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INTRODUCTION<1> - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Elements of Criticism, vol. 1 
Elements of Criticism, Edited and with an Introduction by Peter Jones (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). 2 vols. Vol. 1.
Part of: Elements of Criticism, 2 vols.
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That nothing external is perceived till first it make an impression upon the organ of sense, is an observation that holds equally in every one of the external senses. But there is a difference as to our knowledge of that impression: in touching, tasting, and smelling, we are sensible of the impression;1 that, for example, which is made upon the hand by a stone, upon the palate by an apricot, and upon the nostrils by a rose: it is otherwise in seeing and hearing; for I am not sensible of the impression made upon my eye, when I behold a tree; nor of the impression made upon my ear, when I listen to a song.* That difference in the manner of perceiving external objects, distinguisheth remarkably hearing and seeing from the other senses; and I am ready to show, that it distinguisheth still more remarkably the feelings of the former from those of the latter: every feeling, pleasant or painful, must be in the mind; and yet because in tasting, touching, and smelling, we are sensible of the impression made upon the organ, we are led to place there also the pleasant or painful feeling caused by that impres-<2>sion;† but with respect to seeing and hearing, being insensible of the organic impression, we are not misled to assign a wrong place to the pleasant or painful feelings caused by that impression; and therefore we naturally place them in the mind, where they really are: upon that account, they are conceived to be more refined and spiritual, than what are derived from tasting, touching, and smelling; for the latter feelings, seeming to exist externally at the organ of sense, are conceived to be merely corporeal.
The pleasures of the eye and the ear, being thus elevated above those of the other external senses, acquire so much dignity as to become a laudable entertainment. They are not, however, set on a level with the purely intellectual; being no less inferior in dignity to intellectual pleasures, than superior to the organic or corporeal: they indeed<3> resemble the latter, being, like them, produced by external objects; but they also resemble the former, being, like them, produced without any sensible organic impression. Their mixt nature and middle place between organic and intellectual pleasures, qualify them to associate with both: beauty heightens all the organic feelings, as well as the intellectual: harmony, though it aspires to inflame devotion, disdains not to improve the relish of a banquet.
The pleasures of the eye and the ear, have other valuable properties beside those of dignity and elevation; being sweet and moderately exhilarating, they 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. Here is a remedy provided for many distresses; and to be convinced of its salutary effects, it will be sufficient to run over the following particulars. Organic pleasures 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. On the other hand, any intense exercise of intellectual powers, becomes painful by overstraining the mind: cessation from such exercise gives<4> not instant relief; it is necessary that the void be filled with some amusement, gently relaxing the spirits:* organic pleasure, which hath no relish but while we are in vigour, is ill qualified for that office; but the finer pleasures of sense, which occupy without exhausting the mind, are finely qualified to restore its usual tone after severe application to study or business, as well as after satiety from sensual gratification.
Our first perceptions are of external objects, and our first attachments are to them. Organic pleasures take the lead: but the mind, gradually ripening, relisheth more and more the pleasures of the eye and ear; which approach the purely mental, without exhausting the spirits; and exceed the purely sensual, without danger of satiety. The pleasures of the eye and ear have accordingly a natural aptitude to draw us from the immoderate gratification of sensual appetite; and the mind, once accustomed to enjoy a variety of external objects without being sensible of the organic impression, is prepared for enjoying internal objects where there cannot be an organic impression. Thus the author of nature, by qualifying the human mind for a succession of enjoyments from low to high, leads it by gentle steps from the most grov-<5>eling corporeal pleasures, for which only it is fitted in the beginning of life, to those refined and sublime pleasures that are suited to its maturity.
