morals, yet how few, in a
country like ours, have an opportunity to form it! The products of the
arts are to be found, for the most part, only in cities; and of the
inhabitants of cities, it is only those who have leisure and wealth, who
are affected by them. It ought also to be observed that, as these arts
do not come to perfection in the early stages of society, they cannot
produce their effect till wealth and luxury have had time to work
general corruption.

But I observe again that, as the power either of executing or of judging
in these arts is confined to comparatively a few, it becomes a mark of
distinction and a ground of ostentation, and thus there comes to be the
appearance of more taste than there really is. The artist finds himself
a candidate for fame and wealth through his skill, and hence his
passions are aroused and his interests are involved. If successful, he
is flattered, perhaps almost deified; if unsuccessful, he becomes
irritable and sinks back on the proud consciousness of neglected merit.
This peculiar position will account for the bad character of many
artists. Those also who _patronize_ the arts, as it is significantly
termed, often do it from ostentation. What better resource has an
ordinary person who has money, and who wishes to be distinguished in the
fashionable world, than to become a patron of the fine arts? I knew a
person who spent several thousand dollars for pictures, and who, to my
certain knowledge, knew and cared nothing about them except as they
affected her standing in the fashionable world. But of those who have a
good degree of taste, there are few whose motives are not mixed. And
then it is to be remembered, that a product of art may be viewed in many
different aspects. It may be regarded as costing so much, as requiring
such a frame, or to be placed in such a light, or as an ornamental piece
of furniture, while there is but a single point of view in which it can
be regarded as gratifying taste. The moment a picture comes to be
considered as an ornament, or an article of furniture, you might as well
have a looking-glass or a pier-table. It not unfrequently happens, that
the owner of fine pictures thinks so much of them as ornamental or
valuable, so much of their framing, or light, or preservation, that he
becomes indifferent to them in the only point of view in which they are
truly valuable.

But again, in order to see this point in its true light we must consider
the peculiar rank which is held by the pleasures connected with the fine
arts. These pleasures are addressed to the eye and to the ear, and hold
a middle rank between the lower pleasures of sense on the one hand, and
the higher enjoyments of the intellect and of the affections on the
other; and may readily associate with, and promote either. This point is
well stated by Lord Kames. It is observed by him, that "in touching,
tasting, and smelling, we are sensible of the impression made upon the
organ, and are led to place there the pleasant or painful feeling caused
by that impression;" but that with respect to hearing and seeing, "we
are insensible to the organic impression, and hence conceive the
pleasures derived from these senses to be more refined and spiritual
than those which seem to exist externally at the organ of sense, and
which are conceived to be merely corporeal. These pleasures," says he,
"being sweet and moderately exhilarating, are, in their tone, equally
distant from the turbulence of passion and the languor of indolence, and
by that tone are perfectly well qualified not only to revive the spirits
when sunk by sensual gratification, but also to relax them when
overstrained in any violent pursuit." "Organic pleasures," he observes
again, "have naturally a short duration; when prolonged, they lose their
relish; when indulged to excess, they beget satiety and disgust; and to
restore a proper tone of mind, nothing can be more happily contrived
than the exhilarating pleasures of the eye and ear." Now this is
precisely the use, and all the use that many make of the fine arts, and
I may add, to some extent of the beauties of nature too. How many
wealthy sensualists are there in our cities who give an appearance of
elevation and refinement to their low and selfish mode of life, by
collecting about them specimens of the arts! These men may be best
compared to that amphibious animal, the frog. They come up occasionally
from that lower element in which they live, into a region of light and
beauty, but no sooner are they a little refreshed than they plunge again
into the mud of sensual gratification. It is men like these, who, when
their capacity for the lower pleasures is exhausted, drive in their
carriages about the cities of the old world (perhaps we are not yet
sufficiently corrupt,) and set up to be _virtuosi_. It is easy to see
how such a taste must bear upon morals.

But I remark once more, that the fine arts may be made to pander
directly to vice. From the middle rank which the pleasures derived from
them hold, they readily associate, as has been said, both with the
higher and the lower. Thus, music may quicken the devotions of a seraph,
and lend its strains to cheer the carousals of the bacchanal; and
poetry, painting and sculpture, while they have power to elevate, and
charm, and purify the mind, may be made direct stimulants to the vilest
and lowest passions. It is indeed from this quarter that we are to look
for danger from the prevalence of these arts. It was thus that they
corrupted the ancient cities; and those who have seen the abominable
statuary dug from the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, do not wonder
that they were buried under a sea of fire. The same process of
corruption through these arts has gone to a fearful extent on the
eastern continent, and has commenced in this country. Clothed in this
garment of light, vice finds access where it otherwise could not. Under
the pretence of promoting the fine arts, modesty is cast aside, and
indecent pictures are exhibited, and respectable people go to see them.
If I might utter a word of warning to the young, it would be to beware
of vice dressed in the garments of taste. The beauties of nature are
capable of no such perversion. All the associations connected with them
tend to elevate and to purify the mind. No case can be adduced in which
a taste for gardening or for natural objects has corrupted a people.
While, therefore, I believe that the cultivation of the arts, in their
genuine spirit of beauty and of purity, has a tendency to improve the
character, it would appear that they are greatly liable to abuse, and
that they have been extensively abused.

