A philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful
THE author hopes it will not be thought impertinent to ſay ſomething of the motives which induced him to enter into the following enquiry. The matters which make the ſubject of it had formerly engaged a great deal of his attention. But he often found himſelf greatly at a loſs; he found that he was far from having any thing like an exact theory of our paſſions, or a knowledge of their genuine ſources; he found that he could not reduce his notions to any [Page vi] fixed or conſiſtent principles; and he had remarked, that others lay under the ſame difficulties.
He obſerved that the ideas of the ſublime and beautiful were frequently confounded; and that both were indiſcriminately applied to things greatly differing, and ſometimes of natures directly oppoſite. Even Longinus, in his incomparable diſcourſe upon a part of this ſubject, has comprehended things extremely repugnant to each other, under one common name of the Sublime. The abuſe of the word Beauty, has been ſtill more general, and attended with ſtill worſe conſequences.
Such a confuſion of ideas muſt certainly render all our reaſonings upon ſubjects of this kind extremely inaccurate and inconcluſive. Could this admit [Page vii] of any remedy, I imagined it could only be from a diligent examination of our paſſions in our own breaſts; from a careful ſurvey of the properties of things which we find by experience to influence thoſe paſſions; and from a ſober and attentive inveſtigation of the laws of nature, by which thoſe properties are capable of affecting the body, and thus of exciting our paſſions. If this could be done, it was imagined that the rules deducible from ſuch an enquiry might be applied to the imitative arts, and to whatever elſe they concerned, without much difficulty.
It is four years now ſince this enquiry was finiſhed; during which time the author found no cauſe to make any material alteration in his theory. [Page viii] He has ſhewn it to ſome of his friends, men of learning and candour, who do not think it wholly unreaſonable; and he now ventures to lay it before the public, propoſing his notions as probable conjectures, not as things certain and indiſputable; and if he has any where expreſſed himſelf more poſitively, it was owing to inattention.
- SECT. I. Novelty page 1
- SECT. II. Pain and Pleaſure page 3
- SECT. III. The difference between Pain and Pleaſure page 6
- SECT. IV. Of Delight and Pleaſure, as oppoſed to each other page 8
- SECT. V. Joy and Grief page 10
- SECT. VI. Of the Paſſions which belong to Self-preſervation page 12
- SECT. VII. Of the Sublime page 13
- SECT. VIII. Of the Paſſions which belong to Society page 14
- SECT. IX. The final cauſe of the difference between the Paſſions belonging to Self-preſervation, and thoſe which regard the Society of the Sexes. page 16
- [Page] SECT. X. Of Beauty page 17
- SECT. XI. Society and Solitude page 19
- SECT. XII. Sympathy, Imitation, and Ambition page 21
- SECT. XIII. Sympathy page ibid.
- SECT. XIV. The effects of Sympathy in the diſtreſſes of others page 23
- SECT. XV. Of the effects of Tragedy page 25
- SECT. XVI. Imitation page 28
- SECT. XVII. Ambition page 30
- SECT. XVIII. The Recapitulation page 32
- SECT. XIX. page 33
- SECT. XX. The ſame page 34
- SECT. XXI. The Concluſion page ibid.
- SECT. I. Of the Paſſions cauſed by the Sublime page 41
- SECT. II. Terror page 42
- SECT. III. Obſcurity page 43
- SECT. IV. Of the difference between Clearneſs and Obſcurity with regard to the Paſſions page 45
- [Page] SECT. V. The ſame ſubject continued page 46
- SECT. VI. Privation page 50
- SECT. VII. Vaſtneſs page 51
- SECT. VIII. Infinity page 52
- SECT. IX. The ſame page 53
- SECT. X. Succeſſion and Uniformity page 54
- SECT. XI. The effect of Succeſſion and Uniformity in Building page 56
- SECT. XII. Magnitude in Building page 58
- SECT. XIII. Infinity in pleaſing Objects page 59
- SECT. XIV. Difficulty page 60
- SECT. XV. Magnificence page ibid.
- SECT. XVI. Light page 62
- SECT. XVII. Light in Building page 63
- SECT. XVIII. Colour conſidered as productive of the Sublime page 64
- SECT. [XVIII.] Sound and Loudneſs page 65
- SECT. XIX. Suddenneſs page 66
- SECT. XX. Intermitting page 67
- SECT. XXI. The cries of Animals page 68
- [Page] SECT. XXIII. Smell and Taſte. Bitters and Stenches page 69
- SECT. XXIV. Feeling. Pain page 71
- SECT. I. Of Beauty page 73
- SECT. II. Proportion not the cauſe of Beauty in Vegetables page 74
- SECT. III. Proportion not the cauſe of Beauty in Animals page 76
- SECT. IV. Proportion not the cauſe of Beauty in the human ſpecies page 78
- SECT. V. Proportion further conſidered page 81
- SECT. VI. Fitneſs not the cauſe of Beauty page 84
- SECT. VII. The real effects of Fitneſs page 86
- SECT. VIII. The Recapitulation page 90
- SECT. IX. Perfection not the cauſe of Beauty page 91
- SECT. X. How far the idea of Beauty may be applied to the qualities of the Mind page 92
- [Page] SECT. XI. How far the ideas of Beauty may be applied to Virtue page 94
- SECT. XII. The real cauſe of Beauty page 95
- SECT. XIII. Beautiful objects ſmall page 96
- SECT. XIV. Smoothneſs page 98
- SECT. XV. Gradual Variation page 99
- SECT. XVI. Delicacy page 101
- SECT. XVII. Beauty in Colour page 102
- SECT. XVIII. Recapitulation page 103
- SECT. XIX. The Phyſiognomy page 104
- SECT. XX. The Eye page 105
- SECT. XXI. Uglineſs page 106
- SECT. XXII. Grace page 107
- SECT. XXIII. Elegance and Speciouſneſs page ibid.
- SECT. XXIV. The Beautiful in Feeling page 108
- SECT. XXV. The Beautiful in Sounds page 111
- SECT. XXVI. Continued. page 112
- SECT. XXVII. Taſte and Smell page 114
- SECT. XXVIII. The Sublime and Beautiful compared page 115
- SECT. I. Of the efficient cauſe of the Sublime and Beautiful page 117
- SECT. II. Aſſociation page 120
- SECT. III. Cauſe of Pain and Fear page 121
- SECT. IV. Continued page 124
- SECT. V. How the Sublime is produced page 126
- SECT. VI. How pain can be a cauſe of Delight page 127
- SECT. VII. Exerciſe neceſſary for the finer Organs page 129
- SECT. VIII. Why things not dangerous ſometimes produce a paſſion like Terror page 130
- SECT. IX. Why viſual Objects of great dimenſions are Sublime page 131
- SECT. X. Unity why requiſite to Vaſtneſs page 133
- SECT. XI. The artificial Infinite page 134
- SECT. XII. The vibrations muſt be ſimilar page 136
- SECT. XIII. The effects of Succeſſion in viſual objects explained page 137
- [Page] SECT. XIV. Locke's opinion concerning darkneſs, conſidered page 140
- SECT. XV. Darkneſs terrible by its own nature page 142
- SECT. XVI. The cauſe why Darkneſs is terrible page 144
- SECT. XVII. The effects of Blackneſs page 145
- SECT. XVIII. The effects of Blackneſs moderated page 148
- SECT. XIX. The phyſical cauſe of Love page 149
- SECT. XX. Why Smoothneſs is beauful page 151
- SECT. XXI. Sweetneſs, its nature page 152
- SECT. XXII. Sweetneſs relaxing page 156
- SECT. XXIII. Variation, why beautiful page 158
- SECT. XXIV. Concerning Smallneſs page 160
- SECT. XXVI. Of Colour page 164
- SECT. I. Of Words page 167
- SECT. II. The common effect of Poetry, not by raiſing ideas of things page 168
- SECT. III. General words before ideas page 171
- SECT. IV. The effect of Words page 173
- SECT. V. Examples that Words may affect without raiſing images page 175
- SECT. VI. Poetry not ſtrictly an imitative art page 179
- SECT. VII. How Words influence the Paſſions. page 180
THE firſt and the ſimpleſt emotion which we diſcover in the human mind, is Curioſity. By curioſity, I mean whatever deſire we have for, or whatever pleaſure we take in novelty. We ſee children perpetually running from place to place to hunt out ſomething new; they catch with great eagerneſs, and with very little choice, at whatever comes before them; their attention is engaged by every thing, becauſe every thing has, in that ſtage of life, the charm of novelty to recommend it. But as thoſe things which engage us merely by their novelty, cannot attach us for any length of [Page 2] time, curioſity is the moſt ſuperficial of all the affections; it changes it's object perpetually; it has an appetite which is very ſharp, but very eaſily ſatisfied; and it has always an appearance of giddineſs, reſtleſſneſs and anxiety. Curioſity from it's nature is a very active principle; it quickly runs over the greateſt part of it's objects, and ſoon exhauſts the variety which is commonly to be met with in nature; the ſame things make frequent returns, and they return with leſs and leſs of any agreeable effect. In ſhort, the occurrences of life, by the time we come to know it a little, would be incapable of affecting the mind with any other ſenſations than thoſe of loathing and wearineſs, if many things were not adapted to affect the mind by means of other powers beſides novelty in them, and of other paſſions beſides curioſity in ourſelves. These powers and paſſions ſhall be conſidered in their place. But whatever theſe powers are, or upon what principle ſoever they affect the mind, it is abſolutely neceſſary that they ſhould not be exerted in thoſe things which a daily and vulgar uſe have brought into a ſtale unaffecting familiarity. Some degree of novelty muſt be one of the materials in every inſtrument which works upon the mind; and curioſity blends itſelf more or leſs with all our paſſions.
IT ſeems then neceſſary towards moving the paſſions of people advanced in life to any conſiderable degree, that the objects deſigned for that purpoſe, beſides their being in ſome meaſure new, ſhould be capable of exciting pain or pleaſure from other cauſes. Pain and pleaſure are ſimple ideas, incapable of definition. People are not liable to be miſtaken in their feelings, but they are very frequently wrong in the names they give them, and in their reaſonings about them. Many people are of opinion, that pain ariſes neceſſarily from the removal of ſome pleaſure; as they think pleaſure does from the ceaſing or diminution of ſome pain. For my part I am rather inclined to imagine, that pain and pleaſure in their moſt ſimple and natural manner of affecting, are each of a poſitive nature, and by no means neceſſarily dependent upon each other for their exiſtence. The human mind is often, and I think it is for the moſt part, in a ſtate neither of pain nor pleaſure, which I call a ſtate of indifference. When I am carried from this ſtate into a ſtate of actual pleaſure, it does not appear [Page 4] neceſſary that I ſhould paſs through the medium of any ſort of pain. If in ſuch a ſtate of indifference, or eaſe, or tranquility, or call it what you pleaſe, you were to be ſuddenly entertained with a concert of muſic; or ſuppoſe ſome object of a fine ſhape, and bright and lively colours to be preſented before you; or imagine your ſmell is gratified with the fragrance of a roſe; or if without any previous thirſt you were to drink of ſome pleaſant kind of wine; or to taſte of ſome ſweetmeat without being hungry; in all the ſeveral ſenſes, of hearing, ſmelling, and taſteing, you undoubtedly find a pleaſure: yet if I enquire into the ſtate of your mind previous to theſe gratifications, you will hardly tell me that they found you in any kind of pain; or having ſatisfied theſe ſeveral ſenſes with their ſeveral pleaſures, will you ſay that any pain has ſucceeded, though the pleaſure is abſolutely over? Suppoſe on the other hand, a man in the ſame ſtate of indifference, to receive a violent blow, or to drink of ſome bitter potion, or to have his ears wounded with ſome harſh and grating ſound; here is no removal of pleaſure; and yet here is felt, in every ſenſe which is affected, a pain very diſtinguiſhable. It may be ſaid perhaps, that the pain in theſe caſes had [Page 5] it's riſe from the removal of that pleaſure which he enjoyed before, though that pleaſure was of ſo low a degree as to be perceived only by the removal; but this ſeems to me to be a ſubtilty, that is not diſcoverable in nature. For if, previous to the pain, I do not feel any actual pleaſure, I have no reaſon to judge that any ſuch thing exiſts; ſince pleaſure is only pleaſure as it is felt. The ſame may be ſaid of pain, and with equal reaſon. I can never perſuade myſelf that pleaſure and pain are mere relations, which can only exiſt as they are contraſted: but I think I can diſcern clearly that there are poſitive pains and pleaſures, which do not at all depend upon each other. Nothing is more certain to my own feelings than this. There is nothing which I can diſtinguiſh in my mind with more clearneſs than the three ſtates, of indifference, of pleaſure, and of pain. Every one of theſe I can perceive without any ſort of idea of it's relation to any thing elſe. Caius is afflicted with a fit of the cholic; this man is actually in pain; ſtretch Caius upon the rack, he will feel a much greater pain; but does this pain of the rack ariſe from the removal of any pleaſure? or is the fit of the cholic a pleaſure or a pain juſt as we are pleaſed to conſider it?
WE ſhall carry this propoſition yet a ſtep further. We ſhall venture to propoſe, that pain and pleaſure are not only, not neceſſarily dependent for their exiſtence on their mutual diminution or removal, but that, in reality, the diminution or ceaſing of pleaſure does not operate like poſitive pain; and that the removal or diminution of pain, in it's effect has very little reſemblance to poſitive pleaſure.* The former of theſe propoſitions will, I believe, be much more readily allowed than the latter; becauſe it is very evident that pleaſure, when it has run it's career, ſets us down very nearly where it found us. Pleaſure of every kind quickly ſatisfies; and when it is over, we relapſe into indifference, or rather we fall into a ſoft tranquility, which is tinged with the agreeable colour of the [Page 7] former ſenſation. I own, it is not at firſt view ſo apparent, that the removal of a great pain does not reſemble poſitive pleaſure: but let us recollect in what ſtate we have found our minds upon eſcaping ſome imminent danger, or on being releaſed from the ſeverity of ſome cruel pain. We have on ſuch occaſions found, if I am not much miſtaken, the temper of our minds in a tenor very remote from that which attends the preſence of poſitive pleaſure; we have found them in a ſtate of much ſobriety, impreſſed with a ſenſe of awe, in a ſort of tranquility ſhadowed with horror. The faſhion of the countenance and the geſture of the body on ſuch occaſions is ſo correſpondent to this ſtate of mind, that any perſon, a ſtranger to the cauſe of the appearance, would rather judge us under ſome conſternation, than in the enjoyment of any thing like poſitive pleaſure.
[Page 8] This ſtriking appearance of the man whom Homer ſuppoſes to have juſt eſcaped an imminent danger, the ſort of mixt paſſion of terror and ſurprize, with which he affects the ſpectators, paints very ſtrongly the manner in which we find ourſelves affected upon occaſions any way ſimilar. For when we have ſuffered from any violent emotion, the mind naturally continues in ſomething like the ſame condition, after the cauſe which firſt produced it has ceaſed to operate; the toſſing of the ſea remains after the ſtorm; and when this remain of horror has entirely ſubſided, all the paſſion, which the accident raiſed, ſubſides along with it; and the mind returns to it's uſual ſtate of indifference. In ſhort, pleaſure, (I mean any thing either in the inward ſenſation, or in the outward appearance like pleaſure from a poſitive cauſe,) has never, I imagine, it's origin from the removal of pain or danger.As when a wretch, who conſcious of his crimePurſued for murder from his native clime,Juſt gains ſome frontier, breathleſs, pale, amaz'd;All gaze, all wonder!
BUT ſhall we therefore ſay, that the removal of pain or it's diminution is always [Page 9] ſimply painful? or affirm that the ceſſation or the leſſening of pleaſure is always attended itſelf with a pleaſure? by no means. What I advance is no more than this; firſt, that there are pleaſures and pains of a poſitive and independent nature; and ſecondly, that the feeling which reſults from the ceaſing or diminution of pain does not bear a ſufficient reſemblance to poſitive pleaſure to have it conſidered as of the ſame nature, or to entitle it to be known by the ſame name; and that upon the ſame principle the removal or qualification of pleaſure has no reſemblance to poſitive pain. It is certain that the former feeling (the removal or moderation of pain) has ſomething in it far from diſtreſſing, or diſagreeable in it's nature. This feeling, in many caſes ſo agreeable, but in all ſo different from poſitive pleaſure, has no name which I know; but that hinders not it's being a very real one, and very different from all others. Whenever I have occaſion to ſpeak of it, I ſhall call it Delight; and I ſhall take the beſt care I can, to uſe that word in no other ſenſe. I am ſatisfied the word is not commonly uſed in this appropriated ſignification; but I thought it better to take up a word already known, and to limit it's ſignification, than to introduce a new one which would not perhaps incorporate ſo well with the language. [Page 10] I ſhould never have preſumed to attempt the leaſt alteration in our words, if the nature of the language, framed for the purpoſes of buſineſs rather than thoſe of philoſophy, and the nature of my ſubject that leads me out of the common track of diſcourſe, did not in a manner neceſſitate me to it. I ſhall make uſe of this liberty with all poſſible caution. As I make uſe of the word Delight to expreſs the ſenſation which accompanies the removal of pain or danger; ſo when I ſpeak of poſitive pleaſure, I ſhall for the moſt part call it ſimply Pleaſure.
IT muſt be obſerved, that the ceſſation of pleaſure affects the mind three ways. If it ſimply ceaſes, after having continued a proper time, the effect is indifference; if it be abruptly broken off, there enſues an uneaſy ſenſe called diſappointment; if the object be ſo totally loſt that there is no chance of enjoying it again, a paſſion ariſes in the mind, which is called grief. Now there is none of theſe, not even grief, which is the moſt violent, that I think has any reſemblance to poſitive pain. [Page 11] The perſon who grieves, ſuffers his paſſion to grow upon him; he indulges it, he loves it: but this never happens in the caſe of actual pain, which no man ever willingly endured for any conſiderable time. That grief ſhould be willingly endured, though far from a ſimply pleaſing ſenſation, is not ſo difficult to be underſtood. It is the nature of grief to keep it's object perpetually in it's eye, to preſent it in it's moſt pleaſurable views, to repeat all the circumſtances that attended it, even to the leaſt minuteneſs, to go back to every particular enjoyment, to dwell upon each, and to find a thouſand new perfections in all, that were not ſufficiently underſtood before; in grief, the pleaſure is ſtill uppermoſt; and the affliction we ſuffer has no reſemblance to abſolute pain, which is always odious, and which we endeavour to ſhake off as ſoon as poſſible. The Odyſſey of Homer, which abounds with ſo many natural and affecting images, has none more ſtriking than thoſe which Menelaus raiſes of the calamitous fate of his friends, and his own manner of feeling it. He owns indeed, that he often gives himſelf ſome intermiſſion from ſuch melancholy reflections, but he obſerves too, that melancholy as they are, they give him pleaſure.
On the other hand, when we recover our health, when we eſcape an imminent danger, is it with joy that we are affected? The ſenſe on theſe occaſions is far from that ſmooth and voluptuous ſatisfaction which the aſſured proſpect of pleaſure beſtows. The delight which ariſes from the modifications of pain, confeſſes the ſtock from whence it ſprung, in it's ſolid, ſtrong, and ſevere nature.Still in ſhort intervals of pleaſing woe,Regardful of the friendly dues I owe,I to the glorious dead, for ever dear,Indulge the tribute of a grateful tear.HOM. Od. 4.
MOST of the ideas which are capable of making a powerful impreſſion on the mind, whether ſimply of Pain or Pleaſure, [Page 13] or of the modifications of thoſe, may be reduced very nearly to theſe two heads, ſelf-preservation and ſociety; to the ends of one or the other of which all our paſſions are calculated to anſwer. The paſſions which concern ſelf-preſervation, turn moſtly on pain or danger. The ideas of pain, ſickneſs, and death, fill the mind with ſtrong emotions of horror; but life and health, though they put us in a capacity of being affected with pleaſure, they make no ſuch impreſſion by the ſimple enjoyment. The paſſions therefore which are converſant about the preſervation of the individual, turn chiefly on pain and danger, and they are the moſt powerful of all the paſſions.
WHatever is fitted in any ſort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to ſay, whatever is in any ſort terrible, or is converſant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analagous to terror, is a ſource of the ſublime; that is, it is productive of the ſtrongeſt emotion which the mind is capable of feeling. When danger or pain [Page 14] preſs too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are ſimply terrible; but at certain diſtances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful, as we every day experience. The cauſe of this I ſhall endeavour to inveſtigate hereafter.
THE other head under which I claſs our paſſions, is that of ſociety, which may be divided into two ſorts. 1. The ſociety of the ſexes, which anſwers the purpoſes of propagation; and next, that more general ſociety, which we have with men and with other animals, and which we may in ſome ſort be ſaid to have even with the inanimate world. The paſſions belonging to the preſervation of the individual, turn wholly on pain and danger; thoſe which belong to generation, have their origin in gratifications and pleaſures; the pleaſure moſt directly belonging to this purpoſe is of a lively character, rapturous and violent, and confeſſedly the higheſt pleaſure of ſenſe; yet the abſence of this ſo great an enjoyment, ſcarce amounts to an uneaſineſs; and except [Page 15] at particular times, I do not think it affects at all. When men deſcribe in what manner they are affected by pain and danger; they do not dwell on the pleaſure of health and the comfort of ſecurity, and then lament the loſs of theſe ſatisfactions: the whole turns upon the actual pains and horrors which they endure. But if you liſten to the complaints of a forſaken lover, you obſerve, that he inſiſts largely on the pleaſures which he enjoyed, or hoped to enjoy, and on the perfection of the object of his deſires; it is the loſs which is always uppermoſt in his mind. The violent effects produced by love, which has ſometimes been even wrought up to madneſs, is no objection to the rule which we ſeek to eſtabliſh. When men have ſuffered their imaginations to be long affected with any idea, it ſo wholly engroſſes them, as to ſhut out by degrees almoſt every other, and to break down every partition of the mind which would confine it. Any idea is ſufficient for the purpoſe, as is evident from the infinite variety of cauſes which give riſe to madneſs: but this at moſt can only prove, that the paſſion of love is capable of producing very extraordinary effects, not that it's extraordinary emotions have any connection with poſitive pain.
