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ing into a different medium, and there diverted from their course, painted before me in the way of images. I know very well that the mind possesses a faculty of raising such images at pleasure; but then an act of the will is necessary to this; and in ordinary conversation or reading, it is very rarely that any image at all is excited in the mind. If I say, “I shall go to Italy next summer, I am well understood. Yet I believe nobody has by this painted in his imagination the exact figure of the speaker passing by land or by water, or both; sometimes on horseback, sometimes in a carriage, with all the particulars of the journey. Still less has he any idea of Italy, the country to which I propose to go; or of the greenness of the fields, the ripening of the fruits, and the warmth of the air, with the change to this from a different season, which are the ideas for which the word summer is substituted; but least of all has he any image from the word “next »;
for this word stands for the idea of many summers, with the exclusion of all but one; and surely the man who says next summer has no images of such a succession and such an exclusion. In short, it is not only of these ideas which are commonly called abstract, and of which no image at all can be formed, but even of particular, real beings that we converse without having any idea of them excited in the imagination, as will certainly appear on a diligent examination of our minds. Indeed, so little does poetry depend for its effect on the power of raising sensible images that I am convinced it would lose a very considerable part of its energy if this were the necessary result of all description. Because that union of affecting words, which is the most powerful of all poetical instruments, would frequently lose its force, along with its propriety and consistency, if the sensible images were always excited. There is not, perhaps, in the whole (Æneid » a more grand and labored passage than the description of Vulcan's cavern in Etna, and the works that are there carried on. Virgil dwells particularly on the formation of the thunder, which he describes unfinished under the hammers of the Cyclops. But what are the principles of this extraordinary composition ?-
a Tres imbris torti radios, tres nubis aquose
This seems to me admirably sublime; yet if we attend coolly to the kind of sensible images which a combination of ideas of this sort must form, the chimeras of madmen cannot appear more wild and absurd than such a picture: «Three rays of twisted showers, three of watery clouds, three of fire, and three of the winged south wind; then mixed they in the work terrific lightnings, and sound, and fear, and anger, with pursuing flames.» This strange composition is formed into a gross body; it is hammered by the Cyclops, it is in part pol. ished, and partly continues rough. The truth is, if poetry gives us a noble assemblage of words corresponding to many noble ideas which are connected by circumstances of time or place, or related to each other as cause and effect, or associated in any natural way, they may be molded together in any form and perfectly answer their end. The picturesque connection is not demanded, because no real picture is formed; nor is the effect of the description at all the less upon this account.
What is said of Helen by Priam and the old men of his council is generally thought to give us the highest possible idea of that fatal beauty:
«Ου νέμεσις, Τρώας και εύκνήμιδας Αχαιούς,
« They cried, “No wonder such celestial charms
Here is not one word said of the particulars of her beauty; nothing which can in the least help us to any precise idea of her person; but yet we are much more touched by this manner of mentioning her than by those long and labored descriptions of Helen, whether handed down by tradition or formed by fancy, wbich are to be met with in some authors, I am sure it affects me much more than the minute description which Spenser has given of Belphebe; though I own that there are parts in that description, as there are in all the descriptions of that excellent writer, extremely fine and poetical. The terrible picture which Lucretius has drawn of religion, in order to display the magnanimity of his philosophical hero in opposing her, is thought to be designed with great boldness and spirit: –
Humana ante oculos fædê cum vita jaceret,
In terris, oppressa gravi sub religione,
What idea do you derive from so excellent a picture ? None at all, most certainly: neither has the poet said a single word which might in the least serve to mark a single limb or feature of the phantom, which he intended to represent in all the horrors imagination can conceive. In reality, poetry and rhetoric do not succeed in exact description so well as painting does; their business is to affect rather by sympathy than imitation; to display rather the effect of things on the mind of the speaker, or of others, than to present a clear idea of the things themselves. This is their most extensive province, and that in which they succeed the best.
Section 5, Part V.
