Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

particular objects. General terms that comprehend a number of individuals, must be excepted from that rule ; our kindred, our clan, our country, and words of the like import, though they scarcei raise any image, have however a wonderful power over our passions : the greatness of the complex object overbalances the obscurity of the image.

Grandeur, being an extreme vivid emotion, is not readily produced in perfection but by reiterated impressions. The effect of a single impression can be but momentary; and if one feel suddenly somewhat like a swelling or exaltation of mind, the emotion vanisheth as soon as felt. Single thoughts or sentiments, I know, are often cited as examples of the sublime ; but their effect is far inferior to that of a grand subject displayed in its capital parts. I shall give a few examples, that the reader may judge for himself. In the famous action of Thermopylæ, where Leonidas, the Spartan king, with his chosen band, fighting for their country, were cut off to the last man, a saying is reported of Dieneces, one of the band, which, expressing cheerful and undisturbed bravery, is well entitled to the first place in examples of that kind. Respecting the number of their enemies, it was observed, that the arrows shot by such a multitude would intercept the light of the sun. So much the better, says he, for we shall then fight in the shade.*

Somerset. Ab ! Warwick, Warwick, wert thou as we are,
We might recover all our loss again.
The Queen from France hath brought a puissant power,
Ev'n now we heard the news. Ab? couldst thou fly !

Warwick. Why, then I would not fly:- Third parl, Henry VI. act 5. sc. 3. Such a sentiment from a man expiring of his wounds, is truly heroic, and must elevate the mind to the greatest height that can be done by a single expression : it will not suffer in a comparison with the famous sentiment Qu'l mourut of Corneille ; the latter is a sentiment of indignation merely, the former of firm and cheerful courage.

To cite in opposition many a sublime passage, enriched with the finest images, and dressed in the most nervous expressions, would scarce be fair : I shall produce but one instance, from Shakspeare, which sets a few objects before the eye without much pomp of language: it operates its effect by representing these objects in a climax, raising the mind higher and higher till it feel the emotion of grandeur in perfection :

The cloud-capt tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inberit, shall dissolve, &c. The cloud-cap't tow'rs produce an elevating emotion, heightened by the gorgeous palaces ; a'd the mind is carried still higher and higher by the images that follow. Successive images, making thus deeper and deeper impressions, must elevate more than any single image can do.

As on the one hand, no means directly applied have more influence to raise the mind than grandeur and sublimity : so on the

* Herodotus, book 7.

other, no means indirectly applied have more influence to sink and depress it : for in a state of elevation the artful introduction of an humbling object, makes the fall great in proportion to the elevation. Of this observation Shakspeare gives a beautiful example, in the passage last quoted :

The cloud-cap't tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like the baseless fabric of a vision,

Leave not a wreck behind.- Tempest, act 4. sc. 4. The elevation of the mind in the former part of this beautiful passage, makes the fall great in proportion, when the most humbling of all images is introduced, that of an utter dissolution of the earth and its inhabitants. The mind when warmed, is more susceptible of impressions than in a cool state : and a depressing or melancholy object listened to, makes the strongest impression when it reaches the mind in its highest state of elevation or cheerfulness.

But a humbling image is not always necessary to produce that effect : a remark is made above, that in describing superior beings, the reader's imagination, unable to support itself in a strained elevation, falls often as from a height, and sinks even below its ordinary tone. The following instance comes luckily in view ; for a better cannot be given : “God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” Longinus quotes this passage from Moses as a shining example of the sublime ; and it is scarce possible, in fewer words, to convey so clear an image of the infinite power of the Deity : but then it belongs to the present subject to remark, that the emotion of sublimity raised by this image is but momentary: and that the mind, unable to support itself in an elevation so much above nature, immediately sinks down into humility and veneration for a being so far exalted above grovelling mortals. Every one is acquainted with a dispute about that passage between two French critics,* the one positively affirming it to be sublime, the other as positively denying. What I have remarked shows that both of them have reached the truth, but neither of them the whole truth : the primary effect of the passage is undoubtedly an emotion of grandeur : which so far justifies Boileau: but then every one must be sensible that the emotion is merely a flash, which vanishing instantaneously, gives way to humility and veneration. That indirect effect of sublimity justifies Huet, who, being a man of true piety, and probably not much carried by imagination, felt the humbling passion more sensibly than his antagonist did. And, laying aside difference of character, Huet's opinion may, I think, be defended as the more solid ; because in such images the depressing emotions are the more sensibly felt, and have the

longer endurance.