1.9. SECT. IX. The final cauſe of the difference between the paſſions belonging to SELF-PRESERVATION, and thoſe which regard the SOCIETY of the SEXES.[Page 16]
THE final cauſe of the difference in character between the paſſions which regard ſelf-preſervation, and thoſe which are directed to the multiplication of the ſpecies, will illuſtrate the foregoing remarks yet further; and it is, I imagine, worthy of obſervation even upon it's own account. As the performance of our duties of every kind depends upon life, and the performing them with vigour and efficacy depends upon health, we are very ſtrongly affected with whatever threatens the deſtruction of either; but as we were not made to acquieſce in life and health, the ſimple enjoyment of them is not attended with any real pleaſure, left ſatisfied with that, we ſhould give up ourſelves to indolence and inaction. On the other hand, the generation of mankind is a great purpoſe, and it is requiſite that men ſhould be animated to the purſuit of it by ſome great incentive It is therefore attended with a very high pleaſure; but as it is by no means deſigned to be our [Page 17] conſtant buſineſs, it is not fit that the abſence of this pleaſure ſhould be attended with any remarkable pain. The difference between men and brutes in this point, ſeems to be remarkable. Men are at all times pretty equally diſpoſed to the pleaſures of love, becauſe they are to be guided by reaſon in the time and manner of indulging them. Had any great pain ariſen from the want of this ſatisfaction, reaſon, I am afraid, would find great difficulties in the performance of its office. But brutes who obey laws, in the execution of which their own reaſon has but little ſhare, have their ſtated ſeaſons; at ſuch times it is not improbable that the ſenſation from the want is very troubleſome, becauſe the end muſt be then anſwered, or be miſſed in many, perhaps for ever, as the inclination returns only with its ſeaſon.
THE paſſion which belongs to generation, merely as ſuch, is luſt only; this is evident in brutes, whoſe paſſions are more unmixed, and which purſue their purpoſes more directly than ours. The only diſtinction [Page 18] they obſerve with regard to their mates, is that of ſex. It is true, that they ſtick ſeverally to their own ſpecies in preference to all others; but this preference, I imagine, does not ariſe from any ſenſe of beauty which they find in their ſpecies, as Mr. Addiſon ſuppoſes, but from a law of ſome other kind to which they are ſubject; and this we may fairly conclude, from their apparent want of choice amongſt thoſe objects to which the barriers of their ſpecies have confined them. But man, who is a creature adapted to a greater variety and intricacy of relation, connects with the general paſſion, the idea of ſome ſocial qualities, which direct and heighten the appetite which he has in common with all other animals; and as he is not deſigned like them to live at large, it is fit that he ſhould have ſomething to create a preference, and fix his choice; and this in general ſhould be ſome ſenſible quality; as no other can ſo quickly, ſo powerfully; or ſo ſurely produce it's effect. The object therefore of this mixed paſſion which we call love, is the beauty of the ſex. Men are carried to the ſex in general, as it is the ſex, and by the common law of nature; but they are attached to particulars by perſonal beauty. I call beauty a ſocial quality; for where women and men, and not only they, [Page 19] but when other animals give us a ſenſe of joy and pleaſure in beholding them, (and there are many that do ſo) they inſpire us with ſentiments of tenderneſs and affection towards their perſons; we like to have them near us, and we enter willingly into a kind of relation with them, unleſs we ſhould have ſtrong reaſons to the contrary. But to what end, in many caſes, this was deſigned, I am unable to diſcover; for I ſee no greater reaſon for a connection between man and ſeveral animals who are attired in ſo engaging a manner, than between him and ſome others who entirely want this attraction, or poſſeſs it in a far weaker degree. But it is probable, that providence did not make even this diſtinction, but with a view to ſome great end, though we cannot perceive diſtinctly what it is, as his wiſdom is not our wiſdom, nor our ways his ways.
THE ſecond branch of the ſocial paſſions, is that which adminiſters to ſociety in general. With regard to this, I obſerve, that ſociety, merely as ſociety, without any particular [Page 20] heightnings, gives us no poſitive pleaſure in the enjoyment; but abſolute and entire ſolitude, that is, the total and perpetual excluſion from all ſociety, is as great a poſitive pain as can almoſt be conceived. Therefore in the balance between the pleaſure of general ſociety, and the pain of abſolute ſolitude, pain is the predominant idea. But the pleaſure of any particular ſocial enjoyment, outweighs very conſiderably the uneaſineſs cauſed by the want of that particular enjoyment; ſo that the ſtrongeſt ſenſations relative to the habitudes of particular ſociety, are ſenſations of pleaſure. Good company, lively converſations, and the endearments of friendſhip, fill the mind with great pleaſure; a temporary ſolitude on the other hand, is itſelf agreeable. This may perhaps prove, that we are creatures deſigned for contemplation as well as action; ſince ſolitude as well as ſociety has it's pleaſures; as from the former obſervation we may diſcern, that an entire life of ſolitude contradicts the purpoſes of our being, ſince death itſelf is ſcarcely an idea of more terror.
UNDER this denomination of ſociety, the paſſions are of a complicated kind, and branch out into a variety of forms agreeably to the great variety of ends they are to ſerve in the great chain of ſociety. The three principal links in this chain are ſympathy, imitation, and ambition.
IT is by the firſt of theſe paſſions that we enter into the concerns of others; that we are moved as they are moved, and are never ſuffered to be indifferent ſpectators of almoſt any thing which men can do or ſuffer. For ſympathy muſt be conſidered as a ſort of ſubſtitution, by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in a good meaſure as he is affected; ſo that this paſſion may either partake of the nature of thoſe which regard ſelf-preſervation, and turning upon pain may be a ſource of the ſublime; [Page 22] or it may turn upon ideas of pleaſure, and then, whatever has been ſaid of the ſocial affections, whether they regard ſociety in general, or only ſome particular modes of it, may be applicable here. It is by this principle chiefly that poetry, painting, and other affecting arts, transfuſe their paſſions from one breaſt to another, and are often capable of grafting a delight on wretchedneſs, miſery, and death itſelf. It is a common obſervation, that objects which in the reality would ſhock, are in tragical and ſuch like repreſentations the ſource of a very high ſpecies of pleaſure. This taken as a fact, has been the cauſe of much reaſoning. This ſatisfaction has been commonly attributed, firſt, to the comfort we receive in conſidering that ſo melancholy a ſtory is no more than a fiction; and next, to the contemplation of our own freedom from the evils which we ſee repreſented. I am afraid it is a practice much too common in inquiries of this nature, to attribute the cauſe of feelings which merely ariſe from the mechanical ſtructure of our bodies, or from the natural frame and conſtitution of our minds, to certain concluſions of the reaſoning faculty on the objects preſented to us; for I have ſome reaſon to apprehend, that the influence of reaſon in producing [Page 23] our paſſions is nothing near ſo extenſive as is commonly believed.
TO examine this point concerning the effect of tragedy in a proper manner, we muſt previouſly conſider, how we are affected by the feelings of our fellow creatures in circumſtances of real diſtreſs. I am convinced we have a degree of delight, and that no ſmall one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others; for let the affection be what it will in appearance, if it does not make us ſhun ſuch objects, if on the contrary it induces us to approach them, if it makes us dwell upon them, in this caſe I conceive we muſt have a delight or pleaſure of ſome ſpecies or other in contemplating objects of this kind. Do we not read the authentic hiſtories of ſcenes of this nature with as much pleaſure as romances or poems, where the incidents are fictitious? The proſperity of no empire, nor the grandeur of no king, can ſo agreeably affect in the reading, as the ruin of the ſtate of Macedon, and the diſtreſs of it's unhappy prince. [Page 24] Such a cataſtrophe touches us in hiſtory as much as the deſtruction of Troy does in fable, Our delight in caſes of this kind, is very greatly heightened, if the ſufferer be ſome excellent perſon who ſinks under an unworthy fortune. Scipio and Cato are both virtuous characters; but we are more deeply affected by the violent death of the one, and the ruin of the great cauſe he adhered to, than with the deſerved triumphs and uninterrupted proſperity of the other; for terror is a paſſion which always produces delight when it does not preſs too cloſe, and pity is a paſſion accompanied with pleaſure, becauſe it ariſes from love and ſocial affection. Whenever we are formed by nature to any active purpoſe, the paſſion which animates us to it, is attended with delight, or a pleaſure of ſome kind, let the ſubject matter be what it will; and as our Creator has deſigned we ſhould be united together by ſo ſtrong a bond as that of ſympathy, he has therefore twiſted along with it a proportionable quantity of this ingredient; and always in the greateſt proportion where our ſympathy is moſt wanted, in the diſtreſſes of others. If this paſſion was ſimply painful, we would ſhun with the greateſt care all perſons and places that could excite ſuch a paſſion; as, ſome who are ſo far gone in indolence [Page 25] as not to endure any ſtrong impreſſion actually do. But the caſe is widely different with the greater part of mankind; there is no ſpectacle we ſo eagerly purſue, as that of ſome uncommon and grievous calamity; ſo that whether the misfortune is before our eyes, or whether they are turned back to it in hiſtory, it always touches with delight; but it is not an unmixed delight, but blended with no ſmall uneaſineſs. The delight we have in ſuch things, hinders us from ſhunning ſcenes of miſery; and the pain we feel, prompts us to relieve ourſelves in relieving thoſe who ſuffer; and all this antecedent to any reaſoning, by an inſtinct that works us to its own purpoſes, without our concurrence.
IT is thus in real calamities. In imitated diſtreſſes the only difference is the pleaſure reſulting from the effects of imitation; for it is never ſo perfect, but we can perceive it is an imitation, and on that principle are ſomewhat pleaſed with it. And indeed in ſome caſes we derive as much or more pleaſure from that ſource than from the thing itſelf. But then [Page 26] I imagine we ſhall be much miſtaken if we attribute any conſiderable part of our ſatisfaction in tragedy to a conſideration that tragedy is a deceit, and its repreſentations no realities. The nearer it approaches the reality, and the further it removes us from all idea of fiction, the more perfect is its power. But be its power of what kind it will, it never approaches to what it repreſents. Chuſe a day on which to repreſent the moſt ſublime and affecting tragedy which we have; appoint the moſt favourite actors; ſpare no coſt upon the ſcenes and decorations; unite the greateſt efforts of poetry, painting and muſic; and when you have collected your audience, juſt at the moment when their minds are erect with expectation, let it be reported that a ſtate criminal of high rank is on the point of being executed in the adjoining ſquare; in a moment the emptineſs of the theatre would demonſtrate the comparative weakneſs of the imitative arts, and proclaim the triumph of the real ſympathy. I believe that this notion of our having a ſimple pain in the reality, yet a delight in the repreſentation ariſes from hence, that we do not ſufficiently diſtinguiſh what we would by no means chuſe to do, from what we ſhould be eager enough to ſee if it was once done. We delight in ſeeing things, which ſo far from doing, our heartieſt wiſhes would [Page 27] be to ſee redreſſed. This noble capital, the pride of England and of Europe, I believe no man is ſo ſtrangely wicked as to deſire to ſee deſtroyed by a conflagration or an earthquake, though he ſhould be removed himſelf to the greateſt diſtance from the danger. But ſuppoſe ſuch a fatal accident to have happened, what numbers from all parts would croud to behold the ruins, and amongſt them many who would have been content never to have ſeen London in it's glory? Nor is it either in real or fictitious diſtreſſes, our immunity from them which produces our delight; in my own mind I can diſcover nothing like it. I apprehend that this miſtake is owing to a ſort of ſophiſm, by which we are frequently impoſed upon; it ariſes from our not diſtinguiſhing between what is indeed a neceſſary condition to our doing or ſuffering any thing, and what is the cauſe of ſome particular act. If a man kills me with a ſword; it is a neceſſary condition to this that we ſhould have been both of us alive before the fact; and yet it would be abſurd to ſay, that our being both living creatures was the cauſe of his crime and of my death. So it is certain, that it is abſolutely neceſſary my liſe ſhould be out of any imminent hazard before I can take a delight in the ſufferings of others, real or imaginary, [Page 28] or indeed in any thing elſe from any cauſe whatſoever. But then it is a ſophiſm to argue from thence, that this immunity is the cauſe of my delight either on theſe or on any occaſions. No one can diſtinguiſh ſuch a cauſe of ſatisfaction in his own mind I believe; nay when we do not ſuffer any very acute pain, nor are expoſed to any imminent danger of of our lives, we can feel for others, whilſt we ſuffer ourſelves; and often then moſt when we are ſoftened by affliction; we ſee with pity even diſtreſſes which we would accept in the place of our own.
THE ſecond paſſion belonging to ſociety is imitation, or, if you will, a deſire of imitating, and conſequently a pleaſure in it. This paſſion ariſes from much the ſame cauſe with ſympathy. For as ſympathy makes us take a concern in whatever men feel, ſo this affection prompts us to copy whatever they do; and conſequently we have a pleaſure in imitating, and in whatever belongs to imitation merely as it is ſuch, without any intervention of the reaſoning faculty, but ſolely from our natural [Page 29] conſtitution, which providence has framed in ſuch a manner as to find either pleaſure or delight according to the nature of the object, in whatever regards the purpoſes of our being. It is by imitation far more than by precept that we learn every thing; and what we learn thus we acquire not only more effectually, but more pleaſantly. This forms our manners, our opinions, our lives. It is one of the ſtrongeſt links of ſociety; it is a ſpecies of mutual compliance which all men yield to each other, without conſtraint to themſelves, and which is extremely flattering to all. Herein it is that painting and many other agreeable arts have laid one of the principal foundations of their power. I ſhall here venture to lay down a rule, which may inform us with a good degree of certainty when we are to attribute the power of the arts, to imitation, or to our pleaſure of the ſkill of the imitator merely, and when to ſympathy, or ſome other cauſe in conjunction with it. When the object repreſented in poetry or painting is ſuch, as we could have no deſire of ſeeing in reality; then I may be ſure that it's power in poetry or painting is owing to the power of imitation, and to no cauſe operating in the thing itſelf. So it is with moſt of the pieces which the painters call Still life. In theſe a cottage, a dunghill, the meaneſt and moſt [Page 30] ordinary utenſils of the kitchen, are capable of giving us pleaſure. But when the object of the painting or poem is ſuch as we ſhould run to ſee if real, let it affect us with what odd ſort of ſenſe it will, we may rely upon it, that the power of the poem or picture is more owing to the nature of the thing itſelf than to the mere effect of imitation, or to a conſideration of the ſkill of the imitator however excellent. Ariſtotle has ſpoken ſo much and ſo ſolidly upon the force of imitation in his poetics, that it makes any further diſcourſe upon this ſubject the leſs neceſſary.
ALTHO' imitation is one of the great inſtruments uſed by providence in bringing our nature towards it's perfection, yet if men gave themſelves up to imitation entirely, and each followed the other, and ſo on in an eternal circle, it is eaſy to ſee that there never could be any improvement amongſt them. Men muſt remain as brutes do, the ſame at the end that they are at this day, and that they were in the beginning of the world. To prevent this, God has planted in man a [Page 31] ſenſe of ambition, and a ſatisfaction ariſing from the contemplation of his excelling his fellows in ſomething deemed valuable amongſt them. It is this paſſion that drives men to all the ways we ſee in uſe of ſignalizing themſelves, and that tends to make whatever excites in a man the idea of this diſtinction ſo very pleaſant. It has been ſo ſtrong as to make very miſerable men take comfort that they were ſupreme in miſery; and certain it is, that where we cannot diſtinguiſh ourſelves by ſomething excellent, we begin to take a complacency in ſome ſingular infirmities, follies, or defects of one kind or other. It is on this principle that flattery is ſo prevalent; for flattery is no more than what raiſes in a man's mind an idea of a preference which he has not. Now whatever either on good or upon bad grounds tends to raiſe a man in his own opinion, produces a ſort of ſwelling and triumph that is extremely grateful to the human mind; and this ſwelling is never more perceived, nor operates with more force, than when without danger we are converſant with terrible objects, the mind always claiming to itſelf ſome part of the dignity and importance of the objects with which it is converſant; hence proceeds what Longinus has obſerved of that glorying and ſenſe of inward [Page 32] greatneſs, that always fills the reader of ſuch paſſages in poets and orators as are ſublime; it is what every man muſt have felt in himſelf upon ſuch occaſions.
TO draw the whole of what has been ſaid into a few diſtinct points. The paſſions which belong to ſelf preſervation, turn on pain and danger; they are ſimply painful when their cauſes immediately affect us; they are delightful when we have an idea of pain and danger, without being actually in ſuch circumſtances; this delight I have not called pleaſure, becauſe it turns on pain, and becauſe it is different enough from any idea of poſitive pleaſure. Whatever excites this delight, I call ſublime. The paſſions belonging to ſelf-preſervation are the ſtrongeſt of all the paſſions.
THE ſecond head to which the paſſions are referred in relation to their final cauſe, is ſociety. There are two ſorts of ſocieties. The firſt is, the ſociety of ſex. The paſſion belonging to this is called love, and it contains a mixture of luſt; its object is the beauty of women. The other is the great ſociety with man and all other animals. The paſſion ſubſervient to this is called likewiſe love, but it has no mixture of luſt, and its object is beauty; which is a name I ſhall apply to all ſuch qualities in things as induce in us a ſenſe of affection and tenderneſs, or ſome other paſſion the moſt nearly reſembling theſe. The paſſion of love has its riſe in poſitive pleaſure; it is, like all things which grow out of pleaſure, capable of being mixed with a mode of uneaſineſs, that is, when an idea of its object is excited in the mind with an idea at the ſame time of having irretrievably loſt it. This mixed ſenſe of pleaſure I have not called pain, becauſe it turns upon actual pleaſure, and becauſe it is both in its cauſe and in moſt of its effects of a nature altogether different.
NEXT to the general paſſion we have for ſociety, to a choice in which we are directed by the pleaſure we have in the object, the particular paſſion under this head called ſympathy has the greateſt extent. The nature of this paſſion is to put us in the place of another in whatever circumſtance he is in, and to affect us in a like manner; ſo that this paſſion may, as the occaſion requires, turn either on pain or pleaſure; but with the modifications mentioned in ſome caſes in ſect. 11. As to imitation and preference nothing more need be ſaid.
I Believed that an attempt to range and methodize ſome of our moſt leading paſſions would be a good preparative to an enquiry of the nature of that which is to be attempted in the enſuing diſcourſe. The paſſions I have [Page 35] mentioned are almoſt the only ones which it can be neceſſary to our preſent deſign to conſider; though the variety of the paſſions is great, and worthy in every branch of that variety of an attentive inveſtigation. The more accurately we ſearch into the human mind, the ſtronger traces we every where find of his wiſdom who made it. If a diſcourſe on the uſe of the parts of the body may be conſidered as an hymn to the Creator; the uſe of the paſſions, which are the organs of the mind, cannot be 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. This elevation of the mind ought to be the principal end of all our ſtudies, which [Page 36] if they do not in ſome meaſure effect, they are of very little ſervice to us. But beſides 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 judge 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 fibrâ.’ 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 never can have a certain determinate rule to go by, nor can he 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 any exact knowledge of [Page 37] 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 our practice, ſurely it is worth taking ſome pains to have it juſt, and founded on the baſis of ſure experience. The artiſts themſelves, who might be moſt relied on here, have been too much occupied in the practice; the philoſophers 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 antiquity, that it is hard to ſay who gave the firſt model. Critics follow them, and therefore can do little as [Page 38] guides. I can judge but poorly of any thing 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 commoneſt, 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 enquiry, it is almoſt every thing to be once in a right road. I am ſatisfied I have done but little by theſe obſervations 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 ſurface of things, though he may be wrong himſelf, yet clears the way for others, and may chance to make even his errors ſubſervient to the cauſe of truth. In the following parts, I ſhall enquire 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 [Page 39] 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; 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 [Page 42] it. Hence ariſes the great power of the ſublime, that far from being produced by them, it 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 any thing 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 [Page 43] kinds. Even to things of great dimenſions, if we annex any adventitious idea of terror, they become without compariſon greater. An even plain of a vaſt extent on land, is certainly no mean idea; the proſpect of ſuch a plain may be as extenſive as a proſpect of the ocean; but can it ever fill the mind with any thing ſo great as the ocean itſelf? this is owing to ſeveral cauſes, but it is owing to none more than to this, that the ocean is an object of no ſmall terror.
TO make any thing very terrible, obſcurity † ſeems in general to be neceſſary. When we know the full extent of 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. [Page 44] 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 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 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.
In this deſcription all is dark, uncertain, confuſed, terrible, and ſublime to the laſt degree.The other ſhape,If ſhape it might be called that ſhape had noneDiſtinguiſhable, in member, joint, or limb;Or ſubſtance might be called that ſhadow ſeemed,Fierce as ten furies; terrible as hell;And ſhook a deadly dart. What ſeemed his headThe likeneſs of a kingly crown had on.
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 [Page 46] affections of the mind from one to another, is by words; there is a great inſufficiency in all other methods of communication; nay 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 any image at all, by certain ſounds adapted to that purpoſe; of which we have a ſufficient proof in the acknowledged and powerful effects of inſtrumental muſic. In reality a great clearneſs helps but little towards affecting the paſſions, as it is in ſome ſort an enemy to all enthuſiaſms whatſoever.
