Seven Discourses on Art
Sir Joshua Reynolds

Part 2 out of 3

praises in their descriptions of favourite works. They always find
in them what they are resolved to find. They praise excellences
that can hardly exist together, and above all things are fond of
describing with great exactness the expression of a mixed passion,
which more particularly appears to me out of the reach of our art.

Such are many disquisitions which I have read on some of the
cartoons and other pictures of Raffaelle, where the critics have
described their own imagination; or indeed where the excellent
master himself may have attempted this expression of passions above
the powers of the art; and has, therefore, by an indistinct and
imperfect marking, left room for every imagination, with equal
probability to find a passion of his own. What has been, and what
can be done in the art, is sufficiently difficult; we need not be
mortified or discouraged for not being able to execute the
conceptions of a romantic imagination. Art has its boundaries,
though imagination has none. We can easily, like the ancients,
suppose a Jupiter to be possessed of all those powers and
perfections which the subordinate Deities were endowed with
separately. Yet, when they employed their art to represent him,
they confined his character to majesty alone. Pliny, therefore,
though we are under great obligations to him for the information he
has given us in relation to the works of the ancient artists, is
very frequently wrong when he speaks of them, which he does very
often in the style of many of our modern connoisseurs. He observes
that in a statue of Paris, by Fuphranor, you might discover at the
same time three different characters; the dignity of a judge of the
goddesses, the lover of Helen, and the conqueror of Achilles. A
statue in which you endeavour to unite stately dignity, youthful
elegance, and stern valour, must surely possess none of these to
any eminent degree.

From hence it appears that there is much difficulty as well as
danger in an endeavour to concentrate upon a single subject those
various powers which, rising from different points, naturally move
in different directions.

The summit of excellence seems to be an assemblage of contrary
qualities, but mixed, in such proportions, that no one part is
found to counteract the other. How hard this is to be attained in
every art, those only know who have made the greatest progress in
their respective professions.

To conclude what I have to say on this part of the subject, which I
think of great importance, I wish you to understand that I do not
discourage the younger students from the noble attempt of uniting
all the excellences of art, but to make them aware that, besides
the difficulties which attend every arduous attempt, there is a
peculiar difficulty in the choice of the excellences which ought to
be united; I wish you to attend to this, that you may try
yourselves, whenever you are capable of that trial, what you can,
and what you cannot do: and that, instead of dissipating your
natural faculties over the immense field of possible excellence,
you may choose some particular walk in which you may exercise all
your powers, in order each of you to be the first in his way. If
any man shall be master of such a transcendant, commanding, and
ductile genius, as to enable him to rise to the highest, and to
stoop to the lowest flights of art, and to sweep over all of them
unobstructed and secure, he is fitter to give example than to
receive instruction.

Having said thus much on the union of excellences, I will next say
something of the subordination in which various excellences ought
to be kept.

I am of opinion that the ornamental style, which in my discourse of
last year I cautioned you against considering as principal, may not
be wholly unworthy the attention of those who aim even at the grand
style; when it is properly placed and properly reduced.

But this study will be used with far better effect, if its
principles are employed in softening the harshness and mitigating
the rigour of the great style, than if in attempt to stand forward
with any pretensions of its own to positive and original

It was thus Lodovico Caracci, whose example I formerly recommended
to you, employed it. He was acquainted with the works both of
Correggio and the Venetian painters, and knew the principles by
which they produced those pleasing effects which at the first
glance prepossess us so much in their favour; but he took only as
much from each as would embellish, but not overpower, that manly
strength and energy of style, which is his peculiar character.

Since I have already expatiated so largely in my former discourse,
and in my present, upon the styles and characters of painting, it
will not be at all unsuitable to my subject if I mention to you
some particulars relative to the leading principles, and capital
works of those who excelled in the great style, that I may bring
you from abstraction nearer to practice, and by exemplifying the
propositions which I have laid down, enable you to understand more
clearly what I would enforce.

The principal works of modern art are in fresco, a mode of painting
which excludes attention to minute elegancies: yet these works in
fresco are the productions on which the fame of the greatest
masters depend: such are the pictures of Michael Angelo and
Raffaelle in the Vatican, to which we may add the cartoons, which,
though not strictly to be called fresco, yet may be put under that
denomination; and such are the works of Giulio Romano at Mantua.
If these performances were destroyed, with them would be lost the
best part of the reputation of those illustrious painters, for
these are justly considered as the greatest efforts of our art
which the world can boast. To these, therefore, we should
principally direct our attention for higher excellences. As for
the lower arts, as they have been once discovered, they may be
easily attained by those possessed of the former.

Raffaelle, who stands in general foremost of the first painters,
owes his reputation, as I have observed, to his excellence in the
higher parts of the art. Therefore, his works in fresco ought to
be the first object of our study and attention. His easel-works
stand in a lower degree of estimation; for though he continually,
to the day of his death, embellished his works more and more with
the addition of these lower ornaments, which entirely make the
merit of some, yet he never arrived at such perfection as to make
him an object of imitation. He never was able to conquer perfectly
that dryness, or even littleness of manner, which he inherited from
his master. He never acquired that nicety of taste in colours,
that breadth of light and shadow, that art and management of
uniting light, to light, and shadow to shadow, so as to make the
object rise out of the ground with that plenitude of effect so much
admired in the works of Correggio. When he painted in oil, his
hand seemed to be so cramped and confined that he not only lost
that facility and spirit, but I think even that correctness of
form, which is so perfect and admirable in his fresco works. I do
not recollect any pictures of his of this kind, except perhaps the
"Transfiguration," in which there are not some parts that appear to
be even feebly drawn. That this is not a necessary attendant on
oil-painting, we have abundant instances in more modern painters.
Lodovico Caracci, for instance, preserved in his works in oil the
same spirit, vigour, and correctness, which he had in fresco. I
have no desire to degrade Raffaelle from the high rank which he
deservedly holds: but by comparing him with himself, he does not
appear to me to be the same man in oil as in fresco.

From those who have ambition to tread in this great walk of the
art, Michael Angelo claims the next attention. He did not possess
so many excellences as Raffaelle, but those he had were of the
highest kind. He considered the art as consisting of little more
than what may be attained by sculpture, correctness of form, and
energy of character. We ought not to expect more than an artist
intends in his work. He never attempted those lesser elegancies
and graces in the art. Vasari says, he never painted but one
picture in oil, and resolved never to paint another, saying it was
an employment only fit for women and children.

If any man had a right to look down upon the lower accomplishments
as beneath his attention, it was certainly Michael Angelo: nor can
it be thought strange that such a mind should have slighted or have
been withheld from paying due attention to all those graces and
embellishments of art which have diffused such lustre over the
works of other painters.

It must be acknowledged likewise, that together with these, which
we wish he had more attended to, he has rejected all the false
though specious ornaments which disgrace the works even of the most
esteemed artists; and I will venture to say, that when those higher
excellences are more known and cultivated by the artists and the
patrons of arts, his fame and credit will increase with our
increasing knowledge. His name will then be held in the same
veneration as it was in the enlightened age of Leo the Tenth: and
it is remarkable that the reputation of this truly great man has
been continually declining as the art itself has declined. For I
must remark to you, that it has long been much on the decline, and
that our only hope of its revival will consist in your being
thoroughly sensible of its depravation and decay. It is to Michael
Angelo that we owe even the existence of Raffaelle; it is to him
Raffaelle owes the grandeur of his style. He was taught by him to
elevate his thoughts, and to conceive his subjects with dignity.
His genius, however, formed to blaze and to shine, might, like fire
in combustible matter, for ever have lain dormant if it had not
caught a spark by its contact with Michael Angelo: and though it
never burst out with that extraordinary heat and vehemence, yet it
must be acknowledged to be a more pure, regular, and chaste flame.
Though our judgment will upon the whole decide in favour of
Raffaelle: yet he never takes that firm hold and entire possession
of the mind in such a manner as to desire nothing else, and feel
nothing wanting. The effect of the capital works of Michael Angelo
perfectly correspond to what Bourchardon said he felt from reading
Homer. His whole frame appeared to himself to be enlarged, and all
nature which surrounded him diminished to atoms.

If we put those great artists in a light of comparison with each
other, Raffaelle had more taste and fancy, Michael Angelo more
genius and imagination. The one excelled in beauty, the other in
energy. Michael Angelo has more of the poetical inspiration; his
ideas are vast and sublime; his people are a superior order of
beings; there is nothing about them, nothing in the air of their
actions or their attitudes, or the style and cast of their very
limbs or features, that puts one in mind of their belonging, to our
own species. Raffaelle's imagination is not so elevated; his
figures are not so much disjoined from our own diminutive race of
beings, though his ideas are chaste, noble, and of great conformity
to their subjects. Michael Angelo's works have a strong, peculiar,
and marked character; they seem to proceed from his own mind
entirely, and that mind so rich and abundant, that he never needed,
or seemed to disdain, to look abroad for foreign help. Raffaelle's
materials are generally borrowed, though the noble structure is his
own. The excellency of this extraordinary man lay in the
propriety, beauty, and majesty of his characters, his judicious
contrivance of his composition, correctness of drawing, purity of
taste, and the skilful accommodation of other men's conceptions to
his own purpose. Nobody excelled him in that judgment, with which
he united to his own observations on nature the energy of Michael
Angelo, and the beauty and simplicity of the antique. To the
question, therefore, which ought to hold the first rank, Raffaelle
or Michael Angelo, it must be answered, that if it is to be given
to him who possessed a greater combination of the higher qualities
of the art than any other man, there is no doubt but Raffaelle is
the first. But if, according to Longinus, the sublime, being the
highest excellence that human composition can attain to, abundantly
compensates the absence of every other beauty, and atones for all
other deficiencies, then Michael Angelo demands the preference.

These two extraordinary men carried some of the higher excellences
of the art to a greater degree of perfection than probably they
ever arrived at before. They certainly have not been excelled, nor
equalled since. Many of their successors were induced to leave
this great road as a beaten path, endeavouring to surprise and
please by something uncommon or new. When this desire after
novelty has proceeded from mere idleness or caprice, it is not
worth the trouble of criticism; but when it has been in consequence
of a busy mind of a peculiar complexion, it is always striking and
interesting, never insipid.

Such is the great style as it appears in those who possessed it at
its height; in this, search after novelty in conception or in
treating the subject has no place.

