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Of the Pleasures OF IMAGINATION in general,
and of the Standard of GOOD TASTE.
AVING considered a variety of the most important circumstances relating to the stronger pasions and emotions, the knowledge of which more eminently contributes to form a critic in works of taste and genius, and also those forms of address which are peculiarly adapted to gain assent ; I come in the third place, according to the method I proposed, to enumerate those finer feelings which constitute the pleasures of the imagination, in order to ascertain the nature and kind of those refined pleasures : but, previous to this, I shall make a few general observations relating to the whole of this part of our subject.
The first circumstance I shall take notice of with regard to those exquisite feelings is, that the only inlets to them are, as Lord Kaims observes, the eye and the ear, and that the other senses have nothing to do with them. Colours and sounds, it is remarkable, are transmitted to the mind, or sensorium, without
sensible intervention of the corporeal organs by which they are transmitted. The
eye and the ear, when they are in a sound and healthy state, are so little affected by the impreffion of light, and the vibrations of the air, that were it not for internal evidence, we should not know that we had
organs. We find that when our eye-lids are closed, we cannot see at all, and that we are obliged to turn our eyes towards any object before we can perceive it, or we should not readily discover what it is on which vision depends. In like manner, it is easy to conceive that-a rational being, coming into the world with the perfect use of the sense of hearing, would not be able, without some experiment of the same nature, to find out what part of his corporeal system was the medium of those sensations: whereas we cannot feel, taste, or even smell, without being at the same time sensible that some part of the surface of our bodies is affected in the first of these cases, and the tongue and nose in the two last.
For these reasons, feeling, tasting and smelling! are considered as sensations of a grosser kind, and seeing and hearing as something of a much more refined and spiritual nature.
The former we cannot perceive without having at the same time an idea of the corporeal instruments by which they are conveyed to us; whereas we contemplate ideas of the latter kind, as if we were wholly abstracted from the body. Hence, among other reasons,
there is a kind of shame annexed to the gratification of the grosser senses. Persons of a refined taste affect an indifference to their pleasures, and diffemble the fatisfaction they receive from them; as in eating, drinking, and the like: whereas we are very differently affected towards the pleafures of harmony, which we perceive by the ear, and the beauty of colours and proportion, which we perceive by the eye.
Another observation which may throw considerable light upon various affections of the mind, in the perception of those pleasures which we refer to the imagination, is, that since the mind perceives, and is conscious of nothing, but the ideas that are present to it, it must, as it were, conform itself to them; and even the idea it hath of its own extent, (if we may use that expression) must enlarge or contract with its field of view. By this means also, a person, for the time, enters into, adopts, and is actuated by, the sentiments that are presented to his mind.
This takes place fo instantaneously and mechanically, that no person whatever hath reflection, and presence of mind enough, to be upon
his guard against fome of the most useless and ridiculous effects of it. What person, if he faw another upon a precipice and in danger of falling, could help starting back, and throwing himfelf into the same pofture as he would do if he himself were going to fall? At least he would have a strong propensity to
do it. And what is more common than to see
persons in playing at bowls, lean their own bodies, and writhe them into every possible attitude, according to the course they would have their bowl to take? It is true,, that all men are not equally affected by this remarkable propensity. The more vivid are a man's ideas, and the greater is his general sensibility, the more intirely, and with the greater facility, doth he adapt himself to the situations he is viewing.
· From this principle, conversing with mean and low objects gives the mind an idea of the meanness and narrowness of its own powers; and ideas of our own greatness, dignity, and importance, are the result of our contemplating large and grand objects. This will be conspicuous when we consider the sublime in composition.
Hence the passions, sentiments, and views of those persons whose history is written so as to engage our attention, become for a time (if they be not extremely opposite to our own general state of mind) our own passions, sentiments, and views; and particularly, the accounts of the magnanimity, generosity, courage, clemency, &c. in our heroes, are read with a secret complacency and selfapplause, arising from our indulging the same temper and disposition.
Hence, in part, arises the difficulty of reading the history of any two rival states, or personages, with
absolute indifference and impartiality. Before we were aware, we find we have entered into the fentiments, paslions, and interests of the one or the other of them; and afterwards find it difficult to change sides, as it were ; notwithstanding, in the progress of the history, we may fee-reason enough to be disgusted with the party we at first adopted. We absurdly continue to wish success to those we first attached ourselves to, though the reasons which attached us to them no longer exist. The failings on one side are regarded with tenderness and compassion, as the failings of a friend; and the excellencies which discover themselves on the opposite fide, are apt to be looked upon with envy and diflike, as an advantage in the possession of an enemy.
What reader, who has once been interested in the fortune of Athens, by reading the first book of the Peloponnesian war, written by Thucydides, is not distressed to the last degree with the miscarriage of the flagrantly ambitious and unjust invasion of Sicily, and the siege of Syracuse? If any striking instance of generosity, or mere courage, once intereft us in favour of a buccaneer, a highwayman, or even a dextrous cheat, how apt are we to read with pleasure of the desperate adventures of the former, and of the ingenious but base artifices of the latter? It is possible that persons of age, experience, and reflection, may, in a great measure,