The straining an elevated subject beyond due bounds, is a vice not so frequent as to require the correction of criticism. But false sublime is a rock that writers of more fire than judgment commonly split on; and therefore a collection of examples may be of use as a beacon to future adventurers. One species of false sublime known by the name of bombast, is common among writers of a mean ge

# Boileau and Huet.

nius: it is a serious endeavour, by strained description, to raise a
low or familiar subject above its rank; which instead of being sub-
lime, becomes ridiculous. I am extremely sensible how prone the
mind is, in some animating passions, to magnify its objects beyond
natural bounds : but such hyperbolical description has its limits;
and, when carried beyond the impulse of the propensity, it degene-
rates into burlesque. Take the following examples.
Sejanus.-

-Great and high
The world knows only two, that's Rome and I.
My roof receives me not; 'tis air I tread,
And at each step 1 feel my advanc'd head

Knock out a star in heav'n. --Sejanus, Ben Jonson, act 5. A writer who has no natural elevation of mind, deviates readily into bombast: he strains above his natural powers; and the violent effort carries him beyond the bounds of propriety. Boileau expresses this happily :

L'autre à peur de ramper, il se perd dans la nue."
The same author, Ben Jonson, abounds in the bombast :

-The mother,
Th' expulsed Apicata, finds them there ;
Whom when sbe saw lie spread on the degrees,
After a world of fury on herself,
Tearing her hair, defacing of her face,
Beating her breasts and womb, kneeling amaz'd,
Crying to heav'n, then to them; at last
Her drowned voice got up above her woes :
And with such black and bitter execrations
(As might affright the gods, and force the sun
Run backward to the east; nay, make the old
Deformed chaos rise again t'o'erwhelm
Tbem, us, and all the world), she fills tie air,
Upbraids the heav'ns with their partial dooms,
Defies their tyrannous powers, and demands
What she and those poor innocents have transgress'd,
That they must suffer such a share in vengeance.-Sejanus, act 5. sc. lest.

-Lentulus, tbe man,
If all our fire were out, would fetch down new
Out of the hand of Jove: and rivet him
To Caucasus, should he but frown ; and let
His own gaunt eagle fly at him to tire.-Catiline, act 3.
Can these, or such, be any aid to us ?
Look they as they were built to shake the world
Or be a moment to our enterprise ?
A thousand, such as they are, could not make
One atom of our souls. They should be men
Worth heaven's fear, that looking up, but tbus,
Would make Jove stand upon his guard, and draw
Himself within his thunder; which, amaz'd,
He should discharge in vain, and they unhurt.
Or, if they were, like Capaneus at Thebes,
They should hang dead upon the highest spires
And ask the second bolt to be thrown down.
Why Lentulus talk you so long? This time
Had been enough t' have scatier'd all the stars,
T' have quenchi'd the sun and moon, and made the world
Despair of day, or any light but ours.-Caliline, ac 4.

* L'art poet. chant. 1. 1. 58.

This is the language of a madman:

Guildford. Give way and let the gushing torrent come,
Behold the tears we bring to swell the deluge,
Till the flood rise upon the guilty world,

And make the ruin common.-Lady Jane Grey, act 4. near the end. I am sorry to observe that the following bombast stuff dropped from the pen of Dryden.

To see this feet upon the ocean move,

Angels drew wide the curtains of the skies;
And heaven, as if there wanted ligbts above,

For tapers made two glaring comets rise. Another species of false sublime is still more faulty than bombast; and that is, to force elevation by introducing imaginary beings with out preserving any propriety in their actions ; as if it were lawful to ascribe every extravagance and inconsistence to beings of the poet's creation. No writers are more licentious in that article than Jonson and Dryden.

