New PDF release: An analytical inquiry into the principles of taste

By Richard Payne Knight

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Or are we, in this respect, merely creatures of habit and imitation; directed by every accidental impulse, and swayed by every fluctuation of caprice or fancy? It will be said perhaps, in reply, that we must not found universal scepticism in occasional deviations, or temporary irregularities: for, though absurd and extravagant fashions have, at intervals, prevailed in all ages, and, in later times, succeeded each other with little interruption j yet there are certain standards of excellence, 9which every generation of civilized man, subse- Introducquent to their first production, has uniformly recognized in theory, how variously soever they have departed from them in practice.

But, as an ancient grammarian observed, even Caesar, though he could command the lives and fortunes of men, could not command words, nor alter, in a single instance, the customary idiom of speech; and in this instance customary idiom has established these expressions, not only in the English, but in all the other polished languages of Europe, both ancient and modern; the Greek, ptdcher in the Latin, hello in the Italian, and beau in the French, being constantly applied to moral and intellectual, as well as to physical or material qualities.

Certain modes and degrees of irritation will be pleasant, others painful, and others insipid; and these will vary in different individuals according to the different degrees of sensibility in their respective organs. In some sorts of dogs, this sensibility is so exquisite, that the sound of a fife or other very shrill instrument, though perfectly in harmony, gives them very acute pain, when near to their ears; as they testify by loud howlings and complainings. The filing of a saw, or other harsh and discordant sound of that kind, though not loud, will create a very uneasy and even painful sensation in the human organs, which we commonly call setting the teeth on edge; and it seems to be produced by extending the vibrations from the ears to the teeth, in stead of from the teeth to the ears: as in the ex- PART I.

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An analytical inquiry into the principles of taste by Richard Payne Knight


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