ART IN WORDS
ENCE we may observe that poetry, taken in its most general sense, cannot with
strict propriety be called an art of imitation. It is, indeed, an imitation so
far as it describes the manners and passions of men which their words can espress; where animi motus effert interprete lingua. There it is strictly imitation, and all merely dramatic poetry is of this sort. But descriptive poetry operates chiefly by substitution; by the means of sounds, which by custom have the effect of realities. Nothing is an imitation further than as it resembles some other thing, and words undoubtedly have no sort of resemblance to the ideas for which they stand.
Section 6, Part V. HOW WORDS INFLUENCE THE PASSIONS
ow, as words affect, not by any original power, but by representation, it
might be supposed that their influence over the passions should be but
light; yet it is quite ntherwise; for we find by experience that eloquence and poetry are as capable, nay, indeed, much more capable, of making deep and lively impressions than any other arts, and even than nature itself in very many cases. And this arises chiefly from these three causes: First, that we take an extraordinary part in the passions of others, and that we are easily affected and brought into sympathy by any tokens which are shown of them; and there are no tokens which can express all the circumstances of most passions so fully as words; so that if a person speaks upon any subject he cannot only convey the subject to you, but likewise the manner in which he is himself affected by it. Certain it is that the influence of most things on our passions is not so much from the things themselves as from our opinions concerning them; and these, again, depend very much on the opinions of other men, conveyable for the most part by words only. Secondly, there are many things of a very affecting nature which can seldom occur in the reality, but the words that represent them often do; and thus they have an opportunity of making a deep impression and taking root in the mind, whilst the idea of the reality was transient; and to some, perhaps, never really occurred in any shape, to whom it is notwithstanding very affecting, as war, death, famine, etc. Besides, many ideas have never been at all presented to the senses of any men but by words, as God, angels, devils, heaven, and hell, all of which have, however, a great influence over the passions. Thirdly, by words we have it in our power to make such combinations as we cannot possibly do otherwise. By this power of combining, we are able, by the addition of well-chosen circumstances, to give a new life and force to the simple object. In painting, we may represent any fine figure we please; but we
never can give it those enlivening touches which it may receive from words. To represent an angel in a picture, you can only draw a beautiful young man winged; but what painting can furnish out anything so grand as the addition of one word, «the angel of the Lord”? It is true, I have here no clear idea; but these words affect the mind more than the sensible image did; which is all I contend for. A picture of Priam dragged to the altar's foot, and there murdered, if it were well executed, would undoubtedly be very moving; but there are very aggravating circumstances, which it could never represent:
“Sanguine fædantem quos ipse sacraverat ignes.”
«Fouling with blood the fires which lately his prayers had hallowed.” As a further instance, let us consider those lines of Milton where he de scribes the travels of the fallen angels through their dismal habitation:
« – O'er many a dark and dreary vale
Here is displayed the force of union in
“Rocks, caves, lakes, dens, bogs, fens, and shades,» which yet would lose the greatest part of their effect if they were not the
“Rocks, caves, lakes, dens, bogs, fens, and shades
This idea or this affection caused by a word, which nothing but a word could annex to the others, raises a very great degree of the sublime; and this sublime is raised yet higher by what follows, a «universe of Death.» Here are again two ideas not presentable but by language, and a union of them great and amazing beyond conception; if they may properly be called ideas which present no distinct image to the mind, but still it will be difficult to conceive how words can move the passions which belong to real objects without representing these objects clearly. This is difficult to us, because we do not sufficiently distinguish, in our observations upon language, between a clear expression and a strong expression. These are frequently confounded with each other, though they are in reality extremely different. The former regards the understanding; the latter belongs to the passions. The one describes a thing as it is; the latter describes it as it is felt. Now, as there is a moving tone of voice, an impassioned countenance, an agitated gesture, which affect independently of the things about which they are exerted, so there are words, and certain dispositions of words, which being peculiarly devoted to passionate subjects, and always used by those who are under the influence of any passion, touch and move us more than those which far more clearly and distinctly express the subject-matter. We yield to sympathy what we refuse to description. The truth is, all verbal description, merely as naked description, though never so exact, conveys so poor and insufficient an idea of the thing described, that it could scarcely have the smallest effect, if the speaker did not call in to his aid those modes of speech that mark a strong and lively feeling in himself. Then, by the contagion of our passions, we catch a fire already kindled in another, which probably might never have been struck out by the object described. Words, by strongly conveying the passions, by those means which we have already mentioned, fully compensate for their weakness in other respects. It may be observed that very polished languages, and such as are praised for their superior clearness and perspicuity, are generally deficient in strength. The French language has that perfection and that defect, whereas the Oriental tongues, and in general the languages of most unpolished peoples, have a great force and energy of expression; and this is but natural. Uncultivated people are but ordinary observers of things, and not critical in distinguishing them; but, for that reason, they admire more, and are more affected with what they see, and, therefore, express themselves in a warmer and more passionate manner. If the affection be well conveyed, it will work its effect without any clear idea, often without any idea at all, of the thing which has originally given rise to it.
