Изображения страниц


vation, is where the object is seen distinctly ; a greater elevation lessens in appearance the object, till it vanishes out of sight with its pleasant emotion. The same is equally remarkable in figurative grandeur and elevation, which shall be handled together, because, as observed above, they are scarce distinguishable. Sentiments may be so strained, as to become obscure, or to exceed the capacity of the human mind : against such licence of imagination every good writer will be upon his guard. And therefore it is of greater importance to observe, that even the true sublime may be carried beyond that pitch which produces the highest entertainment : we are undoubtedly susceptible of a greater elevation than can be inspired by human actions, the most heroic and magnanimous ; witness what we feel from Milton's description of superior beings : yet every man must be sensible of a more constant and sweet elevation, when the history of his own species is the subject; he enjoys an elevation equal to that of the greatest hero, of an Alexander or a Cæsar, of a Brutus or an Epaminondas; he accompanies these heroes in their sublimest sentiments and most hazardous exploits, with a magnanimity equal to theirs; and finds it no stretch to preserve the same tone of mind, for hours together, without sinking. The case is not the same in describing the actions or qualities of superior beings : the reader's imagination cannot keep pace with that of the poet; the mind, unable to support itself in a strained elevation, falls as if from a height; and the fall is immoderate, like the elevation : where that effect is not felt, it must be prevented by some obscurity in the conception, which frequently attends the description of unknown objects. Hence the St. Francises, St. Dominics, and other tutelary saints. among the Roman Catholics. A mind unable to raise itself to the Supreme Being self-existent and eternal, or to support itself in a strained elevation, finds itself more at ease in using the intercession of some saint whose piety and penances while on earth are supposed to have made him a favourite in heaven.

A strained elevation is attended with another inconvenience, that the author is apt to fall suddenly as well as the reader ; because it is not a little difficult, to descend sweetly and easily from such elevation, to the ordinary tone of the subject. The following passage is a good illustration of that observation :

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Sæpe etiam immensum cælo venit agmen aquarum,
Et fædam glomerant tempestatem imbribus atris
Conlectæ ex alto nubes. Ruit arduus æther,
Et pluvia ingenti sata læta boumqne labores
Diluit. Implentur fossæ, et cava fumina crescunt
Cum sonitu, fervetque fretis spirantibus æquor.
Ipse Pater, media nimborum in nocte, corusca
Fulmina molitur dextra. Quo maxima motu
Terra tremit: fugere feræ, et mortalia corda
Per gentes humilis stravit pavor. llle flagranti
Aut Atho, aut Rbodopen, aut alta Ceraunia telo
Dejicit ; ingeminant austri, et densissimus imber.-Virg. Georg.,l. 1.

[ocr errors]

In the description of a storm, to figure Jupiter throwing down huge mountains with his thunderbolts, is hyperbolically sublime, if I may use the expression : the tone of mind produced by that

[ocr errors]

image is so distant from the tone produced by a thick shower of rain, that the sudden transition must be unpleasant.

Objects of sight that are not remarkably great nor high, scarce raise any emotion of grandeur or of sublimity: the same holds good in other objects; for we often find the mind roused and animated, without being carried to at height. This difference may be discerned in many sorts of music, as well as in some musical instruments : a kettle drum'rouses, and a hautboy is animating ; but neither of them inspires an emotion of sublimity : revenge animates the mind in a considerable degree, but I think it never produceth an emotion that can be termed grand or sublime ; and I shall have occasion afterward to observe, that no disagreeable passion ever has that effect. I am willing to put this to the test, by placing before my reader a most spirited picture of revenge : it is a speech of Antony wailing over the body of Cæsar :

Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood !
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,
(Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue),
A curse shall light upon the kind of men ;
Domestic fury, and fierce civil strife,
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy ;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
And dreadful objects so familiar,
That mothers shall but smile, when they behold

Their infants quarter'd by the hands of war.
All pity chok'd with custom of fell deeds,
And Cæsar's spirit ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side, come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines, with a monarch's voice,
Cry, Havock ! and let slip the dogs of war.- Julius Cæsar, act 3. sc. 1.

