« ZurückWeiter »
cibly do they impress us with the idea of the omnipresence of God? Wherever we are, we are in his actual custody and keeping, in his hand: "There also shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall keep me."
Bishop Lowth, in his admirable lectures on the poetry of the Hebrews, points out the following as an instance of the true sublime, and I think it may class with the preceding....
"Tell in high, harmonious strains,
"And the hoarse waves with humble voice adore!
"Let the verdant plains be glad!
You will easily perceive that this is only a paraphrase, or rather a translation from the Psalms.
There is no author who will furnish you with finer examples of this branch of the sublime than Virgil. The description of the Storm in the first book; the allegorical description of Fame, or rather of Rumour; the Sack of Troy in the second book; and almost the whole of the Descent to the Infernal Regions in the sixth, are pregnant with fine examples of the sublime in description. Of the sublime in expression, the following lines afford, in a short compass, a very fine instance, and yet with very little pomp of imagery. They are from the prophecy of Anchises of the future glories of Rome.
"Excudent alii spirantia mollius æra,
"Credo equidem: vivos ducent de marmore vultus ;
En. lib. vi.
"The subject nations, with a happier grace,
Critics have established a further distinction with respect to the sublime, in what they call the still sublime, and the sublime of passion. The former however is the true sublime, though we find this quality not unfrequently mingled with each of the different passions. The following, from a work which yields not in sublimity to any thing in the English language, without excepting the Paradise Lost, will serve as a specimen of what I term the still sublime. It will also serve as an example of the sublime in expression, as the imagery and epithets are exceedingly rich....
Night, sable goddess, from her ebon throne,
Fate, drop the curtain. I can lose no more,"
Of the sublime of passion we have a very fine instance in a speech of Othello....
"Had it pleas'd Heaven
"To try me with afflictions; had he rain'd
"All kinds of sores and shames on my bare head;
In the same play, and in the impassioned scenes of Lear, many other fine examples will be found.
An author, whose fine taste and brilliant imagination will ever be admired, and to whose memory his country has still stronger obligations, has written an elegant treatise on the distinction between the sublime and beautiful. The pleasure which is afforded by the contemplation of beauty appears a pure and unmixed pleasure arising from the gentler agitation, and is less vivid than that produced by the sublime. The sublime also differs from the beautiful, in being only conversant with great objects. It differs from the pathetic, in affording a more tranquil pleasure. The sublime and beautiful are, how ever, frequently mixed, and seem to run into each other, as in that enchanting simile of Homer, into which Mr. Pope has transposed more of the beautiful than is in the original....
"As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night,
Eye the blue vault, and bless the sacred light."
Of some descriptions also it is not easy to determine whether they belong to the sublime or the pathetic. Such is the short delineation by St. Luke, of the feelings of the multitude on the sufferings and crucifixion of our Lord....." And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts and returned."
MY DEAR JOHN,
IN my last letter I intimated that the sublime is often connected with the pathetic, though I confess the greater passions assimilate more readily with sublime ideas than the tender and sympathetic.
The force of pathetic composition arises from that fine sense which the Author of our nature has implanted in us for the wisest and best of purposes, which engages us as social beings to partake in the feelings of others; to "rejoice with those who do rejoice, and to weep with those who weep;" or, as a heathen writer expresses it,
"Humano generi dare se natura fatetur,
"Compassion proper to mankind appears,
It is of little consequence whether the tale that excites this sensation in us is real or fictitious. It is the general sentiment that is instantaneously called into action, and we do not stop to consider and to reason upon it; it is sufficient if it is only natural.
As is the case with the sublime, there are two principal circumstances which are productive of this affection:....First, when the story or sentiment is sufficiently striking of itself, by reducing all the circumstances into as narrow a compass as possible, and causing them to flash at once upon the mind. Of this, Livy's account of the death of Lucretia may serve as an example: in