But though I may thus dispose of the general objection from the
co-existence in many cases of refinement in the arts and corrupt morals,
yet this, I think, will not fully meet the objection which first arose
in the minds of some, from those numerous individual instances in which
men have been eminent for taste and genius, and at the same time
corrupt. What, you have been ready to say, do you make of such a case
as that of Byron? Now I would here make an inquiry, how far, and in what
sense, those productions of genius which have a corrupt tendency are
really consistent with good taste. Take the Don Juan of Byron for
instance. To say nothing of principle, such a work certainly is not
compatible with a correct _moral_ taste. That it is in some sense,
however, a work of taste, cannot be denied; but it seems to me to be
only as a splendid palace, built in a low and fetid morass, is a work of
taste. The palace may be beautiful, but it was in bad taste _to set it
there_. Particular rooms may be elegantly furnished, but still there
comes up from the surrounding marsh a pestilential miasm, and it may be
said of the atmosphere around it, as was said of that around New Orleans
a few autumns since, that "all is beauty and all is death." So far
therefore as these works have a corrupt tendency, they cannot be said to
be in the highest sense consistent with good taste. But still it is said
that corrupt men have produced works of the highest genius and of the
best taste that have had no such tendency. This is granted, but it is to
be accounted for from the fact that men of genius are often men of
strong passions and of wayward and unbalanced minds, and from the
peculiar temptations in which, as I have already said, they are placed.
Taste seems to me to be, to such men, what the music of David was to
Saul,--it charms away the evil spirit, but it is only for a time.

But we now pass to the third distinction which was to be made, and that
is, between a true taste for natural objects and the fine arts, and
what is called taste in the world of fashion. The point of distinction
to which I would draw your attention is well stated by Stewart. "It is
obvious," says he, "that the circumstances which please in the objects
of taste are of two kinds: first, those which are fitted to please by
nature, or by associations which all mankind are led to form by their
common condition; and secondly, those which please in consequence of
associations arising from local and accidental circumstances. Hence
there are two kinds of taste; the one enabling us to judge of those
beauties which have a foundation in the human constitution; the other,
of such objects as derive their principal recommendation from the
influence of fashion. These two kinds of taste are not always united in
the same person; indeed, I am inclined to think that they are united but
rarely. The perfection of the one depends much on the degree in which we
are able to free the mind from the influence of casual associations;
that of the other, on the contrary, depends on a faculty of association
which enables us to fall in at once with all the turns of the fashion,
and, as Shakspeare expresses it, to catch the tune of the times."
Association is the sole foundation of the value which we put upon some
articles, and of the beauty which we find in others. Thus, a lock of
hair, valueless in itself, may, from associations connected with it,
have a value which money cannot measure; and articles of dress, which
would otherwise be to us indifferent, or odious, become beautiful by
their association with those persons whom we have been accustomed to
consider as models of elegance. It is indeed astonishing what an effect
this principle will have upon our feelings; and from looking too
exclusively at facts connected with it, some have been led to doubt
whether there is any such thing as a permanent principle of taste. It
would really seem, that, within the bounds of comfort and decency, both
of which are often outraged by fashion, one mode of dress may come to be
as becoming as another. The wigs, the knee-buckles, the small-clothes,
the long-skirts and cocked-hats of our grandfathers, were as becoming
then, as is now the dress of the present day. Says Sir Joshua Reynolds,
"If an European, when he has cut off his beard, and put false hair on
his head, or bound up his own natural hair in regular hard knots, as
unlike nature as he can possibly make it, and after having rendered them
immovable by the help of the fat of hogs, has covered the whole with
flour, laid on by a machine with the utmost regularity; if, when thus
attired, he issues forth and meets a Cherokee Indian, who has bestowed
as much time at _his_ toilet, and laid on, with equal care and
attention, his yellow and red ochre on particular parts of his forehead
or cheeks, as he judges most becoming; whoever of these two despises the
other for his attention to the fashion of his country; whichever feels
himself provoked to laugh, is the barbarian." Good taste with respect to
the fashions, then, would seem to consist, not in following them, or in
paying them attention, except so far as to avoid attracting notice in
any way by dress; for it is a strong indication, when a person seeks
notice from that, that there is about him little else that is worthy of
notice. The foundation of taste in the fashions, however, being what I
have now stated, it is obvious that a quick perception of their
ever-varying changes and a ready and careful accommodation to them, can
belong, whether in man or woman, only to a mind essentially frivolous;
and that such a taste, if not absolutely incompatible with a perception
of all that is permanently grand and beautiful in the works of God, is
yet seldom connected with it. Such a taste must, of course, rather
injure than promote good morals.

I have now considered taste as exercised indifferently upon any objects
within its appropriate province. It still remains that I should say
something, which I propose to do in another Lecture, on Moral Taste, or
on taste having moral actions for its object.


It was observed on a former occasion, that material objects produce
their effect upon taste chiefly as signs; but it is the opinion of Mr.
Alison, of Mr. Jeffries, and others of high authority on this point,
that it is solely as signs--solely as suggesting intellectual and moral
qualities--that they have an effect. It is quite evident that mere
matter in a chaotic state, or in any state which is not either produced
by mind or such as mind would produce, cannot be beautiful; and hence it
is said that it can be beautiful only as a means of indicating qualities
that do not belong to itself.