On this the abbe du Bos founds a criticiſm, wherein he gives painting the preference to poetry in the article of moving the paſſions; [Page 47] and that on account principally of the greater clearneſs of the ideas it repreſents. I believe this excellent judge was led into this miſtake, (if it be a miſtake) by his ſyſtem, to which he found it more conformable than I imagine it will be found to experience. I know ſeveral who admire and love painting, and yet who regard the objects of their admiration in that art, with coolneſs enough, in compariſon of that warmth with which they are animated by affecting pieces of poetry or rhethoric. Among the common ſort of people, I never could perceive that painting had much influence on their paſſions. It is true that the beſt ſorts of painting, as well as the beſt ſorts of poetry, are not much underſtood in that ſphere. But it is moſt certain, that their paſſions are very ſtrongly rouſed by a fanatic preacher, or by the ballads of Chevy-chaſe, or the children in the wood, and by other little popular poems and tales that are current in that rank of life. I do not know of any paintings, bad or good, that produce the ſame effect. So that poetry with all its obſcurity, has a more general as well as a more powerful dominion over the paſſions than the other art. And I think there are reaſons in nature why the obſcure idea, when properly conveyed, ſhould be more affecting than the clear. It is our ignorance of things that [Page 48] cauſes all our admiration, and chiefly excites our paſſions. Knowledge and acquaintance make the moſt ſtriking cauſes affect but little. It is thus with the vulgar, and all men are as the vulgar in what they do not underſtand. The ideas of eternity, and infinity, are among the moſt affecting we have, and yet perhaps there is nothing of which we really underſtand ſo little, as of infinity and eternity. We don't any where meet a more ſublime deſcription than this juſtly celebrated one of Milton, wherein he gives the portrait of Satan with a dignity ſo ſuitable to the ſubject.Segnius irritant animos demiſſa per auresQuam quae ſunt oculis ſubjecta fidelibus.
Here is a very noble picture; and in what does this poetical picture conſiſt? in images of a tower, an archangel, the ſun riſing through [Page 49] miſts, or in an eclipſe, the ruin of monarchs, and the revolutions of kingdoms. The mind is hurried out of itſelf, by a croud of great and confuſed images; which affect becauſe they are crouded and confuſed. For ſeparate them, and you loſe much of the greatneſs, and join them, and you infallibly loſe the clearneſs. The images raiſed by poetry are always of this obſcure kind; though in general the effects of poetry, are by no means to be attributed to the images it raiſes; which point we ſhall examine more at large hereafter. * But painting, with only the ſuperadded pleaſure of imitation, can only affect ſimply by the images it preſents; but even in painting a judicious obſcurity in ſome things contributes to the effect of the picture; becauſe the images in painting are exactly ſimilar to thoſe in nature; and in nature dark, confuſed, uncertain images have a greater power on the fancy to form the grander paſſions than thoſe which are more clear and determinate. But where and when this obſervation may be applied to practice, and how far it ſhall be extended, will be better deduced from the nature of the ſubject, and from the occaſion, than from any rules that can be given.He above the reſtIn ſhape and geſture proudly eminentStood like a tower; his form had yet not loſtAll her original brightneſs, nor appearedLeſs than archangel ruin'd, and th' exceſsOf glory obſcured: as when the ſun new ris'nLooks through the horizontal miſty airShorn of his beams; or from behind the moonIn dim eclipſe diſaſtrous twilight ſhedsOn half the nations; and with fear of changePerplexes monarchs.
ALL general privations are great, becauſe they are all terrible; Vacuity, Darkneſs, Solitude and Silence. With what a fire of imagination, yet with what ſeverity of judgment, has Virgil amaſſed all theſe circumſtances where he knows that all the images of a tremendous dignity ought to be united, at the mouth of hell! where before he unlocks the ſecrets of the great deep, he ſeems to be ſeized with a religious horror, and to retire aſtoniſhed at the boldneſs of his own deſign.
Dii quibus imperium eſt animarum, umbrae que ſilentes!Et Chaos, et Phlegeton! loca nocte ſilentia late?Sit mihi fas audita loqui! ſit numine veſtroPandere res alta terra et caligine merſas!Ibant obſcuri, ſola ſub nocte, per umbram,Perque domos dites vacuas, et inania regna.
Ye ſubterraneous gods! whoſe awful ſwayThe gliding ghoſts, and ſilent ſhades obey;O Chaos hoar! and Phlegethon profound!Whoſe ſolemn empire ſtretches wide around;Of ſcenes and wonders in the depths of hell;Give me your mighty ſecrets to diſplayFrom thoſe black realms of darkneſs to the day.PITT.
Obſcure they went through dreary ſhades that ledAlong the waſte dominions of the dead.DRYDEN.
GREATNESS † of dimenſion, is a powerful cauſe of the ſublime. This is too evident, and the obſervation too common, to need any illuſtration; but it is not ſo common, to conſider in what ways greatneſs of dimenſion, vaſtneſs of extent, or quantity, has the moſt ſtriking effect. For certainly, there are ways, and modes, wherein the ſame quantity of extenſion ſhall produce greater effects than it is found to do in others. Extenſion is either in length, height, or depth. Of theſe the length ſtrikes leaſt; an hundred yards of even ground will never work ſuch an effect as a tower an hundred yards high, or a rock or mountain of [Page 52] that altitude. I am apt to imagine likewiſe, that height is leſs grand than depth; and that we are more ſtruck at looking down from a precipice, than at looking up at an object of equal height; but of that I am not very poſitive. A perpendicular has more force in forming the ſublime, than an inclined plane; and the effects of a rugged and broken ſurface ſeem ſtronger than where it is ſmooth and poliſhed. It would carry us out of our way to enter into the cauſe of theſe appearances here; but certain it is they afford a large and fruitful field of ſpeculation.
ANOTHER ſource of the ſublime, is infinity; if it does not rather in ſome ſort belong to the laſt. Infinity has a tendency to fill the mind with that ſort of delightful horror, which is the moſt genuine effect, and trueſt teſt of the ſublime. There are ſcarce any things which can become the objects of our ſenſes that are really, and in their own nature infinite. But the eye not being able to perceive the bounds of many things, they ſeem to be infinite, and they produce the [Page 53] ſame effects as if they were really ſo. We are deceived in the like manner, if the parts of ſome large object, are ſo continued to any indefinite number, that the imagination meets no check which may hinder its extending them at pleaſure.
WHENEVER we repeat any idea frequently, the mind by a ſort of mechaniſm repeats it long after the firſt cauſe has ceaſed to operate [Note: Part 4. ſect. 12.]. After whirling about; when we ſit down, the objects about us ſtill ſeem to whirl. After a long ſucceſſion of noiſes, as the fall of waters, or the beating of forge hammers, the hammers beat and the water roars in the imagination long after the firſt ſounds have ceaſed to affect it; and they die away at laſt by gradations which are ſcarcely perceptible. If you hold up a ſtrait pole, with your eye to one end, it will ſeem extended to an almoſt an incredible length. Place a number of uniform and equidiſtant marks on this pole, they will cauſe the ſame deception, and [Page 54] ſeem multiplied without end. The ſenſes ſtrongly affected in ſome one manner, cannot quickly change their tenor, or adapt themſelves to other things; but they continue in their old channel until the ſtrength of the firſt mover decays. This is the reaſon of an appearance very frequent in madmen; that they remain whole days and nights, ſometimes whole years, in the conſtant repetition of ſome remark, ſome complaint, or ſong; which having ſtruck powerfully on their diſordered imagination, in the beginning of their phrenſy, every repetition reinforces it with new ſtrength; and the hurry of their ſpirits unreſtrained, the curb of reaſon continues it to the end of their lives.
SUCCESSION and uniformity of parts, are what conſtitute the artificial infinite. 1. Succeſſion; which is requiſite that the parts may be continued ſo long, and in ſuch a direction, as by their frequent impulſes on the ſenſe to impreſs the imagination with an idea of their progreſs beyond their actual limits.§ [Page 55] 2. Uniformity; becauſe if the figure of the parts ſhould be changed, the imagination at every change finds a check; you are preſented at every alteration with the termination of one idea, and the beginning of another; by which means it becomes impoſſible to continue that uninterrupted progreſſion, which alone can ſtamp on bounded objects the character of infinity. ‡ It is in this kind of artificial infinity, I believe, we ought to look for the cauſe why a rotund has ſuch a noble effect. For in a rotund, whether it be a building or a plantation, you can no where fix a boundary; turn which way you will, the ſame object ſtill ſeems to continue, and the imagination has no reſt. But the parts muſt be uniform as well as circularly diſpoſed, to give this figure its full force; becauſe any difference, whether it be in the diſpoſition, or in the figure, or even in the colour of the parts, is highly prejudicial to the idea of infinity, which every change muſt check and interrupt, at every alteration commencing a new ſeries.
ON the ſame principles of ſucceſſion and uniformity, the grand appearance of the ancient heathen temples, which were generally oblong forms, with a range of uniform pillars on every ſide, will be eaſily accounted for. From the ſame cauſe may be derived the grand effect of the iſles in many of our own old cathedrals. The form of a croſs uſed in ſome churches ſeems to me not ſo eligible, as the parallelogram of the ancients; at leaſt I imagine it is not ſo proper for the outſide. For, ſuppoſing the arms of the croſs every way equal, if you ſtand in a direction parallel to any of the ſide walls, or colonnades, inſtead of a deception that makes the building more extended than it is, you are cut off from a conſiderable part (two thirds) of its actual length; and to prevent all poſſibility of progreſſion, the arm of the croſs taking a new direction, makes a right angle with the beam, and thereby wholly turns the imagination from the repetition of the former idea. Or ſuppoſe the ſpectator placed where he may take a direct [Page 57] view of ſuch a building; what will be the conſequence? the neceſſary conſequence muſt be, that a good part of the baſis of each angle, formed by the interſection of the arms of the croſs, muſt be inevitably loſt; the whole muſt of courſe aſſume a broken unconnected figure; the lights muſt be unequal, here ſtrong, and there weak; without that noble gradation, which the perſpective always effects on parts diſpoſed uninterruptedly in a right line. Some or all of theſe objections, will lie againſt every figure of a croſs, in whatever view you take it. I exemplified them in the Greek croſs in which theſe faults appear the moſt ſtrongly; but they appear in ſome degree in all ſorts of croſſes. Indeed there is nothing more prejudicial to the grandeur of buildings, than to abound in angles; a fault obvious in very many; and owing to an inordinate thirſt for variety, which, whenever it prevails, is ſure to leave very little true taſte.
TO the ſublime in building, greatneſs of dimenſion ſeems requiſite; for on a few parts, and thoſe ſmall, the imagination cannot riſe to any idea of infinity. No greatneſs in the manner can effectually compenſate for the want of proper dimenſions. There is no danger of drawing men into extravagant deſigns by this rule; it carries its own caution along with it. Becauſe too great▪ a length in building deſtroys the purpoſe of greatneſs, which it was intended to promote, as the perſpective will leſſen it in height as it gains in length, and will bring it at laſt to a point; turning the whole figure into a ſort of triangle, the pooreſt in its effect of almoſt any figure, that can be preſented to the eye. I have ever obſerved, that colonnades and avenues of trees of a moderate length, were without compariſon far grander, than when they were ſuffered to run to immenſe diſtances. A true artiſt ſhould put a generous deceit on the ſpectators, and effect the nobleſt deſigns by eaſy methods. Deſigns that are vaſt only by their dimenſions, are always the ſign of a [Page 59] common and low imagination. No work of art can be great, but as it deceives; to be otherwiſe is the prerogative of nature only. A good eye will fix the medium betwixt an exceſſive length, or height, (for the ſame objection lies againſt both), and a ſhort or broken quantity; and perhaps it might be aſcertained to a tolerable degree of exactneſs, if it was my purpoſe to deſcend far into the particulars of any art.
INFINITY, though of another kind, cauſes much of our pleaſure in agreeable, as well as of our delight in ſublime images. The ſpring is the pleaſanteſt of the ſeaſons; and the young of moſt animals, though far from being compleatly faſhioned, afford a more agreeable ſenſation than the full grown; becauſe the imagination is entertained with the promiſe of ſomething more, and does not acquieſce in the preſent object of the ſenſe. In unfiniſhed ſketches of drawing, I have ſeen ſomething which pleaſed me beyond the beſt finiſhing; and this I believe proceeds from the cauſe I have juſt now aſſigned.
*ANOTHER ſource of greatneſs is Difficulty. When any work ſeems to have required immenſe force and labour to effect it, the idea is grand. Stonehenge, neither for diſpoſition nor ornament, has any thing admirable; but thoſe huge rude maſſes of ſtone, ſet on end, and piled each on other, turn the mind on the immenſe force neceſſary for ſuch a work. Nay the rudeneſs of the work increaſes this cauſe of grandeur, as it excludes the idea of art, and contrivance; for dexterity produces another ſort of effect which is different enough from this.
MAgnificence is likewiſe a ſcource of the ſublime. A great profuſion of any things which are ſplendid or valuable in themſelves, is magnificent. The ſtarry heaven, though it occurs [Page 61] ſo very frequently to our view, never fails to excite an idea of grandeur. This cannot be owing to any thing in the ſtars themſelves, ſeparately conſidered. The number is certainly the cauſe. The apparent diſorder augments it, for the appearance of care is highly contrary to our ideas of magnificence. Beſides, the ſtars lye in ſuch apparent confuſion, as make it impoſſible on ordinary occaſions to reckon them. This gives them the advantage of a ſort of infinity. In works of art, this kind of grandeur, which conſiſts in multitude, is to be very cautiouſly admitted; becauſe, firſt, a profuſion of excellent things is not to be attained, or with too great difficulty; ſecondly, becauſe in many caſes it would deſtroy all uſe, which ſhould be attended to in moſt of the works of art with the greateſt care; and with regard to diſorder in the diſpoſition, it is to be conſidered, that unleſs you can produce an appearance of infinity by your diſorder, you will have diſorder only without magnificence. There are, however, a ſort of fireworks, and ſome other things, that in this way ſucceed well, and are truly grand.
HAVING conſidered extenſion, ſo far as it is capable of raiſing ideas of greatneſs; colour comes next under conſideration. All colours depend on light. Light therefore ought previouſly to be examined, and with it, its oppoſite, darkneſs. With regard to light; to make it a cauſe capable of producing the ſublime, it muſt be attended with ſome circumſtances, beſides its bare faculty of ſhewing other objects. Mere light is too common a thing to make a ſtrong impreſſion on the mind, and without a ſtrong impreſſion nothing can be ſublime. But ſuch a light as that of the ſun, immediately exerted on the eye, as it overpowers the ſenſe, is a very great idea. Light of an inferior ſtrength to this, if it moves with great celerity, has the ſame power; for lightning is certainly productive of grandeur, which it owes chiefly to the extreme velocity of its motion. A quick tranſition from light to darkneſs, or from darkneſs to light, has yet a greater effect. But darkneſs is more productive of ſublime ideas than light, as has been ſuggeſted in the ſecond ſection of this part.
AS the management of light is a matter of importance in architecture, it is worth enquiring, how far this remark is applicable to that purpoſe. I think then, that all edifices calculated to produce an idea of the ſublime, ought rather to be dark and gloomy, and this for two reaſons; the firſt is, that darkneſs itſelf on other occaſions is known by experience to have a greater effect on the paſſions than light. The ſecond is, that to make an object very ſtriking, we ſhould make it as different as poſſible from the objects with which we have been immediately converſant; when therefore you enter a building, you cannot paſs into a greater light than you had in the open air; to go into one ſome few degrees leſs, can make only a trifling change; but to make the tranſition thoroughly ſtriking, you ought to paſs from the greateſt light, to as much darkneſs as is conſiſtent with the uſes of architecture. At night the contrary rule will hold, but for the very ſame reaſon; and the more highly a room is then illuminated, the grander will the paſſion be.
AMONG colours, ſuch as are ſoft, or cheerful, (except perhaps a ſtrong red which is cheerful) are unfit to produce grand images. An immenſe mountain covered with a ſhining green turf, is nothing in this reſpect, to one dark and gloomy; the cloudy ſky is more grand than the blue; and night more ſublime and ſolemn than day. Therefore in hiſtorical painting, a gay or gaudy drapery, can never have a happy effect: and in buildings, when the higheſt degree of the ſublime is intended, the materials and ornaments ought neither to be white, nor green, nor yellow, nor blue, nor of a pale red, nor violet, nor ſpotted, but of ſad and fuſcous colours, as black, or brown, or deep purple, and the like. Much of gilding, moſaics, painting or ſtatues, contribute but little to the ſublime. This rule need not be put in practice, except where an uniform degree of the moſt ſtriking ſublimity is to be produced, and that in every particular; for it ought to be obſerved, that this melancholy kind of greatneſs, though it be certainly [Page 65] the higheſt, ought not to be ſtudied in all ſorts of edifices, where yet grandeur muſt be ſtudied; in ſuch caſes the ſublimity muſt be drawn from the other ſources; with a ſtrict caution however againſt any thing light and riant; as nothing ſo effectually deadens the whole taſte of the ſublime.
THE eye is not the only organ of ſenſation, by which a ſublime paſſion may be produced. Sounds have a great power in theſe as in moſt other paſſions. I do not mean words, becauſe words do not affect ſimply by their ſounds, but by means altogether different. Exceſſive loudneſs alone is ſufficient to overpower the ſoul, to ſuſpend its action, and to fill it with terror. The noiſe of vaſt cataracts, raging ſtorms, thunder, or artillery, awakes a great and awful ſenſation in the mind, though we can obſerve no nicety or artifice in thoſe ſorts of muſic. The ſhouting of multitudes has a ſimilar effect; and by the ſole ſtrength of the ſound, ſo amazes and confounds the imagination, that in this ſtaggering, and hurry of the mind, the beſt eſtabliſhed tempers can ſcarcely forbear being born [Page 66] down, and joining in the common cry, and common reſolution of the croud.
A Sudden beginning, or ſudden ceſſation of ſound of any conſiderable force, has the ſame power. The attention is rouſed by this; and the faculties driven forward, as it were, on their guard. Whatever either in ſights or ſounds makes the tranſition from one extreme to the other eaſy, cauſes no terror, and conſequently can be no cauſe of greatneſs. In every thing ſudden and unexpected, we are apt to ſtart; that is, we have a perception of danger, and our nature rouſes us to guard againſt it. It may be obſerved, that a ſingle ſound of ſome ſtrength, though but of ſhort duration, if repeated after intervals, has a grand effect. Few things are more awful than the ſtriking of a great clock, when the ſilence of the night prevents the attention from being too much diſſipated. The ſame may be ſaid of a ſingle ſtroke on a drum, repeated with pauſes; and of the ſucceſſive firing of cannon at a diſtance; all the effects mentioned in this ſection have cauſes very nearly alike.
A LOW, tremulous, intermitting ſound, though it ſeems in ſome reſpects oppoſite to that juſt mentioned, is productive of the ſublime. It is worth while to examine this a little. The fact itſelf muſt be determined by every man's own experience, and reflection only. I have already obſerved, that † night increaſes our terror more perhaps than any thing elſe; it is our nature, that, when we do not know what may happen to us, to fear the worſt that can happen us; and hence it is, that uncertainty is ſo terrible, that we often ſeek to be rid of it, at the hazard of a certain miſchief. Now ſome low, confuſed, uncertain ſounds, leave us in the ſame fearful anxiety concerning their cauſes, that no light, or an uncertain light does concerning the objects that ſurround us.
Quale per incertam lunam ſub luce malignaEſt iter in ſilvis.—
But a light now appearing, and now leaving us, and ſo off and on, is even more terrible than total darkneſs; and a ſort of uncertain ſounds are, when the neceſſary diſpoſitions concur, more alarming than a total ſilence.— A faint ſhadow of uncertain light,Like as a lamp, whoſe life doth fade away;Doth ſhew to him who walks in fear and great affright.SPENSER.
SUCH ſounds as imitate the natural inarticulate voices of men, or any other animals in pain or danger, are capable of conveying great ideas; unleſs it be the well known voice of ſome creature, on which we are uſed to look with contempt. The angry tones of wild beaſts are equally capable of cauſing a great and awful ſenſation.
It might ſeem that theſe modulations of ſound carry ſome connexion with the nature of the [Page 69] things they repreſent, and are not merely arbitrary; becauſe the natural cries of all animals, even of thoſe annimals with whom we have not been acquainted, never fail to make themſelves ſufficiently underſtood; this cannot be ſaid of language. The modifications of ſound, which may be productive of the ſublime, are almoſt infinite. Thoſe I have mentioned, are only a few inſtances to ſhew, on what principle they are all built.Hinc exaudiri gemitus, iraeque leonumVincla recuſantum, et ſera ſub nocte rudentum;Setigerique ſues, atque in preſepibus urſiSaevire; et formae magnorum ululare luporum.
SMELLS, and Taſtes, have ſome ſhare too, in ideas of greatneſs; but it is a ſmall one, weak in its nature, and confined in its operations. I ſhall only obſerve, that no ſmells or taſtes can produce a grand ſenſation, except exceſſive bitters, and intolerable ſtenches. It is true, that theſe affections of the ſmell and taſte, when they are in their full force, and lean directly upon the ſenſory, are ſimply painful, and accompanied with no ſort of delight; but when they are moderated, as in a deſcription or narrative, they become ſources of the ſublime as genuine as any other, and upon the very ſame principle of a moderated pain. ‘"A cup of bitterneſs;" [Page 70] to drain the bitter cup of fortune;" "the bitter apples of Sodom."’ Theſe are all ideas ſuitable to a ſublime deſcription. Nor is this paſſage of Virgil without ſublimity, where the ſtench of the vapour in Albunea conſpires ſo happily with the ſacred horror and gloomineſs of that prophetic foreſt.
In the ſixth book, and in a very ſublime deſcription, the poiſonous exhalation of Acheon is not forgot, nor does it at all diſagree with the other images amongſt which it is introduced.At rex ſollicitus monſtrorum oracula fauniFatidici genitoris adit, lucoſque ſub altaConſulit Albunea, nemorum quae maxima ſacroFonte ſonat; ſaevam que exhalat opaca Mephitim.
