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the bad loft a Monkey
o f all the various species of Composition, that
which seems to have the greatest licence allowed to it, and whose abuse it is most difficult (at least in many cases) either to detect, or to rectify, is the App Criticism. This difficulty ariseth partly from that series of objects, almost perpetually diversified, which the various researches of this Art present to the mind; partly from the complicated ingredients, of which particular objects are found to consist when examined separately; but principally, no doubt, from the degrees of excellence and defect exhibited, not merely in some performances, but appearing in every one, as indicating (in all cases whatever) imperfection of that mind from which it derived its origin. It is the natural effect of these causes, that as a discourse, whose parts in general are disproportioned, may be Mewn in a favourable point of view, VOL. I.
where the most unexceptionable passages are selected for this purpose ; so, where the contrary is really the case, the Reader may receive an unfavourable prepossession from having such objects only placed before him, in a connection likewise foreign to their original state, as tend to mislead and impole upon his judgment. In order therefore to remove, at least some part of this difficulty in the present case, I fall here, by way of introduction to the following pieces, tried, as these have been, by standards of Criticism extremely different, throw together a few observations on the Art, which may enable an impartial Reader to distinguish betwixt weakness and malevolence in a Critic in the various spheres of his profeffion, particularly in that where an extenqve field and diversified scenery render his errors least susceptible of inmediate detection.
CRITICISM, considered in general as an Art, extends its influence to every subject on which the mind is conversant. In the Sciences it judgeth of the precision, importance, and disposition of sentiment; character or events, as in what we denominate the Fine Arts, it decides principally of imitative beauty, arising from the conformity betwixt an Original and a Copy.
In both the spheres above-mentioned, we may ob- ferve with truth as general criterions, that an under
standing standing either naturally weak, or inadequate in some particular instance to its subject, will be rendered conspicuous, not only from a theory obviously deficient in some essential requisites ; but, principally, from the examples by which certain principles are to be confirmed, as either selected improperly to give an adequate view of the subject, as applied without similarity to the purpose of illustration, as consisting of circumstances comparatively infignificant ; or, finally, as containing a vein. of sentiment or description wholly diversified, when the Author ought to have adapted his example wholly to some particular object. - A Critic is chargeable with the first of these principally in the provinces of Philosophy and History, when, in order to exemplify fome general observations, perhaps in themselves not foreign to the purpose, a weight appears to be laid in the former case upon sentiments the most simple and conspicuous, rather than upon such as discover the Writer's discernment and perspicuity :-in the latter, when, amidst the infinite va-. riety of events and of characters, those are selected, as, exhibiting a compleat specimen of an Author equal to every part of his subject, which tend only by their greatness to excite admiration, without displaying such at the same time as, being clearly developed from many intricate combinations, discover a penetration equal to the most perplexing researches. In both these cases we 22
would naturally pronounce the mind of the Writer to be unequal to its work.
ANOTHER, and not perhaps less decisive, test of incompetent Understanding in the sphere of Criticism is when vague examples, and such as are at best remotely fimilar, are applied to illustrate particular observations. A Critic, who falls into errors of this kind, is evidently in the same plight with the blind man, who judged scarlet to be like the sound of a trumpet. They fupposed Strength of the Colour constituted probably in the latter case some remote Point of Resemblance; while, with regard to the real nature of the theme, both are equally incapable of receiving proper impressions. From the same cause is likewise derived that propensity, which Authors of this class always discover to select loose and disjointed fhreds of a discourse as characteristical of its ultimate scope, or to present a few inferior members as displaying a figure at full length. This, if any thing can be called so, is undoubtedly judging from the " difjecta membra Poetæ,” and is a proceeding just as absurd as his would be who should exhibit a fingle limb, or (as it might happen) a particular countenance in any of the Cartoons of Raphael, as a compleat specimen of a work distinguished by the most striking and diversified expressions. The Strength of the Painter's imagination