The great difficulty which this theory has to encounter arises from the
apparent instantaneousness with which the emotion seems to arise when a
beautiful object is presented. But this is not a conclusive objection,
because emotions which can arise only from association seem to come in
the same way. How instantaneous, for instance, are the emotions that
throng up when he who has been long on a foreign shore sees, for the
first time, the stars and stripes of his country's flag as it enters the
port where he is;--and yet, these emotions can be awakened by it only as
a link of association with scenes that are past, or as a sign of his
country's presence and protection. I have heard the rainbow adduced as
an instance of an object which produces the emotion of beauty without a
reference to any thing beyond itself. But what was the impression made
by it more than two thousand years ago, upon the mind of one who had no
theory to maintain?--"Look upon the rainbow," says he, "and praise Him
that made it: very beautiful it is in the brightness thereof. It
compasseth the heavens about with a glorious circle, and _the hands of
the Most High have bended it_." How apparently instantaneous, yet how
different, are our emotions when looking at the cheek flushed by the
bloom of health, or suffused by the blush of shame, or reddened by
anger, or wearing that hectic flush which is the flag of distress held
out by nature when she is sinking in consumption!--And yet no one can
doubt, if these indications were reversed, that the emotions would be
reversed also. It is conceded by all, that it is the expression, the
indication of mental and moral qualities, that gives its highest beauty
to the human countenance. There are no features which may not be so
lighted up with noble or tender emotion as to be beautiful. But is
there, it will be asked, _no_ beauty in any combination of features, or
of matter, except as connected with expression? I am inclined to think
there is what may be called an instinctive beauty on the perception of
certain colors and forms; but it is of little value compared with that
of which a rational and reflective being can give an account to himself.
Even this, however, presupposes the action of mind upon matter, though
that action is not recognized by us as the cause of our emotion. It is
therefore still true that, as the beauty of the early morning is
produced solely by a reflexion from the sun while he is still below the
horizon, so the beauty of matter is wholly a reflexion from that great
central orb of mind which has never yet beamed upon the eye of man in
its direct effulgence--that, to him who views it aright, the beauty of
this world is but the morning twilight of heaven.

But, however this question may be decided, the fact that it can be made
a question at all, shows how largely moral ideas and emotions enter into
the province of taste, and the intimate connexion there is between taste
and morals. What is called moral taste is, in fact, discriminated from
taste in general, only as it has the moral actions of free and
intelligent agents for its object. When we look at a moral action, there
is a plain difference between our perception of it as right, and our
perception of it as beautiful. In one case there arises the feeling of
_approbation_, in the other of _admiration_, which are entirely
distinct, and may exist in very different proportions.

It is, indeed, not always easy to distinguish the point at which
approbation and admiration run into each other; and in treating of this
subject, I shall first say a few words of that border-ground between
taste and morals where the dividing line seems to be unsettled. Where,
for example, shall we place that feeling which we have in view of the
manner of doing a thing, in distinction from the thing done? Is that
feeling merely the result of taste, or are there mingled with it some
elements of moral approbation or disapprobation? Where will you place a
mean action in distinction from a dishonest one? I have heard it
disputed whether neatness is a virtue, a matter of moral obligation, or
merely a requisition of taste. Is a man under moral obligation to be
neat in his person? It is along this dividing line that all those
actions lie which relate to the proprieties and courtesies of life--all
those smaller attentions to the convenience and comfort of others, and
that delicate regard to their feelings, which have been designated by
the French as the smaller morals.

In regard to this very extensive, and therefore important department of
human conduct, there seem to be two common mistakes. The first consists
in disregarding it altogether. There are many men whose characters, in
their sketching and outline, are fine, and which, seen at a distance,
appear well; but on approaching them, they seem coarse and very
imperfect. In all the great duties of life they appear to advantage; but
through negligence, or some greater failing, the minor duties, and
especially the department of manners, is entirely neglected. They seem
like stately trees, in the trunk and main branches of which the sap
circulates vigorously, but does not reach and animate the smaller twigs,
and give to the leaves their perfect green.

A second, and more common mistake, is the giving up of this department
to the control of taste under the guidance of selfishness. The manners
are polished, and all the forms of politeness adopted, not for the
purpose of making others happy, but of securing to ourselves their
esteem, and of effecting our own ends in life. This is the school of
manners recommended by Chesterfield, and young persons are often
exhorted to pay attention to their manners on this ground. In this case
the sap does not circulate at all, and the leaves are painted.

But to me it seems, that this whole class of actions falls within the
province of morality. Wherever human happiness is concerned, there is
room for principle to operate, and the constitution of society will
never be sound, and its beauty will never be perfect, till the sap of
principle circulates to the extremities of human action. The true polish
and beauty of society can result only from the principle of benevolence
showing itself in a graceful and practical attention to the minor wants
and to the feelings of others. But whatever we may decide in regard to
their respective limits in this department, it is obvious that taste, so
far as it goes, must be favorable to morals.

We now pass to what is indisputably the province of morals. And here our
first inquiry will be, what are the circumstances under which the
emotions of taste are awakened by moral actions? In reply to this
inquiry I observe, that the emotion of beauty, leaving sublimity for the
present out of the question, is awakened by a moral action chiefly,
and perhaps solely, when it springs from the principle of duty acting in
coincidence with the desires, the affections, or some other natural and
inferior principle of action. This point is of practical importance, and
requires illustration. Man, as we all know, has various principles of
action,--such as instincts, desires, affections, passions. These may
impel him to a course of action directly opposed to that indicated by a
sense of duty, and they may also lead him to perform the same actions as
are dictated by it; and the position is, that moral beauty arises when
there is a partial or entire coincidence between the principle of duty
and these inferior powers.

That this is so is evident, because there are many actions which are
right, which are imperatively required by duty, which yet do not awaken
in the mind of the impartial spectator any admiration--for we must here
keep in mind the distinction already made between admiration and
approbation. The simple payment of a debt, for example, does not awaken
any admiration, though we approve the act and should strongly condemn
him who should not do it when it was in his power. In this case, there
can be mingled with the performance of duty no play of the generous
emotions. He who performs all his actions solely from a sense of duty,
has our approbation, our respect; but he who, in addition to this, is
possessed of warm affections, which always coincide in their promptings
with what is right, has also our admiration and love. Duty is to the
affections, in the conduct of life, what logic is to rhetoric in a
discourse. Logic forms an excellent body for a discourse; we assent to
it, we approve it, it is good, all good, but it awakens no admiration.
It is not till rhetoric sends its warm life-blood to mantle on the cold
cheek of logic, and clothes its angular form in the garments of taste,
that we begin to admire the discourse. And so it is with duty. It is an
excellent body to the course of our conduct in life; nothing else will
do, but it may be so performed as to appear unamiable and even
repulsive. In order to be beautiful, there must be connected with it
some manifestation of natural affection or graceful emotion.

And here I may remark, that though we have a right to expect of every
man that he will do his duty, yet the display of this beauty is not
equally within the power of all, since the existence and manifestation
of emotion depend, to some extent, upon the temperament. As there are
some who have naturally a meagre intellect, so there are others whose
minds seem to be barren of those finer sympathies and affections of our
nature which are the verdure of the soul, and upon which the eye always
rests with pleasure. The characters of some good men are dry and
unattractive. They are harsh, and hard-visaged, and seem too much like
wooden men, moved by rule and calculation. Such persons often seem
better, and worse, than they really are. Their freedom from
extravagancies on the one hand, and on the other, that want of feeling
which is wrongly termed by many hardness of heart, is equally the result
of temperament.

That the doctrine which I now advocate is correct, appears also from the
effect produced upon our feelings when we observe habit taking the place
of sentiment in the performance of duty. We have all seen persons enter
upon a course of virtuous activity, and continue it for a time from a
sense of duty, sustained by ardent feeling; but after a time the feeling
has died away, and there has come in its stead habit, or a regard to
consistency, to sustain the sense of duty in keeping up the same course
of external action. When this change has taken place, we are all
conscious that the beauty of the conduct is greatly diminished;--its
spirit has vanished; the dew of its youth is exhaled.

I said that this was a practical point, and I now wish to show, in
connexion with it, precisely how it is that mischief arises from the
perversion of moral taste; as was shown, in the former Lecture, how it
arises from its perversion in other things. In opposition to the hard
and dry characters mentioned above, there are those whose
susceptibilities are acute, whose sympathies are quick, whose feelings
are generous, whose affections are ardent, who do every thing so
promptly and so heartily that impulse seems almost to supply the place
of principle. There is something very attractive in a character of this
kind; there is an ease and freedom about it which seems to put aside all
labor of calculation, and it moreover exhibits our nature in the
pleasing garb of natural goodness. It is for this reason that novelists,
who draw men as they wish to have them, and not as they are, have
almost universally made these fine instincts of humanity the guide of
their hero, and the basis of his character. This is, indeed, if I
understand it, the basis of this kind of literature, and one chief
source of the injury it produces. The exhibition of these instincts, and
affections, and emotions, springing up at random and acting without the
control of principle, holds out no stimulus to exertion; and their
possession and exercise is often in fact, and often too in books,
connected with great corruption of moral character.

Taking, therefore, as the main ingredient in the character of those who
are to make the chief figure in this kind of writing, what Miss
Martineau calls _spontaneousness_, and which she and a certain wise
friend of hers in Boston thought should by all means be encouraged and
_reverenced_, we may mix the other materials somewhat to our taste. An
excellent and much-approved receipt for the hero of a novel is the
following:--1st. Make him handsome, for beauty is to the body what
spontaneousness is to the mind, a sort of physical spontaneousness. Or,
if you do not make him handsome, do what amounts to much the same thing,
give him an _air_; let him have something about him that is peculiar, so
that those who scan him closely may observe, under those apparently
indifferent features, a certain something, a sign of the fire that is
slumbering within. 2d. If you find it necessary, for fashion's sake, to
put him at school, or at any place for study, make him idle, generous,
somewhat mischievous, a great hater of mathematics, (for, so far as my
knowledge extends, no hero of a novel ever yet knew any thing about
mathematics,) give him some whimsical pursuit for the hours when he
chooses to do any thing, and then make him speak, as he has occasion,
Italian, French and Spanish, which he learned by instinct. 3d. _Make him
act from impulse, and not from principle, and get him into difficulty
through the influence of these same generous impulses._ It is on
difficulties thus created that the plot must turn. 4th. Get him in love.
5th. Make him run a gauntlet of difficulties a volume and a half long,
furnishing a new illustration of that old adage, "the course of true
love never did run smooth." 6th. Marry him, and let him live many years
in perfect felicity.

We commonly hear it said, that the chief mischief of novel-reading
arises from the false pictures of life which novels present. This is
doubtless a source of no small mischief; but in my view, a much greater
evil arises from their holding up, directly or indirectly, false
principles of action, and casting contempt upon the true; from their
leading young persons to admire that which they esteem graceful rather
than that which is respectable and right in the conduct of life. There
is in those works an unnatural separation made between the principle of
virtue and that which gives to virtue its beauty; and principle is
represented as formal and cold, and perhaps ridiculous. Prudence,
especially, is a virtue which no heroine of a novel must ever be guilty
of. In a recent work, which deserves great credit for avoiding the
general fault just mentioned, we are yet told that prudence was a
virtue for which the heroine was never famous, and a slight odium is
cast upon the virtue itself by making it appear, in the rival of the
heroine, somewhat stiff and pragmatical.

It is thus that these works awaken extensively, in the minds of the
young, associations unfavorable to the sterner and sterling virtues; and
in many cases, these amiable qualities are so associated with vice as to
render it attractive. It is thus that we are presented by popular
novelists--and in such a manner as I know carries along the sympathies
of many young men, while their imaginations are rendered familiar with
the haunts of vice--with gentlemen robbers who rob in style; who are so
generous that they never rob the poor; who never shed human blood if
people will give up their money without it; and if they are occasionally
obliged to blow out the brains of some agent of the law, they are really
sorry for it, though they do not see how such impertinent fellows could
expect any thing better. It is thus that the impression is received,
that a certain class of impulses is sufficient to secure success in
life, and even to excuse the want of principle; and young men with their
heads full of pictures, not perhaps so bad as this, yet fundamentally
the same, rush eagerly into life without fixed principles and fixed

To him who is without experience, there is no sight more beautiful than
that of a young man of an ingenuous nature entering upon life, and
resting upon his own good impulses to keep him from evil. But such a
sight, even when there has been no corruption like that just spoken of,
now causes apprehension in me; for I have seen him who had every thing,
in his person and in his sensibilities, to excite admiration and love,
tarrying long at the wine, and seeking mixed wine; I have seen him going
to that "house" which "is the way to hell;" and therefore it is that I
would utter a solemn protest against any thing which would divorce the
beauty of virtue from the principle of virtue, or which would give an
impression that there is security without fixed principle. Even
"genius," with all these amiable qualities--

                "Yet may lack the aid
  Implored by humble minds and hearts afraid,
  May leave to timid souls the shield and sword
  Of the tried faith and the resistless word;
  Amid a world of dangers venturing forth,
  Frail but yet fearless, proud in conscious worth,
  Till strong temptation, in some fatal time,
  Assails the heart and wins the soul to crime."


      "All that honor brings against the force
      Of headlong passion, aids its rapid course;
      Its slight resistance but provokes the fire,
  As wood-work stops the flame, and then conveys it higher."

With such a basis to the characters presented, it will follow of course,
that the emotions and the sensibilities will be chiefly addressed in
these works, and thus they become the principal means of promoting that
false and selfish sensibility which is so often cultivated in refined
society. This is a more refined species of intemperance, and is to the
mind what intemperance in strong drink is to the body. It causes
excitement for the mere selfish enjoyment produced by it, without
leading to any exertion. And as the grosser species of intemperance is
more common among one sex, so it is to be feared, that this more refined
species is more common among the other; and that for both, circulating
libraries, and other libraries, instead of furnishing wholesome
entertainment, are too often converted into mere intellectual
dram-shops. There are many who seek chiefly for excitement, who have a
constant craving for it, whose emotions and mental sensibilities have
become accustomed to a set of artificial stimulants till they are
sensible to no other, and they become as remorselessly selfish as the
drunkard himself. I would sooner apply for an act of genuine kindness,
one which should reach actual want, to a woman in a log-house, upon the
side of a mountain, surrounded by hungry children, than to the daintiest
young lady whose sensibilities have spindled up and wilted in the
artificial heat of novel-reading. In order to perform the duties of
benevolence and philanthropy, it is indispensable that the sensibilities
should be kept alive to the impressions of misery as it actually
presents itself in all its squalid accompaniments.

  "Sweet are the tears that from a Howard's eye
  Drop on the cheek of one he lifts from earth;
  And he who works me good with unmoved face,
  Does it but half; he chills me while he aids,
  My benefactor, not my fellow-man.
  But even this, this cold benevolence,
  Seems worth, seems manhood, when there rise before me
  The sluggard Pity's vision-weaving tribe,
  Who sigh for wretchedness, yet shun the wretched,
  Nursing, in some delicious solitude,
  Their slothful loves and dainty sympathies!"

It was this esteem in which mankind hold the sensibilities and impulses,
this preference of spontaneousness without its connexion with principle,
which gave its popularity to what has been called the sentimental
school--the results of which ought to teach society a lesson not soon to
be forgotten. Concerning this school, it is justly remarked by
Coleridge, that "all the mischief achieved by Hobbes, and the whole
school of materialists, will appear inconsiderable if it be compared
with the mischief effected and occasioned by the sentimental philosophy
of Sterne and his numerous imitators. The vilest appetites, and the most
remorseless inconstancy towards their objects, acquired the title of the
_heart_--the irresistible feelings--the too tender sensibility: and if
the frosts of prudence, the icy chains of human law, thawed and vanished
at the genial warmth of human nature, who _could_ help it? It was an
amiable weakness."

I would here remark, that I have no objection to fictitious writings as
such. There are those to which I do not object. Let them cease, first,
to present false pictures of life: secondly, to array the sensibilities
and associations of the mind against principle: and, thirdly, let them
cease to create and feed a morbid craving for excitement, and to destroy
the balance between the feelings and the judgment: and I shall not
object to them. The mass of these writings, however, do produce each
and all of these effects, and are, so far, indisputably pernicious.

I have been thus particular in pointing out the evils which arise from
arraying what is beautiful and graceful in morals and in conduct against
that which is right, because I do not believe that the community are
sufficiently warned against the mischief it is working, and in many
cases are not perhaps aware of the manner in which it is wrought. Evil
gains advantage over man by dividing him against himself, by bringing
into collision faculties that were intended to work harmoniously
together; and we may regard it as settled, that whoever or whatever
would set up mere impulses, or sensibilities, or emotions, in the place
of the reason and conscience of man, is thus dividing him against
himself. It is with the conscience of man as it is with a king. He may
have his prime minister, who is his chief favorite, and next to himself,
but he must never abandon his power, or suffer the highest subject to
depose him from the throne. The desires and affections are then only
truly beautiful, when they are in ready attendance at the court of their
rightful sovereign.

Having now spoken of the manner in which evil is done by those who care
to please rather than to improve mankind, I cannot leave this part of
the subject without suggesting, to the friends of principle and of
religion, how much, if what has been said is correct, they may do to
counteract this evil by a free, a hearty, a joyful, and therefore an
attractive, mode of doing that which is right. Whence have arisen those
associations of coldness and formality and gloom, as connected with
duty, which haunt the imaginations of many young persons, and which have
just as little existence in reality as other spectres of the night? Is
it not in part from an unnatural austerity, or from a cowardly and
faltering step, a want of freedom and power and beauty in the
exhibitions of virtue and principle on the part of those who profess to
adhere to them? It is not as it should be, when the glad and the
graceful emotions readily spring up by the side of every path that we
walk in except the path of duty. He who marches under the banner of
principle is not only to feel that he is engaged in a good cause, but is
also to see in that cause a beauty which shall be to him what music is
to the soldier, giving cheerfulness to his countenance and alacrity to
his step. His is not indeed to be the unchastened, and reckless, and
merely animal joy that is unconscious of the evil that exists, and that
is to be met; but it is to be the joy of him who, though he is
travelling in a difficult and obscure path, yet sees before him the
bright and steady light of his own happy home. The more those who act
from principle are able to combine, with the most perfect rectitude and
uncompromising faithfulness, the cultivation and play of all the
graceful and tender emotions, the more will they do to promote the cause
in which they labor. I know, and here is the difficulty, that most
virtue is too feeble for this; and I would not that there should be put
on any affectation of freedom or ease. Virtue should move easily and
gracefully only as it is strong, but it should become strong that it
may move easily and gracefully, and thus become to all men as beautiful
as it is obligatory.

It is not a little that the Christian religion has suffered from the
mistakes of its adherents on this point. It had been better if they had
more regarded the spirit of its Founder when He commanded his disciples,
even when they fasted, not to be of a sad countenance, as the hypocrites
were. The impression we get of Paul, notwithstanding his labors and
sufferings, is that he was a happy man. If he was sometimes "sorrowful,"
he was yet "always rejoicing." The movements of his spirit were so ready
and free, in view of the great subjects that filled his mind, that he
reminds us more than any other man of the "rapt seraph that adores and
burns." What is it, indeed, that gives its perfect beauty to our
conception of the worship of heaven? Is it not, that the most perfect
law is there fully obeyed, and is yet no restraint upon the highest and
freest expansion of feeling? It is when this is so, and then only, that
moral beauty is perfect.

We have thus far considered moral beauty only. We now pass to another
branch of our subject, the moral sublime. When speaking on taste in
general, it was not necessary, for any purposes I then had in view, that
I should make a distinction between beauty and sublimity, either as they
exist in themselves, or as they are occasioned by outward objects.
Indeed, it is the opinion of many writers, that there is no radical
distinction between them, but that sublimity is merely the feeling of
beauty heightened. This seems to me doubtful, even in material beauty;
but in our present department, the occasions on which they arise are so
different, that they must be distinguished. It was for this reason that
I treated of beauty by itself.

It has been observed, that the emotion of moral beauty arises when there
is a coincidence between the sense of duty and certain inferior
principles of action. I now observe, that the emotion of moral sublimity
is awakened, when the sense of duty is opposed by inclination, or
affection, or by any or all the inferior principles of action, and
triumphs over them. Its principle consists in a power of self-control
and of self-sacrifice, in those cases in which they are difficult.

