Sunday, March 18, 2007

Gerard on Good Taste

Thus taste, like every other human excellence, is of a progressive nature; rising by various stages, from its seeds and elements to maturity; but, like delicate plants, liable to be checked in its growth and killed, or else to become crooked and distorted, by negligence or improper management. Goodness of taste lies in its maturity and perfection. It consists in certain excellences of our original powers of judgment and imagination combined. These may be reduced to four, sensibility, refinement, correctness, and the proportion or comparative adjustment of its separate principles. All these must be in some considerable degree united, in order to form true taste. The person in whom they meet acquires authority and influence, and forms just decisions, which may be rejected by the caprice of some, but are sure to gain general acknowledgement. This excellence of taste supposes not only culture, but culture judiciously applied. Want of taste unavoidably springs from negligence; false taste from judicious cultivation.


Alexander Gerard, An Essay on Taste (1759), pp. 104-105. It is worthwhile to compare Gerard's four excellences of good taste with the analyses of good taste in Hume, Beattie, and Kant.

In any case, sensibility of taste is delicacy of sentiment, in which one is feelingly alive to each subtle impulse. Refinement or elegance of taste is an ability to recognize inferiorities, blemishes, and deficiencies, of the sort that arises through long acquaintance with the type of object being judged by taste. Correctness of taste is, roughly, the ability not to be fooled by initial and possibly misleading appearances; it involves making the distinctions and comparisons that allow us to classify things. Proportion of the principles of taste is a bit more complicated. Gerard reduces taste in general to a collection of simpler principles -- the sense of novelty, the sense of harmony, the sense of the sublime, the sense of beauty, etc. A proportionate taste is one in which these principles are blended in such a way that one of these does not detract from or override the others.

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