No desire is more universal than to be exalted and honoured ; and upon that account chiefly are we ambitious of power, riches, titles, fame, which would suddenly lose their relish, did they not raise us above others, and command submission and deference ;* and it may be thought that our attachment to things grand and lofty proceeds from their connexion with our favourite passion. This connexion has undoubtedly an effect; but that the preference given to things grand and lofty must have a deeper root in human nature, will appear from considering that many bestow their time upon low and trifling amusements, without having the least tincture of this favourite passion : yet these very persons talk the same language with the rest of mankind, and prefer the more elevated pleasures : they acknowledge a more refined taste, and are ashamed of their own as low and grovelling. This sentiment, constant and universal, must be the work of nature ; and it plainly indicates an original attach. ment in human nature to every object that elevates the mind : some men may have a greater relish for an object not of the highest rank ; but they are conscious of the preference given by mankind in general to things grand and sublime; and they are sensible that their peculiar taste ought to yield to the general taste.

* Honestum per se esse expetendum indicant pueri, in quibus, ut in speculis, natura cernitur. Quanta studia decertantium sunt ! Quanta ipsa certamina ! Ut illi efferuntur lætitia, cum vicerint! Ut pudet victos! Ut se accusari nolunt! Ut cupiunt laudari ! Quos illi labores non perferunt, ut æqualium principes sint! Cicero de finibus.

What is said above suggests a capital rule for reaching the sublime in such works of art as are susceptible of it; and that is, to present those parts or circumstances only which make the greatest figure, keeping out of view every thing low or trivial; for the mind, elevated by an important object, cannot without reluctance, be forced down to bestow any share of its attention upon trifles. Such judicious selection of capital circumstances, is by an eminent critic styled grandeur of manner.* In none of the fine arts is there so great a scope for that rule as in poetry; which by that means, enjoys a remarkable power of bestowing upon objects and events an air of grandeur: when we are spectators, every minute object presents itself in its order ; but in describing at second hand, these are laid aside, and the capital objects are brought close together. A judicious taste in thus selecting the most interesting incidents, to give them an united force, accounts for a fact that may appear surprising; which is, that we are more moved by a spirited narrative at second hand, than by being spectators of the event itself, in all its circumstances.

Longinus exemplifies the foregoing rule by a comparison of two passages.T The first from Aristæus, is thus translated :

Ye pow'rs, what madness! how on ships so frail
(Tremendous thought!) can thoughtless mortals sail ?
For stormy seas they quit the pleasing plain,
Plant woods in waves, and dwell amidst the main.
Far o'er the deep (a trackless path) they go,
And wander oceans in pursuit of woe.
No ease their hearts, no rest their eyes can find,
On heaven their looks, and on the waves their mind,
Sunk are their spirits, while their arms they rear,
And gods are wearied with their fruitless prayer.

The other, from Homer, I shall give in Pope's translation:

Burst as a wave that from the cloud impends,
And swell’d with tempests on the ship descends.
White are the decks with foam : the winds aloud
Howl o'er the masts, and sing through every shroud,
Pale, trembling, tir'd, the sailors freeze with fears,
And instant death on every wave appears.

In the latter passage, the most striking circumstances are selected to fill the mind with terror and astonishment. The former is a collec. tion of minute and low circumstances, which scatter the thought, and make no impression : it is at the same time full of verbal antitheses and low conceit, extremely improper in a scene of distress. But this last observation belongs to another head.

The following description of a battle is remarkably sublime, by collecting together, in the fewest words, those circumstances which make the greatest figure :

Spectator, No. 415.

† Chap. 8. of the Sublime.

Like Autumn's dark storms pouring from two echoing bills, toward each other approached the heroes: as two dark streams from high rocks meet and roar on the plain, loud, rough, and dark in battle, meet Lochlin and loisfail. Chief mises his strokes with chief, and man with man: steel sounds on steel, and helmets are cleft on high: blood bursts and smokes around: strings mur. mur on the polish'd yew: darts rush along the sky: spears fall like sparks of flame that gild the stormy face of night.

As the noise of the troubled ocean when roll the waves on high, as the last peal of thundering heaven, such is the noise of battle. Though Cormac's hundred bards were there, feeble were the voice of a hundred bards to send the deaths to future time; for many were the deaths of the heroes, and wide poured the blood of the valiant. -Fingal.

