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of discovering any common quality in beautiful objects. His “ Essay on the Sublime” equally proves its abstractedness, and the difficulty of determining its nature and essence. If, then, sublimity and beauty be the proper objects of taste, and if these objects be involved in doubt and obscurity, it requires no argument to prove, that taste itself--that faculty, as it is called, which professes to discover the beauty and sublimity of the material and intellectual world-partakes, in no inconsiderable degree, of that perplexity and confusion in which its proper objects are as yet enveloped. Hence it follows, that an Inquiry into the nature and principles of Taste is still open to any writer who can either remove a part of this obscurity, or who can lift up the veil at once, and permit us to view it in its naked and original simplicity. If the reader, therefore, should find, that he has a more correct view of its true nature and office after perusing this work, than he has been able to collect from the labours of former writers, he will admit the propriety of the views that have led to its production; and he will equally admit the propriety of a philosophical Inquiry into the nature and distinct character of those qualities which produce the emotions of the Beautiful and the Sublime, notwithstanding all that has been already written on the subject. In this inquiry I am at present engaged,
from a belief, whether well founded or not the public only can ultimately determine, that I have discovered those common qualities which are to be found in all objects that excite the emotions of the sublime and beautiful, and which have been so fruitlessly, though so diligently, sought after by former writers. I have been, however, careful to confine myself, in the present work, to the consideration of Taste alone, without any regard to the theory which I intend to adopt on the subject of Sublimity and Beauty, and which I expect shortly to submit to that tribunal from whose judgment there can be no ultimate appeal.
As the subject has been already discussed by several eminent writers, with many of whose opinions the theory which I have adopted has obliged me to disagree, I thought it proper to state these opinions, to enter into a philosophical investigation of their truth, and to assign the reasons which have led me to dissent from them. This, I think, is a duty which necessarily devolves on every writer who would redeem his subject from popular and philosophical error. Without it the public is not qualified to judge between him and the writers to whom he stands opposed; and different theories may be offered to the public at the same time, each of which may be sufficiently specious to influence the judgment of the critical reader, without leaving him any clue or criterion
by which he can determine between them. This consideration has induced me to investigate the opinions of my predecessors whenever I happened to differ with them ; but I have not done so wantonly, or in matters of minor import; nor have I
, at any time digressed from my subject, to reply to opinions with which it was not essentially connected. It will, therefore, be found, that whenever I have combated the opinions of other writers to substantiate my own, I have been elucidating the subject in which I was engaged; and whether I have been successful or not, I have led my reader into that line of inquiry which will enable him, in most cases, to determine between
Had I been guided by a certain false delicacy, I should, perhaps, have been more cautious; but I have always considered this effeminate delicacy the most effectual barrier to the progress of the arts and sciences. He who fears to expose the errors of another when he is acquainted with them, cannot surely possess that independence of mind, without which the most transcendent talents can effect but little in the cause of truth. I am aware that he who attacks the opinions of other writers, even when he demonstrates them to be erroneous, is frequently supposed to do so through the affectation of superior knowledge, or at least through motives less honourable than the disinterested love of truth; but he who fears to pursue that course which his own judgment points out to him, lest he incur suspicions of which he knows himself to be innocent, will eternally hesitate. He only is qualified to write for posterity, who lifts himself above the influence of all personal considerations, whose sole aim is the discovery of truth, and who wishes to see his own opinions disproved, if it be possible to disprove them.
But if he will not excuse an error in himself, neither will he connive at it in another, and therefore he unmasks it wherever he detects it. He appreciates as he ought the counsel of Pope, when he says:
“ Be niggards of advice on no pretence;
For the worst avarice is that of sense.
He best can bear reproof who merits praise."
instructing or improving mankind; and it matters little whether he writes as he thinks, or as others think for him. The judgment, philosophy, and experience of an author, who imagines the public can become a party to any writer, and therefore incapable of appreciating his merits, must eternally range within the empalement of a contracted intellect, beyond the twilight precincts of which, truth and nature are equally concealed from his view; and whatever motives induced him to become a writer, his memory is destined to glide into peaceful oblivion and undisturbed repose. He who has truth on his side, and ability to support it, will force his readers to believe in him whether they will or will not, however powerfully they may be warped by antecedent prejudices or favourite systems. No man has free will over his own understanding, when the object of its contemplation is demonstrated and proved; and, therefore, no man can refuse his assent to truth when it is exposed to him in its original and unmasked simplicity, neither involved amid the undistinguishing distinctions of a misguided but ingenious dialectick, nor enveloped in the stillstand gloom of laborious dulness.
When I sent this work to press, it was my intention to publish my Inquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful along with it, as the greater part of the work was then prepared ; but having subsequently