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The flow'rs, fair ladies; and thy steps, no more
Bolingbroke. Oh, who can hold a fire in his hand,
Gives but the greater feeling to the worse.—King Richard II. act I. sc. The appearance of danger gives sometimes pleasure, sometimes pain. A timorous person upon the battlements of a high tower is seized with fear, which even the consciousness of security cannot dissipate. But upon one of a firm head this situation has a contrary effect; the appearance of danger heightens, by opposition, the consciousness of security, and consequently, the satisfaction that arises from security : here the feeling resembles that above-mentioned, occasioned by a ship labouring in a storm.
The effect of magnifying or lessening objects by means of comparison, is so familiar, that no philosopher has thought of searching for a cause.* The obscurity of the subject may possibly have contributed to their silence; but luckily, we discover the cause to be a principle unfolded above, which is, the influence of passion over our opinions. We have had occasion to see many illustrious effects of that singular power of passion; and that the magnifying or diminishing objects by means of comparison proceeds from the same cause, will evidently appear, by reflecting in what manner a spectator is affected, when a very large animal is for the first time placed beside a very small one of the same species. The first thing that strikes the mind, is the difference between the two animals, which is so great as to occasion surprise; and this, like other emotions, magnifying its object, makes us conceive the difference to be the great. est that can be: we see, or seem to see, the one animal extremely little, and the other extremely large. The emotion of surprise, arising from any unusual resemblance, serves equally to explain, why at first view we are apt to think such resemblance more entire than it is in reality. And it must not escape observation, that the circumstances of more and less, which are the proper subjects of comparison, raise a perception so indistinct and vague as to facilitate the effect described : we have no mental standard of great and little, nor of the several degrees of any attribute ; and the mind thus unrestrained, is naturally disposed to indulge its surprise to the utmost extent.
In exploring the operations of the mind, some of which are extremely nice and slippery, it is necessary to proceed with the utmost
* Practical writers upon the fine arts will attempt any thing, being blind both to the difficulty and danger. De Piles, accounting why contrast is agreeable, says, “That it is a sort of war, which puts the opposite parties in motion.” Thus, to account for an effect of which there is no doubt, any cause, however foolish, is made welcome.
+ Chap. 2. part 5.
caution: and after all, steldom it happens that speculations of that kind afford any satisfaction. Luckily, in the present case, our speculations are supported by facts and solid argument. First, a small object of one species opposed to a great object of another, produces not, in any degree, that deception which is so remarkable when both objects are of the same species. The greatest disparity between objects of different kinds is so common as to be observed with perfect indifference; but such disparity between objects of the same kind, being uncommon, never fails to produce surprise : and may we not fairly conclude, that surprise in the latter case, is what oc. casions the deception, when we find no deception in the former ? In the next place, if surprise be the sole cause of the deception, it follows necessarily, that the deception will vanish as soon as the objects compared become familiar. This holds so unerringly, as to leave no reasonable doubt that surprise is the prime mover : our surprise is great the first time a small lap-dog is seen with a large mastiff; but when two such animals are constantly together, there is no surprise, and it makes no difference whether they be viewed separately or in company: we set no bounds to the riches of a man who has recently made his fortune, the surprising disproportion between his present and his past situation being carried to an extreme; but with regard to a family that for many generations hath enjoyed great wealth, the same false reckoning is not made: it is equally remarkable, that a trite simile has no effect; a lover compared to a moth scorching itself at the flame of a candle, originally a sprightly simile, has by frequent use lost all force ; love cannot now be compared to fire, without some degree of disgust : it has been justly objected against Homer, that the lion is too often introduced into his similies; all the variety he is able to throw into them not being suffi
; cient to keep alive the reader's surprise.
To explain the influence of comparison upon the mind, I have chosen the simplest case, to wit, the first sight of two animals of the same kind, differing in size only : but to complete the theory, other circumstances must be taken in. And the next supposition I make is, where both animals, separately familiar to the spectator, are brought together for the first time. In that case, the effect of magnifying and diminishing is found remarkably greater than in that first mentioned ; and the reason will appear upon analyzing the operation : the first feeling we have is of surprise at the uncommon difference of two creatures of the same species : we are next sensible, that the one appears less, the other larger, than they did formerly; and that new circumstance, increasing our surprise, makes us imagine a still greater opposition between the animals than if we had formed no notion of them beforehand.
