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Told of a many thousand warlike French
KING JOHN, AC IV, Scene 4.
The sacred writings abound with the moft lively and animating descriptions, which derive their excellence from the notice that is taken of particular circumitances. See, among sages, Isaiah xxxix. 4. to 15. and Jer. xiv. 15. to the end.
One reason why philosophers seldom succeed in poetry, may be, that abstract ideas are too familiar to their minds, Philosophers are perpetually employed in reducing particular to general propolis tions, a turn of thinking very unfavourable to poetry. One reason, likewise, why poetry is generally sooner brought to perfection than any othen branch of polite literature, may be, that, in early ages, the state of language is most favourable to poetry; as it then contains fewer abstract terms. On this account, a poet in an early age has the advantage of a later poet, who has equal strength of imagination. It may be said that, to counterbalance this, the greater progress which the art of criticism will have made in a more refined age, will be an advantage to a later poet. But perhaps refinement in criticism may rather be unfavourable to the genuine spirit of poetry, as an attention to rules tends to deaden and dislipate the fire of imagination,
Of the Tendency of strong Emotions to produce BE
LIEF, and the transferring of Passions from one
HE tendency of strong emotions and passions to generate belief may help to throw light upon several things which occur upon the subject of criticism, and works of taste and genius. And that we should be prone to conclude, that very vivid ideas, and strong emotions of mind, are derived from external objects, and circumstances really existing, can be no matter of furprise, when we reflect that objects really existing do generally excite such ideas and emotions. Vivid ideas and strong emotions, therefore, having been, through life, associated with reality, it is easy to imagine that, upon the perception of the proper feelings, the associated idea of reality will likewise recur, and adhere to it as usual, unless the emotion be combined with such other ideas and circumstances as have had as strong an association with fiction. In this case the absurdity and impoflibility of the scene precludes assent; and at the same time, by taking away the associated circumstance, it greatly weakens the original impression. But while the :impressions remain vivid, and no certain marks of fiction appear, the idea of reality will occur ; that is, the mind will find itself strongly inclined to believe the scene to be real. This
may help us to account for the satisfaction that is received, and particularly by youth, and all persons of little knowledge and experience, in reading the history of such beings and powers as far exceed every thing human, and which never could have had any existence; as of fairies in European countries, genies in the East; the heathen gods and goddesses in the ancient classical ages, and knights-errant and necromancers in modern story.
It may, likewise, suggest a reason why these stories are read with less pleasure by persons more advanced in years. In youth the vivid and magnified ideas presented by such stories, and the emotions confequent upon them, have a stronger association with truth than any improbable circumstances attending them have yet acquired with falsehood. In reading them, therefore, there is nothing to prevent the object from being conceived to be ideally present, and their unexperienced passions are excited mechanically, as by the presence of the like real objects. Whereas the association which such strange powers and properties have acquired with the ideas of impoffibility, falsehood, and absurdity, in the minds of persons of considerable age and reflection, often makes it impossible for them, even in imagination, to conceive such things really to exist.
If, however, the fiction be consistent with itfelf, and be natural upon any uniform principles, or fuppositions, so that it shall require only one fingle effort of the imagination to conceive the existence of the imaginary beings and powers, and the ideas of inconsistency and contradiction do not frequently occur through the course of the narration, to destroy the illusion; a reader of a lively turn of mind, though of good discernment, may enter into the scene, and receive great pleasure from the performance. But still, in consequence of a thousand reiterated associations, all representations of things not founded on nature and truth will grow less and less interesting as men advance in life. Even those fictions which most nearly resemble truth, have but little power of amusing persons of great age and reflection. And that stories in which are introduced such imaginary beings as the heathen gods, fairies, genies, ñecromancers, and the like, retain their
of amusing persons of reading and taste so long as they do, may be ascribed to the impreslions made by then upon such persons in their very early years; by means of which the scenes in which they are exhibited are rendered much more vivid, and consequently have stronger associations with reality than they would have had, if those persons had not been made acquainted with them, till they had been capable of perceiving their absurdity:
Our proneness to verify strong sensations may be seen, in the pleasure we receive from arguments intended to prove that there is some foundation in true hiftory for those stories which affected us strongly when we were young;
for instance, the fabulous history and mythology of the Greeks; the possibility of Æneas and Dido having been cotemporaries; the favourable hearing which arguments in proof of the reality of apparitions and witches have met with from many persons of sense and experience; and from the pleasure which all persons of taste have lately received from the attempt to show the real correspondence there is with nature and truth in the manners, customs, ceremonies, and extravagancies of chivalry. May I not, likewise, appeal to all persons of reading and imagination, if it would not give them a most sensible pleasure to receive certain information, that all the adventures of such persons as Robinson Crusoe, and others whose fictitious stories they have read with delight, were literally true? And whatever we 1hould receive pleasure from believing, we should certainly be inclined to believe.
This connexion of vivid ideas and emotions with reality, will easily furnish the mind with pretences for justifying the extravagance of such passions as love, gratitude, anger, revenge, and envy. If these passions be raised, though evet so unreasonably, they are often able, by this means,