But there is another style, which, though inferior to the former,
has still great merit, because it shows that those who cultivated
it were men of lively and vigorous imagination. This I call the
original or characteristical style; this, being less referred to
any true architype existing either in general or particular nature,
must be supported by the painter's consistency in the principles he
has assumed, and in the union and harmony of his whole design. The
excellency of every style, but I think of the subordinate ones more
especially, will very much depend on preserving that union and
harmony between all the component parts, that they appear to hang
well together, as if the whole proceeded from one mind. It is in
the works of art, as in the characters of men. The faults or
defects of some men seem to become them when they appear to be the
natural growth, and of a piece with the rest of their character. A
faithful picture of a mind, though it be not of the most elevated
kind, though it be irregular, wild, and incorrect, yet if it be
marked with that spirit and firmness which characterises works of
genius, will claim attention, and be more striking than a
combination of excellences that do not seem to hang well together,
or we may say than a work that possesses even all excellences, but
those in a moderate degree.

One of the strongest marked characters of this kind, which must be
allowed to be subordinate to the great style, is that of Salvator
Rosa. He gives us a peculiar cast of nature, which, though void of
all grace, elegance, and simplicity; though it has nothing of that
elevation and dignity which belongs to the grand style, yet has
that sort of dignity which belongs to savage and uncultivated
nature. But what is most to be admired in him is the perfect
correspondence which he observed between the subjects which he
chose, and his manner of treating them. Everything is of a piece:
his rocks, trees, sky, even to his handling have the same rude and
wild character which animates his figures.

To him we may contrast the character of Carlo Maratti, who, in my
own opinion, had no great vigour of mind or strength of original
genius. He rarely seizes the imagination by exhibiting the higher
excellences, nor does he captivate us by that originality which
attends the painter who thinks for himself. He knew and practised
all the rules of art, and from a composition of Raffaelle, Caracci,
and Guido, made up a style, of which its only fault was, that it
had no manifest defects and no striking beauties, and that the
principles of his composition are never blended together, so as to
form one uniform body, original in its kind, or excellent in any

I will mention two other painters who, though entirely dissimilar,
yet by being each consistent with himself, and possessing a manner
entirely his own, have both gained reputation, though for very
opposite accomplishments.

The painters I mean are Rubens and Poussin. Rubens I mention in
this place, as I think him a remarkable instance of the same mind
being seen in all the various parts of the art. The whole is so
much of a piece that one can scarce be brought to believe but that
if any one of them had been more correct and perfect, his works
would not be so complete as they now appear. If we should allow a
greater purity and correctness of drawing, his want of simplicity
in composition, colouring, and drapery would appear more gross.

In his composition his art is too apparent. His figures have
expression, and act with energy, but without simplicity or dignity.
His colouring, in which he is eminently skilled, is,
notwithstanding, too much of what we call tinted. Throughout the
whole of his works there is a proportionable want of that nicety of
distinction and elegance of mind which is required in the higher
walks of painting; and to this want it may be in some degree
ascribed that those qualities which make the excellency of this
subordinate style appear in him with their greatest lustre.
Indeed, the facility with which he invented, the richness of his
composition, the luxuriant harmony and brilliancy of his colouring,
so dazzle the eye, that whilst his works continue before us we
cannot help thinking that all his deficiencies are fully supplied.

Opposed to this florid, careless, loose, and inaccurate style, that
of the simple, careful, pure, and correct style of Poussin seems to
be a complete contrast.

Yet however opposite their characters, in one thing they agreed,
both of them having a perfect correspondence between all the parts
of their respective manners.

One is not sure but every alteration of what is considered as
defective in either, would destroy the effect of the whole.

Poussin lived and conversed with the ancient statues so long, that
he may be said to be better acquainted with then than with the
people who were about him. I have often thought that he carried
his veneration for them so far as to wish to give his works the air
of ancient paintings. It is certain he copied some of the antique
paintings, particularly the "Marriage in the Albrobrandini Palace
at Rome," which I believe to be the best relique of those remote
ages that has yet been found.

No works of any modern has so much of the air of antique painting
as those of Poussin. His best performances have a remarkable
dryness of manner, which, though by no means to be recommended for
imitation, yet seems perfectly correspondent to that ancient
simplicity which distinguishes his style. Like Polidoro he studied
them so much, that he acquired a habit of thinking in their way,
and seemed to know perfectly the actions and gestures they would
use on every occasion.

Poussin in the latter part of his life changed from his dry manner
to one much softer and richer, where there is a greater union
between the figures and the ground, such as the "Seven Sacraments"
in the Duke of Orleans' collection; but neither these, nor any in
this manner, are at all comparable to many in his dry manner which
we have in England.

The favourite subjects of Poussin were ancient fables; and no
painter was ever better qualified to paint such subjects, not only
from his being eminently skilled in the knowledge of ceremonies,
customs, and habits of the ancients, but from his being so well
acquainted with the different characters which those who invented
them gave their allegorical figures. Though Rubens has shown great
fancy in his Satyrs, Silenuses, and Fauns, yet they are not that
distinct separate class of beings which is carefully exhibited by
the ancients and by Poussin. Certainly when such subjects of
antiquity are represented, nothing in the picture ought to remind
us of modern times. The mind is thrown back into antiquity, and
nothing ought to be introduced that may tend to awaken it from the

Poussin seemed to think that the style and the language in which
such stories are told is not the worse for preserving some relish
of the old way of painting which seemed to give a general
uniformity to the whole, so that the mind was thrown back into
antiquity not only by the subject, but the execution.

If Poussin, in imitation of the ancients, represents Apollo driving
his chariot out of the sea by way of representing the sun rising,
if he personifies lakes and rivers, it is no ways offensive in him;
but seems perfectly of a piece with the general air of the picture.
On the contrary, if the figures which people his pictures had a
modern air or countenance, if they appeared like our countrymen, if
the draperies were like cloth or silk of our manufacture, if the
landscape had the appearance of a modern view, how ridiculous would
Apollo appear instead of the sun, an old man or a nymph with an urn
instead of a river or lake.

I cannot avoid mentioning here a circumstance in portrait painting
which may help to confirm what has been said.

When a portrait is painted in the historical style, as it is
neither an exact minute representation of an individual nor
completely ideal, every circumstance ought to correspond to this
mixture. The simplicity of the antique air and attitude, however
much to be admired, is ridiculous when joined to a figure in a
modern dress. It is not to my purpose to enter into the question
at present, whether this mixed style ought to be adopted or not;
yet if it is chosen it is necessary it should be complete and all
of a piece: the difference of stuffs, for instance, which make the
clothing, should be distinguished in the same degree as the head
deviates from a general idea.

Without this union, which I have so often recommended, a work can
have no marked and determined character, which is the peculiar and
constant evidence of genius. But when this is accomplished to a
high degree, it becomes in some sort a rival to that style which we
have fixed as the highest.

Thus I have given a sketch of the characters of Rubens and Salvator
Rosa, as they appear to me to have the greatest uniformity of mind
throughout their whole work. But we may add to these, all these
artists who are at the head of the class, and have had a school of
imitators from Michael Angelo down to Watteau. Upon the whole it
appears that setting aside the ornamental style, there are two
different paths, either of which a student may take without
degrading the dignity of his art. The first is to combine the
higher excellences and embellish them to the greatest advantage.
The other is to carry one of these excellences to the highest
degree. But those who possess neither must be classed with them,
who, as Shakespeare says, are men of no mark or likelihood.

I inculcate as frequently as I can your forming yourselves upon
great principles and great models. Your time will be much misspent
in every other pursuit. Small excellences should be viewed, not
studied; they ought to be viewed, because nothing ought to escape a
painter's observation, but for no other reason.

There is another caution which I wish to give you. Be as select in
those whom you endeavour to please, as in those whom you endeavour
to imitate. Without the love of fame you can never do anything
excellent; but by an excessive and undistinguishing thirst after
it, you will come to have vulgar views; you will degrade your
style; and your taste will be entirely corrupted. It is certain
that the lowest style will be the most popular, as it falls within
the compass of ignorance itself; and the vulgar will always be
pleased with what is natural in the confined and misunderstood
sense of the word.

One would wish that such depravation of taste should be
counteracted, with such manly pride as Euripides expressed to the
Athenians, who criticised his works, "I do not compose," says he,
"my works in order to be corrected by you, but to instruct you."
It is true, to have a right to speak thus, a man must be a
Euripides. However, thus much may be allowed, that when an artist
is sure that he is upon firm ground, supported by the authority and
practice of his predecessors of the greatest reputation, he may
then assume the boldness and intrepidity of genius; at any rate, he
must not be tempted out of the right path by any tide of popularity
that always accompanies the lower styles of painting.

I mention this, because our exhibitions, that produce such
admirable effects by nourishing emulation, and calling out genius,
have also a mischievous tendency by seducing the painter to an
ambition of pleasing indiscriminately the mixed multitude of people
who resort to them.


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy on the Distribution
of the Prizes, December 10, 1774, by the President.

Gentlemen,--When I have taken the liberty of addressing you on the
course and order of your studies, I never proposed to enter into a
minute detail of the art. This I have always left to the several
professors, who pursue the end of our institution with the highest
honour to themselves, and with the greatest advantage to the

My purpose in the discourses I have held in the Academy is to lay
down certain general ideas, which seem to me proper for the
formation of a sound taste; principles necessary to guard the
pupils against those errors into which the sanguine temper common
at their time of life, has a tendency to lead them, and which have
rendered abortive the hopes of so many successions of promising
young men in all parts of Europe.

I wish, also, to intercept and suppress those prejudices which
particularly prevail when the mechanism of painting is come to its
perfection, and which when they do prevail are certain to prevail
to the utter destruction of the higher and more valuable parts of
this literate and liberal profession.

These two have been my principal purposes; they are still as much
my concern as ever; and if I repeat my own ideas on the subject,
you who know how fast mistake and prejudice, when neglected, gain
ground upon truth and reason, will easily excuse me. I only
attempt to set the same thing in the greatest variety of lights.

The subject of this discourse will be imitation, as far as a
painter is concerned in it. By imitation I do not mean imitation
in its largest sense, but simply the following of other masters,
and the advantage to be drawn from the study of their works.

Those who have undertaken to write on our art, and have represented
it as a kind of inspiration, as a gift bestowed upon peculiar
favourites at their birth, seem to ensure a much more favourable
disposition from their readers, and have a much more captivating
and liberal air, than he who goes about to examine, coldly, whether
there are any means by which this art may be acquired; how our mind
may be strengthened and expanded, and what guides will show the way
to eminence.