I shall confine myself to one other supposition : That the spectator was acquainted beforehand with one of the animals only, the lap-dog, for example. This new circumstance will vary the effect : for instead of widening the natural difference, by enlarging in appearance the one animal, and diminishing the other in proportion, the whole apparent alteration will rest upon the lap-dog; the surprise to find it less than it appeared formerly, directs to it our whole attention, and makes us conceive it to be a most diminutive creature: the mastiff in the mean time is quite overlooked. I am able to illustrate this effect by a familiar example. Take a piece of paper, or of linen tolerably white, and compare it with a pure white of the same kind: the judgment we formed of the first object is instantly varied : and the surprise occasioned by finding it less white than was thought, produceih a hasty conviction that it is much less white than it is in reality: withdrawing now the pure white, and putting in its place a deep black, the surprise occasioned by that new circumstance carries us to the other extreme, and makes us conceive the object first mentioned to be a pure white; and thus experience compels us to acknowledge that our emotions have an influence even upon our eyesight. This experiment leads to a general observation. That whatever is found more strange or beautiful than was expected, is judged to be more strange or beautiful than it is in reality. Hence a common artifice, to depreciate beforehand what we wish to make a figure in the opinion of others.
The comparisons employed by poets and orators are of the kind last mentioned; for it is always a known object that is to be magni. fied or lessened. The former is effected by likening it to some grand object, or by contrasting it with one of an opposite character. To effectuate the latter, the method must be reversed; the object must be contrasted with something superior to it, or likened to something inferior. The whole effect is produced upon the principal object, which by that means is elevated above its rank, or depressed below it.
In accounting for the effect that any umisual resemblance or dissimilitude hath upon the mind, no cause has been mentioned but surprise: and to prevent confusion, it was proper to discuss that cause first. But surprise is not the only cause of the effect described: another concurs, which operates perhaps not less powerfully, namely, a principle in hunan nature that lies still in obscurity, not having been unfolded by any writer, though its effects are extensive; and as it is not distinguished by a proper name, the reader must be satisfied with the following description. Every man who studies himself or others, must be sensible of a tendency or propensity in the mind, to complete every work that is begun, and to carry things to their full perfection. There is little opportunity to display that propensity upon natural operations, which are seldom left imperfect; but in the operations of art, it hath great scope : it impels us to persevere in our own work, and to wish for the completion of what another is doing: we feel a sensible pleasure when the work is brought to perfection; and our pain is no less sensible when we are disappointed. Hence our uneasiness, when an interesting story is broke off in the middle, when a piece of music ends without a close, or when a building or garden is left unfinished. The same propensity operates in making collections, such as the whole works good and bad of any author. A certain person attempted to col lect prints of all the capital paintings, and succeeded except as to
few. La Bruyere remarks, that an anxious search was made for these; not for their value, but to complete the set.*
The final cause of the propensity is an additional proof of its existence: human works are of no significancy till they be completed ; and reason is not always a sufficient counterbalance to indolence : some principle over and above is necessary, to excite our industry, and to prevent our stopping short in the middle of the course.
We need not lose time to describe the co-operation of the foregoing propensity with surprise, in producing the effect that follows any unusual resemblance or dissimilitude. Surprise first operates, and carries our opinion of the resemblance or dissimilitude beyond truth. The propensity we have been describing carries us still farther; for it forces upon the mind a conviction, that the resemblance or dissimilitude is complete. We need no better illustration than the resemblance that is fancied in some pebblto a tree or an insect; which resemblance, however faint in reality, is conceived to be wonderfully perfect. The tendency to complete a resemblance acting jointly with surprise, carries the mind sometimes so far, as even to presume upon future events. In the Greek tragedy entitled Phineides, those unhappy women, seeing the place where it was intended they should be slain, cried out with anguish, “ They
The examples above given, are of things that can be carried to an end or conclusion. But the same uneasiness is perceptible witb respect to things that admit not any conclusion ; witness a series that has no end, commonly called an infinite series. The mind moving along such a series, begins soon to feel an uneasiness, which becomes more and more sensible, in continuing its progress without hope of an end.
