Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

stances. If a lion be first seen from a place of safety, the spectatle is altogether agreeable, without the least mixture of terror. If again, the first sight puts us within reach of that dangerous animal, our terror may be so great as quite to exclude any sense of novelty. But this fact proves not that wonder is painful ; it proves only, that wonder may be excluded by a more powerful passion. Every man may be made certain from his own experience, that wonder raised by a new object which is inoffensive, is always pleasant; and with respect to offensive objects, it appears from the foregoing deduction, that the same must hold as long as the spectator can attend to the novelty.

Whether surprise be in itself pleasant or painful, is a question no less intricate than the former. It is certain that surprise inflames our joy when unexpectedly we meet with an old friend, and our terror when we stumble upon any thing noxious. To clear that question, the first thing to be remarked is, that in some instances an unexpected object overpowers the mind, so as to produce a momentary stupefection : where the object is dangerous, or appears so, the sudden alarm it gives, without preparation, is apt totally to unhinge the mind, and for a moment to suspend all its faculties, even thought itself :* in which state a man is quite helpless, and if he move at all, is as like to run upon the danger as from it. Surprise carried to such a height cannot be either pleasant or painful; because the mind, during such momentary stupefaction, is in a good measure, if not totally, insensible.

If we then inquire for the character of this emotion, it must be where the unexpected object or event produceth less violent effects. And while the mind remains sensible of pleasure and pain, is it not natural to suppose, that surprise, like wonder, should have an invariable character ? I am inclined however to think, that surprise has no invariable character, but assumes that of the object which raises it. Wonder being an emotion invariably raised by novelty, and being distinguishable from all other emotions, ought naturally to possess one constant character. The unexpected appearance of an object seems not equally entitled to produce an emotion distinguishable from that which is produced by the object in its ordinary appearance : the effect it ought naturally to have is only to swell that emotion, by making it more pleasant or more painful than it commonly is. And that conjecture is confirmed by experience, as well as by language, which is built upon experience; when a man meets a friend unexpectedly, he is said to be agreeably surprised ; and when he meets an enemy unexpectedly, he is said to be disagreeably surprised. It appears, then, that the sole effect of surprise is to swell the emotion raised by the object. And that effect can be clearly explained ; a tide of connected perceptions glide gently into the mind, and produce no perturbation : but an object breaking in unexpectedly, sounds an alarm, rouses the mind out of its calm state, and directs its whole attention to the object, which, if agreeable, becomes doubly so. Several circumstances

* Hence the Latin names for surprise, torpor, animi stupor.

concur to produce that effect: on the one hand, the agitation of the mind, and its keen attention, prepare it in the most effectual manner for receiving a deep impression : on the other hand, the object, by its sudden and unforeseen appearance, makes an impression, not gradually as expected objects do, but as at one stroke with its whole force. The circumstances are precisely similar where the object is in itself disagreeable.*

The pleasure of novelty is easily distinguished from that of variety: to produce the latter, a plurality of objects is necessary; the former arises from a circumstance found in a single object. Again, where objects, whether co-existent or in succession, are sufficiently diversified, the pleasure of variety is complete, though every single object of the train be familiar: but the pleasure of novelty, directly opposite to familiarity, requires no diversification.

There are different degrees of novelty, and its effects are in proportion. The lowest degree is found in objects surveyed a second time after a long interval; and that in this case an object takes on some appearance of novelty, is certain from experience : a large building of many parts variously adorned, or an extensive field embellished with trees, lakes, temples, statues, and other ornaments, will appear new oftener than once; the memory of an object so complex is soon lost, of its parts at least, or of their arrangement. But experience teaches, that even without any decay of remembrance, absence alone will give an air of novelty to a once famihar object; which is not surprising, because familiarity wears off gradually by absence: thus a person with whom we have been intimate, returning after a long interval, appears like a new acquaintance: and distance of place contributes to this appearance, no less

• What the Mareschal Saxe terms le cæur humain is no other than fear, occasioned by surprise. It is owing to that cause that ambush is generally so destructive; intelligence of it beforehand renders it barmless. The Mareschal gives from Cæsar's Commentaries two examples of what he calls le cæur humain. At the siege of Amiens by the Gauls, Cæsar came up with his army, which did not exceed 7000 men, and began to intrench himself in such burry, that the barbarians, judging him to be afraid, attacked his entrenchments with great spirit. During the time they were filling up the ditch, he issued out with his cohorts; and, by attacking them unexpectedly, struck a panic that made them fly with precipitation, not a single man offering to make a stand. At the siege of Alesia, the Gauls, infinitely superior in number, attacked the Roman lines in circumvallation in order to raise the siege. Cæsar ordered a body of his men to march out silently, and to attack them on the one flank, wbile he with another body did the same on the other flank. The surprise of being attacked when they expected a defence only, put the Gauls into disorder, and gave an easy victory to Cæsar.