It might be expected from the fertility of the subject that I should consider poetry, as it regards the sublime and beautiful, more at large; but it must be ob served that in this light it has been often and well handled already. It was not my design to enter into the criticism of the sublime and beautiful in any art, but to attempt to lay down such principles as may tend to ascertain, to distinguish, and to form a sort of standard for them; which purposes I thought might be best effected by an inquiry into the properties of such things in nature as raise love and astonishment in us, and by showing in what manner they operated to produce these passions. Words were only so far to be considered as to show upon what principle they were capable of being the representatives of these natural things, and by what powers they were able to affect us often as strongly as the things they represent, and sometimes much more strongly.
Complete. Part V. of the essay "On the Sublime and Beautiful.”
AMES BEATTIE was born in Laurencekirk, Scotland, October 25th,
1735. He was educated at Aberdeen, and from 1760 to his
death, August 18th, 1803, he was professor of Moral Philosophy in Marischal College, Aberdeen. He was a poet of very considerable natural ability, and his perception of the laws of melody underlying expressions in prose as well as in verse, led him to write an essay on expression which is of value to students of oratory. The extract here made is from
« On Poetry and Music » (1778).
ood language is determinate and absolute. We know it wherever we meet
with it; we may learn to speak and write it from books alone. Whether
pronounced by a clown or a hero, a wise man, or an idiot, language is still good, if it be according to rule. But natural language is something not absolute, but relative, and can be estimated by those only who have studied men as well as books, and who attend to the real or supposed character of the speaker as well as to the import of what is spoken.
There are several particulars relating to the speaker which we must attend to, before we can judge whether his expression be natural. It is obvious that his temper must be taken into the account. From the fiery and passionate we expect one sort of language, from the calm and moderate, another. That impetuosity which is natural in Achilles would in Sarpedon or Ulysses be quite the contrary, as the mellifluent copiousness of Nestor would ill become the blunt rusticity of Ajax. Those diversities of temper which make men think differently on the same occasion will also make them speak the same thoughts in a different manner.
And as the temper of the same man is not always uniform, but is variously affected by youth and old age, and by the prevalence of mporary passions, so neither will that style which is most natural to him be always uniform, but may be energetic or languid, abrupt or equable, figurative or plain, according to the passions or sentiments that may happen to predominate in his mind. And hence, to judge whether his language be natural, we must attend not only to the habitual temper but also to the present passions, and even to the age of the speaker. Nor should we overlook his intellectual peculiarities. If his thoughts be confused or indistinct, his style must be unmethodical and obscure; if the former be much diversified, the latter will be equally copious. The external circumstances of the speaker, his rank and fortune, his education and company, particularly the two last, have no little influence in characterizing his style. A clown and a man of learning, a pedantic and a polite scholar, a husbandman and a soldier, a mechanic and a seaman, reciting