Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beattie on a Standard of Taste

To be pleased with novelty and imitation, to prefer good pictures to bad, harmony to harshness, and regular shape to distortion; to be gratified with accurate representation of human manners; to be interested in a detail of human adventures, and more or less, according to the degree of probability: to look with delight on the sun, moon, and stars; the expanse of heaven; grand and regular buildings; human features expressive of health, sagacity, cheerfulness, and good nature; colours, and shapes, and sizes, of plants and animals, that betoken perfection and usefulness; the scenery of groves and rivers, of mountains and the ocean; the verdure of spring, the flowers of summer, and even the pure splendour of winter snow; is surely natural to every rational being, who has leisure to attend to such things, and is in any degree enlightened by contemplation.

If this be denied, I would ask, whence it comes that the poetry of all nations, which was certainly intended to give pleasure to those for whom it was made, should abound in descriptions of these and the like objects; and why the fine arts should have been a matter of general attention in all civilized countries? And if this is not denied, a standard of taste is acknowledged; and it must be admitted further, that, whatever temporary infatuations may take place in the world of letters, simplicity and nature sooner or later gain the ascendant, and prove their rectitude by their permanency. Opinionum commenta delet dies; natura judicia confirmat.

James Beattie, Elements of Moral Science, Part I, Chapter I, Section XI, #240-241. The Latin at the end is from Cicero and means, colloquially, that time destroys fictions of opinion but confirms the judgment of nature.

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