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ant, how huge soever. The debasing effect of the idea which is here presented, will appear in a stronger light, by seeing what figure it makes in a poem of Sir Richard Blackmore's, who, through a monstrous perversity of taste, had chosen this for the capital circumstance in his description, and thereby (as Dr. Arbuthnot humorously observes, in his treatise on the art of Sinking) had represented the mountain as in a fit of the cholic.
Ætna, and all the burning mountains, find
And with their melted bowels spread the ground. Such instances shew how much the sublime depends upon a just sen. lection of circumstances; and with how great care every circumstance must be avoided, which by bordering in the least upon the mean, or even upon the gay or the trifling, alters the tone of the emotion.
If it shall be now inquired, what are the proper sources of the sublime? my answer is, that they are to be looked for every where in nature. It is not by hunting after tropes, and figures, and rhetorical assistance, that we can expect to produce it. No: it stands clear, for tlie most part, of these laboured refinements of art. It must come unsought, if it comes at all; and be the natural offspring of a strong imagination.
Est deus in nobis; agitante calescimus illo. Wherever a great and awful object is presented in nature, or a very magnanimous and exalted affection of the human mind is displayed; thence, if you can catch the impression strongly, and exhibit it warm and glowing, you may draw the sublime. These are its only proper sources. In judging of any striking beauty in composition, whether it is, or is not, to be referred to this class, we must aitend to the nature of the emotion which it raises; and only, if it be of that elevating, solemn, and awful kind, which distinguishes this feeling, we can pronounce it sublime.
From the account which I have given of the nature of the sublime, it clearly follows, that it is an emotion which can never be long protracted. The mind, by no force of genius, can be kept, for any considerable time, so far raised above its common tone; but will, of course, relax into its ordinary situation. Neither are the abilities of any human writer sufficient to supply a continued run of unmixed sublime conceptions. The utmost we can expect is, that this fire of imagination should sometimes flash upon us like lightning from heaven, and then disappear. In Homer and Milton, this effulgence of genius breaks forth more frequently, and with greater lustre, than in most authors. Shakspeare also rises often into the true sublime. But no author what. ever is sublime throughout. Some, indeed, there are, who, by a strength and dignity in their conceptions, and a current of high ideas that runs through their whole composition, preserve the reader's mind always in a tone nearly allied to the sublime; for which reason they may, in a limited sense, merit the name of continued sublime,writers; and, in this class, we may justly place Demosthenes and Plato.
As for what is called the sublime style, it is, for the most part, a very bad one; and has no relation, whatever, to the real sublime. Persons are apt to imagine, that magnificent words, accumulated epithets, and
a certain swelling kind of expression, by rising above what is usual or vulgar, contributes to, or even forms, the sublime. Nothing can be more false. In all the instances of sublime writing, which I have given, nothing of this kind appears. “God said, let there be light, and there
was light.": This is striking and sublime. But put it into what is commonly called the sublime style: “ The sovereign arbiter of nature, " by the potent energy of a single word, commanded the light to exist;" and, as Boileau has well observed, the style indeed is raised, but the thought is fallen. In general, in all good writing, the sublime lies in the thought, not in the words; and when the thought is truly noble, it will for the most part, clothe itself in a native dignity of language.
The sublime, indeed, rejects mean, low, or trivial expressions; but it is equally an enemy to such as are turgid. The main secret of being sublime, is to say great things in few and plain words. It will be found to hold, without exception, that the most sublime authors are the simplest in their style; and wherever you find a writer, who effects a more than ordinary pomp and parade of words, and is always endeavouring to magnify his subject by epithets, there you may immediately suspect, that feeble in sentiment, he is studying to support himself by mere expression.
The same unfavourable judgment we must pass, on all that laboured apparatus with which some writers introduce a passage, or description, which they intend shall be sublime; calling on their readers to attend, invoking their muse, or breaking forth into general, unmeaning exclamations, concerning the greatness, terribleness, or majesty of the object, which they are to describe. Mr Addison, in his Campaign, has fallen into an error of this kind, when about to describe the battle of Blenheim.
But! O my muse! what numbers wilt thou find
The victor's shouts, and dying groans, confound ; &c. Introductions of this kind, are a forced attempt in a writer, to spur up himself, and his reader, when he finds his imagination flagging in vigour. It is like taking artificial spirits in order to supply the want of such as are natural. By this observation, however, I do not mean to pass a general censure on Mr. Addison's Campaign, which in several places, is far from wanting merit; and in particular, the noted comparison of his hero to the angel who rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm, is a truly sublime image.