The following passage in the 4th book of the Iliad is a description of a battle, wonderfully ardent. " When now gathered on either side, the hosts plunged together in fight; shield is harshly laid to shield ; spears crash on the brazen corslets; bossy buckler with buckler meets : loud tumult rages over all; groans are mixed with boasts of men; the slain and slayer join in noise; the earth is floating round with blood. As when iwo rushing streams from two mountains come roaring down, and throw together their rapid wa. ters below, they roar along the gulfy vale. The startled shepherd hears the sound, as he stalks o'er the distant hills ; so, as they mixed in fight, from both armies clamour with loud terror arose." But such general descriptions are not frequent in Homer. Even his single combats are rare. The fifth book is the longest account of a battle that is in the Iliad ; and yet contains nothing but a long cataJogue of chiefs killing chiefs, not in single combat neither, but at a distance, with an arrow or a javelin; and these chiefs named for the first time and the last. The same scene is continued through a great part of the sixth book. There is at the same time a minute description of every wound, which for accuracy may do honour to an anatomist, but in an epic poem is tiresome and fati ring. There is no relief from horrid languor but the beautiful Gieek language, and melody of Homer's versification.

In the twenty-first book of the Odyssey, there is a passage which deviates widely from the rule above laid down: it concerns that part of the history of Penelope and her suitors, in which she is made 10 declare in favour of him who should prove the most dexterous in shooting with the bow of Ulysses:

Now gently winding up the fair ascent,
By many an easy step ihe matron went:
Then o'er the pavement glides with grace divine
(With polish'd oak the level pavements shine);
The folding gates a dazzling light display'd,
With pomp of various architrave o'erlay'd.
The bolt, obedient to the silken string,
Forsakes the staple as she pulls tbe ring;
The wards respondent to the key turn'd round:
The bars fell back; the flying valves resound.
Loud as a bull makes hill and valley ring;
So roar'd the lock when it releas'd the spring.
She moves majestic through the wealthy room
Where treasur'd garments

cast a rich perfume ;

There from the column where aloft it bung,

Reaoh'd, in its splendid case, the bow unstrung. Virgil sometimes errs against this rule : in the following passages minute circumstances are brought into full view; and, what is still worse, they are described with all the pomp of poetical diction; Æneid, L. 1. l. 214. to 219. L. 6. I. 176. to 182. L. 6.1. 212. to 231.: and the last, which describes a funeral, is the less excusable, as the man, whose funeral it is, makes no figure in the poem.

The speech of Clytemnestra, descending from her chariot in the Iphigenia of Euripides, * is stuffed with a number of common and trivial circumstances.

But of all writers, Lucan, as to this article, is the most injudicious: the sea-fight between the Romans and Massilians,Ť is described so much in detail, without exhibiting any grand or total view, that the reader is fatigued with endless circumstances, without ever feeling any degree of elevation ; and yet there are some fine incidents, those, for example, of the two brothers, and of the old man and his son, which, taken separately, would affect us greatly. But Lucan, once engaged in a description, knows no end. See other passages of the same kind, L. 4. 1. 292. to 337. L. 4. I. 750. to 765. The episode of the sorceress Erictho, end of book 6. is intolerably minute and prolix.

To these I venture to oppose an article from an old historical ballad :

Go, little page, tell Hardiknute

That lives on hill so high,
To draw his sword, the dread of foes,

And haste to follow me.
The little page flew swift as dart

Flung by his master's arm,
" Come down, come down, Lord Harkdiknute,

And rid your king from barm." This rule is also applicable to other fine arts. In painting it is established, that the principal figure must be put in the strongest

that the beauty of attitude consists in placing the nobler parts most in view, and in suppressing the smaller parts as much as possible; that the folds of the drapery must be few and large ; that fore-shortenings are bad, because they make the parts appear little; and that the muscles ought to be kept as entire as possible, without being divided into small sections. Every one at present subscribes to that rule as applied to gardening, in opposition to paterres split into a thousand small parts in the stiffest regularity of figure. The most eminent architects governed themselves by the same rule in all their works.

Another rule chiefly regards the sublime, though it is applicable to every sort of literary performance intended for amusement; and that is, to avoid as much as possible abstract and general terms. Such terms, similar to mathematical signs, are contrived to express our thoughts in a concise manner ; but images, which are the life of poetry, cannot be raised in any perfection but by introducing Beginning of act 3.

+ Lib. 3, beginning at line 567. + High, in the old Scotch language, is pronounced hes.


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »