III. On Taste.
Some persons have more wit than taste, others have more taste than wit.
There is greater vanity and caprice in taste than in wit.
The word taste has different meanings, which it is easy to mistake.
There is a difference between the taste which in certain objects has
an attraction for us, and the taste that makes us understand and
distinguish the qualities we judge by.
We may like a comedy without having a sufficiently fine and delicate
taste to criticise it accurately. Some tastes lead us imperceptibly to
objects, from which others carry us away by their force or intensity.
Some persons have bad taste in everything, others have bad taste only
in some things, but a correct and good taste in matters within their
capacity. Some have peculiar taste, which they know to be bad, but which
they still follow. Some have a doubtful taste, and let chance decide,
their indecision makes them change, and they are affected with pleasure
or weariness on their friends’ judgment. Others are always prejudiced,
they are the slaves of their tastes, which they adhere to in everything.
Some know what is good, and are horrified at what is not; their opinions
are clear and true, and they find the reason for their taste in their
mind and understanding.
Some have a species of instinct (the source of which they are ignorant
of), and decide all questions that come before them by its aid, and
always decide rightly.
These follow their taste more than their intelligence, because they
do not permit their temper and self-love to prevail over their natural
discernment. All they do is in harmony, all is in the same spirit.
This harmony makes them decide correctly on matters, and form a correct
estimate of their value. But speaking generally there are few who have
a taste fixed and independent of that of their friends, they follow
example and fashion which generally form the standard of taste.
In all the diversities of taste that we discern, it is very rare and
almost impossible to meet with that sort of good taste that knows how to
set a price on the particular, and yet understands the right value that
should be placed on all. Our knowledge is too limited, and that correct
discernment of good qualities which goes to form a correct judgment
is too seldom to be met with except in regard to matters that do not
As regards ourselves our taste has not this all-important discernment.
Preoccupation, trouble, all that concern us, present it to us in another
aspect. We do not see with the same eyes what does and what does not
relate to us. Our taste is guided by the bent of our self-love and
temper, which supplies us with new views which we adapt to an infinite
number of changes and uncertainties. Our taste is no longer our own,
we cease to control it, without our consent it changes, and the same
objects appear to us in such divers aspects that ultimately we fail to
perceive what we have seen and heard.