« VorigeDoorgaan »
Cleopatra. I dreamt there was an Emp'ror Antony;
Antony and Cleopatra, Act V. Sc. 3.
Hamlet, Act III. Sc. 8.
The poets bave also made good use of the emotion produced by the elevated situation of an object:
Quod si me lyricis vatibus inseres,
Horat. Carm. l. I. ode 1.
Oh thou! the earthly author of my blood,
Northumberland, thou ladder wherewithal
Richard II. Act V. Sc. 2.
Anthony. Why was I rais'd the meteor of the world,
Dryden, All for Love, Act I.
The description of Paradise in the fourth book of Paradise Lost, is a fine illustration of the impression made by elevated objects :
So on he fures, and to the border comes
B. iv. l. 131,
Though a grand object is agreeable, we must not infer that a little object is disagreeable; which would be unhappy for man, considering that he is surrounded with so many objects of that kind. The same holds with respect to place: a body placed high is agreeable ; but the same body placed low, is not by that circumstance rendered disagreeable. Littleness and lowness of place are precisely similar in the following particular, that they neither give pleasure nor pain. And in this may visibly be discovered peculiar attention in fitting the internal constitution of man to his external circumstances : were littleness and lowness of place agreeable, greatness and elevation could not be so: were littieness and lowness of place disagreeable, they would occasion perpetual uneasiness.
The difference between great and little with respect to agreeableness, is remarkably felt in a series, when we pass gradually from the one extreme to the other. A mental progress from the capital to the kingdom, from that to Europe—to the whole earth-to the planetary system-to the universe, is extremely pleasant: the heart swells, and the mind is dilated, at every step. The returning in an opposite direction is not positively painful, though our pleasure lessens at every step, till it vanish into indifference : such a progress may sometimes produce pleasure of a different sort, which arises from taking a narrower and narrower inspection. The sa me observation holds in a progress upward and downward. Ascent is pleasant because it elevates us : but descent is never painful ; it is for the most part pleasant from a different cause, that it is according to the order of nature. The fall of a stone from any height is extremely agreeable by its accelerated motion. I feel it pleasant to descend from a mountain, because the descent is natural and easy. Neither is looking downward painful; on the contrary, to look down upon objects makes part of the pleasure of elevation : looking down becomes then only painful when the object is so far below as to create dizziness; and even when that is the case, we feel a sort of pleasure mixed with the pain, witness Shakspeare's description of Dover cliffs :
That on th' unnumber'd idle pebbles chafes,
King Lear, Act IV. Sc. 6.
A remark is made above, that the emotions of grandeur and sublimity are nearly allied. And hence it is, that the one term is frequently put for the other: an increasing series of numbers, for ex. ample, producing an emotion similar to that of mounting upward, is commonly termed an ascending series : a series of numbers gradually decreasing, producing an emotion similar to that of going downward, is commonly termed a descending series : we talk familiarly of going up to the capital, and of going down to the country: from a lesser kingdom we talk of going up to a greater ; whence the anabasis in the Greek language, when one travels from Greece to Persia. We discover the same way of speaking in the language even of Japan ;* and its universality proves it the offspring of a natural feeling
The foregoing observation leads us to consider grandeur and sublimity in a figurative seose, and as applicable to the fine arts. Hitherto these terms have been taken in their proper sense, as applicable to objects of sight only: and it was of importance to bestow some pains upon that article; because, generally speaking, the figurative sense of a word is derived from its proper sense, which holds remarkably at present. Beauty in its original sig. nification is confined to objects of sight; but, as many other objects, intellectual as well as moral, raise emotions resembling that of beauty, the resemblance of the effects prompts us to extend the
* Kempfer's History of Japan, b. v. chap. 2.
term beauty to these objects. This equally accounts for the terms grandeur and sublimity taken in a figurative sense. Every motion, from whatever cause proceeding, that resembles an emotion of grandeur or elevation, is called by the same name: thus generosity is said to be an elevated emotion, as well as great courage ; and that firmness of soul which is superior to misfortunes, obtains the pecu. liar name of magnanimity. On the other hand, every motion that contracts the mind, and fixeth it upon things trivial or of no importance, is termed low, by its resemblance to an emotion produced by a little or low object of sight : thus an appetite for trifling amusements is called a low taste. The same terms are applied to characters and actions : we talk familiarly of an elevated genius, of a great man, and equally so of littleness of mind : some actions are great and elevated, and others are little and grovelling. Sentiments, and even expressions, are characterised in the same manner : an expression or sentiment that raises the mind is denomi. nated great or elevated ; and hence the SUBLIME* in poetry. In such figurative terms, we lose the distinction between great and elevated in their proper sense; for the resemblance is not so entire as to preserve these terms distinct in their figurative application. We carry this figure still farther.
Longinus gives a description of the Sublime that is not amiss, though far from being just in every circumstance, “ That the mind “ is elevated by it, and so sensibly affected, as to swell in transport " and inward pride, as if what is only heard or read, were its own in. “ vention.” But he adheres not to this description; in his 6 h chap. ter, he justly observes, that many passions have nothing of the grand, such as grief, fear, pity, which depress the mind instead of raising it; and yet in chap. 8. he mentions Sappho's ode upon lore as subis lime : beautiful it is undoubtedly, but it cannot be sublime, because it really depresses the mind instead of raising it. His translator Boi. leaux is not more successful in his instances : in his 10th reflection, he cites a passage from Demosthenes and another from Herodotus as sublime, which have not the least tincture of that quality.