But we are not bound down to this succession by any law of necessity: the God of nature offers it to us, in order to advance our happiness; and it is sufficient, that he hath enabled us to carry it on in a natural course. Nor has he made our task either disagreeable or difficult: on the contrary, the transition is sweet and easy, from corporeal pleasures to the more refined pleasures of sense; and no less so, from these to the exalted pleasures of morality and religion. We stand therefore engaged in honour as well as interest, to second the purposes of nature, by cultivating the pleasures of the eye and ear, those especially that require extraordinary culture,* such as arise from poetry, painting, sculpture, music, gardening, and architecture. This especially is the duty of the opulent, who have leisure to improve their minds and<6> their feelings. The fine arts are contrived to give pleasure to the eye and the ear, disregarding the inferior senses. A taste for these arts is a plant that grows naturally in many soils; but, without culture, scarce to perfection in any soil: it is susceptible of much refinement; and is, by proper care, greatly improved. In this respect, a taste in the fine arts goes hand in hand with the moral sense, to which indeed it is nearly allied: both of them discover what is right and what is wrong: fashion, temper, and education, have an influence to vitiate both, or to preserve them pure and untainted: neither of them are arbitrary nor local; being rooted in human nature, and governed by principles common to all men. The design of the present undertaking, which aspires not to morality, is, to examine the sensitive branch of human nature, to trace the objects that are naturally agreeable, as well as those that are naturally disagreeable; and by these means to discover, if we can, what are the genuine principles of the fine arts. The man who aspires to be a critic in these arts, must pierce still deeper: he must acquire a clear perception of what objects are lofty, what low, what proper or improper, what manly, and what mean or trivial. Hence a foundation for reasoning upon the taste of any individual, and for passing sentence upon it: where it is conformable to principles, we can pronounce with certainty that it is correct; otherwise, that it is incorrect,<7> and perhaps whimsical. Thus the fine arts, like morals, become a rational science; and, like morals, may be cultivated to a high degree of refinement.
Manifold are the advantages of criticism, when thus studied as a rational science. In the first place, a thorough acquaintance with the principles of the fine arts, redoubles the pleasure we derive from them. To the man who resigns himself to feeling without interposing any judgement, poetry, music, painting, are mere pastime. In the prime of life indeed they are delightful, being supported by the force of novelty, and the heat of imagination: but in time they lose their relish; and are generally neglected in the maturity of life, which disposes to more serious and more important occupations. To those who deal in criticism as a regular science, governed by just principles and giving scope to judgement as well as to fancy, the fine arts are a favourite entertainment; and in old age maintain that relish which they produce in the morning of life.*
In the next place, a philosophic inquiry into the principles of the fine arts, inures the reflecting<8> mind to the most enticing sort of logic: the practice of reasoning upon subjects so agreeable, tends to a habit; and a habit, strengthening the reasoning faculties, prepares the mind for entering into subjects more intricate and abstract. To have, in that respect, a just conception of the importance of criticism, we need but reflect upon the ordinary method of education; which, after some years spent in acquiring languages, hurries us, without the least preparatory discipline, into the most profound philosophy. A more effectual method to alienate the tender mind from abstract science, is beyond the reach of invention: and accordingly, with respect to such speculations, our youth generally contract a sort of hobgoblin terror, seldom if ever subdued. Those who apply to the arts, are trained in a very different manner: they are led, step by step, from the easier parts of the operation, to what are more difficult; and are not permitted to make a new motion, till they are perfected in those which go before. Thus the science of criticism may be considered as a middle link, connecting the different parts of education into a regular chain. This science furnisheth an inviting opportunity to exercise the judgement: we delight to reason upon subjects that are equally pleasant and familiar: we proceed gradually from the simpler to the more involved cases: and in a due course of discipline, custom, which improves all our faculties, bestows acuteness on that of rea-<9>son, sufficient to unravel all the intricacies of philosophy.
Nor ought it to be overlooked, that the reasonings employed on the fine arts are of the same kind with those which regulate our conduct. Mathematical and metaphysical reasonings have no tendency to improve our knowledge of man; nor are they applicable to the common affairs of life: but a just taste of the fine arts, derived from rational principles, furnishes elegant subjects for conversation, and prepares us for acting in the social state with dignity and propriety.
