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Second Part,* are capable of producing a mode of pain, and of being thus allied to terror, and to be accounted for on the same principles. And, first, of such objects as are great in their dimensions; I speak of visual objects.
SECT. IX.-WHY VISUAL OBJECTS OF GREAT
DIMENSIONS ARE SUBLIME.
Vision is performed by having a picture formed by the rays of light which are reflected from the object painted in one piece, instantaneously, on the retina, or last nervous part of the eye. Or, according to others, there is but one point of any object painted on the eye in such a manner as to be perceived at once; but, by moving the eye, we gather up with great celerity the several parts of the object, so as to form one uniform piece. If the former opinion be allowed, it will be considered,t that, though all the light reflected from a large body should strike the eye in one instant, yet we must suppose that the body itself is formed of á vast number of distinct points, every one of which, or the ray from every one, makes an impression on the retina. So that though the image of one point should cause but a small tension of this membrane, another, and another, and another stroke, must in their progress cause a very great one, until it arrives at last to the highest degree and the whole capacity of the eye, vibrating in all its parts, must approach near to the nature of what causes pain, and consequently must produce an idea of the sublime. Again ; if we take it, that one point only of an object is distinguishable at once, the matter will amount nearly to the same thing; or rather, it will make the origin of the sublime from greatness of dimension yet clearer; for, if but one point is observed at once, the eye must traverse the vast space of such bodies with great quickness, and consequently the fine nerves and muscles destined to the motion of that part must be very much strained ; and their great sensibility must make them highly affected by this straining. Besides, it signifies just nothing to the effect produced, whether a body has its parts connected, and makes its impression at once; or, making but one impression of a point at a time, it causes a succession of the same or others so quickly as to make them seem united; as is evident from the common effect of whirling about a lighted torch or piece of wood, which, if done with celerity, seems a circle of fire.
Part 11. sect. 7.
* Part II. sect. 2.
SECT, X.-UNITY WHY REQUISITE TO VASTNESS.
It may be objected to this theory, that the eye generally receives an equal number of rays at all times, and that, there fore, a great object cannot affect it by the number of rays, more than that variety of objects which the eye must always discern whilst it remains open. But to this I answer, that admitting an equal number of rays, or an equal quantity of luminous particles, to strike the eye at all times, yet, if these rays frequently vary their nature, now to blue, pow to red, and so on, or their manner of termination, as to a number of petty squares, triangles, or the like, at every change, whether of colour or shape, the organs have a sort of relaxation or rest; but this relaxation and labour, so often interrupted, is by
no means productive of ease; neither has it the effect of vigorous and uniform labour. Whoever has remarked the different effects of some strong exercise, and some little piddling action, will understand why a teasing fretful employment, which at once wearies and weakens the body, should have nothing great; these sorts of impulses, which are rather teasing than painful, by continually and suddenly altering their tenor and direction, prevent that full tension, that species of uniform labour, which is allied to strong pain, and causes the sublime. The sum total of things of various kinds, though it should equal the number of the uniform parts composing some one entire object, is not equal in its effects upon the organs of our bodies. Besides the one already assigned, there is another very strong reason for the difference. Themind in reality, hardly ever can attend diligently to more than one thing at a time; if this thing be little, the effect is little, and a number of other little objects cannot engage the attention; the mind is bounded by the bounds of the object; and what is not attended to, and what does not exist, are much the same in the effect: but the eye, or the mind (for in this case there is no difference), in great uniform objects, does not readily arrive at their bounds; it has no rest, whilst it contemplates them; the image is much the same every where: so that every thing great by its quantity must necessarily be one, simple and entire.
SECT. XI.-THE ARTIFICIAL INFINITE. We have observed, that a species of greatness arises from the artificial infinite; and that this infinite consists in a uniform succession of great parts : we observed, too, that the same uniform succession had a like power in sounds. But, because the effects of many things are clearer in one of the senses than in another, and that all the senses bear an analogy to, and illustrate one another, I shall begin with this power in sounds, as the cause of the sublimity from succession is rather more obvious in the sense of hearing. And I shall here once for all observe, that an investigation of the natural and mechanical causes of our passions, besides the curiosity of the subject, gives, if they are discovered, a double strength and lustre to any rules we deliver on such matters. When the ear receives any simple sound, it is struck by a single pulse of the air, which makes the ear-drum and the other membraneous parts vibrate according to the nature and species of the stroke. If the stroke be strong, the organ of hearing suffers a considerable degree of tension. If the stroke be repeated pretty soon after, the repetition causes an expectation of another stroke. And it must be observed, that expectation itself causes a tension. This is apparent in many animals, who, when they prepare for hearing any sound, rouse themselves, and prick up their ears; so that here the effect of the sounds is considerably augmented by a new auxiliary, the expectation. But, though, after a number of strokes, we expect still more, not being able to ascertain the exact time of their arrival, when they arrive, they produce a sort of surprise, which increases this tension yet further; for I have observed, that when at any time I have waited very earnestly for some sound that returned at intervals (as the successive firing of cannon), though I fully expected the return of the sound, when it came, it always made me start a little ; the ear-drum suffered a convulsion, and the whole body consented with it. The tension of the part thus increasing at every blow, by the united forces of the stroke itself, the expectation, and the surprise, it is worked up to such a pitch as to be capable of the sublime; it is brought just to the verge of pain. Even when the cause has ceased, the organs of hearing, being often successively struck in a similar manner, continue to vibrate in that manner for some time longer; this is an addi. tional help to the greatness of the effect.
SECT. XII.-THE VIBRATIONS MUST BE SIMILAR.
But if the vibration be not similar at every impression, it can never be carried beyond the number of actual impressions; for, move any body as a pendulum, in one way, and it will continue to oscilate in an arch of the same circle, until the known causes make it rest; but if, after first putting it in motion in one direction, you push it into another, it can never resume the first direction, because it can never move itself, and consequently it can have but the effect of that last motion; whereas, if in the same direction you act upon it several times, it will describe a greater arch, and move a longer time.
SECT. XIII.-THE EFFECT OF SUCCESSION IN
VISUAL OBJECTS EXPLAINED. If we can comprehend clearly how things operate upon one of our senses, there can be very little difficulty in conceiving in what manner they affect the rest. To say a great deal, therefore, upon the corresponding affections of every sense, would tend rather to fatigue us, by a useless repetition, than to throw any new light upon the subject, by that