It is very natural for those who are unacquainted with the cause of
anything extraordinary to be astonished at the effect, and to
consider it as a kind of magic. They, who have never observed the
gradation by which art is acquired, who see only what is the full
result of long labour and application of an infinite number, and
infinite variety of acts, are apt to conclude from their entire
inability to do the same at once, that it is not only inaccessible
to themselves, but can be done by those only who have some gift of
the nature of inspiration bestowed upon them.

The travellers into the East tell us that when the ignorant
inhabitants of these countries are asked concerning the ruins of
stately edifices yet remaining amongst them, the melancholy
monuments of their former grandeur and long-lost science, they
always answer that they were built by magicians. The untaught mind
finds a vast gulf between its own powers and these works of
complicated art which it is utterly unable to fathom. And it
supposes that such a void can be passed only by supernatural

And, as for artists themselves, it is by no means their interest to
undeceive such judges, however conscious they may be of the very
natural means by which the extraordinary powers were acquired; our
art being intrinsically imitative, rejects this idea of inspiration
more, perhaps, than any other.

It is to avoid this plain confession of truth, as it should seem,
that this imitation of masters--indeed, almost all imitation which
implies a more regular and progressive method of attaining the ends
of painting--has ever been particularly inveighed against with
great keenness, both by ancient and modern writers.

To derive all from native power, to owe nothing to another, is the
praise which men, who do not much think what they are saying,
bestow sometimes upon others, and sometimes on themselves; and
their imaginary dignity is naturally heightened by a supercilious
censure of the low, the barren, the grovelling, the servile
imitator. It would be no wonder if a student, frightened by these
terrors and disgraceful epithets, with which the poor imitators are
so often loaded, should let fall his pencil in mere despair,
conscious how much he has been indebted to the labours of others,
how little, how very little of his art was born with him; and,
considering it as hopeless, to set about acquiring by the imitation
of any human master what he is taught to suppose is matter of
inspiration from heaven.

Some allowance must be made for what is said in the gaiety or
ambition of rhetoric. We cannot suppose that any one can really
mean to exclude all imitation of others. A position so wild would
scarce deserve a serious answer, for it is apparent, if we were
forbid to make use of the advantages which our predecessors afford
us, the art would be always to begin, and consequently remain
always in its infant state; and it is a common observation that no
art was ever invented and carried to perfection at the same time.

But to bring us entirely to reason and sobriety, let it be
observed, that a painter must not only be of necessity an imitator
of the works of nature, which alone is sufficient to dispel this
phantom of inspiration, but he must be as necessarily an imitator
of the works of other painters. This appears more humiliating, but
it is equally true; and no man can be an artist, whatever he may
suppose, upon any other terms.

However, those who appear more moderate and reasonable allow that
study is to begin by imitation, but that we should no longer use
the thoughts of our predecessors when we are become able to think
for ourselves. They hold that imitation is as hurtful to the more
advanced student as it was advantageous to the beginner.

For my own part, I confess I am not only very much disposed to lay
down the absolute necessity of imitation in the first stages of the
art, but am of opinion that the study of other masters, which I
here call imitation, may be extended throughout our whole life
without any danger of the inconveniences with which it is charged,
of enfeebling the mind, or preventing us from giving that original
air which every work undoubtedly ought always to have.

I am, on the contrary, persuaded that by imitation only, variety,
and even originality of invention is produced.

I will go further; even genius, at least what generally is so
called, is the child of imitation. But as this appears to be
contrary to the general opinion, I must explain my position before
I enforce it.

Genius is supposed to be a power of producing excellences which are
out of the reach of the rules of art--a power which no precepts can
teach, and which no industry can acquire.

This opinion of the impossibility of acquiring those beauties which
stamp the work with the character of genius, supposes that it is
something more fixed than in reality it is, and that we always do,
and ever did agree, about what should be considered as a
characteristic of genius.

But the truth is that the degree of excellence which proclaims
genius is different in different times and different places; and
what shows it to be so is that mankind have often changed their
opinion upon this matter.

When the arts were in their infancy, the power of merely drawing
the likeness of any object was considered as one of its greatest

The common people, ignorant of the principles of art, talk the same
language even to this day. But when it was found that every man
could be taught to do this, and a great deal more, merely by the
observance of certain precepts, the name of genius then shifted its
application, and was given only to those who added the peculiar
character of the object they represented; to those who had
invention, expression, grace, or dignity; or, in short, such
qualities or excellences the producing of which could not then be
taught by any known and promulgated rules.

We are very sure that the beauty of form, the expression of the
passions, the art of composition, even the power of giving a
general air of grandeur to your work, is at present very much under
the dominion of rules. These excellences were, heretofore,
considered merely as the effects of genius; and justly, if genius
is not taken for inspiration, but as the effect of close
observation and experience.

He who first made any of these observations and digested them, so
as to form an invariable principle for himself to work by, had that
merit; but probably no one went very far at once; and generally the
first who gave the hint did not know how to pursue it steadily and
methodically, at least not in the beginning. He himself worked on
it, and improved it; others worked more, and improved farther,
until the secret was discovered, and the practice made as general
as refined practice can be made. How many more principles may be
fixed and ascertained we cannot tell; but as criticism is likely to
go hand in hand with the art which is its subject, we may venture
to say that as that art shall advance, its powers will be still
more and more fixed by rules.

But by whatever strides criticism may gain ground, we need be under
no apprehension that invention will ever be annihilated or subdued,
or intellectual energy be brought entirely within the restraint of
written law. Genius will still have room enough to expatiate, and
keep always the same distance from narrow comprehension and
mechanical performance.

What we now call genius begins, not where rules, abstractedly
taken, end, but where known vulgar and trite rules have no longer
any place. It must of necessity be that even works of genius, as
well as every other effect, as it must have its cause, must
likewise have its rules; it cannot be by chance that excellences
are produced with any constancy, or any certainty, for this is not
the nature of chance, but the rules by which men of extraordinary
parts, and such as are called men of genius work, are either such
as they discover by their own peculiar observation, or of such a
nice texture as not easily to admit handling or expressing in
words, especially as artists are not very frequently skilful in
that mode of communicating ideas.

Unsubstantial, however, as these rules may seem, and difficult as
it may be to convey them in writing, they are still seen and felt
in the mind of the artist, and he works from them with as much
certainty as if they were embodied, as I may say, upon paper. It
is true these refined principles cannot be always made palpable,
like the more gross rules of art; yet it does not follow but that
the mind may be put in such a train that it shall perceive, by a
kind of scientific sense, that propriety which words, particularly
words of unpractised writers such as we are, can but very feebly

Invention is one of the great marks of genius, but if we consult
experience, we shall find that it is by being conversant with the
inventions of others that we learn to invent, as by reading the
thoughts of others we learn to think.

Whoever has so far formed his taste as to be able to relish and
feel the beauties of the great masters has gone a great way in his
study; for, merely from a consciousness of this relish of the
right, the mind swells with an inward pride, and is almost as
powerfully affected as if it had itself produced what it admires.
Our hearts frequently warmed in this manner by the contact of those
whom we wish to resemble, will undoubtedly catch something of their
way of thinking, and we shall receive in our own bosoms some
radiation at least of their fire and splendour. That disposition,
which is so strong in children, still continues with us, of
catching involuntarily the general air and manner of those with
whom we are most conversant; with this difference only, that a
young mind is naturally pliable and imitative, but in a more
advanced state it grows rigid, and must be warmed and softened
before it will receive a deep impression.

From these considerations, which a little of your reflection will
carry a great way further, it appears of what great consequence it
is that our minds should be habituated to the contemplation of
excellence, and that, far from being contented to make such habits
the discipline of our youth only, we should, to the last moment of
our lives, continue a settled intercourse with all the true
examples of grandeur. Their inventions are not only the food of
our infancy, but the substance which supplies the fullest maturity
of our vigour.

The mind is but a barren soil; is a soil soon exhausted, and will
produce no crop, or only one, unless it be continually fertilised
and enriched with foreign matter.

When we have had continually before us the great works of art to
impregnate our minds with kindred ideas, we are then, and not till
then, fit to produce something, of the same species. We behold all
about us with the eyes of these penetrating observers, and our
minds, accustomed to think the thoughts of the noblest and
brightest intellects, are prepared for the discovery and selection
of all that is great and noble in nature. The greatest natural
genius cannot subsist on its own stock: he who resolves never to
ransack any mind but his own will be soon reduced, from mere
barrenness, to the poorest of all imitations; he will be obliged to
imitate himself, and to repeat what he has before often repeated.
When we know the subject designed by such men, it will never be
difficult to guess what kind of work is to be produced.

It is vain for painters or poets to endeavour to invent without
materials on which the mind may work, and from which invention must
originate. Nothing can come of nothing.

Homer is supposed to be possessed of all the learning of his time.
And we are certain that Michael Angelo and Raffaelle were equally
possessed of all knowledge in the art which was discoverable in the
works of their predecessors.

A mind enriched by an assemblage of all the treasures of ancient
and modern art will be more elevated and fruitful in resources in
proportion to the number of ideas which have been carefully
collected and thoroughly digested. There can be no doubt that he
who has the most materials has the greatest means of invention; and
if he has not the power of using them, it must proceed from a
feebleness of intellect or from the confused manner in which those
collections have been laid up in his mind.

The addition of other men's judgment is so far from weakening, as
is the opinion of many, our own, that it will fashion and
consolidate those ideas of excellence which lay in their birth
feeble, ill-shaped, and confused, but which are finished and put in
order by the authority and practice of those whose works may be
said to have been consecrated by having stood the test of ages.

The mind, or genius, has been compared to a spark of fire which is
smothered by a heap of fuel and prevented from blazing into a
flame. This simile, which is made use of by the younger Pliny, may
be easily mistaken for argument or proof.

There is no danger of the mind's being over-burdened with
knowledge, or the genius extinguished by any addition of images; on
the contrary, these acquisitions may as well, perhaps better, be
compared, if comparisons signified anything in reasoning, to the
supply of living embers, which will contribute to strengthen the
spark that without the association of more would have died away.

The truth is, he whose feebleness is such as to make other men's
thoughts an incumbrance to him can have no very great strength of
mind or genius of his own to be destroyed, so that not much harm
will be done at worst.

