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ELEMENTS

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CRITICISM*

CHAP. X.
Coiigruity and Propriety.

MAN is distinguished from the brute creation, not more remarkably by the superiority of his rational faculties, than by the greater delicacy of his perceptions and feelings. With respect to the gross pleasures of fense, man probably has little superiority over other animals. Some obscure perception of beauty may also fall to their share. But they are probably not acquainted with the more delicate conceptions of regularity, order, uniformity, or congruity.

A 2 Such Such refined conceptions, being connected with morality and religion, are reserved to dignify the chief of the terrestrial creation. Upon this account, no discipline is more suitable to man, or more congruous to the dignity of his nature, than that by which his taste is refined, to distinguish in every subject, what is regular, what is orderfy, what is suitable, and what is fit and proper *.

No discerning person can be at a loss about the meaning of the terms congruity and propriety, when applied to dress, behaviour, or language j that a decent garb, for example, is proper for a judge, modest behaviour for a young woman, and a lofty *v :• - - . - • '- o. .Uill

..•* Nec vero ilia parva vis naturae est rationisque, quod unum hoc animal sentit quid sit ordo, quid sit quod deceat in factis dictisque, qui modus. Itaque eorum ipforum, quæ afpectu sentiuntar, nullum aliud animal, pulchritudinem, venastatem, convenkntiam partium,. sentit. Quam similitudinem natura ratioque ab oculis ad animum transferens, multo etiam magis pulchritudinem, constantiam, ordinem, in consiliis faÆsque conservandum putat, cavetque ne quid indecore effenii. jjateve faciat; turn in omnibus et opinionibus et factis ne quid .libidinose aut faciat aut cogitet. Quibus ex rebos conflatur et cfficitur id, quod qiraerimus, honestum. Cicero dt offieiis, I. u

style ifcyle for an epic poem. In the following examples every one is sensible of an unfuitableness or incongruity: a little woman funk in an overgrown farthingale, a coat richly embroidered covering coarse and dirty linen, a mean subject in an elevated style, or an elevated subject in a mean style, a first minister darning his wife's stocking, or a reverend prelate in lawn fleeves dancing a hornpipe. . * , :q

But it is not sufficient that these terms be understood in practice; the critical art requires, that their meaning be traced to its foundation in human nature. The relations that connect objects together, h&ve been examined in more than one view. Their influence in directing the train of our perceptions, is handled in the first chapter; and in the second, their influence in generating passion. Here they must be handled in a new view; for they are clearly the occasion of congruity and propriety. We are so framed by nature, as to require a certain suitableness or correspondence among things • connected by any relation. This suitableness or correspondence is termed congruity i.;vtr or or propriety; and the want of it, incongruity or impropriety. Among the many principles that compose the nature of man, a sense of congruity or propriety is one. Destitute of this fense, we could have no notion of congruity or propriety: the terms tot us would be unintelligible *. . i

As this fense is displayed upon relations, it is reasonable beforehand to expect, that

* From many things that pass current in the world without being generally condemned, one at first view would imagine, that the fense of congruity or propriety hath scarce any foundation in nature; and that it is rather an artificial refine-i ment of those who affect to distinguish themselves by a certain delicacy of taste and behaviour. The fulsome panegyrics bestowed upon the great and opulent, in epistles dedicatory and ether such compositions, lead naturally to that thought. Didi there prevail in the world, it will be said, or did nature suggest, a taste of what is suitable, decent, or proper, Would any good writer deal in such compositions, or any man of fense receive them without disgust? Can it be supposed, that. Lewis XIV. of France was endued by nature with any sense of propriety, when, in a dramatic performance purposely composed for his entertainment, he suffered himself, publicly and1 in his presence, to be styled the greatest king ever the earth produced? These it is true are strong facts; but luckily they do not prove the fense of propriety to be artificial. They only prove, that the fense of propriety is at times overpowered. by pride and vanity: which is no singular case, for this sometimes is the fate even of the fense of justice. . ...•

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