A third may be added, no less memorable. In the year 846, an obstinate battle was fought between Xamire King of Leon, and Abdoulrahman the Moorish King of Spain. After a very long conflict, the night only prevented the Arabians from obtaining a complete victory. The King of Leon, taking advantage of the darkness, retreated to a neighbouring hill, leaving the Arabians masters of the field of battle. Next morning, perceiving that he could not main. tain his place for want of provisions, nor be able to draw off his men in the face of a viciorous army, he ranged his men in order of battle, and, without losing a moment, marched to attack the enemy, resolving to conquer or die. Tho Arabians, astonished to be attacked by those who were conquered the night before, lost all heart; fear succeeded to astonishment, the panic was universal, aad they all turned their backs almost without drawing a sword.

than distance of time: a friend, for example, after a short absence in a remote country, has the same air of novelty as if he had returned after a longer interval from a place near home; the mind forms a connexion between him and the remote country, and bestows upon him the singularity of the objects he has seen. For the same reason, when two things equally new and singular are presented, the spectator balances between them; and when told that one of them is the product of a distant quarter of the world, he no longer hesitates, but clings to it as the more singular. Hence the preference given to foreign luxuries, and to foreign curiosities, which appear rare in proportion to their original distance.

The next degree of novelty, mounting upward, is found in objects of which we have some information at second hand; for description, though it contribute to familiarity, cannot altogether remove the appearance of novelty when the object itself is presented; the first sight of a lion occasions some wonder, after a thorough acquaintance with the correctest pictures and statues of that animal.

A new object that bears some distant resemblance to a known species, is an instance of a third degree of novelty; a strong resem. blance among individuals of the same species, prevents almost entirely the effect of novelty, unless distance of place or some other circumstance concur : but where the resemblance is faint, some degree of wonder is felt

, and the emotion rises in proportion to the faintness of the resemblance.

The highest degree of wonder ariseth from unknown objects that have no analogy to any species we are acquainted with. Shakspeare in a simile introduces that species of novelty :

As glorious to the sight
As is a winged messenger from heaven
Unto the white up-turned wond'ring eye
Of mortals, that fall back to gaze on him
When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds.
And sails upon the bosom of the air.-Romeo and Juliet.

One example of that species of novelty deserves peculiar attention; and that is, when an object altogether new is seen by one person only, and but once. These circumstances heighten remarkably the emotion : the singularity of the spectator concurs with the singularity of the object, to inflame wonder to its highest pitch.

In explaining the effects of novelty, the place a being occupies in the scale of existence, is a circumstance that must not be omitted. Novelty in the individuals of a low class is perceived with indifference, or with a very slight emotion : thus a pebble, however singular in its appearance, scarce moves our wonder. The emotion rises with the rank of the object : and, other circumstances being equal, is strong. est in the highest order of existence: a strange insect affects us more than a strange vegetable: and a strange quadruped more than a strange insect.

However natural novelty may be, it is a matter of experience, that those who relish it the most are careful to conceal its influence. Love of novelty, it is true, prevails in children, in idlers, and in men of shallow understanding; and yet, after all, why should one be

ashamed of indulging a natural propensity? A distinction will afford a satisfactory answer. No man is ashamed of curiosity when it is indulged in order to acquire knowledge. But to prefer any thing merely because it is new, shows a mean taste, which one ought to be ashamed of ; vanity is commonly at the bottom, which leads those who are deficient in taste to prefer things odd, rare, or singular, in order to distinguish themselves from others. And in fact, that appetite, as above-mentioned, reigns chiefly among persons of a mean taste, who are ignorant of refined and elegant pleasures.