We may oppose to Pliny the greater authority of Cicero, who is
continually enforcing the necessity of this method of study. In
his dialogue on Oratory he makes Crassus say, that one of the first
and most important precepts is to choose a proper model for our
imitation. Hoc fit primum in preceptis meis ut demonstremus quem

When I speak of the habitual imitation and continued study of
masters, it is not to be understood that I advise any endeavour to
copy the exact peculiar colour and complexion of another man's
mind; the success of such an attempt must always be like his who
imitates exactly the air, manner, and gestures of him whom he
admires. His model may be excellent, but the copy will be
ridiculous; this ridicule does not arise from his having imitated,
but from his not having chosen the right mode of imitation.

It is a necessary and warrantable pride to disdain to walk
servilely behind any individual, however elevated his rank. The
true and liberal ground of imitation is an open field, where,
though he who precedes has had the advantage of starting before
you, yet it is enough to pursue his course; you need not tread in
his footsteps, and you certainly have a right to outstrip him if
you can.

Nor, whilst I recommend studying the art from artists, can I be
supposed to mean that nature is to be neglected? I take this study
in aid and not in exclusion of the other. Nature is, and must be,
the fountain which alone is inexhaustible; and from which all
excellences must originally flow.

The great use of studying our predecessors is to open the mind, to
shorten our labour, and to give us the result of the selection made
by those great minds of what is grand or beautiful in nature: her
rich stores are all spread out before us; but it is an art, and no
easy art, to know how or what to choose, and how to attain and
secure the object of our choice.

Thus the highest beauty of form must be taken from nature; but it
is an art of long deduction and great experience to know how to
find it.

We must not content ourselves with merely admiring and relishing;
we must enter into the principles on which the work is wrought;
these do not swim on the superficies, and consequently are not open
to superficial observers.

Art in its perfection is not ostentatious; it lies hid, and works
its effect itself unseen. It is the proper study and labour of an
artist to uncover and find out the latent cause of conspicuous
beauties, and from thence form principles for his own conduct; such
an examination is a continual exertion of the mind, as great,
perhaps, as that of the artist whose works he is thus studying.

The sagacious imitator not only remarks what distinguishes the
different manner or genius of each master; he enters into the
contrivance in the composition, how the masses of lights are
disposed, the means by which the effect is produced, how artfully
some parts are lost in the ground, others boldly relieved, and how
all these are mutually altered and interchanged according to the
reason and scheme of the work. He admires not the harmony of
colouring alone, but he examines by what artifice one colour is a
foil to its neighbour. He looks close into the tints, of what
colours they are composed, till he has formed clear and distinct
ideas, and has learnt to see in what harmony and good colouring
consists. What is learnt in this manner from the works of others
becomes really our own, sinks deep, and is never forgotten; nay, it
is by seizing on this clue that we proceed forward, and get further
and further in enlarging the principle and improving the practice.

There can be no doubt but the art is better learnt from the works
themselves than from the precepts which are formed upon these
works; but if it is difficult to choose proper models for
imitation, it requires no less circumspection to separate and
distinguish what in those models we ought to imitate.

I cannot avoid mentioning here, though it is not my intention at
present to enter into the art and method of study, an error which
students are too apt to fall into.

He that is forming himself must look with great caution and
wariness on those peculiarities, or prominent parts, which at first
force themselves upon view, and are the marks, or what is commonly
called the manner, by which that individual artist is

Peculiar marks I hold to be generally, if not always, defects,
however difficult it may be, wholly to escape them.

Peculiarities in the works of art are like those in the human
figure; it is by them that we are cognisable and distinguished one
from another, but they are always so many blemishes, which,
however, both in the one case and in the other, cease to appear
deformities to those who have them continually before their eyes.
In the works of art, even the most enlightened mind, when warmed by
beauties of the highest kind, will by degrees find a repugnance
within him to acknowledge any defects; nay, his enthusiasm will
carry him so far as to transform them into beauties and objects of

It must be acknowledged that a peculiarity of style, either from
its novelty, or by seeming to proceed from a peculiar turn of mind,
often escapes blame; on the contrary, it is sometimes striking and
pleasing; but this it is vain labour to endeavour to imitate,
because novelty and peculiarity being its only merit, when it
ceases to be new, it ceases to have value.

A manner, therefore, being a defect, and every painter, however
excellent, having a manner, it seems to follow that all kinds of
faults, as well as beauties, may be learned under the sanction of
the greatest authorities.

Even the great name of Michael Angelo may be used to keep in
countenance a deficiency, or rather neglect of colouring, and every
other ornamental part of the art.

If the young student is dry and hard, Poussin is the same. If his
work has a careless and unfinished air, he has most of the Venetian
School to support him. If he makes no selection of objects, but
takes individual nature just as he finds it, he is like Rembrandt.
If he is incorrect in the proportions of his figures, Correggio was
likewise incorrect. If his colours are not blended and united,
Rubens was equally crude.

In short, there is no defect but may be excused, if it is a
sufficient excuse that it can be imputed to considerable artists;
but it must be remembered that it was not by these defects they
acquired their reputation: they have a right to our pardon, but
not to our admiration.

However, to imitate peculiarities or mistake defects for beauties
that man will be most liable who confines his imitation to one
favourite master; and, even though he chooses the best, and is
capable of distinguishing the real excellences of his model, it is
not by such narrow practice that a genius or mastery in the art is
acquired. A man is as little likely to form a true idea of the
perfection of the art by studying a single artist as he would be of
producing a perfectly beautiful figure by an exact imitation of any
individual living model.

And as the painter, by bringing together in one piece those
beauties which are dispersed amongst a great variety of
individuals, produces a figure more beautiful than can be found in
nature, so that artist who can unite in himself the excellences of
the various painters, will approach nearer to perfection than any
one of his masters.

He who confines himself to the imitation of an individual, as he
never proposes to surpass, so he is not likely to equal, the object
of imitation. He professes only to follow, and he that follows
must necessarily be behind.

We should imitate the conduct of the great artists in the course of
their studies, as well as the works which they produced, when they
were perfectly formed. Raffaelle began by imitating implicitly the
manner of Pietro Perugino, under whom he studied; so his first
works are scarce to be distinguished from his master's; but soon
forming higher and more extensive views, he imitated the grand
outline of Michael Angelo. He learnt the manner of using colours
from the works of Leonardo da Vinci and Fratre Bartolomeo: to all
this he added the contemplation of all the remains of antiquity
that were within his reach, and employed others to draw for him
what was in Greece and distant places. And it is from his having
taken so many models that he became himself a model for all
succeeding painters, always imitating, and always original.

If your ambition therefore be to equal Raffaelle, you must do as
Raffaelle did; take many models, and not take even him for your
guide alone to the exclusion of others. And yet the number is
infinite of those who seem, if one may judge by their style, to
have seen no other works but those of their master, or of some
favourite whose manner is their first wish and their last.

I will mention a few that occur to me of this narrow, confined,
illiberal, unscientific, and servile kind of imitators. Guido was
thus meanly copied by Elizabetta Sirani, and Simone Cantarini;
Poussin, by Verdier and Cheron; Parmigiano, by Jeronimo Mazzuoli;
Paolo Veronese and Iacomo Bassan had for their imitators their
brothers and sons; Pietro de Cortona was followed by Ciro Ferri and
Romanelli; Rubens, by Jacques Jordans and Diepenbeck; Guercino, by
his own family, the Gennari; Carlo Marratti was imitated by
Giuseppe Chiari and Pietro da Pietri; and Rembrandt, by Bramer,
Eckhout, and Flink. All these, to whom may be added a much longer
list of painters, whose works among the ignorant pass for those of
their masters, are justly to be censured for barrenness and

To oppose to this list a few that have adopted a more liberal style
of imitation: Pelegrino Tibaldi, Rosso, and Primaticio did not
coldly imitate, but caught something of the fire that animates the
works of Michael Angelo. The Carraches formed their style from
Pelegrino Tibaldi, Correggio, and the Venetian School.
Domenichino, Guido, Lanfranco, Albano, Guercino, Cavidone,
Schidone, Tiarini, though it is sufficiently apparent that they
came from the School of the Carraches, have yet the appearance of
men who extended their views beyond the model that lay before them,
and have shown that they had opinions of their own, and thought for
themselves, after they had made themselves masters of the general
principles of their schools.

Le Seure's first manner resembles very much that of his master
Vovet: but as he soon excelled him, so he differed from him in
every part of the art. Carlo Marratti succeeded better than those
I have first named, and I think owes his superiority to the
extension of his views; besides his master Andrea Sacchi, he
imitated Raffaelle, Guido, and the Carraches. It is true, there is
nothing very captivating in Carlo Marratti; but this proceeded from
wants which cannot be completely supplied; that is, want of
strength of parts. In this, certainly men are not equal, and a man
can bring home wares only in proportion to the capital with which
he goes to market. Carlo, by diligence, made the most of what he
had; but there was undoubtedly a heaviness about him, which
extended itself, uniformly to his invention, expression, his
drawing, colouring, and the general effect of his pictures. The
truth is, he never equalled any of his patterns in any one thing,
and he added little of his own.

But we must not rest contented, even in this general study of the
moderns; we must trace back the art to its fountain head, to that
source from whence they drew their principal excellences, the
monuments of pure antiquity.

All the inventions and thoughts of the ancients, whether conveyed
to us in statues, bas-reliefs, intaglios, cameos, or coins, are to
be sought after and carefully studied: The genius that hovers over
these venerable relics may be called the father of modern art.

From the remains of the works of the ancients the modern arts were
revived, and it is by their means that they must be restored a
second time. However it may mortify our vanity, we must be forced
to allow them our masters; and we may venture to prophecy, that
when they shall cease to be studied, arts will no longer flourish,
and we shall again relapse into barbarism.

The fire of the artist's own genius operating upon these materials
which have been thus diligently collected, will enable him to make
new combinations, perhaps, superior to what had ever before been in
the possession of the art. As in the mixture of the variety of
metals, which are said to have been melted and run together at the
burning of Corinth, a new and till then unknown metal was produced
equal in value to any of those that had contributed to its
composition. And though a curious refiner may come with his
crucibles, analyse and separate its various component parts, yet
Corinthian brass would still hold its rank amongst the most
beautiful and valuable of metals.

We have hitherto considered the advantages of imitation as it tends
to form the taste, and as a practice by which a spark of that
genius may be caught which illumines these noble works, that ought
always to be present to our thoughts.