I have added theſe examples, becauſe ſome friends to whoſe judgment I defer were of opinion, that if the ſentiment ſtood nakedly by itſelf, it would be ſubject at firſt view to burleſque and ridicule; [Page 71] but this I imagine would principally ariſe from conſidering the bitterneſs and ſtench in company with mean and contemptible ideas, with which it muſt be owned they are often united; ſuch an union degrades the ſublime in all other inſtances as well as in thoſe. But it is one of the teſts by which the ſublimity of an image is to be tried, not whether it becomes mean when aſſociated with mean ideas; but whether, when united with images of an allowed grandeur, the whole compoſition is ſupported with dignity. Things which are terrible are always great; but when things poſſeſs diſagreeable qualities, or ſuch as have indeed ſome degree of danger, but of a danger eaſily overcome, they are merely odious as toads and ſpiders.Spelunca alta fuit, vaſtoque immanis hiatuScrupea, tuta lacu nigro, nemorumque tenebrisQuam ſuper haud ullae poterant impune volantesTendere iter pennis, talis ſeſe halitus atrisFaucibus effundens ſupera ad convexa ferebat.
OF Feeling little more can be ſaid, than that the idea of bodily pain, in all the the modes and degrees of labour, pain, anguiſh, torment, is productive of the ſublime; and nothing elſe in this ſenſe can produce it. I need not give here any freſh inſtances, as thoſe given in the former ſections abundantly illuſtrate [Page 72] a remark, that in reality wants only an attention to nature, to be made by every body.
Having thus run through the cauſes of the ſublime with reference to all the ſenſes, my firſt obſervation, (ſect. 7) will be found very nearly true; that the ſublime is an idea belonging to ſelf-preſervation. That it is therefore one of the moſt affecting we have. That its ſtrongeſt emotion is an emotion of diſtreſs, and that no [Note: Vide ſect. 6. part 1.] poſitive or abſolute pleaſure belongs to it. Numberleſs examples beſides thoſe mentioned, might be brought in ſupport of theſe truths, and many perhaps uſeful conſequences drawn from them.—
Sed fugit interea, fugit irrevocabile tempus,Singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.
3. A Philoſophical Enquiry INTO THE ORIGIN of our IDEAS OF THE SUBLIME and BEAUTIFUL. PART III. Of BEAUTY.[Page]
IT is my deſign to conſider beauty as diſtinguiſhed from the ſublime; and in the courſe of the enquiry, to examine how far it is conſiſtent with it. But previous to this, we muſt take a ſhort review of the opinions already entertained of this quality; which I think are hardly to be reduced to any fixed principles; becauſe men are uſed to talk of beauty in a figurative manner, that is to ſay, in a manner extremely uncertain, and indeterminate. By beauty I mean, that quality [Page 74] or thoſe qualities in bodies by which they cauſe love, or ſome paſſion ſimilar to it.
BEAUTY is uſually ſaid to conſiſt in certain proportions of parts; on conſidering the matter, I have great reaſon to doubt, whether beauty be at all an idea belonging to proportion. Proportion relates almoſt wholly to convenience, as every idea of order ſeems to do; and it muſt therefore be conſidered as a creature of the underſtanding, rather than a primary cauſe acting on the ſenſes and imagination. It is not by the force of long attention and enquiry that we find any object to be beautiful; beauty demands no aſſiſtance from our reaſoning; even the will is unconcerned: the appearance of beauty as effectually cauſes ſome degree of love in us, as the application of ice or fire produces the ideas of heat or cold. To gain ſomething like a ſatisfactory concluſion in this point; it were well to examine, firſt, in what things we find this quality of beauty; next, to ſee whether [Page 75] in theſe, we can find any aſſignable proportions, in ſuch a manner as ought to convince us, that our idea of beauty reſults from them. We ſhall conſider this pleaſing power, as it appears in vegetables, in the inferior animals, and in man. Turning our eyes to the vegetable creation, we find nothing there ſo beautiful as flowers; but flowers are of almoſt every ſort of ſhape, and of every ſort of diſpoſition; they are turned and faſhioned into an infinite variety of forms; and from theſe forms, botaniſts have given them their names, which are almoſt as various. What proportion do we diſcover between the ſtalks and the leaves of flowers, or between the leaves and the piſtils? How does the ſlender ſtalk of the roſe agree with the bulky head under which it bends? but the roſe is a beautiful flower; and can we undertake to ſay that it does not owe a great deal of its beauty even to that diſproportion? the roſe is a large flower, yet it grows upon a ſmall ſhrub; the flower of the apple is very ſmall, and it grows upon a large tree; yet the roſe and the apple bloſſom are both beautiful, and the plants that bear them are moſt engagingly attired notwithſtanding this diſproportion. What by general conſent is allowed to be a more beautiful object than an orange tree, flouriſhing at once with its leaves, [Page 76] its bloſſoms, and its fruit? but it is in vain that we ſearch here for any proportion between the height, the breadth, or any thing elſe concerning the dimenſions of the whole, or concerning the relation of the particular parts to each other. I grant that we may obſerve in many flowers, ſomething of a regular figure, and of a methodical diſpoſition of the leaves. The roſe has ſuch a figure and ſuch a dipoſition of its petals; but in an oblique view, when this figure is in a good meaſure loſt, and the order of the leaves confounded, it yet retains its beauty; the roſe is even more beautiful before it is full blown; in the bud; before this exact figure is formed; and this is not the only inſtance wherein method and exactneſs, the ſoul of proportion, are found rather prejudicial than ſerviceable to the cauſe of beauty.
THAT proportion has but a ſmall ſhare in the formation of beauty, is full as evident among animals. Here the greateſt variety of ſhapes, and diſpoſitions of parts are well fitted, [Page 77] to excite this idea. The ſwan, confeſſedly a beautiful bird, has a neck longer than the reſt of his body, and but a very ſhort tail; is this a beautiful proportion? we muſt allow that it is. But then what ſhall we ſay to the peacock, who has comparatively but a ſhort neck, with a tail longer than the neck and the reſt of the body taken together? How many birds are there that vary infinitely from each of theſe ſtandards, and from every other which you can fix, with proportions different, and often directly oppoſite to each other! and yet many of theſe birds are extremely beautiful; when upon conſidering them we find nothing in any one part that might determine us, a priori, to ſay what the others ought to be, nor indeed to gueſs any thing about them, but what experience might ſhew to be full of diſappointment and miſtake. And with regard to the colours either of birds or flowers, for there is ſomething ſimilar in the colouring of both, whether they are conſidered in their extenſion or gradation, there is nothing of proportion to be obſerved. Some are of but one ſingle colour; others have all the colours of the rainbow; ſome are of the primary colours, others are of the mixt; in ſhort, an attentive obſerver may ſoon conclude, that there is as little of proportion in the colouring as in the [Page 78] ſhapes of theſe objects. Turn next to beaſts; examine the head of a beautiful horſe; find what proportion that bears to his body, and to his limbs, and what relation theſe have to each other; and when you have ſettled theſe proportions as a ſtandard of beauty, then take a dog or cat, or any other animal, and examine how far the ſame proportions between their heads and their necks, between thoſe and the body, and ſo on, are found to hold; I think we may ſafely ſay, that they differ in every ſpecies, yet that there are individuals found in a great many ſpecies ſo differing, that have a very ſtriking beauty.
THERE are ſome parts of the human body, that are obſerved to hold certain proportions to each other; but before it can be proved, that the efficient cauſe of beauty lies in theſe, it muſt be ſhewn, that wherever theſe are found exact, the perſon to whom they belong is beautiful. I mean in the effect produced on the view, either of any member diſtinctly conſidered, or [Page 79] of the whole body together. It muſt be likewiſe ſhewn, that theſe parts ſtand in ſuch a relation to each other, that the compariſon between them may be eaſily made, and that the affection of the mind may naturally reſult from it. For my part, I have at ſeveral times very carefully examined many of thoſe proportions, and found them hold very nearly, or altogether alike in many ſubjects, which were not only very different from one another, but where one has been very beautiful, and the other very remote from beauty. With regard to the parts which are found ſo proportioned, they are often ſo remote from each other, in ſituation, nature, and office, that I cannot ſee how they admit of any compariſon, nor conſequently how any effect owing to proportion can reſult from them. The neck, ſay they, in beautiful bodies ſhould meaſure with the calf of the leg; it ſhould likewiſe be twice the circumference of the wriſt. And an infinity of obſervations of this kind to be found in the writings, and converſations of many. Theſe proportions are certainly to be found in handſome bodies. They are as certainly in ugly ones, as any who will take the pains to try, may find. Nay, I do not know but they may be leaſt perfect in ſome of the moſt beautiful. How are the partizans of proportional [Page 80] beauty agreed about the proportions of the human body? ſome hold it to be ſeven heads; others make it eight; a vaſt difference in ſuch a ſmall number of diviſions! others take other methods of eſtimating the proportions, and all with equal ſucceſs. But are theſe proportions exactly the ſame in all handſome men? or are they at all the proportions found in beautiful women? nobody will ſay that they are; yet both ſexes are capable of beauty, but the female of the greateſt, which I believe will hardly be attributed to the ſuperior exactneſs of proportion in the fair ſex. In fine, take the head as the meaſure of proportion in any ſpecies of animals, as in men; and having found what relation that bears to the other parts, examine the beautiful animals of the winged and four-footed kinds by this rule; and it will ſhew evidently what a fallacious ſtandard we have choſen; the ſame will happen if you take any other part of any other animal whatſoever, as your rule to meaſure by. The proportions of animals are relative to the uſual form in which we ſee them; if this is changed, we are ſhocked in the ſame manner that we are when any thing happens contrary to expectation. It muſt not be denied, that if the parts of any animal are ſo formed that they do not well ſupport [Page 81] each other, the effect is diſagreeable; but to have them ſimply otherwiſe, that is, not burthenſome to one another, does not by any means produce beauty.
NOW if it be allowed, that almoſt every ſort of form, and every manner of arrangement is conſiſtent with beauty, I imagine it amounts to a conceſſion that no particular proportions are neceſſary to it. But if I am not miſtaken, a great deal of the opinions concerning proportion have ariſen from this; that deformity has been conſidered as the oppoſite to beauty; and that the removal of the former of theſe qualities gave birth to the latter. This I believe is a miſtake. For deformity is oppoſed, not to beauty, but to the compleat, common form. If one of the legs of a man be found ſhorter than the other, the man is deformed; becauſe there is ſomething wanting to compleat the whole idea we form of a man; and this has the ſame effect in natural faults, as maiming and mutilation produce from accidents. So if the back be humped, the man is deformed; becauſe his [Page 82] back has an unuſual figure, and what carries with it the idea of ſome diſeaſe or misfortune; ſo if a man's neck be conſiderably longer or ſhorter than uſual, we ſay he is deformed in that part, becauſe men are not commonly made in that manner. But ſurely every hour's experience may convince us, that a man may have his legs of an equal length, and reſembling each other in all reſpects, and his neck of a juſt ſize, and his back quite ſtrait, without having at the ſame time the leaſt perceivable beauty. Deformity ariſes from the want of the common proportions; but the neceſſary reſult of their exiſtence in any object is not beauty. I ſay the common proportions in each ſpecies of animals, becauſe theſe proportions vary in all of them; there can be no abſolute proportion aſſigned which conſtitutes an univerſal beauty; and a proportion which cannot be aſſigned, is, in other words, no proportion at all. But if proportion in natural things be relative to cuſtom and uſe, the nature of uſe and cuſtom will ſhew, that beauty, which is a poſitive and powerful quality, cannot reſult from it. We are ſo wonderfully formed, that at the ſame time that we are creatures vehemently deſirous of novelty, we are as ſtrongly attached to habit and cuſtom. But it is the nature of things which hold us [Page 83] by cuſtom to affect us very little whilſt we are in poſſeſſion of them, but ſtrongly when they are abſent. I remember to have frequented a certain place, every day for a long time together; and I may truly ſay, that ſo far from finding pleaſure in it, that I was affected with a fort of wearineſs and diſguſt; I came, I went, I returned without pleaſure; yet if by any means I paſſed by the uſual time of my going thither, I was remarkably uneaſy, and was not quiet till I had got into my old track. They who uſe ſnuff take it almoſt without being ſenſible that they take it, and the acute ſenſe of ſmell is deadened ſo as to feel hardly any thing from ſo ſharp a ſtimulus; yet deprive the ſnuff-taker of his box, and he is the moſt uneaſy mortal in the world. So the want of the uſual proportion in men and other animals is ſure to diſguſt, though their preſence is by no means any cauſe of real pleaſure. It is true, that the proportions laid down as cauſes of beauty in the human body are frequently found in beautiful ones, becauſe they are generally found in all mankind; but if it can be ſhewn too that they are found without beauty, and that beauty frequently exiſts without them, and that this beauty, where it exiſts, always can be aſſigned to other leſs equivocal cauſes, it will naturally lead us to conclude, that proportion [Page 84] and beauty are not ideas of the ſame nature. The true oppoſite to beauty is not diſproportion or deformity, but uglineſs; and as it proceeds from cauſes oppoſite to thoſe of poſitive beauty, we cannot conſider it until we come to treat of that. Between beauty and uglineſs there is a ſort of mediocrity, in which the aſſigned proportions are moſt commonly found, but this has no effect upon the paſſions.
IT is ſaid that the idea of utility, or of a part's being well adapted to anſwer its end, is the cauſe of beauty, or indeed beauty itſelf. This notion is cloſely allied to the former one of proportion, but ſurely never aroſe from experience. For at that rate, the wedge-like ſnout of a ſwine, with its tough cartilage at the end, its little ſunk eyes, and the whole make ſo well adapted to its offices of digging, and rooting, would be extremely beautiful. The great bag hanging to the bill of a pelican, a thing highly uſeful to this animal, would be likewiſe as beautiful in our eyes. The hedgehog, ſo well ſecured againſt all aſſaults [Page 85] by his prickly hide, or the porcupine with his miſſile quills, would be then conſidered as creatures of no ſmall beauty. There are few animals, whoſe parts are better contrived than thoſe of a monkey, he has the hands of a man, joined to the ſpringy limbs of a beaſt; and is admirably calculated for running, leaping, grappling, and climbing: and yet there are few animals ſeem to us to have leſs beauty. To leave theſe foreign examples; if beauty in our own ſpecies, was annexed to uſe, men would be much more lovely than women; and ſtrength and agility would be conſidered as the only beauties. But to call ſtrength by the name of beauty, to have but one denomination for the qualities of a Venus and Hercules, ſo totally different in almoſt all reſpects, is ſurely a ſtrange confuſion of ideas, or abuſe of words. The cauſe of this confuſion, I imagine, proceeds from our frequently perceiving the parts of the human and other animal bodies to be at once very beautiful, and very well adapted to their purpoſes; and we are deceived by a ſophiſm, which makes us take that for a cauſe which is only a concomitant; this is the ſophiſm of the fly; who imagined he raiſed a great duſt, becauſe he ſtood upon the chariot that really raiſed it. The ſtomach, the lungs, the liver, as well as [Page 86] other parts, are incomparably well adapted to their purpoſes; yet they are far from having any beauty. Again, many things are very beautiful, in which it is impoſſible to diſcern any idea of uſe. And I appeal to the firſt and moſt natural feelings of mankind, whether on beholding a beautiful eye, or a well-faſhioned mouth, or a well-turned leg, any ideas of their being well fitted for ſeeing, eating, or running, ever preſent themſelves. What idea of uſe is it that flowers excite, the moſt beautiful part of the vegetable world? It is true, that the infinitely wiſe and good Creator has, of his bounty, frequently joined beauty to thoſe things which he has made uſeful to us; but this does not prove that an idea of uſe and beauty are the ſame thing, or that they are any way dependent on each other.
WHEN I excluded proportion and fitneſs from any ſhare in beauty, I did not by any means intend to ſay that they were of no value, or that they ought to be diſregarded in works of art. Works of art are the proper ſphere of their power; and here it [Page 87] is that they have their full effect. Whenever the wiſdom of our Creator intended that we ſhould be affected with any thing, he did not confide the execution of his deſign to the languid and precarious operation of our reaſon; but he endued it with powers and properties that prevent the underſtanding, and even the will, which ſeizing upon the ſenſes and imagination, captivate the ſoul before the underſtanding is ready either to join with them or to oppoſe them. It is by a long deduction and much ſtudy that we diſcover the adorable wiſdom of God in his works: when we diſcover it, the effect is very different, not only in the manner of acquiring it, but in its own nature, from that which ſtrikes us without any preparation from the ſublime or the beautiful. How different is the ſatisfaction of an anatomiſt, who diſcovers the uſe of the muſcles and of the ſkin, the excellent contrivance of the one for the various movements of the body, and the wonderful texture of the other, at once a general, covering and at once a general outlet, as well as inlet; how different is this from the affection which poſſeſſes an ordinary man at the ſight of a delicate ſmooth ſkin, and all the other parts of beauty which require no inveſtigation to be perceived? In the former caſe, whilſt we [Page 88] look up to the Maker with admiration and praiſe, the object which cauſes it may be odious and diſtaſteful; the latter very often ſo touches us by its power on the imagination, that we examine but little into the artifice of its contrivance, and we have need of a ſtrong effort of our reaſon to diſentangle our minds from the allurements of the object to a conſideration of the wiſdom of that hand which invented ſo powerful a machine. The effect of proportion and fitneſs, at leaſt ſo far as they proceed from a mere conſideration of the work itſelf, produce approbation, the acquieſcence of the underſtanding, but not love, nor any paſſion of that ſpecies. When we examine the ſtructure of a watch, when we come to know thoroughly the uſe of every part of it, ſatisfied as we are with the fitneſs of the whole, we are far enough from perceiving any thing like beauty in the watch-work itſelf; but let us look on the caſe, the labour of ſome curious artiſt in engraving, with little or no idea of uſe, we ſhall have a much livelier idea of beauty than we ever could have had from the watch itſelf, though the maſter-piece of Graham. In beauty, as I ſaid, the effect is previous to any knowledge of the uſe; but to judge of proportion, we muſt know the end for which any work is [Page 89] deſigned. According to the end the proportion varies. Thus there is one proportion of a tower, another of an houſe; one proportion of a gallery, another of an hall, another of a chamber. To judge of the proportions of theſe, you muſt be firſt acquainted with the purpoſes for which they were deſigned. Good ſenſe and experience acting together, find out what is fit to be done in every work of art. We are rational creatures, and in all our works we ought to regard their end and purpoſe; the gratification of any paſſion, how innocent ſoever, ought only to be of ſecondary conſideration. Herein is placed the real power of fitneſs and proportion; they operate on the underſtanding conſidering them, which approves the work and acquieſces in it. The paſſions, and the imagination which principally raiſes them, have here very little to do. When a room appears in its original nakedneſs, bare walls and a plain cieling; let its proportion be ever ſo excellent, it pleaſes very little; a cold approbation is the utmoſt we can reach; a much worſe proportioned room, with elegant mouldings and fine feſtoons, glaſſes, and other merely ornamental furniture, will make the imagination revolt againſt the reaſon; it will pleaſe much more than the naked proportion of the firſt room which [Page 90] the underſtanding has ſo much approved, as admirably fitted for its purpoſes. What I have here ſaid and before concerning proportion, is by no means to perſuade people abſurdly to neglect the idea of uſe in the works of art. It is only to ſhew that theſe excellent things, beauty and proportion, are not the ſame; not that they ſhould either of them be diſregarded.
ON the whole; if ſuch parts in human bodies as are found proportioned, were likewiſe conſtantly found beautiful, as they certainly are not; or if they were ſo ſituated, as that a pleaſure might flow from the compariſon, which they ſeldom are; or if any aſſignable proportions were found, either in plants or animals, which were always attended with beauty, which never was the caſe; or if, where parts were well adapted to their purpoſes, they were conſtantly beautiful, and when no uſe appeared, there was no beauty, which is contrary to all experience; we might conclude, that beauty conſiſted in proportion or utility. But ſince, in all reſpects, the caſe [Page 91] is quite otherwiſe; we may be ſatisfied, that beauty does not depend on theſe, let it owe its origin to what elſe it will.
THERE is another notion current, pretty cloſely allied to the former; that Perfection is the conſtituent cauſe of beauty. This opinion has been made to extend much further than to ſenſible objects. But in theſe, ſo far is perfection, conſidered as ſuch, from being the cauſe of beauty; that this quality, where it is higheſt in the female ſex, almoſt always carries with it an idea of weakneſs and imperfection. Women are very ſenſible of this; for which reaſon, they learn to liſp, to totter in their walk, to counterfeit weakneſs, and even ſickneſs. In all this, they are guided by nature. Beauty in diſtreſs is much the moſt affecting beauty. Bluſhing has little leſs power; and modeſty in general, which is a tacit allowance of imperfection, is itſelf conſidered as an amiable quality, and certainly heightens every other that is ſo. I know, that it is in every body's mouth, that we ought to love perfection. This is to me a ſufficient [Page 92] proof, that it is not the proper object of love. Who ever ſaid, we ought to love a fine woman, or even any of theſe beautiful animals, which pleaſe us? Here to be affected, there is no need of the concurrence of our will.
NOR is this remark in general leſs applicable to the qualities of the mind. Thoſe virtues which cauſe admiration, and are of the ſublimer kind, produce terror rather than love. Such as fortitude, juſtice, wiſdom, and the like. Never was any man amiable by force of theſe qualities. Thoſe which engage our hearts, which impreſs us with a ſenſe of lovelineſs, are the ſofter virtues; eaſineſs of temper, compaſſion, kindneſs and liberality; though certainly thoſe latter are of leſs immediate and momentous concern to ſociety, and of leſs dignity. But it is for that reaſon that they are ſo amiable. The great virtues turn principally on dangers, puniſhments, and troubles, and are exerciſed rather in preventing the worſt miſchiefs, than in diſpenſing favours; and are therefore not lovely, [Page 93] though highly venerable. The ſubordinate turn on reliefs, gratifications, and indulgences; and are therefore more lovely, though inferior in dignity. Thoſe perſons who creep into the hearts of moſt people, who are choſen as the companions of their ſofter hours, and their reliefs from care and anxiety, are never perſons of ſhining qualities, nor ſtrong virtues. It is rather the ſoft green of the ſoul on which we reſt our eyes, that are fatigued with beholding more glaring objects. It is worth obſerving, how we feel ourſelves affected with reading the characters of Caeſar, and Cato, as they are ſo finely drawn and contraſted in Saluſt. In one, the ignoſcendo, largiundo; in the other, nil largiundo. In one, the miſeris perfugium; in the other, malis perniciem. In the latter we have much to admire, much to reverence, and perhaps ſomething to fear; we reſpect him, but we reſpect him at a diſtance. The former makes us familiar with him; we love him, and he leads us whither he pleaſes. To draw things cloſer to our firſt and moſt natural feelings; I will add to this a remark made upon reading this ſection by an ingenious friend. The authority of a father, ſo uſeful to our well-being, and ſo juſtly venerable upon all accounts, hinders us from having that entire love for him that [Page 94] we have for our mothers, where the parental authority is almoſt melted down into the mother's fondneſs and indulgence. But we generally have a great love for our grandfathers, in whom this authority is removed a degree from us, and where the weakneſs of age mellows it into ſomething of a feminine partiality.