Methinks I see Death and the furies waiting
What we will do, and all the heaven at leisure
For the great spectacle. Draw then your swords:
And if our destiny envy our virtue
The honour of the day, yet let us care
To sell ourselves at such a price, as may
Undo the world to buy us, and make Fate,
While she tempts ours, to fear her own estate.-Catiline, act 6.

-The Furies stood on hill
Circling the place, and trembled to see men
Do more than they ; whilst Pity left the field,
Griev'd for that side, that in so bad a cause
They knew not what a crime their valour was.
The sun stood still, and was behind the cloud
The battle made, seen sweating to drive up
His frighted borse, whom still the noise drove backward.-Ibid. act 5.

Osmyn. While we indulge our common happiness,
He is forgot by whom we all possess,
The brave Almanzor, to whose arms we owe
All that we did, and all that we shall do ;
Who like a tempest that outrides the wind,
Made a just battle ere the bodies join'd.

Abdaila. His victories we scarce could keep in view,
Or polish 'em so fast as he rough drew.

Abdemelech. Fate after him below with pain did move,
And Victory could scarce keep pace above.
Death did at length so many slain forget,
And lost the tale, and took 'em by the great.

Conquest of Grenada, act 2. at the beginning.
The gods of Rome fight for ye; loud Fame calls ye,
Pitch'd on the topless Apennine, and blows
To all the under world, all nations,
The seas, and unfrequented deserts, where the snow dwells,
Wakens the ruin'd monuments, and there,
Where nothing but eternal death and sleep is,

Informs again the dead bones.--Beaumont & Fletcher, Bonduca, act 3.6. 3. An actor on the stage may be guilty of bombast as well as an author in his closet; a certain manner of acting, which is grand

when supported by dignity in the sentiment and force in the expression, is ridiculous where the sentiment is mean, and the expression flat.

This chapter shall be closed with some observations. When the sublime is carried to its due height, and circumscribed within proper bounds, it enchants the mind, and raises the most delightful of all emotions; the reader, engrossed by a sublime object, feels himself raised as it were to a higher rank. Considering that effect, it is not wonderful that the history of conquerors and heroes should be universally the favourite entertainment. And this fairly accounts for what I once erroneously suspected to be a wrong bias originally in human nature ; which is, that the grossest acts of oppression and injustice scarce blemish the character of a great conqueror : we nevertheless warmly espouse his interest, accompany him in his exploits, and are anxious for his success: the splendour and enthusiasm of the hero transfused into the readers, elevate their minds far above the rules of justice, and render them in a great measure insensible of the wrongs that are committed :

For in those days might only shall be admir'd,
And valour and heroic virtue call’d:
To overcome in battle, and subdue
Nations, and bring home spoils with infinite
Manslaughter, shall be held the highest pitch
Of human glory, and for glory done
Of triumph to be styl'd great conquerors,
Patrons of mankind, gods, and sons of gods;
Destroyers rightlier call'd, and plagues of men.
Thus fame shall be achiev'd, renown on earth,

And what most merits fame in silence hid.--Millon, b. 11. The irregular influence of grandeur reaches also to other matters : however good, honest, or useful, a man may be, he is not so much respected as is one of a more elevated character, though of less integrity; nor do the misfortunes of the former affect us so much as those of the latter. And I add, because it cannot be disguised, that the remorse which attends breach of engagement, is in a great measure proportioned to the figure that the injured person makes : the vows and protestations of lovers are an illustrious example ; for these commonly are little regarded when made to women of inferior rank.

CHAP. V.

MOTION AND FORCE.

That motion is agreeable to the eye without relation to purpose or design, may appear from the amusement it gives to infants : juvenile exercises are relished chiefly on that account.

If a body in motion be agreeable, one will be apt to conclude that at rest it must be disagreeable : but we learn from experience, that this would be a rash conclusion. Rest is one of those circumstances that are neither agreeable nor disagreeable, being viewed

« AnteriorContinuar »