One final cause of wonder, hinted above, is, that this emotion is intended to stimulate our curiosity. Another, somewhat different, is, to prepare the mind for receiving deep impressions of new objects. An acquaintance with the various things that may affect us, and with their properties, is essential to our well-being : nor will a slight or superficial acquaintance be sufficient; they ought to be so deeply engraved on the mind, as to be ready for use on every occasion. Now, in order to make a deep impression, it is wisely contrived, that things should be introduced to our acquaintance with a certain pomp and solemnity productive of a vivid emotion. When the impression is once fairly made, the emotion of novelty, being no longer necessary, vanisheth almost instantaneously; never to return, unless where the impression happens to be obliterated by length of time or other means ; in which case, the second introduction hath nearly the same solemnity with the first.

Designing wisdom is nowhere more legible than in this part of the human frame. If new objects did not affect us in a very peculiar manner, their impressions would be so slight as scarce to be of any use in life ; on the other hand, did objects continue to affect us as deeply as at first, the mind would be totally engrossed with them, and have no room left either for action or reflection.

The final cause of surprise is still more evident than of novelty. Self-love makes us vigilantly attentive to self-preservation ; but selflove, which operates by means of reason and reflection, and impels not the mind to any particular object, or from it, is a principle too cool for a sudden emergency : an object breaking in unexpectedly, affords no time for deliberation ; and, in that case, the agitation of surprise comes in seasonably to rouse self-love into action : surprise gives the alarm ; and if there be any appearance of danger, our whole force is summoned up to shun or to prevent it.

CHAP. VII.

RISIBLE OBJECTS.

Such is the nature of man, that his powers and faculties are soon blunted by exercise. The returns of sleep, suspending all activity, are not alone sufficient to preserve him in vigour ; during his waking hours, amusement by intervals, is requisite to unbend his

mind from serious occupation. To that end, nature hath kindly made a provision of many objects, which may be distinguished by the epithet of risible, because they raise in us a peculiar emotion expressed

externally by laughter : that emotion is pleasant ; and being also ,!'mirthful, it most successfully, bends the mind, and recruits the spirits.

Imagination contributes a part by multiplying such objects without end.

Ludicrous is a general term, signifying, as may appear from its derivation, what is playsome, sportive, or jocular. Ludicrous, therefore, seems the genus, of which risible is a species, limited as above to what makes us laugh.

However easy it may be, concerning any particular object, to say whether it be risible or not, it seems difficult

, if at all practicable, to establish any general character, by which objects of that kind may be distinguished from others. Nor is that a singular case ; for, upon a review, we find the same difficulty in most of the articles already handled. There is nothing more easy, viewing a particular object, than to pronounce that it is beautiful or ugly, grand or little : but were we to attempt general rules for arranging objects under different classes, according to these qualities, we should be much gravelled. A separate cause increases the difficulty of distinguishing risible objects by a general character : all men are not equally affected by risible objects : nor the same man at all times ; for in high spirits a thing will make him laugh outright, which scarce provokes a smile in a grave mood. Risible objects, however, are circumscribed within certain limits which I shall suggest, without pretending to accuracy. And, in the first place, I observe that no object is risible but what appears slight, little, or trivial; for we laugh at nothing that is of importance to our own interest, or to that of others. A real distress raises pity, and therefore cannot be risible ; but a slight or imaginary distress, which moves not pity, is risible. The adventure of the fulling-mills in Don Quixote, is extremely risible ; so is the scene where Sancho, in a dark night, tumbling into a pit, and attaching himself to the side by hand and foot, hangs there in terrible dismay till the morning, when he discovers himself within a foot of the bottom. A nose remarkably long or short, is risible ; but to want it altogether, far from provoking laughter, raises horror in the spectator. Secondly, with respect to works both of nature and of art, none of them are risible but what are out of rule, some remarkable defect or excess ; a very long visage, for example, or a very short

Hence nothing just, proper, decent, beautiful, proportioned, or grand, is risible.

Even from this slight sketch it will readily be conjectured, that the emotion raised by a risible object is of a nature so singular, as scarce to find place while the mind is occupied with any other passion or emotion : and the conjecture is verified by experience : for we scarce ever find that emotion blended with any other. One emotion I must except: and that is, contempt raised by certain improprieties : every improper act inspires us with some degree of contempt for the author : and if an improper act be at the same time risible to provoke laughter, of which blunders and absurdities are

one.

« AnteriorContinuar »