Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]

barren of praise to him, nor unproductive to ourselves of that noble and uncommon union of science and admiration, which a contemplation of the works of infinite wisdom alone can afford to a rational mind: whilst, referring to him whatever we find of right or good or fair in ourselves, discovering his strength and wisdom even in our own weakness and imperfection, honouring them where we discover them clearly, and adoring their profundity where we are lost in our search, we may be inquisitive without impertinence, and elevated without pride; we may be admitted, if I may dare to say so, into the counsels of the Almighty by a consideration of his works. The elevation of the mind ought to be the principal end of all our studies; which if they do not in some measure effect, they are of very little service to us. But, beside this great purpose, a consideration of the rationale of our passions seems to me very necessary for all who would affect them upon solid and sure principles. It is not enough to know them in general: to affect them after a delicate manner, or to judg properly of any work designed to affect them, we should know the exact boundaries of their several jurisdictions; we should pursue them through all their variety of operations, and pierce into the inmost, and what might appear inaccessible, parts of our nature,

Quod latet arcanâ non enarrabile fibrů. Without all this it is possible for a man, after a confused manner, sometimes to satisfy his own mind of the truth of his work; but he can never have a certain determinate rule to go by, nor can be ever make his propositions sufficiently clear to others. Poets, and orators, and painters, and those who cultivate other branches of the liberal arts, have, without this critical knowledge, succeeded well in their several provinces, and will succeed: as among artificers there are many machines made and even invented without


exact knowledge of the principles they are governed by. It is, I own, not uncommon to be wrong in theory, and right in practice; and we are happy that it is so. Men often act right from their feelings, who afterwards reason but ill on them from principle: but as it is impossible to avoid an attempt at such reasoning, and equally impossible to prevent its having some influence on cur practice, surely it is worth

taking some pains to have it just, and founded on the basis
of sure experience. We might expect that the artists them-
selves would have been our surest guides; but the artists
have been too much occupied in the practice: the philoso-
phers have done little ; and what they have done, was mostly
with a view to their own schemes and systems: and as for
those called critics, they have generally sought the rule of
the arts in the wrong place; they sought it among poems,
pictures, engravings, statues, and buildings. But art can
never give the rules that make an art. This is, I believe,
the reason why artists in general, and poets principally,
have been confined in so narrow a circle: they have been
rather imitators of one another than of nature; and this
with so faithful an uniformity, and to so remote an anti-
quity, that it is hard to say who gave the first model. Cri-
tics follow them, and therefore can do little as guides. I
can judge but poorly of anything, whilst I measure it by
no other standard than itself. The true standard of the arts
is in every man's power; and an easy observation of the
most common, sometimes of the meanest, things in nature,
will give the truest lights, where the greatest sagacity and
industry, that slights such observation, must leave us in the
dark, or, what is worse, amuse and mislead us by false lights.
In an inquiry it is almost everything to be once in a right
road. I am satisfied I have done but little by these observa-
tions considered in themselves; and I never should have
taken the pains to digest them, much less should I have
ever ventured to publish them, if I was not convinced that
nothing tends more to the corruption of science than to suffer
it to stagnate. These waters must be troubled, before they
can exert their virtues. A man who works beyond the sur-
face of things, though he may be wrong himself, yet he clears
for others,


chance to make even his errors subservient to the cause of truth. In the following parts I shall inquire what things they are that cause in us the affections of the sublime and beautiful, as in this I have considered the affections themselves. I only desire one favour, —that no part of this discourse may be judged of by itself, and independently of the rest; for I am sensible I have not disposed my materials to abide the test of a captious controversy, but of a sober and even forgiving examination,

[ocr errors]

that they are not armed at all points for battle, but dressed to visit those who are willing to give a peaceful entrance to truth.



THE passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment;

and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Bence arises the great power

of the sublime, that, far from being produced by them, sit anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect.