FROM what has been ſaid in the foregoing ſection, we may eaſily ſee, how far the application of beauty to virtue may be made with propriety. The general application of this metaphorical quality to virtue, has a ſtrong tendency to confound our ideas of things; and it has given riſe to an infinite deal of whimſical theory; as the affixing the name of beauty to proportion, congruity and perfection, as well as to qualities of things yet more remote from our natural ideas of it, and from one another, has tended to confound our ideas of beauty, and left us no ſtandard or rule to judge by, that was not even more uncertain and fallacious than our own fancies.
HAVING endeavoured to ſhew what beauty is not, it remains that we ſhould examine, at leaſt with equal attention, in what it really conſiſts; for beauty is a thing much too affecting not to depend upon ſome poſitive qualities. Now certainly, ſince it is no creature of our reaſon, ſince it ſtrikes us without any reference to uſe, and even where no uſe at all can be diſcerned, ſince the order and method of nature is generally very different from our meaſures and proportions, we muſt conclude that beauty is, for the greater part, ſome merely ſenſible quality, acting mechanically upon the human mind by the intervention of the ſenſes. And we ought therefore to conſider in what manner thoſe ſenſible qualities are diſpoſed, in ſuch things as by experience we find beautiful, or which excite in us the paſſion of love, or ſome correſpondent affection.
THE moſt obvious point that preſents itſelf to us in examining any object, is its extent or quantity. And what degree of extent prevails in bodies, that are held beautiful, may be gathered from the uſual manner of expreſſion concerning it. I am told that in moſt languages, the objects of love are ſpoken of under diminutive epithets. It is ſo in all the languages of which I have any knowledge. in Greek the [...], and other diminutive terms, are almoſt always the terms of affection and tenderneſs. Theſe diminutives were commonly added by the ſame people to the names of perſons with whom they converſed on terms of friendſhip and familiarity. Though the Romans were a people of leſs quick and delicate feelings, yet they naturally ſlid into the leſſening termination upon the ſame occaſions. Anciently in the Engliſh language the diminiſhing ling was added to the names of perſons or things that were the objects of love. Some we retain ſtill, as darling, (or little dear) and a few others. But to this day in ordinary converſation, it is uſual to add the endearing [Page 97] name of little to every thing we love; the French and Italians make uſe of theſe affectionate diminutives even more than we. In the animal creation, out of our own ſpecies, it is the ſmall we are inclined to be fond of. Little birds, and ſome of the ſmaller kinds of beaſts. A great beautiful thing, is a manner of expreſſion ſcarcely ever uſed; but that of a great ugly thing, is very common. There is a wide difference between admiration and love. The ſublime, which is the cauſe of the former, always dwells on great objects, and terrible; the latter on ſmall ones, and pleaſing; we ſubmit to what we admire; but we love what ſubmits to us; in one caſe we are forced, in the other we are flattered into compliance. In ſhort, the ideas of the ſublime and the beautiful ſtand on foundations ſo different, that it is hard, I had almoſt ſaid impoſſible, to think of reconciling them in the ſame ſubject, without conſiderably leſſening the effect of the one or the other upon the paſſions. So that attending to their quantity, beautiful objects are comparatively ſmall.
THE next property conſtantly obſervable in ſuch objects is * Smoothneſs. A quality ſo eſſential to beauty, that I do not now recollect any thing beautiful that is not ſmooth. In trees and flowers, ſmooth leaves are beautiful; ſmooth ſlopes of earth in gardens; ſmooth ſtreams in the landſcape; ſmooth coats of birds and beaſts in animal beauties; in fine women, ſmooth ſkins; and in ſeveral ſorts of ornamental furniture, ſmooth and poliſhed ſurfaces. A very conſiderable part of the effect of beauty is owing to this quality; indeed the moſt conſiderable. For take any beautiful object, and give it a broken and rugged ſurface, and however well formed it may be in other reſpects, it pleaſes no longer. Whereas let it want ever ſo many of the other conſtituents, if it wants not this, it becomes more pleaſing than almoſt all the others without it. This ſeems to me ſo evident, that I am a good deal ſurpriſed, that none who have handled the ſubject [Page 99] have made any mention of the quality of ſmoothneſs in the enumeration of thoſe that go to the forming of beauty. For indeed any ruggedneſs, any ſudden projection, any ſharp angle is in the higheſt degree contrary to that idea.
BUT as perfectly beautiful bodies are not compoſed of angular parts, ſo their parts never continue long in the ſame right line. † They vary their direction every moment, and they change under the eye by a deviation continually carrying on, but for whoſe beginning or end you will find it difficult to aſcertain a point. The view of a beautiful bird will illuſtrate this obſervation. Here we ſee the head increaſing inſenſibly to the middle, from whence it leſſens gradually until it mixes with the neck; the neck loſes itſelf in a larger ſwell, which continues to the middle of the body, when the whole decreaſes again to the tail; the tail takes a new direction; [Page 100] but it ſoon varies its new courſe; it blends again with the other parts; and the line is perpetually and inſenſibly changing, above, below, upon every ſide. In this deſcription I have before me the idea of a dove; it agrees very well with moſt of the conditions of beauty. It is ſmooth and downy; its parts are (to uſe that expreſſion) melted into one another; you are preſented with no ſudden protuberance through the whole, and yet the whole is continually changing. Obſerve that part of a beautiful woman where ſhe is perhaps the moſt beautiful, about the neck and breaſts; the ſmoothneſs; the ſoftneſs; the eaſy and inſenſible ſwell; the variety of the ſurface, which is never for the ſmalleſt ſpace the ſame; the deceitful maze, through which the unſteady eye ſlides giddily, without knowing where to fix, or whither it is carried. Is not this a demonſtration of that change of ſurface continual and yet hardly perceptible at any point which forms one of the great conſtituents of beauty?
AN air of robuſtneſs and ſtrength is very prejudicial to beauty. An appearance of delicacy, and even of fragility, is almoſt eſſential to it. Whoever examines the vegetable or animal creation, will find this obſervation to be founded in nature. It is not the oak, the aſh, or the elm, or any of the robuſt trees of the foreſt which we conſider as beautiful; they are awful and majeſtic; they inſpire a ſort of reverence. It is the delicate myrtle, it is the orange, it is the almond, it is the jeſſamine, it is the vine, which we look on as vegetable beauties. It is the flowery ſpecies, ſo remarkable for its weakneſs and momentary duration, that gives us the livelieſt idea of beauty, and elegance. Among animals; the greyhound is more beautiful than the maſtiff; and the delicacy of a gennet, a barb, or an Arabian horſe, is much more amiable, than the ſtrength and ſtability of ſome horſes of war or carriage. I need here ſay little of the fair ſex, where I believe the point will be eaſily allowed me. The beauty of women is conſiderably owing to their weakneſs, or delicacy, [Page 102] and is even enhanced by their timidity, a quality of mind analogous to it. I would not here be underſtood to ſay, that weakneſs betraying very bad health has any ſhare in beauty; but the ill effect of this is not becauſe it is weakneſs, but becauſe the ill ſtate of health which produces ſuch weakneſs alters the other conditions of beauty; the parts in ſuch a caſe collapſe; the bright colour, the lumen purpureum juventae is gone; and the fine variation is loſt in wrinkles, ſudden breaks, and right lines.
AS to the colours uſually found in beautiful bodies; it may be ſomewhat difficult to aſcertain them, becauſe in the ſeveral parts of nature, there is an infinite variety. However, even in this variety, we may mark out ſomething on which to ſettle. Firſt, the colours of beautiful bodies muſt not be duſky or muddy, but clean and fair. Secondly, they muſt not be of the ſtrongeſt kind. Thoſe which ſeem moſt appropriated to beauty, are the milder of every ſort; light greens; ſoft blues; weak whites; pink reds; and violets. [Page 103] Thirdly, if the colours be ſtrong and vivid, they are always diverſified, and the object is never of one ſtrong colour; there are almoſt always ſuch a number of them (as in variegated flowers) that the ſtrength and glare of each is conſiderably abated. In a fine complexion, there is not only ſome variety in the colouring, but the colours, neither the red nor the white are ſtrong and glaring. Beſides, they are mixed in ſuch a manner, and with ſuch gradations, that it is impoſſible to fix the bounds. On the ſame principle it is, that the dubious colour in the necks and tails of peacocks, and about the heads of drakes, is ſo very agreeable. In reality, the beauty both of ſhape and colouring are as nearly related, as we can well ſuppoſe it poſſible for things of ſuch different natures to be.
ON the whole, the qualities of beauty, as they are merely ſenſible qualities, are are the following. Firſt, to be comparatively ſmall. Secondly, to be ſmooth. Thirdly, to have a variety in the direction of the parts; but fourthly, to have thoſe parts not angular, [Page 104] but melted as it were into each other. Fifthly, to be of a delicate frame, without any remarkable appearance of ſtrength. Sixthly, to have its colours clear and bright; but not very ſtrong and glaring. Seventhly, or if it ſhould have any glaring colour, to have it diverſified with others. Theſe are, I believe, the properties on which beauty depends; properties that operate by nature, and are leſs liable to be altered by caprice, or confounded by a diverſity of taſtes, than any others.
THE Phyſiognomy has a conſiderable ſhare in beauty, eſpecially in that of our own ſpecies. The manners give a certain determination to the countenance, which being obſerved to correſpond pretty regularly with them, is capable of joining the effect of certain agreeable qualities of the mind to thoſe of the body. So that to form a finiſhed human beauty, and to give it its full influence, the face muſt be expreſſive of ſuch gentle and amiable qualities, as correſpond with the ſoftneſs, ſmoothneſs, and delicacy of the outward form.
I HAVE hitherto purpoſely omitted to ſpeak of the Eye, which has ſo great a ſhare in the beauty of the animal creation, as it did not fall ſo eaſily under the foregoing heads, though in fact it is reducible to the ſame principles. I think then, that the beauty of the eye conſiſts, firſt, in its clearneſs; what coloured eye ſhall pleaſe moſt, depends a good deal on particular fancies; but none are pleaſed with an eye, whoſe water (to uſe that term) is dull and muddy. * We are pleaſed with the eye in this view, on the principle upon which we like diamonds, clear water, glaſs, and ſuch like tranſparent ſubſtances. Secondly, the motion of the eye contributes to its beauty, by continually ſhifting its direction; but a ſlow and languid motion is more beautiful than a briſk one; the latter is enlivening; the former lovely. Thirdly, with regard to its union with the neighbouring parts, it is to hold the ſame rule that is given of other beautiful ones; it is not to make a ſtrong deviation from the [Page 106] line of the neighbouring parts; nor to verge into any exact geometrical figure. Beſides all this, the eye affects, as it is expreſſive of ſome qualities of the mind, and its principal power generally ariſes from this; ſo that what we have juſt ſaid of the phyſiognomy is applicable here.
IT may perhaps appear like a ſort of repetition of what we have before ſaid, to inſiſt here upon the nature of Uglineſs. As I imagine it to be in all reſpects the oppoſite to thoſe qualities which we have laid down for the conſtituents of beauty. But though uglineſs be the oppoſite to beauty, it is not the oppoſite to proportion and fitneſs. For it is poſſible that a thing may be very ugly with any proportions, and with a perfect fitneſs to any uſes. Uglineſs I imagine likewiſe to be conſiſtent enough with an idea of the ſublime. But I would by no means inſinuate that uglineſs of itſelf is a ſublime idea, unleſs united with ſuch qualities as excite a ſtrong terror.
GRacefulneſs is an idea not very different from beauty; it conſiſts in much the ſame things. Gracefulneſs is an idea belonging to poſture and motion. In both theſe, to be graceful, it is requiſite that there be no appearance of difficulty; there is required a ſmall inflexion of the body; and a compoſure of the parts, in ſuch a manner, as not to incumber each other, nor to appear divided by ſharp and ſudden angles. In this eaſe, this roundneſs, and delicacy of attitude and motion, it is that all the magic of grace conſiſts, and what is called its je ne ſcai quoi, as will be more obvious to any body who conſiders attentively the Venus de Medicis, the Antinous, or any ſtatue generally allowed to be graceful in an high degree.
WHEN any body is compoſed of parts ſmooth and poliſhed, without preſſing upon each other, without ſhewing any ruggedneſs [Page 108] or confuſion, and at the ſame time affecting ſome regular ſhape, I call it elegant. It is cloſely allied to the beautiful, differing from it only in this regularity; which however, as it makes a very material difference, in the affection produced, may very well conſtitute another ſpecies. Under this head I rank thoſe delicate and regular works of art, that imitate no determinate object in nature, as elegant buildings, and pieces of furniture. When any object partakes of the abovementioned qualities, or of thoſe of beautiful bodies, and is withal of great dimenſions; it is full as remote from the idea of mere beauty. I call it fine or ſpecious.
THE foregoing deſcription of beauty, ſo far as is taken in by the eye, may be greatly illuſtrated by deſcribing the nature of objects, which produce a ſimilar effect through the touch. This I call the beautiful in Feeling. It correſponds wonderfully with what cauſes the ſame ſpecies of pleaſure to the ſight. There is a chain in all our ſenſations, they are all but different ſorts of feeling, calculated to be affected by various forts of objects, but [Page 109] all to be affected after the ſame manner. All bodies that are pleaſant to the touch, are ſo by the ſlightneſs of the reſiſtance they make. Reſiſtance is either to motion along the ſurface, or to the preſſure of the parts on one another; if the former be ſlight, we call the body, ſmooth; if the latter, ſoft. The chief pleaſure we receive by feeling, is in the one or the other of theſe qualities; and if there be a combination of both, our pleaſure is greatly increaſed. This is ſo plain, that it is rather more fit to illuſtrate other things, than to be illuſtrated itſelf by any example. The next ſource of pleaſure in this ſenſe, as in every other, is the continually preſenting ſomewhat new; and we find that bodies which continually vary their ſurface, are much the moſt pleaſant, or beautiful, to the feeling, as any one that pleaſes may experience. The third property in ſuch objects is, that though the ſurface continually varies its direction, it never varies it ſuddenly. The application of any thing ſudden, even though the impreſſion itſelf have little or nothing of violence, is diſagreeable. The quick application of a finger a little warmer or colder than uſual, without notice, makes us ſtart; a ſlight tap on the ſhoulder, not expected, has the ſame effect. Hence it is that angular bodies, bodies that [Page 110] ſuddenly vary the direction of the outline, afford ſo little pleaſure to the feeling. Every ſuch change is a ſort of climbing or falling in miniature; ſo that ſquares, triangles, and other angular figures, are neither beautiful to the ſight nor feeling. Whoever compares his ſtate of mind, on feeling ſoft, ſmooth, variated, unangular bodies, with that in which he finds himſelf, on the view of a beautiful object, will perceive a very ſtriking analogy in the effects of both; and which may go a good way towards diſcovering their common cauſe. Feeling and ſight in this reſpect, differ in but a few points. The touch takes in the pleaſure of ſoftneſs, which is not primarily an object of ſight; the ſight on the other hand comprehends colour, which can hardly be made perceptible to the touch; the touch again has the advantage in a new idea of pleaſure reſulting from a moderate degree of warmth; but the eye triumphs in the infinite extent and multiplicity of its objects. But there is ſuch a ſimilitude in the pleaſures of theſe ſenſes, that I am apt to fancy, if it were poſſible that one might diſcern colour by feeling, (as it is ſaid ſome blind men have done) that the ſame colours, and the ſame diſpoſition of colouring, which are found beautiful to the [Page 111] ſight, would be found likewiſe moſt grateful to the touch. But ſetting aſide conjectures, let us paſs to the other ſenſe; of hearing.
IN this ſenſe we find an equal aptitude to be affected in a ſoft and delicate manner; and how far ſweet or beautiful ſounds agree with our deſcriptions of beauty in other ſenſes, the experience of every one muſt decide. Milton has deſcribed this ſpecies of muſic in one of his juvenile poems *. I need not ſay that Milton was perfectly well verſed in that art; and had as fine an ear, with as happy a manner of expreſſing the affections of one ſenſe by metaphors taken from another, as any man that ever was. The deſcription is as follows.
Let us parallel this with the ſoftneſs, the winding ſurface, the unbroken continuance, the eaſy gradation of the beautiful in other things; and all the diverſities of the ſeveral ſenſes, with all their ſeveral affections, will rather help to throw lights from one another to finiſh one clear, conſiſtent idea of the whole, than to obſcure it by their intricacy and variety.—And ever againſt eating cares,Lap me in ſoft Lydian airs;In notes with many a winding boutOf linked ſweetneſs long drawn out;With wanton heed, and giddy cunning,The melting voice through mazes running;The hidden ſoul of harmony.
TO the abovementioned deſcription I ſhall add one or two remarks. The firſt is; that the beautiful in muſic will not bear that loudneſs and ſtrength of ſounds, that may be uſed to raiſe other paſſions; nor notes, which are ſhrill, or harſh, or deep; it agrees beſt with ſuch as are clear, even, ſmooth, and weak. The ſecond is; that great variety, and quick tranſitions from one meaſure or tone to another, are contrary to the genius of the beautiful in muſic. Such † tranſitions often [Page 113] excite mirth, or other ſudden and tumultuous paſſions; but not that ſinking, that melting, that languor, which is the characteriſtical effect of the beautiful, as it regards every ſenſe. The paſſion excited by beauty is in fact nearer to a ſpecies of melancholy, than to jollity and mirth. I do not here mean to confine muſic to any one ſpecies of notes, or tones, neither is it an art in which I can ſay I have any great ſkill. My ſole deſign in this remark is, to ſettle a conſiſtent idea of beauty. The infinite variety of the affections of the ſoul will ſuggeſt to a good head, and ſkilful ear, a variety of ſuch ſounds, as are fitted to raiſe them. It can be no prejudice to this, to clear and diſtinguiſh ſome few particulars, that belong to the ſame claſs, and are conſiſtent with each other, from the immenſe croud of different, and ſometimes contradictory ideas, that rank vulgarly under the ſtandard of beauty. And of theſe it is my intention to mark ſuch only of the leading points as ſhew the conformity of the ſenſe of hearing, with all the other ſenſes in the article of their pleaſures.
THIS general agreement of the ſenſes is yet more evident on minutely conſidering thoſe of taſte and ſmell. We metaphorically apply the idea of ſweetneſs to ſights, and ſounds; but as the qualities of bodies by which they are fitted to excite either pleaſure or pain in theſe ſenſes, are not ſo obvious as they are in the others, we ſhall refer an explanation of their analogy, which is a very cloſe one, to that part, wherein we come to conſider the common efficient cauſe of beauty as it regards all the ſenſes. I do not think any thing better fitted to eſtabliſh a clear and ſettled idea of viſual beauty, than this way of examining the ſimilar pleaſures of other ſenſes; for one part is ſometimes clear in one of the ſenſes, that is more obſcure in another; and where there is a clear concurrence of all, we may with more certainty ſpeak of any one of them. By this means, they bear witneſs to each other; nature is, as it were, ſcrutinized; and we report nothing of her, but what we receive from her own information.
ON cloſing this general view of beauty, it naturally occurs, that we ſhould compare it with the ſublime; and in this compariſon there appears a remarkable contraſt. For ſublime objects are vaſt in their dimenſions, beautiful ones comparatively ſmall; beauty ſhould be ſmooth, and poliſhed; the great, rugged and negligent; beauty ſhould ſhun the right line, yet deviate from it inſenſibly; the great in many caſes loves the right line, and when it deviates, it often makes a ſtrong deviation; beauty ſhould not be obſcure; the great ought to be dark and gloomy; beauty ſhould be light and delicate; the great ought to be ſolid, and even maſſive. They are indeed ideas of a very different nature, one being founded on pain, the other on pleaſure; and however they may vary afterwards from the direct nature of their cauſes, yet theſe cauſes keep up an eternal diſtinction between them, a diſtinction never to be forgotten by any whoſe buſineſs it is to affect the paſſions.
WHEN I ſay, I intend to enquire into the efficient cauſe of ſublimity and beauty, I would not be underſtood to ſay, that I can come to the ultimate cauſe. I do not pretend that I ſhall ever be able to explain, why certain affections of the body produce ſuch a diſtinct emotion of mind, and no other; or why the body is at all affected by the mind, or the mind by the body. A little thought will ſhew this to be impoſſible. [Page 118] But I conceive, if we can diſcover what affections of the mind produce certain emotions of the body; and what diſtinct feelings and qualities of body ſhall produce certain determinate paſſions in the mind, and no others, I fancy a great deal will be done; ſomething not unuſeful towards a diſtinct knowledge of our paſſions, ſo far at leaſt as we have them at preſent under our conſideration. This is all, I believe, we can do. If we could advance a ſtep farther, difficulties would ſtill remain, as we ſhould be ſtill equally diſtant from the firſt cauſe. When Newton firſt diſcovered the property of attraction, and ſettled its laws, he found it ſerved very well to explain ſeveral of the moſt remarkable phaenomena in nature; but yet with reference to the general ſyſtem of things, he could conſider attraction but as an effect, whoſe cauſe at that time he did not attempt to trace. But when he afterwards began to account for it by a ſubtle elaſtic aether, this great man (if in ſo great a man it be not impious to diſcover any thing like a blemiſh) ſeemed to have quitted his uſual cautious manner of philoſophiſing; ſince, perhaps, allowing all that has been advanced on this ſubject to be ſufficiently proved, I think it leaves us with as many difficulties as it found us. That [Page 119] great chain of cauſes, which linking one to another even to the throne of God himſelf, can never be unravelled by any induſtry of ours. When we go but one ſtep beyond the immediately ſenſible qualities of things, we go out of our depth. All we do after, is but a faint ſtruggle, that ſhews we are in an element, that does not belong to us. So that when I ſpeak of cauſe, and efficient cauſe, I only mean, certain affections of the mind, that cauſe certain changes in the body; or certain powers and properties in bodies, that work a change in the mind. As if I were to explain the motion of a body falling to the ground, I would ſay it was cauſed by gravity, and I would endeavour to ſhew after what manner this power operated, without attempting to ſhew why it operated in this manner; or if I were to explain the effects of bodies ſtriking one another by the common laws of percuſſion, I ſhould not endeavour to explain how motion itſelf is communicated.