We come now to speak of another kind of imitation; the borrowing a
particular thought, an action, attitude, or figure, and
transplanting it into your own work: this will either come under
the charge of plagiarism, or be warrantable, and deserve
commendation, according to the address with which it is performed.
There is some difference likewise whether it is upon the ancients
or the moderns that these depredations are made. It is generally
allowed that no man need be ashamed of copying the ancients: their
works are considered as a magazine of common property, always open
to the public, whence every man has a right to what materials he
pleases; and if he has the art of using them, they are supposed to
become to all intents and purposes his own property.

The collection which Raffaelle made of the thoughts of the ancients
with so much trouble, is a proof of his opinion on this subject.
Such collections may be made with much more ease, by means of an
art scarce known in his time; I mean that of engraving, by which,
at an easy rate, every man may now avail himself of the inventions
of antiquity.

It must be acknowledged that the works of the moderns are more the
property of their authors; he who borrows an idea from an artist,
or perhaps from a modern, not his contemporary, and so accommodates
it to his own work that it makes a part of it, with no seam or
joining appearing, can hardly be charged with plagiarism; poets
practise this kind of borrowing without reserve. But an artist
should not be contented with this only; he should enter into a
competition with his original, and endeavour to improve what he is
appropriating to his own work. Such imitation is so far from
having anything in it of the servility of plagiarism, that it is a
perpetual exercise of the mind, a continual invention.

Borrowing or stealing with such art and caution will have a right
to the same lenity as was used by the Lacedemonians; who did not
punish theft, but the want of artifice to conceal it.

In order to encourage you to imitation, to the utmost extent, let
me add, that very finished artists in the inferior branches of the
art will contribute to furnish the mind and give hints of which a
skilful painter, who is sensible of what he wants, and is in no
danger of being infected by the contact of vicious models, will
know how to avail himself. He will pick up from dunghills what by
a nice chemistry, passing through his own mind, shall be converted
into pure gold; and, under the rudeness of Gothic essays, he will
find original, rational, and even sublime inventions.

In the luxuriant style of Paul Veronese, in the capricious
compositions of Tintoret, he will find something that will assist
his invention, and give points, from which his own imagination
shall rise and take flight, when the subject which he treats will,
with propriety, admit of splendid effects.

In every school, whether Venetian, French, or Dutch, he will find
either ingenious compositions, extraordinary effects, some peculiar
expressions, or some mechanical excellence, well worthy his
attention and, in some measure, of his imitation; even in the lower
class of the French painters, great beauties are often found united
with great defects.

Though Coypel wanted a simplicity of taste, and mistook a
presumptuous and assuming air for what is grand and majestic; yet
he frequently has good sense and judgment in his manner of telling
his stories, great skill in his compositions, and is not without a
considerable power of expressing the passions, The modern
affectation of grace in his works, as well as in those of Bouche
and Watteau, may be said to be separated by a very thin partition
from the more simple and pure grace of Correggio and Parmigiano.

Amongst the Dutch painters, the correct, firm, and determined
pencil, which was employed by Bamboccio and Jan Miel on vulgar and
mean subjects, might without any change be employed on the highest,
to which, indeed, it seems more properly to belong. The greatest
style, if that style is confined to small figures such as Poussin
generally painted, would receive an additional grace by the
elegance and precision of pencil so admirable in the works of

Though this school more particularly excelled in the mechanism of
painting, yet there are many who have shown great abilities in
expressing what must be ranked above mechanical excellences.

In the works of Frank Hals the portrait painter may observe the
composition of a face, the features well put together as the
painters express it, from whence proceeds that strong marked
character of individual nature which is so remarkable in his
portraits, and is not to be found in an equal degree in any other
painter. If he had joined to this most difficult part of the art a
patience in finishing what he had so correctly planned, he might
justly have claimed the place which Vandyke, all things considered,
so justly holds as the first of portrait painters.

Others of the same school have shown great power in expressing the
character and passions of those vulgar people which are the
subjects of their study and attention. Amongst those, Jean Stein
seems to be one of the most diligent and accurate observers of what
passed in those scenes which he frequented, and which were to him
an academy. I can easily imagine that if this extraordinary man
had had the good fortune to have been born in Italy instead of
Holland, had he lived in Rome instead of Leyden, and had been
blessed with Michael Angelo and Raffaelle for his masters instead
of Brower and Van Gowen, that the same sagacity and penetration
which distinguished so accurately the different characters and
expression in his vulgar figures, would, when exerted in the
selection and imitation of what was great and elevated in nature,
have been equally successful, and his name would have been now
ranged with the great pillars and supporters of our art.

Men who, although thus bound down by the almost invincible powers
of early habits, have still exerted extraordinary abilities within
their narrow and confined circle, and have, from the natural vigour
of their mind, given such an interesting expression, such force and
energy to their works, though they cannot be recommended to be
exactly imitated, may yet invite an artist to endeavour to
transfer, by a kind of parody, those excellences to his own works.
Whoever has acquired the power of making this use of the Flemish,
Venetian, and French schools is a real genius, and has sources of
knowledge open to him which were wanting to the great artists who
lived in the great age of painting.

To find excellences however dispersed, to discover beauties however
concealed by the multitude of defects with which they are
surrounded, can be the work only of him who, having a mind always
alive to his art, has extended his views to all ages and to all
schools, and has acquired from that comprehensive mass which he has
thus gathered to himself, a well digested and perfect idea of his
art, to which everything is referred. Like a sovereign judge and
arbiter of art, he is possessed of that presiding power which
separates and attracts every excellence from every school, selects
both from what is great and what is little, brings home knowledge
from the east and from the west, making the universe tributary
towards furnishing his mind and enriching his works with
originality and variety of inventions.

Thus I have ventured to give my opinion of what appears to me the
true and only method by which an artist makes himself master of his
profession, which I hold ought to be one continued course of
imitation, that is not to cease but with our lives.

Those who, either from their own engagements and hurry of business,
or from indolence, or from conceit and vanity, have neglected
looking out of themselves, as far as my experience and observation
reaches, have from that time not only ceased to advance and improve
in their performance, but have gone backward. They may be compared
to men who have lived upon their principal till they are reduced to
beggary and left without resources.

I can recommend nothing better, therefore, than that you endeavour
to infuse into your works what you learn from the contemplation of
the works of others. To recommend this has the appearance of
needless and superfluous advice, but it has fallen within my own
knowledge that artists, though they are not wanting in a sincere
love for their art, though they have great pleasure in seeing good
pictures, and are well skilled to distinguish what is excellent or
defective in them, yet go on in their own manner, without any
endeavour to give a little of those beauties which they admire in
others, to their own works. It is difficult to conceive how the
present Italian painters, who live in the midst of the treasures of
art, should be contented with their own style. They proceed in
their common-place inventions, and never think it worth while to
visit the works of those great artists with which they are

I remember several years ago to have conversed at Rome with an
artist of great fame throughout Europe; he was not without a
considerable degree of abilities, but those abilities were by no
means equal to his own opinion of them. From the reputation he had
acquired he too fondly concluded that he stood in the same rank,
when compared to his predecessors, as he held with regard to his
miserable contemporary rivals.

In conversation about some particulars of the works of Raffaelle,
he seemed to have, or to affect to have, a very obscure memory of
them. He told me that he had not set his foot in the Vatican for
fifteen years together; that indeed he had been in treaty to copy a
capital picture of Raffaelle, but that the business had gone off;
however, if the agreement had held, his copy would have greatly
exceeded the original. The merit of this artist, however great we
may suppose it, I am sure would have been far greater, and his
presumption would have been far less if he had visited the Vatican,
as in reason he ought to have done, once at least every month of
his life.

I address myself, gentlemen, to you who have made some progress in
the art, and are to be for the future under the guidance of your
own judgment and discretion

I consider you as arrived to that period when you have a right to
think for yourselves, and to presume that every man is fallible; to
study the masters with a suspicion that great men are not always
exempt from great faults; to criticise, compare, and rank their
works in your own estimation, as they approach to or recede from
that standard of perfection which you have formed in your own mind,
but which those masters themselves, it must be remembered, have
taught you to make, and which you will cease to make with
correctness when you cease to study them. It is their excellences
which have taught you their defects.

I would wish you to forget where you are, and who it is that speaks
to you. I only direct you to higher models and better advisers.
We can teach you here but very little; you are henceforth to be
your own teachers. Do this justice, however, to the English
Academy, to bear in mind, that in this place you contracted no
narrow habits, no false ideas, nothing that could lead you to the
imitation of any living master, who may be the fashionable darling
of the day. As you have not been taught to flatter us, do not
learn to flatter yourselves. We have endeavoured to lead you to
the admiration of nothing but what is truly admirable. If you
choose inferior patterns, or if you make your own FORMER works,
your patterns for your LATTER, it is your own fault.

The purpose of this discourse, and, indeed, of most of my others,
is to caution you against that false opinion, but too prevalent
amongst artists, of the imaginary power of native genius, and its
sufficiency in great works. This opinion, according to the temper
of mind it meets with, almost always produces, either a vain
confidence, or a sluggish despair, both equally fatal to all

Study, therefore, the great works of the great masters for ever.
Study as nearly as you can, in the order, in the manner, on the
principles, on which they studied. Study nature attentively, but
always with those masters in your company; consider them as models
which you are to imitate, and at the same time as rivals which you
are to combat.


Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy on the Distribution
of the Prizes, December 10th, 1776, by the President.

Gentlemen,--It has been my uniform endeavour, since I first
addressed you from this place, to impress you strongly with one
ruling idea. I wished you to be persuaded, that success in your
art depends almost entirely on your own industry; but the industry
which I principally recommended, is not the industry of the HANDS,
but of the MIND.

As our art is not a divine gift, so neither is it a mechanical
trade. Its foundations are laid in solid science. And practice,
though essential to perfection, can never attain that to which it
aims, unless it works under the direction of principle.

Some writers upon art carry this point too far, and suppose that
such a body of universal and profound learning is requisite, that
the very enumeration of its kind is enough to frighten a beginner.
Vitruvius, after going through the many accomplishments of nature,
and the many acquirements of learning, necessary to an architect,
proceeds with great gravity to assert that he ought to be well
skilled in the civil law, that he may not be cheated in the title
of the ground he builds on.