The faults opposite to the sublime are chiefly two; the frigid, and the bombast. The frigid consists, in degrading an object or sentiment, which is sublime in itself, by our mean conception of it; or by our weak, low, and childish description of it. This betrays entire absence, or at least great poverty of genius. Of this, there are abundance of examples, and these commented upon with much humour, in the Treatise on the art of Sinking, in Dean Swift's works; the instances taken chiefly from Sir Richard Blackmore. One of these, I had occasion already to give in relation to mount Ætna, and it were needless to produce any more. The bombast lies, in forcing an ordinary or trivial object out of its rank, and endeavouring to raise it into the sublime; or, in attempting to exalt a sublime object beyond all natural and reasonable bounds. Into this error, which is but too common, writers of genius may sometimes fall by unluckily loosing sight of the true point of the sublime
This is also called fustian, or rant. Shakspeare, a great but incorrect genius, is not unexceptionable here. Dryden and Lee, in their tragedies abound with it.
Thus far of the Sublime, of which I have treated fully, because it is so capital an excellency in fine writing, and because clear and precise ideas on this head are, as far as I know, not to be met with in critical writers.
Before concluding this lecture, there is one observation which I choose to make at this time; I shall make it once for all, and hope it will be afterwards remembered. It is with respect to the instances of faults, or Tather blemishes and imperfections, which, as I have done in this lecture, I shall hereafter continue to take, when I can, from writers of reputation. I have not the least intention thereby to disparage their character in the general. I shall have other occasions of doing equal justice to their beauties. But it is no reflection on any human performance, that it is not absolutely perfect. The task would be much easier for me, to Collect instances of faults from bad writers. But they would draw no attention, when quoted from books which nobody reads. And I conceive, that the method which I follow, will contribute more to make the best authors be read with pleasure, when one properly distinguishes their beauties from their faults ; and is led to imitate and admire only what is worthy of imitation and admiration.
BEAUTY, AND OTHER PLEASURES OF TASTE. As sublimity constitutes a particular character of composition, and forms one of the highest excellencies of eloquence and of poetry, it was proper to treat of it at some length. It will not be necessary to discuss so particularly all the other pleasures that arise from taste, as some of them have less relation to our main subject. On beauty only I shall make several observations, both as the subject is curious, and as it tends to improve taste, and to discover their foundation of several of the graces of description and of poetry.*
Beauty, next to sublimity, affords, beyond doubt, the highest pleasure to the imagination. The emotion which it raises, is very distinguishable from that of sublimity. It is of a calmer kind; more gentle and soothing; does not elevate the mind so much, but produces an agreeable serenity. Sublimity raises a feeling, too violent, as I showed, to be lasting ; the pleasure arising from beauty admits of longer continuance. It extends also to a much greater variety of objects than sublimity ; to a variety indeed so great, that the feelings which beautiful objects produce, differ considerably, not in degree only, but also in kind, from one another. Hence, no word in the language is used in a more vague signification than beauty. It is applied to almost every external object that pleases the eye, or the
* See Hutchinson's Enquiry concerning Beauty and Virtue. Gerard on Taste chap. fii. Enquiry into the origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Elements of Criticism, chap. ii. Spectator, vol. vi. Essay on the Pleasures of Taste.
ear ; to a great number of the graces of writing; to many dispositions of the mind ; nay, to several objects of mere abstract science.
We talk cur"rently of a beautiful tree or flower ; a beautiful poem ; a beautiful character; and a beautiful theorem in mathematics.
Hence we may easily perceive, that, among so great a variety of objects, to find out some one quality in which they all agree, and which is the foundation of that agreeable sensation they all raise, must be a very difficult, if not, more probably, a vain attempt. Objects denominated beautiful, are so different, as to please, not in virtue of any one quality common to them all, but by means of several different principles in human nature. The agreeable emotion which they all raise, is somewhat of the same nature; and therefore, has the common name of beauty given to it; but it is raised by different causes.
Hypothesis, however, have been framed by ingenious men, for assigning the fundamental quality of beauty in all objects. In particular, uniformity amidst variety, has been insisted on as this fundamental quality. For the beauty of many figures, I admit that this accounts in a satisfactory manner. But when we endeavour to apply this principle to beautiful objects of some other kind, as to colour, for instance, or motion, we shall soon find that it has no place. And even in external figured objects it does not hold, that their beauty is in proportion to their mixture of variety with uniformity; seeing many please us as highly beautiful, which have almost no variety at all, and others, which are various to a degree of intricacy. Laying systems of this kind, therefore, aside, what I now propose is, to give an enumeration of several of those classes of objects in which beauty most remarkably appears; and to point out, as far as I can, the separate principles of beauty in each of them.