IT is no ſmall bar in the way of our enquiries into the cauſes of the paſſions, that the occaſion of many of them are given, and that their governing motions are impreſſed at a time when we have not capacity to reflect on them; at a time of which all ſorts of memory is worn out of our minds. For beſides ſuch things as affect us in various manners according to their natural powers, there are aſſociations made at that early ſeaſon, which we find it very hard afterwards to diſtinguiſh from natural effects. Not to mention the unaccountable antipathies which we find in many perſons, we all find it impoſſible to remember when a ſteep became more terrible than a plain; or fire or water more dreadful than a clod of earth; though all theſe are very probably either concluſions from experience, or ariſing from the premonitions of others; and ſome of them impreſſed, in all likelihood, pretty late. But as it muſt be allowed that many things affect us after a certain manner, not by any natural powers they have for that purpoſe, but by aſſociation; ſo it would be abſurd on [Page 121] the other hand, to ſay that nothing affects us otherwiſe; ſince ſome things muſt have been originally and naturally agreeable or diſagreeable, from which the others derive their aſſociated powers; and it would be, I fancy, to little purpoſe to look for the cauſes of our paſſions in aſſociation, until we fail of them in the natural properties of things.
I Have before obſerved, † that whatever is qualified to cauſe terror, is a foundation capable of the ſublime; to which I add, that not only theſe, but many things from which we cannot probably apprehend any danger have a ſimilar effect, becauſe they operate in a ſimilar manner. I obſerved too, that * whatever produces pleaſure, poſitive and original pleaſure, is fit to have beauty engrafted on it. Therefore, to clear up the nature of theſe qualities, it may be neceſſary to explain the nature of pain and pleaſure on which they depend. A man who ſuffers under violent bodily pain; (I ſuppoſe the moſt violent, becauſe [Page 122] the effect may be the more obvious.) I ſay a man in pain has his teeth ſet, his eyebrows are violently contracted, his forehead is wrinkled, his eyes are dragged inwards, and rolled with great vehemence, his hair ſtands an end, the voice is forced out in ſhort ſhrieks and groans, and the whole fabric totters. Fear or terror, which is an apprehenſion of pain or death, exhibits exactly the ſame effects, approaching in violence to thoſe juſt mentioned in proportion to the nearneſs of the cauſe, and the weakneſs of the ſubject. This is not only ſo in the human ſpecies, but I have more than once obſerved in dogs, under an apprehenſion of puniſhment, that they have writhed their bodies, and yelped, and howled, as if they had actually felt the blows. From hence I conclude that pain, and fear, act upon the the ſame parts of the body, and in the ſame manner, though ſomewhat differing in degree. That pain and fear conſiſt in an unnatural tenſion of the nerves; that this is ſometimes accompanied with an unnatural ſtrength, which ſometimes ſuddenly changes into an extraordinary weakneſs; that theſe effects often come on alternately, and ſometimes mixed with each other. This is the nature of all convulſive agitations, eſpecially in weaker ſubjects, [Page 123] which are the moſt liable to the ſevereſt impreſſions of pain and fear. The only difference between pain and terror, is, that things which cauſe pain operate on the mind, by the intervention of the body; whereas things that cauſe terror generally affect the bodily organs by the operation of the mind ſuggeſting the danger; but both agreeing, either primarily, or ſecondarily, in producing a tenſion, contraction, or violent emotion of the nerves [Note: I do not here enter into the queſtion debated among phyſiologiſts, whether pain be the effect of a contraction, or a tenſion of the nerves. Either will ſerve my purpoſe; for by tenſion, I mean no more than a violent pulling of the fibres, which compoſe any muſcle or membrane, in whatever way this is done.]. They agree likewiſe in every thing elſe; for it appears very clearly to me, from this, as well as from many other examples, that when the body is diſpoſed, by any means whatſoever, to ſuch emotions, as it would acquire by the means of a certain paſſion; it will of itſelf excite ſomething very like that paſſion in the mind.
TO this purpoſe Mr. Spon, in the Recherches d' Antiquite, gives us a curious ſtory of the celebrated phyſiognomiſt Campanella; this man, it ſeems, had not only made very accurate obſervations on human faces, but was very expert in mimicking ſuch, as were any way remarkable. When he had a mind to penetrate into the inclinations of thoſe he had to deal with, he compoſed his face, his geſture, and his whole body, as nearly as he could into the exact ſimilitude of the perſon he intended to examine; and then carefully obſerved what turn of mind he ſeemed to acquire by this change. So that, ſays my author, he was able to enter into the diſpoſitions and thoughts of people, as effectually as if he had been changed into the very men. I have often obſerved, that on mimicking the looks and geſtures, of angry, or placid, or frighted, or daring men, I have involuntarily found my mind turned to that paſſion whoſe appearance I endeavoured to imitate; nay, I am convinced it is hard to avoid it; though one ſtrove to ſeparate the [Page 125] paſſion from its correſpondent geſtures. Our minds and bodies are ſo cloſely and intimately connected, that one is incapable of pain or pleaſure without the other. Campanella, of whom we have been ſpeaking, could ſo abſtract his attention from any ſufferings of his body, that he was able to endure the rack itſelf without much pain; and in leſſer pains, every body muſt have obſerved, that when we can employ our attention on any thing elſe, the pain has been for a time ſuſpended; on the other hand, if by any means the body is indiſpoſed to perform ſuch geſtures, or to be ſtimulated into ſuch emotions as any paſſion uſually produces in it; that paſſion itſelf never can ariſe, though its cauſe ſhould be never ſo ſtrongly in action; though it ſhould be merely mental, and immediately affecting none of the ſenſes. As an opiate, or ſpirituous liquors ſhall ſuſpend the operation of grief, or fear, or anger, in ſpite of all our efforts to the contrary, and this by inducing in the body a diſpoſition contrary to that which it receives from theſe paſſions.
HAVING conſidered terror as producing an unnatural tenſion and certain violent emotions of the nerves; it eaſily follows, from what we have juſt ſaid, that whatever is fitted to produce ſuch a tenſion, muſt be productive of a paſſion ſimilar to terror [Note: Part 2. ſect. 2.], and conſequently muſt be a ſource of the ſublime, though it ſhould have no idea of danger connected with it. So that little remains towards ſhewing the cauſe of the ſublime, but to ſhew that the inſtances we gave of it, in the ſecond part, are of ſuch things, as are fitted by nature to produce this ſort of tenſion, either by the primary operation of the mind or the body. With regard to ſuch things as affect by the aſſociated idea of danger, there can be no doubt but that they produce terror, and act by ſome modification of that paſſion; and that terror, when ſufficiently violent, raiſes the emotions of the body juſt mentioned, can as little be doubted. But if the ſublime is built on terror, or ſome paſſion like it, which has pain for its object; it is previouſly proper to enquire how any ſpecies of delight can be derived from a cauſe ſo apparently [Page 127] contrary to it. I ſay, delight, becauſe, as I have often remarked, it is very evidently different in its cauſe, and in its own nature, from actual and poſitive pleaſure.
PROVIDENCE has ſo ordered it, that a ſtate of reſt and inaction, however it may flatter ſome principle of indolence in us, ſhould be productive of many inconveniencies; that it ſhould generate ſuch diſorders, as may force us to have recourſe to ſome labour, as a thing abſolutely requiſite to make us paſs our lives with tolerable ſatisfaction; for the nature of reſt is to ſuffer all the parts of our bodies to fall into ſuch a relaxation, as not only diſables the members from performing their functions, but takes away that vigour which is requiſite towards the performing the natural and neceſſary ſecretions. At the ſame time, that in this languid inactive ſtate, the nerves are more liable to the moſt horrid convulſions, than when they are ſufficiently braced and ſtrengthened. Melancholy, dejection, deſpair, and often ſelf-murder, is the conſequence of the gloomy view we take of [Page 128] things in this relaxed ſtate of body. The beſt remedy for all theſe evils is exerciſe or labour; and labour is a ſurmounting of difficulties, an exertion of the contracting power of the muſcles; and as ſuch reſembles pain, which conſiſts in tenſion or contraction, in every thing but degree. Labour is not only requiſite to preſerve the coarſer organs in a ſtate fit for their functions, but it is equally neceſſary to theſe finer and more delicate organs, on which, and by which, the imagination, and perhaps the other mental powers, act. Since it is probable, that not only the inferior parts of the ſoul, as the paſſions are called, but the underſtanding itſelf makes uſe of ſome fine corporeal inſtruments in its operations; though what they are, and where they are, may be ſomewhat hard to ſettle: but that it does make uſe of ſuch, appears from hence; that a long exerciſe of the mental powers induces a remarkable laſſitude of the whole body; and on the other hand, that great bodily labour, or pain, weakens, and ſometimes actually deſtroys the mental faculties. Now, as a due exerciſe is eſſential to the coarſe muſcular parts of the conſtitution, and that without this rouſing they would become languid, and diſeaſed, and clogged with heterogeneous and hurtful matter; the very ſame rule holds with regard [Page 129] to the former; to have them in proper order, they muſt be ſhaken and worked to a proper degree.
AS common labour, which is a mode of pain, is the exerciſe of the groſſer, a mode of terror is the exerciſe of the finer parts of the ſyſtem; and if a certain mode of pain is of ſuch a nature as to act upon the eye or the ear, as they are the moſt delicate organs, it approaches more nearly to that which has a mental cauſe. In all theſe caſes, if the pain and terror are ſo modified as not to be actually noxious; if the pain is not carried to violence, and the terror is not converſant about the preſent deſtruction of the perſon, as theſe emotions clear the parts, whether fine, or groſs, of a dangerous and troubleſome incumbrance, they are capable of producing delight; not pleaſure, but a fort of delightful horror, a ſort of tranquility tinged with terror; which as it belongs to ſelf-preſervation is one of the ſtrongeſt of all the paſſions. Its object is the ſublime [Note: Part 2. ſect. 2.]. [Page 130] Its higheſt degree I call aſtoniſhment; the ſubordinate degrees are awe, reverence, and reſpect, which by the very etymology of the words ſhew from what ſource they are derived, and how they ſtand diſtinguiſhed from poſitive pleaſure.
†A Mode of terror, or of pain, is always the cauſe of the ſublime. For terror, or aſſociated danger, the foregoing explication is, I believe, ſufficient. It will require ſomething more trouble to ſhew, that ſuch examples, as I have given of the ſublime in the ſecond part, are capable of producing a mode of pain, and of being thus allied to terror, and to be accounted for on the ſame principles. And firſt of ſuch objects as are great in their dimenſions. I ſpeak of viſual objects.
VISION is performed by having a picture formed by the rays of light which are reflected from the object, painted in one piece, inſtantaneouſly, on the retina, or laſt nervous part of the eye. Or, according to others, there is but one point of any object painted on the eye in ſuch a manner as to be perceived at once; but by moving the eye, we gather up with great celerity, the ſeveral parts of the object, ſo as to form one uniform piece. If the former opinion be allowed, it will be conſidered, that a body of great dimenſions,* though all the light reflected from it ſhould ſtrike the eye in one inſtant; yet with regard to its extent we muſt ſuppoſe it formed of a vaſt number of diſtinct points, every one of which, or the ray from every one, makes an impreſſion on the retina. So that, though the image of one point ſhould cauſe but a ſmall tenſion of this membrane, another, and another, and another ſtroke, muſt [Page 132] in their progreſs cauſe a very great one, until it arrives at laſt to the higheſt degree; and the whole capacity of the eye, vibrating in all its parts muſt approach near to the nature of what cauſes pain, and conſequently muſt produce an idea of the ſublime. Or if we take it, that one point only of an object is diſtinguiſhable at once; the matter will amount nearly to the ſame thing, or rather it will make the origin of the ſublime from greatneſs of dimenſion yet clearer. For if but one point is obſerved at once, the eye muſt traverſe the vaſt ſpace of ſuch bodies with great quickneſs, and conſequently the fine nerves and muſcles deſtined to the motion of that part muſt be very much ſtrained; and their great ſenſibility muſt make them the more affected by it. Beſides, it ſignifies juſt nothing to the effect produced, whether a body has its parts connected and makes its impreſſion at once; or making but one impreſſion of a point at a time, it cauſes a ſucceſſion of the ſame, or others, ſo quickly, as to make them ſeem united; as is evident from the common effect of whirling about a lighted torch or piece of wood; which if done with celerity, ſeems a circle of fire.
IT may be objected to this theory, that the eye generally receives an equal number of rays at all times, and that therefore a great object cannot affect it by the number of rays, more than that variety of objects which the eye muſt always diſcern whilſt it remains open. But to this I anſwer, that admitting an equal number of rays, or an equal quantity of luminous particles to ſtrike the eye at all times, yet if theſe rays frequently vary their nature, now to blue, now to red, and ſo on, or their manner of termination as to a number of petty ſquares, triangles, or the like, at every change, whether of colour or ſhape, the organ has a ſort of relaxation or reſt, which prevents that tenſion, that ſpecies of labour which is allied to pain, and cauſes the ſublime. For the ſum total of things of various kinds, though it ſhould equal the number of the uniform parts compoſing ſome one entire object, is not equal in its effect upon the organs of our bodies. It is next to reſt in all things, to vary our labour; and it is not ſo only in our labours, but in our ſtudies. Beſides this, there is a very ſtrong reaſon for the difference. The mind [Page 134] in reality hardly ever can attend diligently to more than one thing at a time; if this thing be little, the effect is little, and a number of other little objects cannot engage the attention; the mind is bounded by the bounds of the object; and what is not attended to, and what does not exiſt, are much the ſame in the effect; but the eye or the mind (for in this caſe there is no difference) in great uniform objects does not readily arrive at their bounds; it has no reſt, whilſt it contemplates them; the image is much the ſame every where. So that every thing great by its quantity muſt neceſſarily be, one, ſimple and entire.
WE have obſerved, that a ſpecies of greatneſs ariſes from the artificial infinite; and that this conſiſts in an uniform ſucceſſion of great parts: we obſerved too, that the ſame uniform ſucceſſion had a like power in ſounds. But becauſe the effects of many things are clearer in one of the ſenſes than in another, and that they all bear an analogy to, and illuſtrate one another; I ſhall begin with this power in ſounds, as the cauſe of the ſublimity from ſucceſſion [Page 135] is rather more obvious in the ſenſe of hearing. And I ſhall here once for all obſerve, that an inveſtigation of the natural and mechanical cauſes of our paſſions, beſides the curioſity of the ſubject, gives, if they are diſcovered, a double ſtrength and luſtre to any rules we deliver on ſuch matters. When the ear receives any ſimple ſound, it is ſtruck by a ſingle pulſe of the air, which makes the ear-drum and the other membranous parts vibrate according to the nature and ſpecies of the ſtroke. If the ſtroke be ſtrong, the organ of hearing ſuffers a conſiderable degree of tenſion. If the ſtroke be repeated pretty ſoon after; the repetition cauſes an expectation of another ſtroke. And it muſt be obſerved, that expectation itſelf cauſes a tenſion. This is apparent in many animals, who, when they prepare for hearing any ſound, rouſe themſelves, and prick up their ears; ſo that here the effect of the ſounds is conſiderably augmented by a new auxiliary, the expectation. But though after a number of ſtrokes, we expect ſtill more, not being able to aſcertain the exact time of their arrival, when they arrive, they produce a ſort of ſurpriſe, which increaſes this tenſion yet further. For, I have obſerved, that when at any time I have waited very earneſtly for ſome ſound, that returned at intervals, (as the ſucceſſive firing of [Page 136] cannon) though I fully expected the return of the ſound, when it came, it always made me ſtart a little; the ear-drum ſuffered a convulſion, and the whole body conſented with it. The tenſion of the part thus increaſing at every blow, by the united forces of the ſtroke itſelf, the expectation, and the ſurpriſe, it is worked up to ſuch a pitch as to be capable of the ſublime; it is brought juſt to the verge of pain. Even when the cauſe has ceaſed; the organs of hearing being often ſucceſſively ſtruck in a ſimilar manner, continue to vibrate in that manner for ſome time longer; this is an additional help to the greatneſs of the effect.
BUT if the vibration be not ſimilar at every impreſſion, it can never be carried beyond the number of actual impreſſions; for move any body, as a pendulum, in one way, and it will continue to oſcillate in an arch of the ſame circle, until the known cauſes make it reſt; but if after firſt putting it in motion in one direction, you puſh it into another, it can never reaſſume the firſt direction; becauſe it can never move itſelf, and conſequently it can have but the effect of that laſt motion; [Page 137] whereas, if in the ſame direction you act upon it ſeveral times, it will deſcribe a greater arch, and move a longer time.
IF we can comprehend clearly how things operate upon one of our ſenſes; there can be very little difficulty in conceiving in what manner they affect the reſt. To ſay a great deal therefore upon the correſponding affections of every ſenſe, would tend rather to fatigue us by an uſeleſs repetition, than to throw any new light upon the ſubject, by that ample and diffuſe manner of treating it; but as in this diſcourſe we chiefly attach ourſelves to the ſublime, as it affects the eye, we ſhall conſider particularly why a ſucceſſive diſpoſition of uniform parts in the ſame right line ſhould be ſublime, [Note: Part 2. ſect. 10.] and upon what principle it is enabled to make a comparatively ſmall quantity of matter ſo diſpoſed produce a grander effect, than a much larger quantity diſpoſed in another manner. To avoid the perplexity of general notions; let us ſet before our eyes a colonnade of uniform pillars planted in a right [Page 138] line; let us take our ſtand, in ſuch a manner, that the eye may ſhoot along this colonnade, for it has its beſt effect in this view. In our preſent ſituation it is plain, that the rays from the firſt round pillar will cauſe in the eye a vibration of that ſpecies; an image of the pillar itſelf. The pillar immediately ſucceeding increaſes it; that which follows renews and enforces the impreſſion; each in its order as it ſucceeds, repeats impulſe after impulſe, and ſtroke after ſtroke, until the eye long exerciſed in one particular way cannot loſe that object immediately; and being violently rouſed by this continued agitation, it preſents the mind with a grand or ſublime conception. But inſtead of viewing a rank of uniform pillars; let us ſuppoſe, that they ſucceed each other, a round and a ſquare one alternately. In this caſe the vibration cauſed by the firſt round pillar periſhes as ſoon as it is formed; and one of quite another ſort (the ſquare) directly occupies its place; which however it reſigns as quickly to the round one; and thus the eye proceeds, alternately, taking up one image and laying down another, as long as the building continues. From whence it is obvious, that at the laſt pillar, the impreſſion is as far from continuing as it was at the very firſt; becauſe in fact, the ſenſory can receive no diſtinct impreſſion but from [Page 139] the laſt; and it can never of itſelf reſume a diſſimilar impreſſion: beſides, every variation of the object is a reſt and relaxation to the organs of ſight; and theſe reliefs prevent that violent emotion ſo neceſſary to produce the ſublime. To produce therefore a perfect grandeur in ſuch things as we have been mentioning, there ſhould be a perfect ſimplicity, an abſolute uniformity in diſpoſition, ſhape and colouring. Upon this principle of ſucceſſion and uniformity it may be aſked, why a long bare wall ſhould not be a more ſublime object than a colonnade; ſince the ſucceſſion is no way interrupted; ſince the eye meets no check; ſince nothing more uniform can be conceived? A long bare wall is certainly not ſo grand an object as a colonnade of the ſame length and height. It is not altogether difficult to account for this difference. When we look at a naked wall, from the evenneſs of the object, the eye runs along its whole ſpace, and arrives quickly at its termination; the eye meets nothing which may interrupt its progreſs; but then it meets nothing which may detain it a proper time to produce a very great and laſting effect. The view of a bare wall, if it be of a great height and length, is undoubtedly grand: but this is only one idea, and not a repetition of ſimilar ideas; it is therefore great, not ſo much [Page 140] upon the principle of infinity, as upon that of vaſtneſs. But we are not ſo powerfully affected with any one impulſe, unleſs it be one of a prodigious force, as we are with a ſucceſſion of ſimilar impulſes; becauſe the nerves of the ſenſory do not (if I may uſe the expreſſion) acquire a habit of repeating the ſame feeling in ſuch a manner as to continue it longer than its cauſe is in action; beſides, all the effects which I have attributed to expectation and ſurpriſe in ſect. 11. can have no place in a bare wall.
IT is Mr. Locke's opinion, that darkneſs is not naturally an idea of terror; and that, though an exceſſive light is painful to the ſenſe, that the greateſt exceſs of darkneſs is no ways troubleſome. He obſerves indeed in another place, that a nurſe or an old woman having once aſſociated the ideas of ghoſts and goblins with that of darkneſs; night ever after becomes painful and horrible to the imagination. The authority of this great man is doubtleſs as great, as that of any man can be, [Page 141] and it ſeems to ſtand in the way of our general principle. * We have conſidered darkneſs as a cauſe of the ſublime; and we have all along conſidered the ſublime as depending on ſome modification of pain or terror; ſo that, if darkneſs be no way painful or terrible to any, who have not had their minds early tainted with ſuperſtitions, it can be no ſource of the ſublime to them. But with all deference to ſuch an authority; it ſeems to me, that an aſſociation of a more general nature; an aſſociation which takes in all mankind may make darkneſs terrible; for in utter darkneſs, it is impoſſible to know in what degree of ſafety we ſtand; we are ignorant of the objects that ſurround us; we may every moment ſtrike againſt ſome dangerous obſtruction; we may fall down a precipice the firſt ſtep we take; and if any enemy approach, we know not in what quarter to defend ourſelves; in ſuch a caſe ſtrength is no ſure protection; wiſdom can only act by gueſs; the boldeſt are ſtaggered, and he who would pray for nothing elſe towards his defence, is forced to pray for light.
