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Taste, as the reflex of Genius, follows the law of the greater light by which it is informed; but, relieved from the labour of creation, it has leisure to contemplate a variety, and to compare together a number of products. Taste, accordingly, frequently complains of defect. Failing to find in one work of genius what has existed in another, it contrasts the present with the past. Taste and Genius being present in the same individual, the former controls the quality of production, and the Artist becomes critical, the Critic becomes artistic. In schools of Art both are united, originating an organon of criticism which ultimately outgrows mere Art-limits, penetrates the domain of philosophy, regulates the sequence of thought, and prescribes a method to the order of our ideas. In this manner a Kant and other system-mongers are generated. Criticism then attains a dignity which entitles it to enter into the very conception and execution of high works of art; as it did into Schiller's later dramas, such as Wallenstein, The Maid of Orleans, Wilhelm Tell, Marie Stuart, and The Bride of Messina. It is one of the marvellous facts connected with Shakspere's works, that, not only in general structure, but minute detail, they practically anticipate the rules of philosophical criticism, and compel us not only to admire his original genius but his inborn taste. If one is inspiration, the other is instinct. The poet's mind displays an automatic action, especially true of the spiritual organism, though attended by self-consciousness at every step of its manifestation.
The union of Taste and Genius in one personality marks a man whose observation is equal to his more abstract powers; one who, like Leonardo da Vinci for instance, not only thought intensely, but studied objects with unwearied diligence. The creative impulses of true genius are much aided by the operations of taste. In youth, poets commence with imitation, and in their progress become more and more original. Many, unless stimulated by example, would never have attained to the consciousness of hidden power. It is the same with Art as with Life. The associated forces of the observing mind with the observed object make the latter a portion of the intelligence that it helps to form, to excite, and to develope. In the history of Art-progress the constant inherence of the past in the present is also exemplified. In the commencement of the sixteenth century a confluence of various tendencies had begun to act on each other with remarkable power. Classic, Christian, social art thus intermingled in poetry as well as in painting. The influences of that period have since blended with those of intervening centuries, and others of the present will enter into combination with still newer elements in the future. Taste, being essentially of an eclectic character, proceeds by selecting points in the works submitted to it; united with genius it reproduces such points in unexpected combinations. With nature, also, the same privilege of selection is claimed by the gifted artist, and with the happiest results. Taste in art implies progress in art. Genius, as the productive principle, works like Love, prior to reasoning, and independent of judgment. Taste comes after, and is subordinate to both. It, however, implies a mind naturally predisposed to its exercise. In every acceptable work, there must be a manifest obedience to law-law self-imposed, but suggested by the consistency which makes itself felt in every well-designed and well-executed product. Neither poet nor artist may despise
ix rules, even when he “snatches a grace” beyond them. An exception may be permitted; but what is absurdly called “the wild extravagance of genius” offends the connoisseur. Nothing of this appears in the genuine Shaksperian dramas; and to disabuse the mind of hasty or prejudiced readers that examples are discoverable in them of such excesses, formed no small part of the purpose designed in the projection of the present work.
But we must guard against the opposite error, that desirable results are obtainable by the mere study of technical rules of art, or the technical terms of philosophy. Only the practical working out of the laws within us, and the practical edification of the moral reason by a perpetual exercise of its noble functions, in obedience to an enlightened conscience, and in harmony with an energetic will made strong by constant exercise, can avail to produce those immortal works in which Taste and Genius combine. The authority of Reason must, in the severest manner, govern and prevail in the general purpose and the variety of detail. Imagination may astonish, and fancy dazzle; but to delight, they must confess their allegiance to natural and moral laws, any transgression of which impairs the beauty and lessens the influence of an art-product.
Nor let us mistake, for either the moral or rational, the conventional manners or opinions of any place or period. These frequently, by pretending to a delicacy merely artificial, prove themselves to be most indelicate. Some such mistake. led Voltaire into his absurd opinions concerning Shakspere's genius and works. Time has vindicated the poet and punished the critic. But the errors of the latter appear occasionally in our journalists, and show that they still survive in vulgar minds. But that taste which should always be identified with practical reason will not substitute the laws of any time or country for those autonomies of the moral being which give motive to human action, and in which Shakspere found the
leading ideas which are so copiously and lucidly illustrated in his later dramas.
Having been a reader of the Elizabethan poets from his twelfth to his sixty-fifth year, the author may have contracted a sort of partiality for their manner of thinking and style of composition; but having also, as a professional critic during a great portion of the same period, reviewed an indefinite number of modern works, he may, he thinks, reasonably indulge in the belief that he has gone through enough of general study to preserve him from a mere one-sided estimate of the literature of that remarkable period. In the hope that his reader will ultimately unite with him in this conclusion, he ventures to commend the following pages to his careful perusal.