The science of rational criticism tends to improve the heart no less than the understanding. It tends, in the first place, to moderate the selfish affections: by sweetening and harmonizing the temper, it is a strong antidote to the turbulence of passion and violence of pursuit: it procures to a man so much mental enjoyment, that in order to be occupied, he is not tempted to deliver up his youth to hunting, gaming, drinking;* nor his middle age to ambition; nor his old age to avarice. Pride and envy, two disgustful passions, find in the constitution no enemy more formidable than a delicate and<10> discerning taste: the man upon whom nature and culture have bestowed this blessing, delights in the virtuous dispositions and actions of others: he loves to cherish them, and to publish them to the world: faults and failings, it is true, are to him no less obvious; but these he avoids, or removes out of sight, because they give him pain. On the other hand, a man void of taste, upon whom even striking beauties make but a faint impression, indulges pride or envy without controul, and loves to brood over errors and blemishes. In a word, there are other passions, that, upon occasion, may disturb the peace of society more than those mentioned; but not another passion is so unwearied an antagonist to the sweets of social intercourse: pride and envy put a man perpetually in opposition to others; and dispose him to relish bad more than good qualities, even in a companion. How different that disposition of mind, where every virtue in a companion or neighbour, is, by refinement of taste, set in its strongest light; and defects or blemishes, natural to all, are suppressed, or kept out of view!
In the next place, delicacy of taste tends no less to invigorate the social affections, than to moderate those that are selfish. To be convinced of that tendency, we need only reflect, that delicacy of taste necessarily heightens our feeling of pain and pleasure; and of course our sympathy, which is the capital branch of every social passion. Sym-<11>pathy invites a communication of joys and sorrows, hopes and fears: such exercise, soothing and satisfactory in itself, is necessarily productive of mutual good-will and affection.
One other advantage of rational criticism is reserved to the last place, being of all the most important; which is, that it is a great support to morality. I insist on it with entire satisfaction, that no occupation attaches a man more to his duty, than that of cultivating a taste in the fine arts: a just relish of what is beautiful, proper, elegant, and ornamental, in writing or painting, in architecture or gardening, is a fine preparation for the same just relish of these qualities in character and behaviour. To the man who has acquired a taste so acute and accomplished, every action wrong or improper must be highly disgustful: if, in any instance, the overbearing power of passion sway him from his duty, he returns to it with redoubled resolution never to be swayed a second time: he has now an additional motive to virtue, a conviction derived from experience, that happiness depends on regularity and order, and that disregard to justice or propriety never fails to be punished with shame and remorse.* <12>
Rude ages exhibit the triumph of authority over reason: Philosophers anciently were divided into sects, being Epicureans, Platonists, Stoics, Pythagoreans, or Sceptics: the speculative relied no farther on their own judgement but to chuse a leader, whom they implicitly followed. In later times, happily, reason hath obtained the ascendant: men now assert their native privilege of thinking for themselves; and disdain to be ranked in any sect, whatever be the science. I am forc’d to except criticism, which, by what fatality I know not, continues to be no less slavish in its principles nor less submissive to authority, than it was originally. Bossu,2 a celebrated French critic, gives many rules; but can discover no better foundation for any of them, than the practice merely of Homer and Virgil, supported by the authority of Aristotle: Strange! that in so long a work, he should never once have stumbled upon the question, Whether, and how far, do these rules agree with human nature. It could not surely be his opinion, that these poets, however eminent for genius, were intitled to give law to mankind; and that nothing now remains, but blind obedience to their arbitrary will: if in writing they followed no<13> rule, why should they be imitated? if they studied nature and were obsequious to rational principles, why should these be concealed from us?
With respect to the present undertaking, it is not the author’s intention to compose a regular treatise upon each of the fine arts; but only, in general, to exhibit their fundamental principles, drawn from human nature, the true source of criticism. The fine arts are intended to entertain us, by making pleasant impressions; and, by that circumstance, are distinguished from the useful arts: but in order to make pleasant impressions, we ought, as above hinted, to know what objects are naturally agreeable, and what naturally disagreeable. That subject is here attempted, as far as necessary for unfolding the genuine principles of the fine arts; and the author assumes no merit from his performance, but that of evincing, perhaps more distinctly than hitherto has been done, that these principles, as well as every just rule of criticism, are founded upon the sensitive part of our nature. What the author hath discovered or collected upon that subject, he chuses to impart in the gay and agreeable form of criticism; imagining that this form will be more relished, and perhaps be no less instructive, than a regular and laboured disquisition. His plan is, to ascend gradually to principles, from facts and experiments; instead of beginning with the former, handled abstractedly, and descending to the latter. But<14> though criticism is thus his only declared aim, he will not disown, that all along it has been his view, to explain the nature of man, considered as a sensitive being capable of pleasure and pain: and though he flatters himself with having made some progress in that important science, he is however too sensible of its extent and difficulty, to undertake it professedly, or to avow it as the chief purpose of the present work.