No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its

powers of acting and reasoning as fear. For fear being an apprehension of pain or death, it operates in a manner that resembles actual pain. Whatever therefore is terrible, with regard to sight, is sublime too, whether this cause of terror be endued with greatness of dimensions or not; for it is impossible to look on anything as trifling, or contemptible, that may be dangerous. There are many animals, who though far from being large, are yet capable of raising ideas of the sublime, because they are considered as objects of terror. As serpents and poisonous animals of almost all kinds. And to things of great dimensions, if we annex an adventitious idea of terror, they become without comparison greater. A level plain of a vast extent on land, is certainly no mean idea; the prospect of such a plain may be as es. | Part I. sect. 3, 4, 7.

2. Part IV. sect. 36.


tensive as a prospect of the ocean: but can it ever fill the mind with anything so great as the ocean itself ? This is owing to several causes; but it is owing to none more than this, that the ocean is an object of no small terror. Indeed, terror is in all cases whatsoever, either more openly or lat tently, the ruling principle of the sublime. Several lank guages bear a strong testimony to the affinity of these ideas. They frequently use the same word, to signify indifferently the modes of astonishment or admiration, and those of ter

θάμβος is in Greek, either fear or wonder ; δεινός 18 terrible or respectable; aidéw, to reverence or to fear. Ve reor in Latin, is what aidéw is in Greek. The Romans used the verb stupeo, a term which strongly marks the state of an astonished mind, to express the effect either of simple fear or of astonishment; the word attonitus (thunder-struck) is equally expressive of the alliance of these ideas ; and do not the French etonnement, and the English astonishment and amazement, point out as clearly the kindred emotions which attend fear and wonder? They who have a more general knowledge of languages, could produce, I make no doubt, many other and equally striking examples.


To make anything very terrible, obscurityl seems in

[ocr errors]

any danger, when we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes. Every one will be sensible of this, who considers how greatly night adds to our dread, in all cases of danger, and how much the notions of ghosts and goblins, of which none can form clear ideas, affect minds which give credit to the popular tales concerning such sorts of beings. Those despotic governments, which are founded on the passions of men, and principally upon the passion of fear, keep their chief as much as may be from the public eye. The policy has been the same in many cases of religion. Almost all the heathen temples were dark. Even in the barbarous temples of the Americans at this day, they keep their idol in a dark part of the hut, which is consecrated to his worship. For this purpose too the Druids

Part IV. sect. 14-16.


performed all their ceremonies in the bosom of the darkest woods, and in the shade of the oldest and most spreading oaks. No person seems better to have understood the secret of heightening, or of setting terrible things, if I may use the expression, in their strongest light, by the force of a judicious obscurity, than Milton. His description of Death in the second book is admirably studied; it is astonishing with what a gloomy pomp, with what a significant and expressive uncertainty of strokes and colouring, he has finished the portrait of the king of terrors :

-The other shape,
If shape it might be called that shape had none
Distinguishable, in member, joint, or limb;
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed;
For each seemed either; black he stood as night;
Fierce as ten furies; terrible as hell ;
And shook a deadly dart. What seemed his head

The likeness of a kingly crown had on. In this description all is dark, uncertain, confused, terrible, and sublime to the last degree.



It is one thing to make an idea clear, and another to make it affecting to the imagination. If I make a drawing of a palace, or a temple, or a landscape, I present a very clear idea of those objects; but then (allowing for the effect of imitation, which is something) my picture can at most affect only as the palace, temple, or landscape would have affected in the reality. On the other hand, the most lively and spirited verbal description I can give raises a very obscure and imperfect idea of such objects; but then it is in my power to raise a stronger emotion by the description than I could do by the best painting. This experience constantly evinces. The proper manner of conveying the affections of the mind from one to another, is by words; there is a great insufficiency in all other methods of communication; and so far is a clearness of imagery from being absolutely necessary to an influence upon the passions, that they may be considerably operated upon, without presenting auy image at all, by certain sounds adapted to that purpose; of which we

« ZurückWeiter »