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upon the simple impulses of their own genius, or to venture upon many steps without having hold of their leading strings. It is enough for some author with a certain claim to originality to seize upon a vein of thought or style of remark which takes with his age, to be immediately followed by a host of imitators, who think they must meet with the same success by pursuing the same track. In this case, the style is the man, indeed, but not the man who writes; he has not the least good claim to it, but it is the man he imitates.
In this way the taste of a whole nation may be led, by some brilliant but eccentric star, into a false track, in which every new step is but a wider departure from nature and truth.
Thus there are two causes of mistake constantly operating. The first : that the truly original minds allow themselves, no doubt unconsciously, to be governed too much by the artificial taste superinduced by a state of society where wealth and rank, rather than unsophisticated nature, prescribe the rule of judgment, dictate what shall be approved and what shall be admired ; and the second : that at the present day, while every second person you meet in the cultivated circles aspires to be an artist or an author, his inspiring impulse is simply his own persuasion of his ability to reflect the spirit of the society in which he moves, quite as well as those who have already shown how it is to be done. It is
indeed plain that a class possessing no other claim to regard than merely the unlimited means at their command of gratifying each whim and fancy that may happen to come over them possess no rightful authority to dictate within the domain of taste. It is plain that what they are after is not so much the beautiful as the agreeable ; not so much truth as excitement. But this consideration is of little or no account when weighed against another, that in their hands alone is the patronage and reward of merit. Nor is it at all to be wondered at, that, when the taste of society has been converted into such an altogether worldly craving after excitement, the return to simple truth and nature by any
mind so independently original as to stand above such control should be sure to meet with ridicule, or the still more scornful punishment of indifference. But happily there is one hope for the world left. A true taste can always see clearly through a false one, though the false can never hope to understand the true. “Merely think,” says Wordsworth to a friend, just after the appearance of his collected poems, “merely think of the pure, absolute, honest ignorance in which all worldings of every rank and situation must be enveloped with respect to the thoughts, feelings, and images, on which the life of my poems depends. The things which I have taken, whether from within or from without, what have they to do with routs, dinners, morning calls, hurry from door to door, from street to street, on foot or in carriage; with Mr. Pitt or Mr. Fox, Mr. Paul or Sir Francis Burdett, the Westminster election or the borough of Honiton? In a word, for I cannot stop to make. my way through the hurry of images that present themselves to me, - What have they to do with endless talking about things nobody cares anything for except so far as their own vanity is concerned, and this with persons they care nothing for but as their vanity or selfishness is concerned? What have they to do (to say all at once) with a life without love? In such a life there can be no thought ; for we have no thought (save thoughts of pain) but as far as we have love and admiration."
“ It is an awful truth that there neither is nor can be any genuine enjoyment of poetry among nineteen out of twenty of those persons who live, or wish to live, in the broad light of the world -- among those who are, or are striving to make themselves, people of consideration in society. This is a truth, and an awful one, because to be incapable of a feeling of poetry, in my sense of the word, is to be without love of human nature, and reverence for God.” 1
He who would preserve the simplicity of nature, and not lose the quick sense of truth in following after a false and jaded refinement, must begin the cultivation of his taste by laying the foundation in 1 Memoirs of Wordsworth, Letter to Lady Beaumont, May 21, 1807.
a broad and ample culture of his whole mind. He should aim at nothing less than that kind of culture which frees the mind from its idols of every sort, to use an image of Lord Bacon, and fosters the habit of enlarged and generous thought. He should, especially at this day, be ever on his guard against those radically vicious and debasing influences which, under the name of works of the imagination, belie, by the spirit which animates them, all title to the name they assume. He should aim at that cultivation of both the mind and the heart which brings a man nearer to the position at which he can easily survey, and, whenever he pleases to do so, assume, the point of view occupied by others who may judge differently from himself, and account to himself for the difference. - It is such cultivation alone which leads to that harmonious consistency of thought where all the particular matters that are at any moment before the mind are habitually referred to the rational principles to which they belong, and whereby their relations to other things are determined. All this tends, more or less directly. both to develop, and also to purify the taste. This faculty must, it is true, like every other mental power, in order to a complete development, be habitually exercised on its own appropriate objects. It must be awakened to the consciousness of itself, and trained to place confidence in its own decisions by careful study of those works which, by the common consent of mankind, have already met and satisfied the highest demands. But, even to a commencing interest in productions of this class, there must have been some previous general training of the mind. The charm of such works is of a high intellectual order. It is not addressed to the superficial passions of our nature, nor to the dogmatic opinions, the abstract theories, of this or that particular school of criticism, nor to the prejudices of a single age or nation, but to the purely human in man, to that which belongs in common to the kind. It is evident, therefore, that there can be no very high cultivation of taste, without some considerable degree of that intellectual and moral training which raises a man above himself, or rather elevates him to that true self, in which the narrow interests of the individual are merged, and comparatively lost and forgotten, in those of the whole race.
Since the imagination is the faculty which is called into the most active exercise, both in producing, and judging, works of art, it is evident how much must depend on the right cultivation of this great power, how important it is that this regal faculty – for so I think the imaginative power which is concerned in the creations of art ought to be called, should be rightly understood and appreciated at its just value. I am free to say, that I have never found anything as yet in the writings of the most eminent of our English critics which seems to indicate that