[Page 142] As to the aſſociation of ghoſts and goblins; ſurely it is more natural to think, that darkneſs being originally an idea of terror, was choſen as a fit ſcene for ſuch terrible repreſentations, than that ſuch repreſentations have made darkneſs terrible. The mind of man very eaſily ſlides into an error of the former ſort; but it is very hard to imagine, that an idea ſo univerſally terrible in all times, and in all countries, as darkneſs has been, could poſſibly have been owing to a ſet of idle ſtories, or to any cauſe of a nature ſo trivial, and of an operation ſo precarious.
PERHAPS it may appear on enquiry, that blackneſs and darkneſs are in ſome degree painful by their natural operation, independent of any aſſociations whatſoever. I muſt obſerve, that the ideas of darkneſs and blackneſs are much the ſame, and that they differ only in this, that blackneſs is a more confined idea. Mr. Cheſelden has given us a very curious ſtory of a boy, who had been born blind, and continued ſo until he was thirteen or fourteen years old; he was then couched for a cataract, [Page 143] by which operation he received his ſight. Among many remarkable particulars that attended his firſt perceptions, and judgments on viſual objects, Cheſelden tells us, that the firſt time the boy ſaw a black object, it gave him great uneaſineſs; and that ſome time after, upon accidentally ſeeing a negro woman, he was ſtruck with great horror at the ſight. The horror, in this caſe, can ſcarcely be ſuppoſed to ariſe from any aſſociation. The boy appears by the account to be particularly obſerving, and ſenſible for one of his age: and therefore, it is probable, if the great uneaſineſs he felt at the firſt fight of black had ariſen from its connexion with any other diſagreeable ideas, he would have obſerved and mentioned it. For an idea, diſagreeable only by aſſociation, has the cauſe of its ill effect on the paſſions evident enough at the firſt impreſſion; in ordinary caſes, it is indeed frequently loſt; but this is, becauſe the original aſſociation was made very early, and the conſequent impreſſion repeated often. In our inſtance, there was no time for ſuch an habit; and there is no reaſon to think, that the ill effects of black on his imagination were more owing to its connexion with any diſagreeable ideas, than that the good effects of more cheerful colours were derived from their connexion [Page 144] with pleaſing ones. They had both probably their effects from their natural operation.
IT may be worth while to examine, how darkneſs can operate in ſuch a manner as to cauſe pain; that is, to produce a tenſion in thoſe nerves, which form the organs of ſight. It may be obſerved, that ſtill as we recede from the light, nature has ſo contrived it, that the pupil is enlarged by the retiring of the iris, in proportion to our receſs. Now inſtead of declining from it but a little, ſuppoſe that we withdraw entirely from the light; it is reaſonable to think, that the expanſion of the iris is proportionably greater, and that this part may by great darkneſs come to be ſo expanded, as to ſtretch the nerves that compoſe it far beyond their natural tone; and by this means to produce a painful ſenſation. Such a tenſion it ſeems there certainly is, whilſt we are involved in darkneſs; for in ſuch a ſtate whilſt the eye remains open, there is a continual niſus to receive light, as appears by the flaſhes, and luminous appearances which often [Page 145] ſeem in theſe circumſtances to play before it; and which can be nothing but the effect of ſpaſms, produced by its own efforts in purſuit of its object; for many other ſtrong impulſes will produce the idea of light in the eye, beſides the ſubſtance of light itſelf, as we experience on many occaſions. It may perhaps be objected, that the ill effects of darkneſs or blackneſs ſeem rather mental than corporeal; and I own it is true, that they do ſo; and ſo do all thoſe that depend on the affections of the finer parts of our ſyſtem. The ill effects of bad weather appear often no otherwiſe, than in a melancholy and dejection of ſpirits, though without doubt, in this caſe, the bodily organs ſuffer firſt, and the mind through theſe organs.
BLackneſs is but a partial darkneſs; and therefore it derives ſome of its powers from being mixed and ſurrounded with coloured bodies. In its own nature, it cannot be conſidered as a colour. Black bodies, reflecting none, or but a few rays, with regard to ſight, are but as ſo many vacant ſpaces diſperſed among the objects we view. When the eye [Page 146] lights on one of theſe vacuities, after having been kept in ſome degree of tenſion by the play of the adjacent colours upon it, it ſuddenly falls into a relaxation; out of which it as ſuddenly recovers by a convulſive ſpring. To illuſtrate this; let us conſider, that when we intend to ſit on a chair, and find it much lower than was expected, the ſhock is very violent; much more violent than could be thought from ſo ſlight a fall as the difference between one chair and another can poſſibly make. Or if, after deſcending a flight of ſtairs, we attempt inadvertently to take another ſtep in the manner of the former ones, the ſhock is extreamly rude and diſagreeable; and by no art, can we cauſe ſuch a ſhock by the ſame means, when we expect and prepare for it. When I ſay, that this is owing to having the change made contrary to expectation; I do not mean ſolely, when the mind expects. I mean likewiſe, that when any organ of ſenſe is for ſome time affected in ſome one manner, if it be ſuddenly affected otherwiſe there enſues a convulſive motion; ſuch a convulſion as is cauſed when any thing happens againſt the expectance of the mind. And though it may appear ſtrange that ſuch a change as produces a relaxation, ſhould immediately produce a ſudden convulſion; it is yet moſt certainly ſo, and ſo in all [Page 147] the ſenſes. Every one knows that ſleep is a relaxation; and that ſilence, where nothing keeps the organs of hearing in action, is in general fitteſt to bring on this relaxation; yet when a ſort of murmuring ſounds diſpoſe a man to ſleep, let theſe ſounds ceaſe ſuddenly, and the perſon immediately awakes; that is, the parts are braced up ſuddenly, and he awakes. This I have often experienced myſelf, and I have heard the ſame from obſerving perſons. In like manner, if a perſon in broad day light were falling aſleep, to introduce a ſudden darkneſs would prevent his ſleep for that time, though ſilence and darkneſs in themſelves, and not ſuddenly introduced, are very favourable to it. This I knew only by conjecture on the analogy of the ſenſes when I firſt digeſted theſe obſervations; but I have ſince experienced it. And I have often experienced, and ſo have a thouſand others; that on the firſt declining towards ſleep, we have been ſuddenly awaked with a moſt violent ſtart; and that this ſtart was generally preceded by a ſort of dream of our falling down a precipice: whence does this ſtrange motion ariſe; but from the too ſudden relaxation of the body, which by ſome mechaniſm in nature reſtores itſelf by as quick and vigorous an exertion of the contracting power of the muſcles? the dream itſelf is cauſed by this relaxation; [Page 148] and it is of too uniform nature to be attributed to any other cauſe. The parts relax ſoo ſuddenly, which is in the nature of falling; and this accident of the body induces this image in the mind. When we are in a confirmed ſtate of health and vigour, as all changes are then leſs violent with us, we can ſeldom complain of this diſagreeable ſenſation.
THOUGH the effects of black be painful originally, we muſt not think they always continue ſo. Cuſtom reconciles us to every thing. After we have been uſed to the ſight of black objects, the terror abates, and the ſmoothneſs or gloſſineſs or ſome agreeable accident of bodies ſo coloured, ſoftens in ſome meaſure the horror and ſternneſs of their original nature; yet the nature of the original impreſſion ſtill continues. Black will always have ſomething melancholy in it, becauſe the ſenſory will always find the change to it from other colours too violent; or if it occupy the whole compaſs of the ſight, it will then be darkneſs; and what was ſaid of darkneſs, will be applicable here. I do not purpoſe to go [Page 149] into all that might be ſaid to illuſtrate this theory of the effects of light and darkneſs; neither will I examine all the different effects produced by the various modifications and mixtures of theſe two cauſes. If the foregoing obſervations have any foundation in nature, I conceive them very ſufficient to account for all the phaenomena that can ariſe from all the combinations of black with other colours. To enter into every particular, or to anſwer every objection, would be an endleſs labour. We have only followed the moſt leading roads and we ſhall obſerve the ſame conduct in our enquiry into the cauſe of beauty.
WHEN we have before us ſuch objects as excite love and complacency, the body is affected, ſo far as I could obſerve, much in the following manner. The head reclines ſomething on one ſide; the eyelids are more cloſed than uſual, and the eyes roll gently with an inclination to the object, the mouth is a little opened, and the breath drawn ſlowly, with now and then a low ſigh: the whole body is compoſed, and the hands fall [Page 150] idly to the ſides. All this is accompanied with an inward ſenſe of melting and languor. Theſe appearances are always proportioned to the degree of beauty in the object, and of ſenſibility in the obſerver. And this gradation from the higheſt pitch of beauty and ſenſibility, even to the loweſt of mediocrity and indifference, and their correſpondent effects, ought to be kept in view, elſe this deſcription will ſeem exaggerated, which it certainly is not. But from this deſcription it is almoſt impoſſible not to conclude, that beauty acts by relaxing the ſolids of the whole ſyſtem. There are all the appearances of ſuch a relaxation; and a relaxation ſomewhat below the natural tone ſeems to me to be the cauſe of all poſitive pleaſure. This will, I conceive, appear beyond any reaſonable doubt, if we can ſhew that ſuch things as we have already obſerved to be the genuine conſtituents of beauty, have each of them ſeparately taken a natural tendency to relax the fibres. And if it be allowed us, that the appearance of the human body, when all theſe properties are united together before the ſenſory, further favours this opinion, we may venture, I believe, to conclude, that the paſſion called love is produced by this relaxation. By the ſame method of reaſoning, which we have uſed in the enquiry into [Page 151] the cauſes of the ſublime, we may likewiſe conclude, that as a beautiful object preſented to the ſenſe, by cauſing a relaxation in the body, produces the paſſion of love in the mind; ſo if by any means the paſſion ſhould firſt have its origin in the mind, a relaxation of the outward organs will as certainly enſue in a degree proportioned to the cauſe.
IT is to explain the true cauſe of viſual beauty, that I call in the aſſiſtance of the other ſenſes. If it appears that ſmoothneſs is a principal cauſe of pleaſure to the touch, taſte, ſmell, and hearing, it will be eaſily admitted a conſtituent of viſual beauty, eſpecially as we have before ſhewn, that this quality is found almoſt without exception in all bodies that are by general conſent held beautiful. Now with reſpect to the ſenſe of feeling, there can be no doubt that bodies which are rough and angular, rouſe and vellicate the parts, cauſing a ſenſe of pain, which conſiſts in the violent tenſion or contraction of the muſcular fibres. On the contrary, the application of ſmooth bodies relax; gentle ſtroking with a ſmooth hand allays [Page 152] violent pains and cramps, and relaxes the ſuffering parts from their unnatural tenſion; and it has therefore very often no mean effect in removing ſwellings and obſtructions. The ſenſe of feeling is highly gratified with ſmooth bodies. A bed ſmoothly laid, and ſoft, that is, where the reſiſtance is every way inconſiderable, is a great luxury, diſpoſing to an univerſal relaxation, and inducing beyond any thing elſe, that ſpecies of it called ſleep.
NOR is it only in the touch, that ſmooth bodies cauſe poſitive pleaſure by relaxation. In the ſmell and taſte, we find all things agreeable to them, and which are commonly called ſweet, to be of a ſmooth nature, and that they all evidently tend to relax their reſpective ſenſories. Let us firſt conſider the taſte. Since it is moſt eaſy to enquire into the property of liquids, and ſince all things ſeem to want a fluid vehicle to make them taſted at all, I intend rather to conſider the liquid than the ſolid parts of our food. The vehicles of all taſtes are water and oil. [Page 153] And what determines the taſte is ſome ſalt, which affects variouſly according to its nature, or its manner of being combined with other things. Water and oil ſimply conſidered are capable of giving ſome pleaſure to the taſte. Water, when ſimple, is inſipid, inodorous, colourleſs, and ſmooth, it is found when not cold to be a great reſolver of ſpaſms, and lubricator of the fibres; this power it probably owes to its ſmoothneſs. For as fluidity depends, according to the moſt general opinion, on the roundneſs, ſmoothneſs, and weak coheſion of the component parts of any body; and as water acts merely as a ſimple fluid, it follows, that the cauſe of its fluidity is likewiſe the cauſe of its relaxing quality; namely, the ſmoothneſs and ſlippery texture of its parts. The other fluid vehicle of taſtes is oil. This too, when ſimple, is ſomewhat inſipid, inodorous, colourleſs, and ſmooth to the touch and taſte. It is ſmoother than water, and in many caſes yet more relaxing. Oil is in ſome degree pleaſant to the eye, the touch and the taſte, inſipid as it is. Water is not ſo grateful, which I do not know on what principle to account for, other than that that water is not ſo ſoft and ſmooth. Suppoſe that to this oil or water were added a certain quantity of a ſpecific ſalt, which had a power of putting [Page 154] the nervous papillae of the tongue into a gentle vibratory motion; as ſuppoſe ſugar diſſolved in it. The ſmoothneſs of the oil, and the vibratory power of the ſalt, cauſe the ſenſe we call ſweetneſs. In all ſweet bodies, ſugar, or a ſubſtance very little different from ſugar, is conſtantly found; every ſpecies of ſalt examined by the microſcope has its own diſtinct, regular, invariable form. That of nitre is a pointed oblong; that of ſea ſalt an exact cube; that of ſugar a perfect globe. If you have tried how ſmooth globular bodies, as the marbles with which boys amuſe themſelves, have affected the touch when they are rolled backward and forward and over one another, you will eaſily conceive how ſweetneſs, which conſiſts in a ſalt of ſuch nature, affects the taſte; for a ſingle globe, though ſomewhat pleaſant to the feeling, by the regularity of its form, and the ſomewhat too ſudden deviation of its parts from a right line, is nothing near ſo pleaſant to the touch as ſeveral globes, where the hand gently riſes to one and falls to another; and this pleaſure is greatly increaſed if the globes are in motion, and ſliding over one another; for this ſoft variety prevents that wearineſs, which the uniform diſpoſition of the ſeveral globes would otherwiſe produce. Thus in ſweet liquors, the parts of the fluid vehicle [Page 155] though moſt probably round, are yet ſo minute as to conceal the figure of their component parts from the niceſt inquiſition of the microſcope; and conſequently being ſo exceſſively minute, they have a ſort of flat ſimplicity to the taſte, reſembling the effects of plain ſmooth bodies to the touch; for if a body be compoſed of round parts exceſſively ſmall, and packed pretty cloſely together, the ſurface will be both to the ſight and touch as if it were nearly plain and ſmooth. It is clear from their unveiling their figure to the microſcope, that the particles of ſugar are conſiderably larger than thoſe of water or oil, and conſequently that their effects from their roundneſs will be more diſtinct and palpable to the nervous papillae of that nice organ the tongue: they will induce that ſenſe called ſweetneſs, which in a weak manner we diſcover in oil, and in a yet weaker in water; for inſipid as they are, water and oil are in ſome degree ſweet; and it may be obſerved, that inſipid things of all kinds approach more nearly to the nature of ſweetneſs than to that of any other taſte.
IN the other ſenſes we have remarked, that ſmooth things are relaxing. Now it ought to appear that ſweet things, which are the ſmooth of taſte, are relaxing too. That ſweet things are generally ſo is evident, becauſe all ſuch, eſpecially thoſe which are moſt oily, taken frequently or in a large quantity, very much enfeeble the tone of the ſtomach. Sweet ſmells, which bear a great affinity to ſweet taſtes, relax very remarkably. The ſmell of flowers diſpoſes people to drowſineſs; and this relaxing effect is further apparent from the prejudice which people of weak nerves receive from their uſe. It were worth while to examine, whether taſtes of this kind, ſweet ones, taſtes that are cauſed by ſmooth oils and a relaxing ſalt are not the originally pleaſant taſtes. For many which uſe has rendered ſuch, were not at all agreeable at firſt. The way to examine this is, to try what nature has originally provided for us, which ſhe has undoubtedly made originally pleaſant: and to analyſe this proviſion. Milk is the firſt ſupport of our childhood. The component parts of this are water, oil, [Page 157] and a ſort of a very ſweet ſalt called the ſugar of milk. All theſe when blended have a great ſmoothneſs to the taſte, and a relaxing quality to the ſkin. The next thing children covet is fruit, and of fruits, thoſe principally which are ſweet; and every one knows that the ſweetneſs of fruit is cauſed by a ſubtle oil and ſuch a ſalt as that mentioned in the laſt ſection. Afterwards, cuſtom, habit, the deſire of novelty, and a thouſand other cauſes, ſo mix, adulterate, and change our palates, that we can no longer reaſon with any ſatisfaction about them. Before we quit this article we muſt obſerve; that as ſmooth things are, as ſuch, agreeable to the taſte, and are found of a relaxing quality; ſo on the other hand, things which are found by experience to be of a ſtrengthening quality, and fit to brace the fibres, are almoſt univerſally rough and pungent to the taſte, and in many caſes rough even to the touch. We often apply the quality of ſweetneſs, metaphorically, to viſual objects. For the better carrying on this remarkable analogy of the ſenſes, we may here call ſweetneſs the beautiful of the taſte.
ANOTHER principal property of beautiful objects is, that the line of their parts is continually varying its direction; but it varies it by a very inſenſible deviation, it never varies it ſo quickly as to ſurpriſe, or by the ſharpneſs of its angle to cauſe any twitching or convulſion of the optic nerve. Nothing long continued in the ſame manner, nothing very ſuddenly varied can be beautiful; becauſe both are oppoſite to that agreeable relaxation, which is the characteriſtic effect of beauty. It is thus in all the ſenſes. A motion in a right line, is that manner of moving next to a very gentle deſcent, in which we meet the leaſt reſiſtance, yet it is not that manner of moving, which next to a deſcent, wearies us the leaſt. Reſt certainly tends to relax; yet there is a ſpecies of motion which relaxes more than reſt; a gentle oſcillatory motion, a riſing and falling. Rocking ſets children to ſleep better than abſolute reſt; there is indeed ſcarce any thing at that age, which gives more pleaſure than to be gently lifted up and down; the manner of playing which their nurſes uſe [Page 159] with children, and the weighing and ſwinging uſed afterwards by themſelves as a favourite amuſement, evince this very ſufficiently. Moſt people muſt have obſerved the ſort of ſenſe they have had, on being ſwiftly drawn in an eaſy coach, on a ſmooth turf, with gradual aſcents and declivities. This will give a better idea of the beautiful, and point out its probable cauſe better than almoſt any thing elſe. On the contrary; when one is hurried over a rough, rocky, broken road, the pain felt by theſe ſudden inequalities ſhews why ſimilar ſights, feelings and ſounds, are ſo contrary to beauty; and with regard to the feeling, it is exactly the ſame in its effect, or very nearly the ſame, whether, for inſtance, I move my hand along the ſurface of a body of a certain ſhape, or whether ſuch a body is moved along my hand. But to bring this analogy of the ſenſes home to the eye; if a body preſented to that ſenſe has ſuch a waving ſurface that the rays of light reflected from it are in a continual inſenſible deviation from the ſtrongeſt to the weakeſt, which is always the caſe in a ſurface gradually unequal, it muſt be exactly ſimilar in its effect on the eye and touch; one of which operates on it directly, on the other indirectly. And this body will be beautiful if the lines which compoſe its ſurface are not [Page 160] continued, even ſo varied, in a manner that may weary or diſſipate the attention.