But without such exaggeration, we may go so far as to assert, that
a painter stands in need of more knowledge than is to be picked off
his pallet, or collected by looking on his model, whether it be in
life or in picture. He can never be a great artist who is grossly

Every man whose business is description ought to be tolerably
conversant with the poets in some language or other, that he may
imbibe a poetical spirit and enlarge his stock of ideas. He ought
to acquire a habit of comparing and divesting his notions. He
ought not to be wholly unacquainted with that part of philosophy
which gives him an insight into human nature, and relates to the
manners, characters, passions, and affections. He ought to know
something concerning the mind, as well as a great deal concerning
the body of man.

For this purpose, it is not necessary that he should go into such a
compass of reading, as must, by distracting his attention,
disqualify him for the practical part of his profession, and make
him sink the performer in the critic. Reading, if it can be made
the favourite recreation of his leisure hours, will improve and
enlarge his mind without retarding his actual industry.

What such partial and desultory reading cannot afford, may be
supplied by the conversation of learned and ingenious men, which is
the best of all substitutes for those who have not the means or
opportunities of deep study. There are many such men in this age;
and they will be pleased with communicating their ideas to artists,
when they see them curious and docile, if they are treated with
that respect and deference which is so justly their due. Into such
society, young artists, if they make it the point of their
ambition, will by degrees be admitted. There, without formal
teaching, they will insensibly come to feel and reason like those
they live with, and find a rational and systematic taste
imperceptibly formed in their minds, which they will know how to
reduce to a standard, by applying general truth to their own
purposes, better perhaps than those to whom they owed the original

Of these studies and this conversation, the desired and legitimate
offspring is a power of distinguishing right from wrong, which
power applied to works of art is denominated taste. Let me then,
without further introduction, enter upon an examination whether
taste be so far beyond our reach as to be unattainable by care, or
be so very vague and capricious that no care ought to be employed
about it.

It has been the fate of arts to be enveloped in mysterious and
incomprehensible language, as if it was thought necessary that even
the terms should correspond to the idea entertained of the
instability and uncertainty of the rules which they expressed.

To speak of genius and taste as any way connected with reason or
common sense, would be, in the opinion of some towering talkers, to
speak like a man who possessed neither, who had never felt that
enthusiasm, or, to use their own inflated language, was never
warmed by that Promethean fire, which animates the canvas and
vivifies the marble.

If, in order to be intelligible, I appear to degrade art by
bringing her down from her visionary situation in the clouds, it is
only to give her a more solid mansion upon the earth. It is
necessary that at some time or other we should see things as they
really are, and not impose on ourselves by that false magnitude
with which objects appear when viewed indistinctly as through a

We will allow a poet to express his meaning, when his meaning is
not well known to himself, with a certain degree of obscurity, as
it is one source of the sublime. But when, in plain prose, we
gravely talk of courting the muse in shady bowers, waiting the call
and inspiration of genius, finding out where he inhabits, and where
he is to be invoked with the greatest success; of attending to
times and seasons when the imagination shoots with the greatest
vigour, whether at the summer solstice or the equinox, sagaciously
observing how much the wild freedom and liberty of imagination is
cramped by attention to established rules, and how this same
imagination begins to grow dim in advanced age, smothered and
deadened by too much judgment. When we talk such language, or
entertain such sentiments as these, we generally rest contented
with mere words, or at best entertain notions not only groundless,
but pernicious.

If all this means what it is very possible was originally intended
only to be meant, that in order to cultivate an art, a man secludes
himself from the commerce of the world, and retires into the
country at particular seasons; or that at one time of the year his
body is in better health, and consequently his mind fitter for the
business of hard thinking than at another time; or that the mind
may be fatigued and grow confused by long and unremitted
application; this I can understand. I can likewise believe that a
man eminent when young for possessing poetical imagination, may,
from having taken another road, so neglect its cultivation as to
show less of its powers in his latter life. But I am persuaded
that scarce a poet is to be found, from Homer down to Dryden, who
preserved a sound mind in a sound body, and continued practising
his profession to the very last, whose later works are not as
replete with the fire of imagination as those which were produced
in his more youthful days.

To understand literally these metaphors or ideas expressed in
poetical language, seems to be equally absurd as to conclude that
because painters sometimes represent poets writing from the
dictates of a little winged boy or genius, that this same genius
did really inform him in a whisper what he was to write, and that
he is himself but a mere machine, unconscious of the operations of
his own mind.

Opinions generally received and floating in the world, whether true
or false, we naturally adopt and make our own; they may be
considered as a kind of inheritance to which we succeed and are
tenants for life, and which we leave to our posterity very near in
the condition in which we received it; not much being in any one
man's power either to impair or improve it.

The greatest part of these opinions, like current coin in its
circulation, we are obliged to take without weighing or examining;
but by this inevitable inattention, many adulterated pieces are
received, which, when we seriously estimate our wealth, we must
throw away. So the collector of popular opinions, when he embodies
his knowledge, and forms a system, must separate those which are
true from those which are only plausible. But it becomes more
peculiarly a duty to the professors of art not to let any opinions
relating to that art pass unexamined. The caution and
circumspection required in such examination we shall presently have
an opportunity of explaining.

Genius and taste, in their common acceptation, appear to be very
nearly related; the difference lies only in this, that genius has
superadded to it a habit or power of execution. Or we may say,
that taste, when this power is added, changes its name, and is
called genius. They both, in the popular opinion, pretend to an
entire exemption from the restraint of rules. It is supposed that
their powers are intuitive; that under the name of genius great
works are produced, and under the name of taste an exact judgment
is given, without our knowing why, and without being under the
least obligation to reason, precept, or experience.

One can scarce state these opinions without exposing their
absurdity, yet they are constantly in the mouths of men, and
particularly of artists. They who have thought seriously on this
subject, do not carry the point so far; yet I am persuaded, that
even among those few who may be called thinkers, the prevalent
opinion gives less than it ought to the powers of reason; and
considers the principles of taste, which give all their authority
to the rules of art, as more fluctuating, and as having less solid
foundations than we shall find, upon examination, they really have.

The common saying, that tastes are not to be disputed, owes its
influence, and its general reception, to the same error which leads
us to imagine it of too high original to submit to the authority of
an earthly tribunal. It will likewise correspond with the notions
of those who consider it as a mere phantom of the imagination, so
devoid of substance as to elude all criticism.

We often appear to differ in sentiments from each other, merely
from the inaccuracy of terms, as we are not obliged to speak always
with critical exactness. Something of this too may arise from want
of words in the language to express the more nice discriminations
which a deep investigation discovers. A great deal, however, of
this difference vanishes when each opinion is tolerably explained
and understood by constancy and precision in the use of terms.

We apply the term taste to that act of the mind by which we like or
dislike, whatever be the subject. Our judgment upon an airy
nothing, a fancy which has no foundation, is called by the same
name which we give to our determination concerning those truths
which refer to the most general and most unalterable principles of
human nature, to works which are only to be produced by the
greatest efforts of the human understanding. However inconvenient
this may be, we are obliged to take words as we find them; all we
can do is to distinguish the things to which they are applied.

We may let pass those things which are at once subjects of taste
and sense, and which having as much certainty as the senses
themselves, give no occasion to inquiry or dispute. The natural
appetite or taste of the human mind is for truth; whether that
truth results from the real agreement or equality of original ideas
among themselves; from the agreement of the representation of any
object with the thing represented; or from the correspondence of
the several parts of any arrangement with each other. It is the
very same taste which relishes a demonstration in geometry, that is
pleased with the resemblance of a picture to an original, and
touched with the harmony of music.

All these have unalterable and fixed foundations in nature, and are
therefore equally investigated by reason, and known by study; some
with more, some with less clearness, but all exactly in the same
way. A picture that is unlike, is false. Disproportionate
ordinance of parts is not right because it cannot be true until it
ceases to be a contradiction to assert that the parts have no
relation to the whole. Colouring is true where it is naturally
adapted to the eye, from brightness, from softness, from harmony,
from resemblance; because these agree with their object, nature,
and therefore are true: as true as mathematical demonstration; but
known to be true only to those who study these things.

But besides real, there is also apparent truth, or opinion, or
prejudice. With regard to real truth, when it is known, the taste
which conforms to it is, and must be, uniform. With regard to the
second sort of truth, which may be called truth upon sufferance, or
truth by courtesy, it is not fixed, but variable. However, whilst
these opinions and prejudices on which it is founded continue, they
operate as truth; and the art, whose office it is to please the
mind, as well as instruct it, must direct itself according to
opinion, or it will not attain its end.

In proportion as these prejudices are known to be generally
diffused, or long received, the taste which conforms to them
approaches nearer to certainty, and to a sort of resemblance to
real science, even where opinions are found to be no better than
prejudices. And since they deserve, on account of their duration
and extent, to be considered as really true, they become capable of
no small decree of stability and determination by their permanent
and uniform nature.

As these prejudices become more narrow, more local, more
transitory, this secondary taste becomes more and more fantastical;
recedes from real science; is less to be approved by reason, and
less followed in practice; though in no case perhaps to be wholly
neglected, where it does not stand, as it sometimes does, in direct
defiance of the most respectable opinions received amongst mankind.

Having laid down these positions, I shall proceed with less method,
because less will serve, to explain and apply them.

We will take it for granted that reason is something invariable and
fixed in the nature of things; and without endeavouring to go back
to an account of first principles, which for ever will elude our
search, we will conclude that whatever goes under the name of
taste, which we can fairly bring under the dominion of reason, must
be considered as equally exempt from change. If therefore, in the
course of this inquiry, we can show that there are rules for the
conduct of the artist which are fixed and invariable, it implies,
of course, that the art of the connoisseur, or, in other words,
taste, has likewise invariable principles.

Of the judgment which we make on the works of art, and the
preference that we give to one class of art over another, if a
reason be demanded, the question is perhaps evaded by answering, "I
judge from my taste"; but it does not follow that a better answer
cannot be given, though for common gazers this may be sufficient.
Every man is not obliged to investigate the causes of his
approbation or dislike.

The arts would lie open for ever to caprice and casualty, if those
who are to judge of their excellences had no settled principles by
which they are to regulate their decisions, and the merit or defect
of performances were to be determined by unguided fancy. And
indeed we may venture to assert that whatever speculative knowledge
is necessary to the artist, is equally and indispensably necessary
to the connoisseur.

