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Elements of Criticism

In Two Volumes

Henry Home

Publication Year: 2012

Elements of Criticism is Kames’s most influential work. When it first appeared, in 1762, it was the most comprehensive philosophical work on “criticism” in English, and it was published in five editions during Kames’s lifetime and another forty editions over the next century. In America, Elements of Criticism served as a standard text for college students of English.In Elements, Kames sets out his argument that the “science of criticism” is a “rational science”; it is “a subject of reasoning as well as of taste.” By examining human reactions to art and literature, Kames believed that we could enhance our understanding of the human mind, just as an understanding of the mind could enrich our responses to the arts. Volume one explores the nature and causes of the emotions and passions.Volume two delineates principles of rhetoric and literary appreciation, ending with a discussion of the formation of a standard of taste. Kames illustrated both volumes with a vast range of examples from classical literature and the arts of his own day.With this publication, Liberty Fund makes a modern version of this influential work available for a wide readership. The Liberty Fund edition is based on the text of the sixth edition of 1785, which was the last edition authorized by Kames himself..

Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696–1782), one of the leaders of the Scottish Enlightenment, was a judge in the supreme courts of Scotland and wrote extensively on morals, religion, education, aesthetics, history, political economy, and law, including natural law. His most distinctive contribution came through his works on the nature of law, where he sought to combine a philosophical approach with an empirical history of legal evolution.

Peter Jones is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.

Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History and Director of the Centre for Intellectual History at the University of Sussex, England.

Published by: Liberty Fund

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

Henry Home was born in 1696 in the southeastern Scottish parish of Eccles, three miles from the English border; he died in 1782, in Edinburgh. Both of his parents came from prominent families divided by Whig, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian loyalties; Jacobite sympathies were also apparent. ...

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Editor's Note

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pp. xix-xxii

Henry Home, Lord Kames, published the first edition of Elements of Criticism in 1762, although he began writing it at least a decade earlier. There are no substantive differences between the first and last editions, although there are many stylistic changes. ...

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pp. xxiii-xxvi

Most editors exhaust their own resources in chasing down unidentified books and quotations and appropriate translations. Without the unstinting help of friends there would remain many more gaps in notes to the text than still exist, ...

Volume I

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pp. xxv-xxvi

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To the King

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pp. 3-4

The Fine Arts have ever been encouraged by wise Princes, not singly for private amusement, but for their beneficial influence in society. By uniting different ranks in the same elegant pleasures, they promote benevolence: by cherishing love of order, they enforce submission to government: ...

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Preface to the Second Edition

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pp. 5-6

Printing, by multiplying copies at will, affords to writers great opportunity of receiving instruction from every quarter. The author of this treatise, having always been of opinion that the general taste is seldom wrong, was resolved from the beginning to submit to it with entire resignation: its severest disapprobation might have incited him to do better, but never to complain. ...


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pp. 7-10

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pp. 11-20

That nothing external is perceived till first it make an impression upon the organ of sense, is an observation that holds equally in every one of the external senses. But there is a difference as to our knowledge of that impression: in touching, tasting, and smelling, we are sensible of the impression;1 ...

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Chapter 1. Perceptions and Ideas in a train

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pp. 21-31

A man while awake is conscious of a continued train of perceptions and ideas passing in his mind. It requires no activity on his part to carry on the train: nor can he at will add any idea to the train.* At the same time we learn from daily <18> experience, that the train of our thoughts is not regulated by chance: ...

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Chapter 2. Emotions and Passions

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pp. 32-140

Of all the feelings raised in us by external objects, those only of the eye and the ear are honoured with the name of passion or emotion: the most pleasing feelings of taste, or touch, or smell, aspire not to that honour. From this observation appears the connection of emotions and passions with the fine arts, ...

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Chapter 3. Beauty

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pp. 141-149

Having discoursed in general of emotions and passions, I proceed to a more narrow inspection of such of them as serve to unfold the principles of the fine arts. It is the province of a writer upon ethics, to give a full enumeration of all the passions; and of each separately to assign the nature, the cause, the gratification, and the effects. ...

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Chapter 4. Grandeur and Sublimity

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pp. 150-178

Nature hath not more remarkably distinguished us from other animals by an erect posture, than by a capacious and aspiring mind, attaching us to things great and elevated. The ocean, the sky, seize the attention, and make a deep impression:* robes of state are made large and full to draw respect: ...

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Chapter 5. Motion and Force

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pp. 179-184

If a body in motion be agreeable, one will be apt to conclude that at rest it must be disagreeable: but we learn from experience, that this would be a rash conclusion. Rest is one of those circumstances that are neither agreeable nor disagreeable, being view’d with perfect indifferency. ...

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Chapter 6. Novelty, and the unexpected appearance of Objects

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pp. 185-192

Of all the circumstances that raise emotions, not excepting beauty, nor even greatness, novelty hath the most powerful influence. A new object produceth instantaneously an emotion termed wonder, which totally occupies the mind, and for a time excludes all other objects. ...

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Chapter 7. Risible Objects

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pp. 193-196

Such is the nature of man, that his powers and faculties are soon blunted by exercise. The returns of sleep, suspending all activity, are not alone sufficient to preserve him in vigor: during his walking hours, amusement by intervals is requisite to unbend his mind from serious occupation. ...

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Chapter 8. Resemblance and Dissimilitude

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pp. 197-215

Having discussed those qualities and circumstances of single objects that seem peculiarly connected with criticism, we proceed, according to the method proposed in the chapter of beauty, to the relations of objects, beginning with the relations of resemblance and dissimilitude. ...