An unbounded prospect doth not long continue agreeable; we soon feel a slight uneasiness, which increases with the time we bestow upon the prospect. An avenue without a terminating object, is one instance of an unbounded prospect; and we might hope to find the cause of its disagrecableness, if it resem. bled an infinite series. The eye indeed promises no resemblance : for the sharpest eye commands but a certain length of space, and there it is bounded, however obscurely. But tbe mind perceives things as they exist, and the line is carried on in idea without an end; in which respect an unbounded prospect is similar to an infinite series. In fact, the uneasiness of an unbounded prospect differs very little in its feeling from that of an infinite series ; and therefore we may reasonably presume, that both proceed from the same cause.
We next consider a prospect unbounded every way, as, for example, a great plain or the ocean viewed from an eminence. We feel here an uneasiness occasioned by the want of an end or termination precisely as in the other cases. A prospect, unbounded every way, is indeed so far singular, as at first to be more pleasant tban a prospect that is unbounded in one direction only, and afterward to be more painful. But these circumstances are easily explained, without wounding the general theory: the pleasure we feel at first is a vividemotion of grandeur, arising from the immense extent of the object; and to increase the pain we feel afterward for the want of a termination, there occurs a pain of a different kind, occasioned by stretching the eye to comprehend so wide a prospect; a pain that gradually increases with the repeated efforts we make to grasp the whole.
It is the same principle, if I mistake not, which operates imperceptibly with respect to quantity and number. Another's property indented into my field, gives me uneasiness, and am eager to make the purchase, not for profit, but in order to square my field. Xerxes and his army, in their passage to Greece, were sumptuously entertained by Pythius the Lydian : Xerxes recompensed him with 7000 darics, which he wanted to complete the sum of four millions.
now saw their cruel destiny had condemned them to die in that place, being the same where they had been exposed in their in.
The propensity to advance every thing to its perfection, not only co-operates with surprise to deceive the mind, but of itself is able to produce that effect. Of this we see many instances where there is no place for surprise ; and the first I shall give is of resemblance. Unumquodque eodem modo dissolvitur quo colligatum est, is a maxim in the Roman law that has no foundation in truth; for tying and loosing, building and demolishing, are acts opposite to each other, and are performed by opposite means : but when these acts are connected by their relation to the same subject, their connexion leads us to imagine a sort of resemblance between them, which by the foregoing propensity is conceived to be as complete as possible. The next instance shall be of contrast. Addison observes, t " That the palest features look the most agreeable in white ; that a face which is over-flushed appears to advantage in the deepest scarlet; and that a dark coinplexion is not a little alleviated by a black hood.” The foregoing propensity serves to account for these appearances ; to make which evident, one of the cases shall suffice. A complexion, however dark, never approaches to black : when these colours appear together, their opposition strikes us; and the propensity we have to complete the opposition makes the darkness of complexion vanish out of sight.
The operation of this propensity, even where there is no ground for surprise, is not confined to opinion or conviction : so powerful it is, as to make us sometimes proceed to action, in order to complete a resemblance or dissimilitude. If this appear obscure, it will be made clear by the following instances. Upon what principle is the lex talionis founded, other than to make the punishment resemble the mischief? Reason dictates that there ought to be a conformity or resemblance between a crime and its punishment; and the foregoing propensity impels us to make the resemblance as complete as possible. Titus Livius, under the influence of that propensity, accounts for a certain punishment by a resemblance beiween it and the crime, too subtile for common apprehension. Treating of Mettus Fuffetius, the Alban general, who, for treachery to the Romans, his allies, was sentenced to be torn in pieces by horses, he puts the following speech in the mouth of Tullus Hostilius, who decreed the punishment. "Mette Fuffeti, inquit, si ipse discere posses fidem ac fædera servare, vivo tibi ea disciplina a me adhibita esset. Nunc, quoniam tuum insanabile ingenium est, at tu tuo supplicio doce humanum genus, ea sancta credere, quæ a te violata sunt. Ut igitur paulo ante animum inter Fidenatem Romanamque rem ancipitem gessisti
, ita jam corpus passim distrahendum dabis."I By the same influence, the sentence is often executed upon the very spot where the crime was committed. In the Electra of Sophocles, Egistheus is dragged from the theatre into an inner room of the supposed palace, to suffer death where he murdered Agamemnon.
Aristotle, poet. cap. 17.
† Spectator, No. 265.
# Lib. 1. sect. 28.