The illustration of this point will lead to a further confirmation of
what was said in reference to moral beauty. No sight, for example, can
be more beautiful than that of a family in which there is mutual
attachment, and in which the performance of every duty is sweetened by
affection. How beautiful is the assiduity of a child, who bears with
every infirmity, and soothes every care, and anticipates every want, of
a parent in sickness or in age! It is beautiful, but not sublime. The
conduct of that young man, who labors hard and denies himself the
ordinary pleasures of the young that he may support an aged mother, or
add to her comfort, is highly beautiful; but natural affection
coöperates with a sense of duty, and therefore it is not sublime. No one
has ever considered as sublime the conduct of Æneas, when he bore his
aged father upon his shoulders from the flames of Troy. But when the
ancient Brutus, with a power that was supreme, sat in judgment on his
own son who was accused of being a traitor, and when he gave the sign to
the lictor to take him to execution, then there was a struggle, then
inflexible justice triumphed over natural affection, and it was--not
beautiful, it was too awful for that--but it was sublime. That act of
our Saviour, (if I may be permitted to refer to such a scene in this
connexion,) by which he remembered his mother upon the cross and
provided for her wants, was beautiful--how beautiful! His prayer for his
murderers was sublime. It is, in general, acts of tenderness,
gentleness, condescension, pity, gratitude, humanity, that are
beautiful; while it is, on the other hand, acts of magnanimity, of
fortitude, of inflexible justice, of high patriotism, and, on proper
occasions, of contempt of danger and of death, that are sublime. In all
these latter cases it will be seen that the principle is the same, and
that the sublime emotion is awakened by virtuous self-control, in union
with high resolve.

We hence see why it is that periods of difficulty, and oppression, and
persecution, are favorable to the exhibition of the moral sublime. They
test the amount of attachment to principle which there is among men, and
the sacrifices which they are willing to make for it. Accordingly, it
has been in such emergencies that men have arisen, who, under the
inspiration of the great principles of civil and religious liberty,
have been ready to go in the face of every danger, wherever their duty
should call them; as Luther was determined to go to the diet of Worms,
though he should find as many devils in that city as there were tiles
upon the houses. These are the men, who, though they have been opposed,
and vilified, and persecuted in their day, have yet received the homage
of after ages; who have stood as the beacon-lights of the world, and
whose names have been the watchword of those who have rallied and struck
for the united reign of liberty and law. Such men have almost always
been in advance of their age, and the people of that age have not
comprehended them. They have reverenced the great men of former times;
they have built the sepulchres of the prophets, but have persecuted
those who were sent unto _them_. It is not therefore surprising that
Seneca has spoken so largely of the benefits of adversity, as alone
giving an opportunity for the display of the heroic virtues, and has
said that a good man, struggling with adversity, was a spectacle worthy
of the gods.

But it is not necessary to the existence, though it may be to the
exhibition, of moral heroism, that we should be placed in circumstances
of external adversity. Wherever there is moral combat, there may be
moral sublimity, and this combat is necessary for the accomplishment of
that triumph which every man is called to gain over himself. The force
and grandeur of virtue are then seen when we sacrifice to it our
appetites, our avarice, our pride, our vanity, our ambition, our
resentments, till every evil passion is brought into subjection to
reason and conscience.

Such being the nature of the moral sublime, it is obvious that there is
much less danger to morals from its perversion than from the perversion
of the beautiful. There is here no natural passion to come in as an ally
of principle; and which may take the place of it, but it is duty
struggling single-handed, and triumphing over all the might of external
nature, and all the force of human propensity. Virtue may indeed exist
in perfect serenity, and be exercised without an obstacle; but in this
world, and it is that which makes it a place of probation, there is
little virtue except on the condition of struggling against and
overcoming inclination or passion. If we succeed in this struggle, we
feel in our own breasts a peace which is not only present happiness, but
the promise of future reward; and we awaken in the breasts of others the
emotions of moral sympathy, of approbation, of sublimity in its highest
forms, till they are ready to welcome us with acclaim, and we find that
virtue is not only happiness, but is also "glory, and honor, and

But though moral beauty and sublimity are so different in their nature
and in the occasions on which they arise, it must not be supposed that
they do not often blend with each other in actual life. The general
course of Howard, for instance, being in accordance with the dictates of
humanity, had great moral beauty, and yet the sacrifices which he made
were often so great as to cause that course to partake of the moral

If the account of moral taste, now given, be correct, the analysis of
the subject is the only argument needed. Its cultivation must, of
course, be favorable to morals, since it would lead, in its perfect
state, to the same course of conduct as would be required by principle.
There is, indeed, a whole school of philosophers, that of Shaftesbury,
who have looked upon virtue, and have recommended it, as beautiful
rather than as obligatory; who have regarded it as a sentiment rather
than a principle; and whose writings have been calculated to awaken
enthusiasm in the cause of virtue, but not to give it its proper
sanctions. So far, however, as this class of feelings would lead us, it
is in the direct path of virtue, and they may, no doubt, be so
cultivated, and especially by the young, as to furnish efficient aid to
the principle of duty. Perhaps few persons, rightly educated, are aware
how many wrong actions they avoid with the greater care because they are
also mean; how many right actions they perform with the greater
readiness because they are in accordance with the requisitions of a
cultivated moral taste. Considered as a principle of action, such a
taste provides an effectual security against the grossness connected
with many vices, and cherishes a temper of mind friendly to all that is
amiable, or generous, or elevated in our nature. While, therefore, we
regard taste as an important ally to the sense of duty, we are not to
rely chiefly upon it. It would need stability, and would be constantly
liable to be led astray by the influence of fashion, or of casual
association. We may however do more, we should do more to combine them;
to unite taste and principle in the conduct of life; to do, ourselves,
and to lead others to do, what is becoming, as well as what is right.