To censure works, not men, is the just prerogative of criticism; and accordingly all personal censure is here avoided, unless where necessary to illustrate some general proposition. No praise is claimed on that account; because censuring with a view merely to find fault, cannot be entertaining to any person of humanity. Writers, one should imagine, ought, above all others, to be reserved on that article, when they lie so open to retaliation. The author of this treatise, far from being confident of meriting no censure, entertains not even the slightest hope of such perfection. Amusement was at first the sole aim of his inquiries: proceeding from one particular to another, the subject grew under his hand; and he was far advanced before the thought struck him, that his private meditations might be publicly useful. In public, however, he would not appear in a slovenly dress; and therefore he pretends not otherwise to apologise for his errors, than by observing, that in a new subject, no less nice than extensive, errors<15> are in some measure unavoidable. Neither pretends he to justify his taste in every particular: that point must be extremely clear, which admits not variety of opinion; and in some matters susceptible of great refinement, time is perhaps the only infallible touchstone of taste: to that he appeals, and to that he chearfully submits.
N.B.The Elements of Criticism, meaning the whole, is a title too assuming for this work. A number of these elements or principles are here unfolded: but as the author is far from imagining that he has completed the list, a more humble title is proper, such as may express any number of parts less than the whole. This he thinks is signified by the title he has chosen, viz.Elements of Criticism.<16><17>
[1. ]First edition reads: “But there is a difference as to our consciousness of that impression. In touching, tasting, and smelling, we are conscious of the impression.”
[* ]See the Appendix, § 13.
[† ]After the utmost efforts, we find it beyond our power to conceive the flavour of a rose to exist in the mind: we are necessarily led to conceive that pleasure as existing in the nostrils along with the impression made by the rose upon that organ. And the same will be the result of experiments with respect to every feeling of taste, touch, and smell. Touch affords the most satisfactory experiments. Were it not that the delusion is detected by philosophy, no person would hesitate to pronounce, that the pleasure arising from touching a smooth, soft, and velvet surface, has its existence at the ends of the fingers, without once dreaming of its existing any where else.
[* ]Du Bos judiciously observes, that silence doth not tend to calm an agitated mind: but that soft and slow music hath a fine effect. [Jean-Baptiste Du Bos (1670–1742): historian, critic, secretary of the French Academy 1723–42, friend of Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) and John Locke (1632–1704). His Réflexions critiques sur la poésie et sur la peinture, 1719 (Eng. trans. 1748), was cited throughout the century.]
[* ]A taste for natural objects is born with us in perfection; for relishing a fine countenance, a rich landscape, or a vivid colour, culture is unnecessary. The observation holds equally in natural sounds, such as the singing of birds, or the murmuring of a brook. Nature here, the artificer of the object as well as of the percipient, hath accurately suited them to each other. But of a poem, a cantata, a picture, or other artificial production, a true relish is not commonly attained without some study and much practice.
[* ]“Though logic may subsist without rhetoric or poetry, yet so necessary to these last is a sound and correct logic, that without it they are no better than warbling trifles.” Hermes, p. 6. [James Harris (1709–80): member of parliament, author, prominent amateur musician. Hermes; Or, a Philosophical Inquiry Concerning Universal Grammar, Logic and Poetry (1751) was the second of his three works on language, poetics, and aesthetics. The reference is to part 1, chap. 1.]
[* ]If any youth of a splendid fortune and English education stumble perchance upon this book and this passage, he will pronounce the latter to be empty declamation. But if he can be prevailed upon to make the experiment, he will find, much to his satisfaction, every article well founded.
[* ]Genius is allied to a warm and inflammable constitution, delicacy of taste to calmness and sedateness. Hence it is common to find genius in one who is a prey to every passion; but seldom delicacy of taste. Upon a man possessed of that blessing, the moral duties, no less than the fine arts, make a deep impression, and counterbalance every irregular desire: at the same time, a temper calm and sedate is not easily moved, even by a strong temptation.
[2. ]René Le Bossu (1635–80): French critic, author of Traité du poëme épique, 1675 (Eng. trans. 1695).