The first idea that occurs in the consideration of what is fixed in
art, or in taste, is that presiding principle of which I have so
frequently spoken in former discourses, the general idea of nature.
The beginning, the middle, and the end of everything that is
valuable in taste, is comprised in the knowledge of what is truly
nature; for whatever ideas are not conformable to those of nature,
or universal opinion, must be considered as more or less

The idea of nature comprehending not only the forms which nature
produces, but also the nature and internal fabric and organisation,
as I may call it, of the human mind and imagination: general
ideas, beauty, or nature, are but different ways of expressing the
same thing, whether we apply these terms to statues, poetry, or
picture. Deformity is not nature, but an accidental deviation from
her accustomed practice. This general idea therefore ought to be
called nature, and nothing else, correctly speaking, has a right to
that name. But we are so far from speaking, in common
conversation, with any such accuracy, that, on the contrary, when
we criticise Rembrandt and other Dutch painters, who introduced
into their historical pictures exact representations of individual
objects with all their imperfections, we say, though it is not in a
good taste, yet it is nature.

This misapplication of terms must be very often perplexing to the
young student. Is not, he may say, art an imitation of nature?
Must he not, therefore, who imitates her with the greatest fidelity
be the best artist? By this mode of reasoning Rembrandt has a
higher place than Raffaelle. But a very little reflection will
serve to show us that these particularities cannot be nature: for
how can that be the nature of man, in which no two individuals are
the same?

It plainly appears that as a work is conducted under the influence
of general ideas or partial it is principally to be considered as
the effect of a good or a bad taste.

As beauty therefore does not consist in taking what lies
immediately before you, so neither, in our pursuit of taste, are
those opinions which we first received and adopted the best choice,
or the most natural to the mind and imagination.

In the infancy of our knowledge we seize with greediness the good
that is within our reach; it is by after-consideration, and in
consequence of discipline, that we refuse the present for a greater
good at a distance. The nobility or elevation of all arts, like
the excellence of virtue itself, consists in adopting this enlarged
and comprehensive idea, and all criticism built upon the more
confined view of what is natural, may properly be called shallow
criticism, rather than false; its defect is that the truth is not
sufficiently extensive.

It has sometimes happened that some of the greatest men in our art
have been betrayed into errors by this confined mode of reasoning.
Poussin, who, upon the whole, may be produced as an instance of
attention to the most enlarged and extensive ideas of nature, from
not having settled principles on this point, has in one instance at
least, I think, deserted truth for prejudice. He is said to have
vindicated the conduct of Julio Romano, for his inattention to the
masses of light and shade, or grouping the figures, in the battle
of Constantine, as if designedly neglected, the better to
correspond with the hurry and confusion of a battle. Poussin's own
conduct in his representations of Bacchanalian triumphs and
sacrifices, makes us more easily give credit to this report, since
in such subjects, as well indeed as in many others, it was too much
his own practice. The best apology we can make for this conduct is
what proceeds from the association of our ideas, the prejudice we
have in favour of antiquity. Poussin's works, as I have formerly
observed, have very much the air of the ancient manner of painting,
in which there are not the least traces to make us think that what
we call the keeping, the composition of light and shade, or
distribution of the work into masses, claimed any part of their
attention. But surely whatever apology we may find out for this
neglect, it ought to be ranked among the defects of Poussin, as
well as of the antique paintings; and the moderns have a right to
that praise which is their due, for having given so pleasing an
addition to the splendour of the art.

Perhaps no apology ought to be received for offences committed
against the vehicle (whether it be the organ of seeing or of
hearing) by which our pleasures are conveyed to the mind. We must
take the same care that the eye be not perplexed and distracted by
a confusion of equal parts, or equal lights, as of offending it by
an unharmonious mixture of colours. We may venture to be more
confident of the truth of this observation, since we find that
Shakespeare, on a parallel occasion, has made Hamlet recommend to
the players a precept of the same kind, never to offend the ear by
harsh sounds:- "In the very torrent, tempest, and whirlwind of your
passions," says he, "you must beget a temperance that may give it
smoothness." And yet, at the same time, he very justly observes,
"The end of playing, both at the first and now, is to hold, as it
were, the mirror up to nature." No one can deny but that violent
passions will naturally emit harsh and disagreeable tones; yet this
great poet and critic thought that this imitation of nature would
cost too much, if purchased at the expense of disagreeable
sensations, or, as he expresses it, of "splitting the ear." The
poet and actor, as well as the painter of genius who is well
acquainted with all the variety and sources of pleasure in the mind
and imagination, has little regard or attention to common nature,
or creeping after common sense. By overleaping those narrow
bounds, he more effectually seizes the whole mind, and more
powerfully accomplishes his purpose. This success is ignorantly
imagined to proceed from inattention to all rules, and in defiance
of reason and judgment; whereas it is in truth acting according to
the best rules, and the justest reason.

He who thinks nature, in the narrow sense of the word, is alone to
be followed, will produce but a scanty entertainment for the
imagination: everything is to be done with which it is natural for
the mind to be pleased, whether it proceeds from simplicity or
variety, uniformity or irregularity: whether the scenes are
familiar or exotic; rude and wild, or enriched and cultivated; for
it is natural for the mind to be pleased with all these in their
turn. In short, whatever pleases has in it what is analogous to
the mind, and is therefore, in the highest and best sense of the
word, natural.

It is this sense of nature or truth which ought more particularly
to be cultivated by the professors of art; and it may be observed
that many wise and learned men, who have accustomed their minds to
admit nothing for truth but what can be proved by mathematical
demonstration, have seldom any relish for those arts which address
themselves to the fancy, the rectitude and truth of which is known
by another kind of proof: and we may add that the acquisition of
this knowledge requires as much circumspection and sagacity, as to
attain those truths which are more open to demonstration. Reason
must ultimately determine our choice on every occasion; but this
reason may still be exerted ineffectually by applying to taste
principles which, though right as far as they go, yet do not reach
the object. No man, for instance, can deny that it seems at first
view very reasonable, that a statue which is to carry down to
posterity the resemblance of an individual should be dressed in the
fashion of the times, in the dress which he himself wore: this
would certainly be true if the dress were part of the man. But
after a time the dress is only an amusement for an antiquarian; and
if it obstructs the general design of the piece, it is to be
disregarded by the artist. Common sense must here give way to a
higher sense.

In the naked form, and in the disposition of the drapery, the
difference between one artist and another is principally seen. But
if he is compelled to the modern dress, the naked form is entirely
hid, and the drapery is already disposed by the skill of the
tailor. Were a Phidias to obey such absurd commands, he would
please no more than an ordinary sculptor; since, in the inferior
parts of every art, the learned and the ignorant are nearly upon a

These were probably among the reasons that induced the sculptor of
that wonderful figure of Laocoon to exhibit him naked,
notwithstanding he was surprised in the act of sacrificing to
Apollo, and consequently ought to be shown in his sacerdotal
habits, if those greater reasons had not preponderated. Art is not
yet in so high estimation with us as to obtain so great a sacrifice
as the ancients made, especially the Grecians, who suffered
themselves to be represented naked, whether they were generals,
lawgivers, or kings.

Under this head of balancing and choosing the greater reason, or of
two evils taking the least, we may consider the conduct of Rubens
in the Luxembourg gallery, of mixing allegorical figures with
representations of real personages, which, though acknowledged to
be a fault, yet, if the artist considered himself as engaged to
furnish this gallery with a rich and splendid ornament, this could
not be done, at least in an equal degree, without peopling the air
and water with these allegorical figures: he therefore
accomplished that he purposes. In this case all lesser
considerations, which tend to obstruct the great end of the work,
must yield and give way.

If it is objected that Rubens judged ill at first in thinking it
necessary to make his work so very ornamental, this brings the
question upon new ground. It was his peculiar style; he could
paint in no other; and he was selected for that work, probably,
because it was his style. Nobody will dispute but some of the best
of the Roman or Bolognian schools would have produced a more
learned and more noble work.

This leads us to another important province of taste, of weighing
the value of the different classes of the art, and of estimating
them accordingly.

All arts have means within them of applying themselves with success
both to the intellectual and sensitive part of our natures. It can
be no dispute, supposing both these means put in practice with
equal abilities, to which we ought to give the preference: to him
who represents the heroic arts and more dignified passions of man,
or to him who, by the help of meretricious ornaments, however
elegant and graceful, captivates the sensuality, as it may be
called, of our taste. Thus the Roman and Bolognian schools are
reasonably preferred to the Venetian, Flemish, or Dutch schools, as
they address themselves to our best and noblest faculties.

Well-turned periods in eloquence, or harmony of numbers in poetry,
which are in those arts what colouring is in painting, however
highly we may esteem them, can never be considered as of equal
importance with the art of unfolding truths that are useful to
mankind, and which make us better or wiser. Nor can those works
which remind us of the poverty and meanness of our nature, be
considered as of equal rank with what excites ideas of grandeur, or
raises and dignifies humanity; or, in the words of a late poet,
which makes the beholder learn to venerate himself as man.

It is reason and good sense therefore which ranks and estimates
every art, and every part of that art, according to its importance,
from the painter of animated down to inanimated nature. We will
not allow a man, who shall prefer the inferior style, to say it is
his taste; taste here has nothing, or at least ought to have
nothing to do with the question. He wants not taste, but sense,
and soundness of judgment.

Indeed, perfection in an inferior style may be reasonably preferred
to mediocrity in the highest walks of art. A landscape of Claude
Lorraine may be preferred to a history of Luca Jordano; but hence
appears the necessity of the connoisseur's knowing in what consists
the excellence of each class, in order to judge how near it
approaches to perfection.

Even in works of the same kind, as in history painting, which is
composed of various parts, excellence of an inferior species,
carried to a very high degree, will make a work very valuable, and
in some measure compensate for the absence of the higher kind of
merits. It is the duty of the connoisseur to know and esteem, as
much as it may deserve, every part of painting; he will not then
think even Bassano unworthy of his notice, who, though totally
devoid of expression, sense, grace, or elegance, may be esteemed on
account of his admirable taste of colours, which, in his best
works, are little inferior to those of Titian.

Since I have mentioned Bassano, we must do him likewise the justice
to acknowledge that, though he did not aspire to the dignity of
expressing the characters and passions of men, yet, with respect to
the facility and truth in his manner of touching animals of all
kinds, and giving them what painters call their character, few have
ever excelled him.