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Chapter 9. Uniformity and Variety

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pp. 216-232

In attempting to explain uniformity and variety, in order to show how we are affected by these circumstances, a doubt occurs, what method ought to be followed. In adhering close to the subject, I foresee difficulties; and yet by indulging such a circuit as may be necessary for a satisfactory view, ...

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Chapter 10. Congruity and Propriety

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pp. 233-244

Man is superior to the brute, not more by his rational faculties, than by his senses. With respect to external senses, brutes probably yield not to men; and they may also have some obscure perception of beauty: but the more delicate senses of regularity, order, uniformity, and congruity, ...

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Chapter 11. Dignity and Grace

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pp. 245-252

The terms dignity and meanness are applied to man in point of character, sentiment, and behaviour: we say, for example, of one man, that he hath natural dignity in his air and manner; of another, that he makes a mean figure: we perceive dignity in every action and sentiment of some persons; ...

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Chapter 12. Ridicule

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pp. 253-263

To define ridicule, has puzzled and vexed every critic. The definition given by Aristotle is obscure and imperfect.* Cicero handles it at great length;† but without giving any satisfaction: he wanders in the dark, and misses the distinction between risible and ridiculous. Quintilian is sensible of the distinction,‡ ...

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Chapter 13. Wit

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pp. 264-279

However difficult it may be, in many instances, to distinguish a witty thought or expression from one that is not so; yet in general it may be laid down, that the term wit is appropriated to such thoughts and expressions as are ludicrous, and also occasion some degree of surprise by their singularity. ...

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Chapter 14. Custom and Habit

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pp. 280-295

Viewing man as under the influence of novelty, would one suspect that custom also should influence him? and yet our nature is equally susceptible of each; not only in different objects, but frequently in the same. When an object is new, it is enchanting: familiarity renders it indifferent; ...

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Chapter 15. External Signs of Emotions and Passions

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pp. 296-310

So intimately connected are the soul and body, that every agitation in the former, produceth a visible effect upon the latter. There is, at the same time, a wonderful uniformity in that operation; each class of emotions and passions being invariably attended with an external appearance peculiar to itself.* ...

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Chapter 16. Sentiments

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pp. 311-347

Every thought prompted by passion, is termed a sentiment.* To have a general notion of the different passions, will not alone enable an artist to make a just representation of any passion: he ought, over and above, to know the various appearances of the same passion in different persons. ...

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Chapter 17. Language of Passion

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pp. 348-370

Among the particulars that compose the social part of our nature, a propensity to communicate our opinions, our emotions, and every thing that affects us, is remarkable. Bad fortune and injustice affect us greatly; and of these we are so prone to complain, that if we have no friend nor acquaintance to take part in our sufferings, ...

Volume II

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pp. [v]


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pp. [xi]

Original Contents

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pp. 371-372

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Chapter 18. Beauty of Language

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pp. 373-494

Of all the fine arts, painting only and sculpture are in their nature imitative. An ornamented field is not a copy or imitation of nature, but nature itself embellished. Architecture is productive of originals, and copies not from nature. Sound and motion may in some measure be imitated by music; ...

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Chapter 19. Comparisons

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pp. 495-532

Comparisons, as observed above,* serve two purposes: when addressed to the understanding, their purpose is to instruct; when to the heart, their purpose is to please. Various means contribute to the latter; first, the suggesting some unusual resemblance or contrast; second, the setting an object in the strongest light; ...

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Chapter 20. Figures

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pp. 533-610

The endless variety of expressions brought under the head of tropes and figures by ancient critics and grammarians, makes it evident, that they had no precise criterion for distinguishing tropes and figures from plain language. It was accordingly my opinion, that little could be made of them in the way of rational criticism; ...

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Chapter 21. Narration and Description

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pp. 611-648

Horace, and many critics after him, exhort writers to choose a subject adapted to their genius. Such observations would multiply rules of criticism without end; and at any rate belong not to the present work, the object of which is human nature in general, and what is common to the species. ...

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Chapter 22. Epic and Dramatic Compositions

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pp. 649-669

Tragedy differs not from the epic in substance: in both the same ends are pursued, namely, instruction and amusement; and in both the same mean is employed, namely, imitation of human actions. They differ only in the manner of imitating: epic poetry employs narration; tragedy represents its facts as passing in our sight: ...

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Chapter 23. The Three Unities

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pp. 670-684

In the first chapter is explained the pleasure we have in a chain of connected facts. In histories of the world, of a country, of a people, this pleasure is faint; because the connections are slight or obscure. We find more entertainment in biography; because the incidents are connected by their relation to a person who makes a figure, and commands our attention. ...

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Chapter 24. Gardening and Architecture

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pp. 685-718

The books we have upon architecture and upon embellishing ground, abound in practical instruction, necessary for a mechanic: but in vain should we rummage them for rational principles to improve our taste. In a general system, it might be thought sufficient to have unfolded the principles that govern these and other fine arts, ...

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Chapter 25. Standard of Taste

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pp. 719-728

“That there is no disputing about taste,” meaning taste in its figurative as well as proper sense, is a saying so generally received as to have become a proverb. One thing even at first view is evident, that if the proverb hold true with respect to taste in its proper meaning, it must hold equally true with respect to our other external senses: ...

Appendix: Terms defined or explained

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pp. 729-748


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pp. 749-776

Further Reading

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pp. 777-778


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pp. 779-821

Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9781614878193
E-ISBN-10: 1614878196
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865974692

Page Count: 864
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None