TO avoid a ſameneſs which may ariſe from the too frequent repetition of the ſame reaſonings, and of illuſtrations of the ſame nature, I will not enter very minutely into every particular that regards beauty, as it is founded on the diſpoſition of its quantity, or its quantity itſelf. In ſpeaking of the magnitude of bodies there is great uncertainty, becauſe the ideas of great and ſmall, are terms almoſt entirely relative to the ſpecies of the objects, which are infinite. It is true, that having once fixed the ſpecies of any object, and the dimenſions common in the individuals of that ſpecies, we may obſerve ſome that exceed, and ſome that fall ſhort of the ordinary ſtandard: theſe which greatly exceed, are by that exceſs, provided the ſpecies itſelf be not very ſmall, rather great and terrible than beautiful; but as in the animal world, and in a good meaſure in the vegetable world likewiſe, the qualities that conſtitute beauty may poſſibly be united to things of greater dimenſions; [Page 161] when they are ſo united they conſtitute a ſpecies ſomething different both from the ſublime and beautiful, which I have before called Fine; but this kind I imagine has not ſuch a power on the paſſions, either as vaſt bodies have which are endued with the correſpondent qualities of the ſublime; or as the qualities of beauty have when united in a ſmall object. The affection produced by large bodies adorned with the ſpoils of beauty, is a tenſion continually relieved; which approaches nearer to the nature of mediocrity. But if I were to ſay how I find myſelf affected upon ſuch occaſions, I ſhould ſay, that the ſublime ſuffers leſs by being united to ſome of the qualities of beauty, than beauty does by being joined to greatneſs of quantity, or any other properties of the ſublime. There is ſomething ſo over-ruling in whatever inſpires us with awe, in all things which belong ever ſo remotely to terror, that nothing elſe can ſtand in their preſence. There lie the qualities of beauty either dead and unoperative; or at moſt exerted to mollify the rigour and ſternneſs of the terror, which is the natural concomitant of greatneſs. Beſides the extraordinary great in every ſpecies, the oppoſite to this, the dwarfiſh and diminutive ought to be conſidered. Littleneſs, merely as ſuch, has nothing contrary to the idea of beauty. The humming bird both [Page 162] in ſhape and colouring yields to none of the winged ſpecies, of which it is the leaſt; and perhaps his beauty is enhanced by his ſmallneſs. But there are animals, which when they are extremely ſmall are rarely (if ever) beautiful. There is a dwarfiſh ſize of men and women, which is almoſt conſtantly ſo groſs and maſſive in compariſon of their height, that they preſent us with a very diſagreeable image. But if a man was found not above two or three feet high, ſuppoſing ſuch a perſon to have all the parts of his body of a delicacy ſuitable to ſuch a ſize, and otherwiſe endued with the common qualities of other beautiful bodies; I am pretty well convinced that a perſon of ſuch a ſtature might well be conſidered as beautiful; might be the object of love; might give us very pleaſing ideas on viewing him. The only thing which could poſſibly interpoſe to check this pleaſure is, that ſuch creatures, however formed, are unuſual, and are often therefore conſidered as ſomething monſtrous. The large and gigantic, though very compatible with the ſublime, is contrary to the beautiful. It is impoſſible to ſuppoſe a giant to be the object of love. When we let our imaginations looſe in romance, the ideas we naturally annex to that ſize are thoſe of tyranny, cruelty, injuſtice, and every thing horrid [Page 163] and abominable. We paint the giant ravaging the country, plundering the innocent traveller, and afterwards gorging himſelf with his half-living fleſh: ſuch are Polyphemus, Cacus, and others, who make ſuch a figure in romances and heroic poems. The event we attend to with the greateſt ſatisfaction is their defeat and death. I do not remember in all that multitude of deaths with which the Iliad is filled, that the fall of any man remarkable for his great ſtature and ſtrength touches us with pity; nor does it appear that the author, ſo well read in human nature, ever intended it ſhould. It is Simoiſius in the ſoft bloom of youth, torn from his parents, who tremble for a courage ſo ill ſuited to his ſtrength; it is another hurried by war from the new embraces of his bride; young, and fair, and a novice to the field, who melts us by his untimely fate. Achilles, in ſpite of the many qualities of beauty which Homer has beſtowed on his outward form, and the many great virtues with which he has adorned his mind, can never make us love him. It may be obſerved, that Homer has given the Trojans, whoſe fate he has deſigned to excite our compaſſion, infinitely more of the amiable ſocial virtues than he has diſtributed among his Greeks. With regard to the Trojans, the [Page 164] paſſion he chuſes to raiſe is pity; a paſſion founded on love; and theſe leſſer, and if I may ſay, domeſtic virtues, are by far the moſt amiable. But he has made the Greeks far their ſuperiors in the politic and military virtues. The councils of Priam are weak; the arms of Hector comparatively feeble; his courage far below that of Achilles. Yet we love Priam more than Agamemnon, and Hector more than his conqueror Achilles. Admiration is the paſſion which Homer would excite in favour of the Greeks, and he has done it by beſtowing on them the virtues which have but little to do with love. This ſhort digreſſion is perhaps not wholly beſide our purpoſe, where our buſineſs is to ſhew, that objects of great dimenſions are incompatible with beauty, the more incompatible as they are greater; whereas the ſmall, if ever they fail of beauty, this failure is not to be attributed to their ſize.
WITH regard to colour, the diſquiſition is almoſt infinite; but I conceive the principles laid down in the beginning of this part are ſufficient to account for [Page 165] the effects of them all, as well as for the agreeable effect of tranſparent bodies, whether fluid or ſolid. Suppoſe I look at a bottle of muddy liquor, of a blue or red colour, the blue or red rays cannot paſs clearly to the eye, but are ſuddenly and unequally ſtopped by the intervention of little opaque bodies, which without preparation change the idea, and change it too into one diſagreeable in its own nature, conformable to the principles laid down in ſect. 24. But when the ray paſſes without ſuch oppoſition through the glaſs or liquor, when the glaſs or liquor are quite tranſparent, the light is ſomething ſoftened in the paſſage, which makes it more agreeable even as light; and the liquor reflecting all the rays of its proper colour evenly, it has ſuch an effect on the eye, as ſmooth opaque bodies have on the eye and touch. So that the pleaſure here is compounded of the ſoftneſs of the tranſmitted, and the evenneſs of the reflected light. This pleaſure may be heightened by the common principles in other things, if the ſhape of the glaſs which holds the tranſparent liquor be ſo judiciouſly varied, as to preſent the colour gradually and interchangeably weakened and ſtrengthened with all that variety which judgment in affairs of this nature ſhall ſuggeſt. On a review of all that has been ſaid of the effects, [Page 166] as well as the cauſes of both; it will appear, that the ſublime and beautiful are built on principles very different, and that their affections are as different: the great has terror for its baſis; which, when it is modified, cauſes that emotion in the mind, which I have called aſtoniſhment; the beautiful is founded on mere poſitive pleaſure, and excites in the ſoul that feeling, which is called love. Their cauſes have made the ſubject of this fourth part.
NATURAL things affect us, by the laws of that connexion, which providence has eſtabliſhed between certain motions and configurations of bodies, and certain conſequent feelings in our minds. Painting affects in the ſame manner, but with the ſuperadded pleaſure of imitation; architecture affects by the laws of nature, and the law of reaſon; from which latter reſult the rules of proportion, which make a work to be praiſed or cenſured, in the whole or in ſome [Page 168] part, when the end for which it was deſigned is or is not properly anſwered. But as to words; they ſeem to me to affect us in a manner very different from that in which we are affected by natural things, or by painting or architecture; yet words have as conſiderable a ſhare in exciting ideas of beauty and of the ſublime as any of theſe, and ſometimes a much greater than any of them; therefore an enquiry into the manner by which they excite ſuch emotions is far from being unneceſſary in a diſcourſe of this kind.
THE common notion of the power of poetry and eloquence, as well as that of words in ordinary converſation, is; that they affect the mind by raiſing in it ideas of thoſe things for which cuſtom has appointed them to ſtand. To examine the truth of this notion, it may be requiſite to obſerve that words may be divided into three ſorts; the firſt are ſuch as repreſent many ſimple ideas united by nature to form ſome one determinate compoſition, as man, horſe, tree, caſtle, &c. Theſe I call [Page 169] aggregate words. The ſecond, are they that ſtand for ſome one ſimple idea of ſuch compoſitions and no more, as red, blue, round, ſquare, and the like; theſe I call ſimple abſtract words. The third, are thoſe, which are formed by an union, an arbitrary union of both the others, and of various relations concerning them, in greater or leſſer degrees of complexity, as virtue, honour, perſuaſion, magiſtrate, and the like; theſe I call compounded abſtract words. Words, I am ſenſible, are capable of being claſſed into more curious diſtinctions; but theſe ſeem to be natural, and enough for our purpoſe; and they are diſpoſed in that order in which they are commonly taught, and in which the mind gets the ideas they are ſubſtituted for. I ſhall begin with the third ſort of words; compound abſtracts, ſuch as virtue, honour, perſuaſion, docility; of theſe I am convinced, that whatever power they may have on the paſſions, they do not derive it from any repreſentation raiſed in the mind of the things for which they ſtand. As compoſitions, they are not real eſſences, and hardly cauſe, I think, any real ideas. No body, I believe, immediately on hearing the ſounds, virtue, liberty, or honour, conceives any preciſe notion of the particular modes of action and thinking, together with the mixt and [Page 170] ſimple ideas, and the ſeveral relations of them for which theſe words are ſubſtituted; neither has he any general idea, compounded of them; for if he had, then ſome of thoſe particular ones, though indiſtinct perhaps, and confuſed, might come ſoon to be perceived. But this, I take it, is hardly ever the caſe. For put yourſelf upon analyſing one of theſe words, and you muſt reduce it from one ſet of general words to another, and then into the ſimple abſtracts and aggregates, in a much longer ſeries than may be at firſt imagined, before any real idea emerges to light, and before you come to diſcover any thing like the firſt principles of ſuch compoſitions; and when you have made ſuch a diſcovery of the original ideas, the effect of the compoſition is utterly loſt. A train of thinking of this ſort, is much too long to be purſued in the ordinary ways of converſation, nor is it at all neceſſary that it ſhould. Such words are in reality but mere ſounds; but they are ſounds, which being uſed on particular occaſions, wherein we receive ſome good, or ſuffer ſome evil, or ſee others affected with good or evil, or that we hear applied to other intereſting things or events, and which being applied in ſuch a variety of caſes that we know readily by habit to what things they belong, they produce in the mind, [Page 171] whenever they are afterwards mentioned, effects ſimilar to thoſe of their occaſions. The ſounds being often uſed without reference to any particular occaſion, and carrying ſtill their firſt impreſſions, they at laſt utterly loſe their connection with the particular occaſions that [...]ave riſe to them; yet the ſound without any annexed notion continues to operate as before.
MR. Locke has ſomewhere obſerved with his uſual ſagacity, that moſt general words, thoſe belonging to virtue and vice, good and evil, eſpecially, are taught before the particular modes of action to which they belong are preſented to the mind; and with them, the love of the one, and the abhorrence of the other; for the minds of children are ſo ductile, that a nurſe, or any perſon about a child, by ſeeming pleaſed or diſpleaſed with any thing, or even any word, may give the diſpoſition of the child a ſimilar turn. When afterwards, the ſeveral occurrences in life come to be applied to theſe words; and that which is pleaſant often appears under the name of evil; and what is diſagreeable to nature is [Page 172] called good and virtuous; a ſtrange confuſion of ideas and affections ariſes in the minds of many; and an appearance of no ſmall contradiction between their notions and their actions. There are many, who love virtue, and who deteſt vice, and this not from hypocriſy or affectation, who notwithſtanding this very frequently act ill and wickedly in particulars without the leaſt remorſe; becauſe theſe particular occaſions never came into view, when the paſſions on the ſide of virtue were ſo warmly affected by certain words heated originally by the breath of others; and for this reaſon, it is hard to repeat certain ſets of words, though owned by themſelves unoperative, without being in ſome degree affected, eſpecially if a warm and affecting tone of voice accompanies them, as ſuppoſe, ‘Wiſe, valiant, generous, good and great.’ Theſe words, by having no application, ought to be unoperative; but when words commonly ſacred to great occaſions are uſed, we are affected by them even without the occaſions. When words which have been generally ſo applied are put together without any rational view, or in ſuch a manner that they do not rightly agree with each other, the ſtile [Page 173] is called bombaſt. And it requires in ſeveral caſes much good ſenſe and experience to be guarded againſt the force of ſuch language; becauſe the more that propriety is neglected, the greater number of theſe affecting words may be taken into the ſervice, and the greater variety may be indulged in combining them.
IF words have all their poſſible extent of power, three effects ariſe in the mind of the hearer. The firſt is, the ſound; the ſecond, the picture, or repreſentation of the thing ſignified by the ſound; the third is, the affection of the ſoul produced by one or by both of the foregoing. Compounded abſtract words, of which we have been ſpeaking, (honour, juſtice, liberty, and the like,) produce the firſt and the laſt of theſe effects, but not the ſecond. Simple abſtracts, are uſed to ſignify ſome one ſimple idea without much adverting to others which may chance to attend it, as blue, green, hot, cold, and the like; theſe are capable of affecting all three of the purpoſes of words; as the aggregate words, man, caſtle, horſe, &c. are in a yet higher degree. [Page 174] But I am of opinion, that the moſt general effect even of theſe words, does not ariſe from their forming pictures of the ſeveral things they would repreſent in the imagination; becauſe on a very diligent examination of my own mind, and getting others to conſider theirs, I do not find that once in twenty times any ſuch picture is formed, and when it is, there is moſt commonly a particular effort of the imagination for that purpoſe. But the aggregate words operate as I ſaid of the compound abſtracts, not by preſenting any image to the mind, but by having from uſe the ſame effect on being mentioned, that their original has when it is ſeen. Suppoſe we were to read a paſſage to this effect. "The river Danube riſes in a moiſt and mountainous ſoil in the heart of Germany, where winding too and fro it waters ſeveral principalities, until turning into Auſtria and leaving the walls of Vienna it paſſes into Hungary; there with a vaſt flood augmented by the Saave and the Drave it quits Chriſtendom, and rolling through the barbarous countries which border on Tartary, it enters by many mouths into the Black ſea." In this deſcription many things are mentioned, as mountains, rivers, cities, the ſea, &c. But let any body examine himſelf, and ſee whether he [Page 175] has had impreſſed on his imagination any pictures of a river, mountain, watery ſoil, Germany, &c. Indeed it is impoſſible, in the rapidity and quick ſucceſſion of words in converſation, to have ideas both of the ſound of the word, and of the thing repreſented; beſides, ſome words expreſſing real eſſences, are ſo mixed with others of a general and nominal import, that it is impracticable to jump from ſenſe to thought, from particulars to generals, from things to words, in ſuch a manner as to anſwer the purpoſes of life; nor is it neceſſary that we ſhould.
I Find it very hard to perſuade ſeveral that their paſſions are affected by words from whence they have no ideas; and yet harder to convince them, that in the ordinary courſe of converſation we are ſufficiently underſtood without raiſing any images of the things concerning which we ſpeak. It ſeems to be an odd ſubject of diſpute with any man, whether he has ideas in his mind or not. Of this at firſt view, every man, in his own forum, [Page 176] ought to judge without appeal. But ſtrange as it may appear, we are often at a loſs to know what ideas we have of things, or whether we have any ideas at all upon ſome ſubjects. It even requires ſome attention to be thoroughly ſatisfied on this head. Since I wrote theſe papers I found two very ſtriking inſtances of the poſſibility there is, that a man may hear words without having any idea of the things which they repreſent, and yet afterwards be capable of returning them to others, combined in a new way, and with great propriety, energy and inſtruction. The firſt inſtance, is that of Mr. Blacklock, a poet blind from his birth. Few men bleſſed with the moſt perfect ſight can deſcribe viſual objects with more ſpirit and juſtneſs than this blind man; which cannot poſſibly be owing to his having a clearer conception of the things he deſcribes than is common to other perſons. Mr. Spence, in an elegant preface which he has written to the works of this poet, reaſons very ingeniouſly, and I imagine for the moſt part very rightly upon the cauſe of this extraordinary phenomenon; but I cannot altogether agree with him, that ſome improprieties in language and thought which occur in theſe poems have ariſen from the blind poet's imperect conception of viſual objects, ſince ſuch improprieties, and much [Page 177] greater, may be found in writers even of an higher claſs than Mr. Blacklock, and who, notwithſtanding, poſſeſſed the faculty of ſeeing in its full perfection. Here is a poet doubtleſs as much affected by his own deſcriptions as any that reads them can be; and yet he is affected with this ſtrong enthuſiaſm by things of which he neither has, nor can poſſibly have any idea further than that of a bare ſound; and why may not thoſe who read his works be affected in the ſame manner that he was, with as little of any real ideas of the things deſcribed? The ſecond inſtance is of Mr. Saunderſon, profeſſor of mathematics in the univerſity of Cambridge. This learned man had acquired great knowledge in natural philoſophy, in aſtronomy, and whatever ſciences depend upon mathematical ſkill. What was the moſt extraordinary, and the moſt to my purpoſe, he gave excellent lectures upon light and colours; and this man taught others the theory of thoſe ideas which they had, and which he himſelf undoubtedly had not. But the truth is, that the words red, blue, green, anſwered to him as well as the ideas of the colours themſelves; for the ideas of greater or leſſer degrees of refrangibility being applied to theſe words, and the blind man being inſtructed in what other reſpects they were found to agree or to [Page 178] diſagree, it was as eaſy for him to reaſon upon the words as if he had been fully maſter of the ideas. Indeed it muſt be owned he could make no new diſcoveries in the way of experiment. He did nothing but what we do every day in common diſcourſe. When I wrote this laſt ſentence, and uſed the words every day and common diſcourſe, I had no images in my mind of any ſucceſſion of time; nor of men in conference with each other; nor do I imagine that the reader will have any ſuch ideas on reading it. Neither when I ſpoke of red, blue, and green, as well as of refrangibility; had I theſe ſeveral colours, or the rays of light paſſing into a different medium, and there diverted from their courſe, painted before me in the way of images. I know very well that the mind poſſeſſes a faculty of raiſing ſuch images at pleaſure; but then an act of the will is neceſſary to this; and in ordinary converſation or reading it is very rarely that any image at all is excited in the mind. If I ſay, "I ſhall go to Italy next ſummer," I am well underſtood. Yet I believe no body has by this painted in his imagination the exact figure of the ſpeaker paſſing by land or by water, or both; ſometimes on horſeback, ſometimes in a carriage; with all the particulars of the journey. Still leſs has he any idea of Italy, the country to [Page 179] which I propoſed to go; or of the greenneſs of the fields, the ripening of the fruits, and the warmth of the air, with the change to this from a different ſeaſon, which are the ideas for which the word ſummer is ſubſtituted; but leaſt of all has he any image from the word next; for this word ſtands for the idea of many ſummers, with the excluſion of all but one: and ſurely the man who ſays next ſummer, has no images of ſuch a ſucceſſion, and ſuch an excluſion. In ſhort, it is not only of thoſe ideas which are commonly called abſtract, and of which no image at all can be formed, but even of particular real beings, that we converſe without having any idea of them excited in the imagination; as will certainly appear on a diligent examination of our own minds.
HENCE we may obſerve that poetry, taken in it's moſt general ſenſe, cannot with ſtrict propriety be called an art of imitation. It is indeed an imitation ſo far as it deſcribes the manners and paſſions of men, which their words can expreſs; where animi motus [Page 180] effert interprete lingua. There it is ſtrictly imitation; and all merely dramatic poetry is of this ſort. But deſcriptive poetry operates chiefly by ſubſtitution; by the means of ſounds, which by cuſtom have the effect of realities. Nothing is an imitation further than as it reſembles ſome other thing; and words undoubtedly have no ſort of reſemblance to the ideas for which they ſtand.
NOW, as words affect, not by any original power, but by repreſentation, it might be ſuppoſed, that their influence over the paſſions ſhould be but light; yet it is quite otherwiſe; for we find by experience that eloquence and poetry are as capable, nay indeed much more capable of making deep and lively impreſſions than any other arts, and even than nature itſelf in very many caſes. And this ariſes chiefly from theſe three cauſes. Firſt, that we take an extraordinary part in the paſſions of others, and that we are eaſily affected and brought into ſympathy by any tokens which are ſhewn of them; and there are no tokens which can expreſs all the circumſtances [Page 181] of moſt paſſions ſo fully as words; ſo that if a perſon ſpeaks upon any ſubject, he can not only convey the ſubject to you, but likewiſe the manner in which he is himſelf affected by it. Certain it is, that the influence of moſt things on our paſſions is not ſo much from the things themſelves, as from our opinions concerning them; and theſe again depend very much on the opinions of other men, conveyable for the moſt part by words only. Secondly; there are many things of a very affecting nature, which can ſeldom occur in the reality, but the words which repreſent them often do; and thus they have an opportunity of making a deep impreſſion and taking root in the mind, whilſt the idea of the reality was tranſient; and to ſome perhaps never really occurred in any ſhape, to whom it is notwithſtanding very affecting, as war, death, famine, &c. Beſides, many ideas have never been at all preſented to the ſenſes of any men but by words, as God, angels, devils, heaven and hell, all of which have however a great influence over the paſſions. Thirdly; by words we have it in our power to make ſuch combinations as we cannot poſſibly do otherwiſe. By this power of combining we can, by the addition of well-choſen circumſtances, give a new life and force to the ſimple object. In painting we may repreſent [Page 182] any fine figure we pleaſe; but we never can give it thoſe enlivening touches which it may receive from words. To repreſent an angel in a picture, you can only draw a beautiful young man winged; but what painting can furniſh out any thing ſo grand as the addition of one word, "the angel of the Lord?" It is true, I have here no clear idea, but theſe words affect the mind more than the ſenſible image did, which is all I contend for. A picture of Priam dragged to the altar's foot, and there murdered, if it were well executed would undoubtedly be very moving; but there are very aggravating circumſtances, which it could never repreſent. ‘ Sanguine foedantem quos ipſe ſacraverat ignes. ’ As a further inſtance, let us conſider thoſe lines of Milton, where he deſcribes the travels of the fallen angels through their diſmal habitation,
[Page 183] Here is diſplayed the force of union in ‘Rocks, caves, lakes, dens, bogs, fens and ſhades;’ which yet would loſe the greateſt part of their effect, if they were not the ‘Rocks, caves, lakes, dens, bogs, fens and ſhades— —of death.’ This idea or affection cauſed by a word, which nothing but a word could annex to the others, raiſes a very great degree of the ſublime; and it is raiſed yet higher by what follows, a "univerſe of death." Here are again two ideas not preſentible but by language; and an union of them great and amazing beyond conception. Whoever attentively conſiders this paſſage of Milton, and indeed all of the beſt and moſt affecting deſcriptions of poetry, will find, that it does not in general produce its end by raiſing the images of things, but by exciting a paſſion ſimilar to that which real objects excite by other inſtruments. And in proportion as words of a ſublime effect, or words which are uſed to expreſs the objects of love and tenderneſs, are joined in a manner found by experience the beſt for theſe purpoſes; in that proportion the moſt perfect [Page 184] kinds of the ſublime and beautiful are formed in poetry. It compaſſes all its other ends in a manner analogous. It might be expected from the fertility of the ſubject, that I ſhould conſider poetry as it regards the ſublime and beautiful more at large; but it muſt be obſerved that this matter has been handled by many authors before. It was not my deſign to enter into the criticiſm of the ſublime and beautiful in any art, but to attempt to lay down ſuch principles as may tend to aſcertain, to diſtingu [...]ſh, and to form a ſort of ſtandard for them; which purpoſes I thought might be beſt effected by an enquiry into the properties of ſuch things in nature as raiſe love and aſtoniſhment in us; and in what manner they operated to produce theſe paſſions. Words were only ſo far to be conſidered, as to ſhew upon what principle they were capable of being the repreſentatives of theſe natural things, and by what powers they were able to affect us often as ſtrongly as things in nature do, and ſometimes much more ſtrongly.— O'er many a dark and dreary valeThey paſs'd, and many a region dolorous.O'er many a frozen, many a fiery Alp.Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens and ſhades of death.A univerſe of death.