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unruly, yet never too strong for the rcins of reason and the guidance of judgment.
We may generally observe a pretty nice proportion between the strength of reason and passion; the greatest geniuses have commonly the strongest affections, as, on the other hand, the weaker understandings have generally the weaker passions; and it is fit the fury of the coursers should not be too great for the strength of the charioteer. Young men, whose passions are not a little unruly, give small hopes of their ever being considerable: the fire of youth will of course abate, and is a fault, if it be a fault, that mends every day: but surely, unless a man has fire in youth, he can hardly have warmth in old age. We must therefore be very cautious, lest, while we think to regulate the passions, we should quite extinguish them; which is putting out the light of the soul: for to be without passion, or to be hurried away with it, makes a man equally blind. The extraordinary severity used in most of our schools has this fatal effect, it breaks the spring of the mind, and most certainly destroys more good geniuses than it can possibly improve. And surely it is a mighty mistake that the passions should be so entirely subdued; for little irregularities are sometimes not only to be borne with, but to be cultivated too, since they are frequently attended with the greatest perfections. All great geniuses have faults mixed with their virtues, and resemble the flaming bush which has thorns amongst lights.
Since, therefore, the passions are the principles of human actions, we must endeavour to manage them so as to retain their vigour, yet keep
them under strict command; we must govern
I am, sir,
6T. B.' [Supposed to be by Pope.]
No. 409. THURSDAY, JUNE 19
-Musæo contingere cuncta lepore. Lucr. To grace each subject with enlivening wit. GRATIAN very often recommends the fine taste' as the utmost perfection of an accomplished man. As this word arises very often in conversation, I shall endeavour to give some account of it, and to lay down rules how we may know whether we are possessed of it, and how we may acquire that fine taste of writing which is so much talked of among the polite world.
* See note on No. 404.
Most languages make use of this metaphor, to express that faculty of the mind which distinguishes all the most concealed faults and nicest perfections in writing. We may be sure this metaphor would not have been so general in all tongues, had there not been a very great conformity between that mental taste which is the subject of this paper, and that sensitive taste which gives us a relish of every different flavour that affects the palate. Accordingly we find there are as many degrees of refinement in the intellectual faculty as in the sense, which is marked out by this common denomination.
I knew a person who possessed the one in so great a perfection, that after having tasted ten different kinds of tea, he would distinguish, without seeing the colour of it, the particular sort which was offered him; and not only so, but any two sorts of them that were mixed together in an equal proportion; nay, he has carried the experiment so far, as upon tasting the composition of three different sorts, to name the parcels from whence the three several ingredients were taken. A man of a fine taste in writing will discern after the same manner, not only the general beauties and imperfections of an author, but discover the several ways of thinking and expressing himself which diversify him from all other authors, with the several foreign infusions of thought and language, and the particular authors from whom they were borrowed.
After having thus far explained what is generally meant by a fine taste in writing, and shown the propriety of the metaphor which is used on this occasion, I think I may define it to be that
faculty of the soul which discerns the beauties of an author with pleasure and the imperfections with dislike. If a man would know whether he is possessed of this faculty, I would have him read over the celebrated works of antiquity which have stood the test of so many different ages and countries, or those works among the moderns which have the sanction of the politer part of our contemporaries. If, upon the perusal of such writings, he does not find himself delighted in an extraordinary manner, or if, upon reading the admired passages in such authors, he finds a coldness and indifference in his thoughts, he ought to conclude, not (as is too usual among tasteless readers) that the author wants those perfections which have been admired in him, but that he himself wants the faculty of discovering them.
He should, in the second place, be very careful to observe, whether he tastes the distinguishing perfections, or, if I may be allowed to call them so, the specific qualities of the author whom he peruses: whether he is particularly pleased with Livy for his manner of telling a story; with Sallust, for his entering into those internal principles of action which arise from the characters and manners of the persons he describes; or with Tacitus, for his displaying those outward motives of safety and interest, which give birth to the whole series of transactions which he relates.
He may likewise consider, how differently he is affected by the same thought, which presents itself in a great writer, from what he is when he finds it delivered by a person of ordinary genius. For there is as much difference in apprehending
a thought clothed in Cicero's language, and that of a common author, as in seeing an object by the light of a taper, or by the light of the sun.
It is very difficult to lay down rules for the acquirement of such a taste as that I am here speaking of. The faculty must in some degree be born with us; and it very often happens, that those who have other qualities in perfection are wholly void of this. One of the most eminent mathematicians of the age has assured me, that the greatest pleasure he took in reading. Virgil, was in examining Æneas his voyage by the map; as I question not but many a modern compiler of history would be delighted with little more in that divine author than the bare matters of fact.
But notwithstanding this faculty must in some measure be born with us, there are several methods for cultivating and improving it, and with out which it will be very uncertain, and of little use to the person that possesses it. The most natural method for this purpose is to be conversant among the writings of the most polite authors. A man who has any relish for fine writing, either discovers new beauties, or receives stronger impressions from the masterly strokes of a great author every time he peruses him; besides that he naturally wears himself into the same manner of speaking and thinking.
Conversation with men of a polite genius is another method for improving our natural taste. It is impossible for a man of the greatest parts to consider any thing in its whole extent, and in all its variety of lights. Every man, besides those general observations which are to be made upon an author, forms several reflections that are