Man is capable of forming to himself an ideal model, of embodying a
conception of excellence such as he has never seen, and of acting with
reference to it. It is this which renders him capable of progression;
and one great reason why men are stationary, is, that they have in their
minds no fixed and definite standard of excellence after which they are
reaching. Young men, to whom I speak, here is the point at which many of
you doubtless fail. You are borne on by the current, and form to
yourselves no worthy object of pursuit, after which you bring
yourselves, by self-discipline, steadily to labor. But without doing
this, no man ever yet exerted a high and worthy influence; no man ever
can. Permit me then to propose to you, in your capacity as social
beings, an object after which you may thus strive. It is the combination
of perfect moral principle with perfect simplicity and refinement of
manners--the union, in the conduct of life, of Morals and Taste.

There remains but a single consideration which I shall adduce, to show
that there is the connexion between taste and morals for which I
contend. It is, that we naturally associate with goodness, beauty of
form; and that in a perfect state, we conceive of goodness as surrounded
by objects that are pleasing to the taste. Perhaps this may not have
been noticed by all, but a little attention to what passes in our own
minds will convince us that it is so. This natural association of beauty
and goodness perhaps arises from the fact, that every indication of
goodness as expressed in the countenance is pleasing, and may be
heightened into beauty. It is surprising how soon we come to regard as
pleasing, the most ordinary features, when we have associated with them
a fund of good qualities; or rather, the features soon become like the
letters of a book, which we regard only for the meaning they convey. As
I have said before, no features are so ordinary that they may not come
to appear to us beautiful by the expression of good qualities; and if I
may suppose, which I would by no means assert, that there are any homely
persons present, I would congratulate them on the inducements they have
to cultivate the only beauty that is permanent, or that can be the
foundation of lasting attachment.

Not only however may homely features become beautiful by their
expression, but we have, I think, a natural association of positive
beauty as connected with the goodness which we have not seen, and of
positive deformity as connected with vice. When we read of good men
even, we regard them as having something in their appearance
corresponding with their character, and no man, I am sure, can suppose
that Benedict Arnold had a countenance that was pleasant to look upon.
But what is conclusive on this point is, that no man ever conceived of
Satan in his proper form, as beautiful, or ever conceived of an angel,
except as clothed in light and beauty.

It is this natural supposition of the connexion of beauty of mind with
beauty of form, that gives its plausibility and point to a dream of Sir
Isaac Bickerstaff, as related in one of the Tattlers. He seemed to
himself to be in an open plain, surrounded by an immense assembly of
females, in the midst of whom the goddess of justice sat enthroned, and
holding in her hand a mirror of such peculiar properties as to reflect
the faces of those who looked into it in exact correspondence with their
characters. This mirror was held up and turned before the assembly, and
the effect may well be imagined. Some beautiful women had the
satisfaction of seeing their faces become still more beautiful, while
many more were shocked to see themselves converted into perfect frights.
Some who were homely before, became still more so; while many unassuming
and modest persons, who had never dreamed of being handsome, and so had
sought the approbation of their own consciences, were surprised to see
how their faces were brightened up. There was however one face, which
seemed to beam with a celestial radiance, and was so surprisingly
beautiful that Sir Isaac determined at once on making proposals to the
lady, if he could but ascertain to whom it belonged. This, by careful
attention, he was soon enabled to do, and found that it was a little,
grey-headed, wrinkled old woman who stood by his side.

There is something ludicrous in the manner in which this is set forth,
but it involves a most serious and pleasing truth. It is as much a part
of the disorders of the present state of things, that goodness is ever
connected with any thing but beauty, as it is that virtue is depressed
while vice triumphs. In a perfect organization and state of things,
matter would be entirely flexible to the action of spirit, and, of
course, intellectual and moral beauty, as well as their opposites, must
stamp their impress perfectly on the features. This we believe will be
the case when the physical nature of man shall be reorganized, and the
good shall not only be beautiful, but, as I have already remarked that
we are naturally led to expect, shall be surrounded with all those
objects that are pleasing to the taste. That these expectations are
natural may be shown from the writings of all the heathen poets, and it
is pleasing to observe how perfectly they coincide with the
representations of the Scriptures on this point. We are there taught,
not only that the righteous shall shine forth as the sun, but their
dwelling-place is described as a city whose foundations are garnished
with all manner of precious stones, whose streets are of pure gold, and
whose gates are of pearl.

Thus, as we associate with royalty its regalia, so do we associate with
goodness, beauty, which seems to be its natural appendage; and not only
in the Scriptures, but also in our own constitution, do we find a
promise, that Goodness and Beauty shall be finally and forever united.


  Text in italics is surrounded with underscores: _italics_.

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