To Bassano we may add Paul Veronese and Tintoret, for their entire
inattention to what is justly esteemed the most essential part of
our art, the expression of the passions. Notwithstanding these
glaring deficiencies, we justly esteem their works; but it must be
remembered that they do not please from those defects, but from
their great excellences of another kind, and in spite of such
transgressions. These excellences, too, as far as they go, are
founded in the truth of general nature. They tell the truth,
though not the whole truth.

By these considerations, which can never be too frequently
impressed, may be obviated two errors which I observed to have
been, formerly at least, the most prevalent, and to be most
injurious to artists: that of thinking taste and genius to have
nothing to do with reason, and that of taking particular living
objects for nature.

I shall now say something on that part of taste which, as I have
hinted to you before, does not belong so much to the external form
of things, but is addressed to the mind, and depends on its
original frame, or, to use the expression, the organisation of the
soul; I mean the imagination and the passions. The principles of
these are as invariable as the former, and are to be known and
reasoned upon in the same manner, by an appeal to common sense
deciding upon the common feelings of mankind. This sense, and
these feelings, appear to me of equal authority, and equally

Now this appeal implies a general uniformity and agreement in the
minds of men. It would be else an idle and vain endeavour to
establish rules of art; it would be pursuing a phantom to attempt
to move affections with which we were entirely unacquainted. We
have no reason to suspect there is a greater difference between our
minds than between our forms, of which, though there are no two
alike, yet there is a general similitude that goes through the
whole race of mankind; and those who have cultivated their taste
can distinguish what is beautiful or deformed, or, in other words,
what agrees with or what deviates from the general idea of nature,
in one case as well as in the other.

The internal fabric of our mind, as well as the external form of
our bodies, being nearly uniform, it seems then to follow, of
course, that as the imagination is incapable of producing anything
originally of itself, and can only vary and combine these ideas
with which it is furnished by means of the senses, there will be,
of course, an agreement in the imaginations as in the senses of
men. There being this agreement, it follows that in all cases, in
our lightest amusements as well as in our most serious actions and
engagements of life, we must regulate our affections of every kind
by that of others. The well-disciplined mind acknowledges this
authority, and submits its own opinion to the public voice.

It is from knowing what are the general feelings and passions of
mankind that we acquire a true idea of what imagination is; though
it appears as if we had nothing to do but to consult our own
particular sensations, and these were sufficient to ensure us from
all error and mistake.

A knowledge of the disposition and character of the human mind can
be acquired only by experience: a great deal will be learned, I
admit, by a habit of examining what passes in our bosoms, what are
our own motives of action, and of what kind of sentiments we are
conscious on any occasion. We may suppose a uniformity, and
conclude that the same effect will be produced by the same cause in
the minds of others. This examination will contribute to suggest
to us matters of inquiry; but we can never be sure that our own
sensations are true and right till they are confirmed by more
extensive observation.

One man opposing another determines nothing but a general union of
minds, like a general combination of the forces of all mankind,
makes a strength that is irresistible. In fact, as he who does not
know himself does not know others, so it may be said with equal
truth, that he who does not know others knows himself but very

A man who thinks he is guarding himself against Prejudices by
resisting the authority of others, leaves open every avenue to
singularity, vanity, self-conceit, obstinacy, and many other vices,
all tending to warp the judgment and prevent the natural operation
of his faculties.

This submission to others is a deference which we owe, and indeed
are forced involuntarily to pay.

In fact we are never satisfied with our opinions till they are
ratified and confirmed by the suffrages of the rest of mankind. We
dispute and wrangle for ever; we endeavour to get men to come to us
when we do not go to them.

He therefore who is acquainted with the works which have pleased
different ages and different countries, and has formed his opinion
on them, has more materials and more means of knowing what is
analogous to the mind of man than he who is conversant only with
the works of his own age or country. What has pleased, and
continues to please, is likely to please again: hence are derived
the rules of art, and on this immovable foundation they must ever

This search and study of the history of the mind ought not to be
confined to one art only. It is by the analogy that one art bears
to another that many things are ascertained which either were but
faintly seen, or, perhaps, would not have been discovered at all if
the inventor had not received the first hints from the practices of
a sister art on a similar occasion. The frequent allusions which
every man who treats of any art is obliged to draw from others in
order to illustrate and confirm his principles, sufficiently show
their near connection and inseparable relation.

All arts having the same general end, which is to please, and
addressing themselves to the same faculties through the medium of
the senses, it follows that their rules and principles must have as
great affinity as the different materials and the different organs
or vehicles by which they pass to the mind will permit them to

We may therefore conclude that the real substance, as it may be
called, of what goes under the name of taste, is fixed and
established in the nature of things; that there are certain and
regular causes by which the imagination and passions of men are
affected; and that the knowledge of these causes is acquired by a
laborious and diligent investigation of nature, and by the same
slow progress as wisdom or knowledge of every kind, however
instantaneous its operations may appear when thus acquired.

It has been often observed that the good and virtuous man alone can
acquire this true or just relish, even of works of art. This
opinion will not appear entirely without foundation when we
consider that the same habit of mind which is acquired by our
search after truth in the more serious duties of life, is only
transferred to the pursuit of lighter amusements: the same
disposition, the same desire to find something steady, substantial,
and durable, on which the mind can lean, as it were, and rest with
safety. The subject only is changed. We pursue the same method in
our search after the idea of beauty and perfection in each; of
virtue, by looking forwards beyond ourselves to society, and to the
whole; of arts, by extending our views in the same manner to all
ages and all times.

Every art, like our own, has in its composition fluctuating as well
as fixed principles. It is an attentive inquiry into their
difference that will enable us to determine how far we are
influenced by custom and habit, and what is fixed in the nature of

To distinguish how much has solid foundation, we may have recourse
to the same proof by which some hold wit ought to be tried--whether
it preserves itself when translated. That wit is false which can
subsist only in one language; and that picture which pleases only
one age or one nation, owes its reception to some local or
accidental association of ideas.

We may apply this to every custom and habit of life. Thus the
general principles of urbanity, politeness, or civility, have been
ever the same in all nations; but the mode in which they are
dressed is continually varying. The general idea of showing
respect is by making yourself less: but the manner, whether by
bowing the body, kneeling, prostration, pulling off the upper part
of our dress, or taking away the lower, is a matter of habit. It
would be unjust to conclude that all ornaments, because they were
at first arbitrarily contrived, are therefore undeserving of our
attention; on the contrary, he who neglects the cultivation of
those ornaments, acts contrarily to nature and reason. As life
would be imperfect without its highest ornaments, the arts, so
these arts themselves would be imperfect without THEIR ornaments.

Though we by no means ought to rank these with positive and
substantial beauties, yet it must be allowed that a knowledge of
both is essentially requisite towards forming a complete, whole,
and perfect taste. It is in reality from the ornaments that arts
receive their peculiar character and complexion; we may add that in
them we find the characteristical mark of a national taste, as by
throwing up a feather in the air we know which way the wind blows,
better than by a more heavy matter.

The striking distinction between the works of the Roman, Bolognian,
and Venetian schools, consists more in that general effect which is
produced by colours than in the more profound excellences of the
art; at least it is from thence that each is distinguished and
known at first sight. As it is the ornaments rather than the
proportions of architecture which at the first glance distinguish
the different orders from each other; the Doric is known by its
triglyphs, the Ionic by its volutes, and the Corinthian by its

What distinguishes oratory from a cold narration, is a more liberal
though chaste use of these ornaments which go under the name of
figurative and metaphorical expressions; and poetry distinguishes
itself from oratory by words and expressions still more ardent and
glowing. What separates and distinguishes poetry is more
particularly the ornament of VERSE; it is this which gives it its
character, and is an essential, without which it cannot exist.
Custom has appropriated different metre to different kinds of
composition, in which the world is not perfectly agreed. In
England the dispute is not yet settled which is to be preferred,
rhyme or blank verse. But however we disagree about what these
metrical ornaments shall be, that some metre is essentially
necessary is universally acknowledged.

In poetry or eloquence, to determine how far figurative or
metaphorical language may proceed, and when it begins to be
affectation or beside the truth, must be determined by taste,
though this taste we must never forget is regulated and formed by
the presiding feelings of mankind, by those works which have
approved themselves to all times and all persons.

Thus, though eloquence has undoubtedly an essential and intrinsic
excellence, and immovable principles common to all languages,
founded in the nature of our passions and affections, yet it has
its ornaments and modes of address which are merely arbitrary.
What is approved in the Eastern nations as grand and majestic,
would be considered by the Greeks and Romans as turgid and
inflated; and they, in return, would be thought by the Orientals to
express themselves in a cold and insipid manner.

We may add likewise to the credit of ornaments, that it is by their
means that art itself accomplishes its purpose. Fresnoy calls
colouring, which is one of the chief ornaments of painting, lena
sororis, that which procures lovers and admirers to the more
valuable excellences of the art.

It appears to be the same right turn of mind which enables a man to
acquire the TRUTH, or the just idea of what is right in the
ornaments, as in the more stable principles of art. It has still
the same centre of perfection, though it is the centre of a smaller

To illustrate this by the fashion of dress, in which there is
allowed to be a good or, bad taste. The component parts of dress
are continually changing from great to little, from short to long,
but the general form still remains; it is still the same general
dress which is comparatively fixed, though on a very slender
foundation, but it is on this which fashion must rest. He who
invents with the most success, or dresses in, the best taste, would
probably, from the same sagacity employed to greater purposes, have
discovered equal skill, or have formed the same correct taste in
the highest labours of art.

I have mentioned taste in dress, which is certainly one of the
lowest subjects to which this word is applied; yet, as I have
before observed, there is a right even here, however narrow its
foundation respecting the fashion of any particular nation. But we
have still more slender means of determining, in regard to the
different customs of different ages or countries, to which to give
the preference, since they seem to be all equally removed from

If an European, when he has cut off his beard, and put false hair
on his head, or bound up his own natural hair in regular hard
knots, as unlike nature as he can possibly make it; and having
rendered them immovable by the help of the fat of hogs, has covered
the whole with flour, laid on by a machine with the utmost
regularity; if, when thus attired he issues forth, he meets a
Cherokee Indian, who has bestowed as much time at his toilet, and
laid on with equal care and attention his yellow and red ochre on
particular parts of his forehead or cheeks, as he judges most
becoming; whoever despises the other for this attention to the
fashion of his country, whichever of these two first feels himself
provoked to laugh, is the barbarian.


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