Colour affords, perhaps, the simplest instance of beauty, and therefore the fittest to begin with. Here, neither variety, nor uniformity, nor any other principle that I know, can be assigned, as the foundation of beauty. We can refer it to no other cause but the structure of the eye, which determines us to receive certain modifications of the rays of light with more pleasure than others. And we see accordingly, that, as the organ of sensation varies in different persons, they have their different favourite col
It is probable, that association of ideas has influence, in some cases, on the pleasure which we receive from colours. Green, for instance, may appear more beautiful, by being connected in our ideas with rural prospects and scenes ; white, with innocence; blue, with the serenity of the sky. Independent of associations of this kind, all that we can further observe concerning colours is, that those chosen for beauty are, generally, delicate, rather than glaring. Such are those paintings with which nature hath ornamented some of her works, and which art strives in vain to imitate; as the feathers of several kinds of birds, the leaves of flowers, and the fine variation of colours exhibited by the sky at the rising and setting of the sun. These present to us the highest instances of the beauty of colouring; and have accordingly been the favourite subjects of poetical description in all countries.
From colour we proceed to figure, which opens to us forms of beauty more complex and diversified. Regularity first occurs to be noticed as a source of beauty. By a regular figure, is meant, one which we perceive to be formed according to some certain rule, and not left arbitrary, or loose, in the construction of its parts. Thus, a circle, a square, a triangle, or a hexagon, please the eye, by their regularity, as beautiful fag:
ures. We must not, however, conclude, that all figures please in proportion to their regularity; or that regularity is the sole, or the chief, foundation of beauty in figure. On the contrary, a certain graceful variety is found to be a much more powerful principle of beauty; and is therefore studied a great deal more than regularity, in all works that are designed merely to please the eye. I am, indeed, inclined to think, that regularity appears beautiful to us, chiefly, if not only, on account of its suggesting the ideas of fitness, propriety, and use, which have always a greater connexion with orderly and proportioned forms, than with those which appear not constructed according to any certain rule. It is clear, that nature, who is undoubtedly the most graceful artist, hath, in all her ornamental works, pursued variety with an apparent neglect of regularity. Cabinets, doors, and windows, are made after a regular form, in cubes and parallelograms, with an exact proportion of parts; and by being so formed they please the eye: for this good reason, that, being works of use, they are, by such figures, the better suited to the ends for which they were designed. But plants, flowers, and leaves are full of variety and diversity. A straight canal is an insipid figạre, in comparison of the meanders of rivers. Cones and pyramids are beautiful; but trees growing in their natural wildness, are infinitely more beautiful than when trimmed into pyramids and cones. The apartments of a house must be regular in their disposition, for the conveniency of its inhabitants; but a garden which is designed merely for beauty, would be exceedingly disgusting, if it had as much uniformity and order in its parts as a dwellinghouse.
Mr. Hogarth, in his Analysis of Beauty, has observed, that figures bounded by curve lines are, in general, more beautiful than those bounded by straight lines, and angles. He pitches upon two lines, on which, according to him, the beauty of figure principally depends; and he has illustrated and supported his doctrine, by a surprising number of instanses. The one is the waving line, or a curve bending backwards and forwards, somewhat in the form of the letter S. This he calls the line of beauty; and shews how often it is found in shells, flowers, and such other ornamental works of nature; as is common also in the figures de signed by painters and sculptors, for the purpose of decoration. The other line, which he calls the line of grace, is the former waving curve, twisted round some solid body. The curling worm of a common jack is one of the instances be gives of it. Twisted pillars, and twisted horns, also exhibit it. In all the instances which he mentions, variety plainly appears to be so material a principle of beauty, that he seems not to err much when he defines the art of drawing pleasing forms, to be the art of varying well. For the curve line, so much the favourite of painters, derives, according to him, its chief advantage, from its perpetual bending and variation from the stiff regularity of the straight line.
Motion furnishes another source of beauty, distinct from figure. · Motion of itself is pleasing ; and bodies in motion are,
cæteris paribus," preferred to those in rest. It is, however, only gentle motion that belongs to the beautiful : for when it is very swift, or very forcible, such as that of a torrent, it partakes of the sublime. The motion of a bird gliding through the air, is extremely beautiful; the swiftness with which lightning darts through the heavens, is magnificent and astonishing. And here, it is proper to observe, that the sensations of sublime and beautiful are not always distinguished by very distant boundaries; but