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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Taste
By Walter Bagehot (1826–1877)
 
From ‘Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning’

THERE is a most formidable and estimable insane taste. The will has great though indirect power over the taste, just as it has over the belief. There are some horrid beliefs from which human nature revolts, from which at first it shrinks, to which at first no effort can force it. But if we fix the mind upon them, they have a power over us, just because of their natural offensiveness. They are like the sight of human blood. Experienced soldiers tell us that at first, men are sickened by the smell and newness of blood, almost to death and fainting; but that as soon as they harden their hearts and stiffen their minds, as soon as they will bear it, then comes an appetite for slaughter, a tendency to gloat on carnage, to love blood (at least for the moment) with a deep, eager love. It is a principle that if we put down a healthy instinctive aversion, nature avenges herself by creating an unhealthy insane attraction. For this reason, the most earnest truth-seeking men fall into the worst delusions. They will not let their mind alone; they force it toward some ugly thing, which a crotchet of argument, a conceit of intellect recommends: and nature punishes their disregard of her warning by subjection to the ugly one, by belief in it. Just so, the most industrious critics get the most admiration. They think it unjust to rest in their instinctive natural horror; they overcome it, and angry nature gives them over to ugly poems and marries them to detestable stanzas.  1
 
 
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