This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Is approaching a subject so varied and extensive as the Origin and Progress of Taste in Art, now principally in Architecture, it would not, I think, be unbecoming to request in-dulgence for the errors which may probably be made by one who does not belong to the profession, but who, nevertheless, perceiving in architecture a great and beautiful art, is desirous of devoting attention to it, for the sake of improving, by its means, his own knowledge and understanding of the principles of art. These - in nearly all the occupations of the muses - these fundamental principles are, in all arts, nearly or precisely similar. It is from the right comprehension of them, to anticipate, that taste, as we understand it now, may be said mainly to arise. In architecture, in poetry, in painting, in sculpture, it is alike necessary to observe those axioms of construction, execution and adornment which have been declared by common concurrence to be inviolable, and without observance of which it is impossible to produce a complete work.
I say that unity of conception, regard of general effect, justness of proportion, constructive solidity, and the like, are indispensably necessary to the creation of anything which, by the air of nature it shall wear, shall communicate a just idea to the mind, answer the imagination in our presence, or haunt the memory in our absence, with the shape, the color, the sense, or sound of beauty, or with all of them combined. To speak generally, the violation of any of the primary principles would show an incompleteness or absence of taste. If we consider the subject more closely, taste is the result of a discriminative power of the intellect, which decides, in several or more objects, and consequently ideas of them, on that which most perfectly answers to her idea of, for instance, beauty - the effect of certain constituent causes, such as proportion, harmony, &c; to her idea of, for instance, grandeur resulting from size, height, and the like. - an idea, I think, in some degree natural to man; if so, doubtless implanted by the Creator, and showing that the print of the Divine hand is left as well in the mind of man, as in all that it moulded, and it moulded all.
It is probable, however, that the idea exists naturally in a very slight degree - the mind improving it to an observable point by its own almost unconscious observance of nature. Some wholly reject the notion of any innate ideas; the learned are divided on this point; the definition, too, of abstract notions is at all times difficult.
To resume. According to the experience of the mind by observation, arising from the multiplicity of objects observed and compared, will the power of justly discriminating be developed, always provided that the principles of art, which are natural, be allowed to guide; and the understanding so educated will acquire, as it were, a wisdom with respect to form, color, and all other external attributes of nature, and, imitatively, of art. Whether any may justly argue that that quality, which we call taste, originally existed as such in the human mind, is, therefore, more than doubtful; but there was doubtless innate in it an admiration of the works of .nature, a sense of connection with created things. - man being, in fact, himself but a link in God's chain of creation; and it is but according to experience to suppose, there resulted a preference for this or that form, just as the mind was more or less charmed by the images transmitted to it through the senses.
Thus even with respect to the works around us, you would find in men of different climates, or accustomed to different scenery, a diversity of taste: he whose native land is a very garden adorned with an endless variety of foliage, rife with flowers, intersected by by rivers, and also thronged with graceful animals, and birds of all brilliant hues and modifications of song - such a man, I say, would probably possess a taste for that which is florid, rich , vivid in idea; his feeling would be rather for the beautiful, than for the grand; he would prefer that which charms to that which astonishes; - the fault, perhaps, of his taste, would be an inclination towards redundancy; the advantage of it, a sparkling gorgeous fancy; a bright imagination; a magnificent versatility of thought; and, perhaps, a capacity for detail. On the other hand, a man accustomed to the waste sublimity of the desert, would possess a corresponding taste for extent, even for boundlessness; an inhabitant of a mountainous region would admire what is lofty, aspiring, towering, free; the capacity of the two last would probably be for generalising; and with respect to what is free, we are well aware that both Arabs and Swiss are noted for their devotion to liberty.
A maritime nation would prefer the bold, strong, extensive. Such would be the taste of each of these with respect to nature; but it is curious to observe, how, when man came by degrees to express his mind in buildings, he appears in certain respects concerning art, to hare sought that which he had not in nature around him; as though in some lands he had said - I have no mountains - I will build them; I will raise something that shall overawe its own creator - something vast, by which I myself shall be astounded - and so, further, according to the excess of the designing mind above its fellows, was the amount of awe and wonder inspired among them. But this subject will further develop itself as we advance, and, having premised thus much concerning taste in general, I will proceed to consider it more particularly with respect to individual nations. Of the earliest building of the world, such as the ark, probably by no means elegant, or the tower of Babel, we should think a huge, unsightly mass, possessing no element of the sublime, but that of size, it is not necessary to dilate.
Whether the latter was really built) as we have seen it drawn, like a huge snake rising on its coils, curling up to heaven, and most industriously lifting the nations to the stars, is of little moment; but it was probably built of a kind of brick, cemented with the bitumen that abounded in the Babylonian territory; and as the object was to build to heaven, it would no doubt be raised in a great hurry, and with little regard to design. It is not here, then, we shall look for taste. In passing, we might observe, that the scriptural story is strongly resembled by the heathen fable of the giants piling Ossa on the top of Pelion to dethrone Jove. But as we shall have occasion to return to Babylon, let us pass into Egypt, historically more ancient. Here we find the sublimity of magnitude extraordinarily developed; a massiveness that is suggestive of eternity: and an imitation of nature in many respects unbounded. Here are the mountainous pyramids; here is the Sphinx, whose head only now rises above the surrounding deserts, once thronged by its superstitious worshippers.