Page images

ed with all those images of change and trouble, of darkness and terror, which coincide so exquisitely with the sublime emotion; and the whole expressed in a style and versification easy, natural, and simple, but magnificent.

Beside simplicity and conciseness, strength is essentially necessary to sublime writing. Strength of description proceeds in a great measure from conciseness; but it implies something more, namely, a judicious choice of circumstances in the description; such as will exhibit the object in its full and most striking point of view. For every object has several faces, by which it may be presented to us, according to the cir cumstances with which we surround it; and it will ap pear superlatively sublime, or not, in proportion as these circumstances are happily chosen, and of a sublime kind. In this, the great art of the writer consists; and indeed the principal difficulty of sublime description. If the description be too general, and divested of circumstances; the object is shewn in a faint light, and makes a feeble impression, or no impression, on the reader. At the time, if any trivial or improper circumstances be mingled, the whole is degraded.

The nature of that emotion, which is aimed at by sublime description, admits no mediocrity, and cannot subsist in a middle state; but must either highly transport us; or, if unsuccessful in the execution, leaye us

exceedingly disgusted. We attempt to rise with the writer; the imagination is awakened, and put upon the stretch; but it ought to be supported; and, if in the midst of its effort it be deserted unexpectedly, it falls with a painful shock. When Milton in his battle of the angels describes them, as tearing up mountains, and throwing them at one another; there are in his description, as Mr. Addison has remarked, no circumstances, but what are truly sublime :

From their foundations loos'ning to and fro,

They pluck'd the seated hills with all their load,
Rocks, waters, woods; and by the shaggy tops
Uplifting, bore them in their hands.-

This idea of the giants throwing the mountains, which is in itself so grand, Claudian renders burlesque and rediculous by the single circumstance of one of his giants with the mountain Ida upon his shoulders, and a river, which flowed from the mountain, running down the giant's back, as he held it up in that posture. Virgil, in his description of mount Etna, is guilty of a slight inaccuracy of this kind. After several magnificent images, the poet concludes with personifying the mountain under this figure,

"Eructans viscera cúm gemitu”

"belching up its bowels with a groan;" which, by making the mountain resemble a sick or drunken persen, degrades the majesty of the description. The

debasing effect of this idea will appear in a stronger light, from observing what figure it makes in a poem of Sir Richard Blackmore; who, through an extravagant perversity of taste, selected it for the principal circumstance in his description; and thereby, as Dr. Arburthnot humorously observes, represented the mountain as in a fit of the cholic.

Ætna and all the burning mountains find

Their kindled stores with inbred storms of wind
Blown up to rage, and roaring out complain,
As torn with inward gripes and torturing pain;
Labouring, they cast their dreadful vomit round,
And with their melted bowels spread the ground.

Such instances show how much the sublime depends upon a proper selection of circumstances; and with how great care every circumstance must be avoided, which, by approaching in the smallest degree fo the mean, or even to the gay or trifling, changes the tone of the emotion.

What is commonly called the sublime style, is for the most part a very bad one, and has no relation whatever to the true Sublime. Writers are apt to im agine that splendid words, accumulated epithets, and. a certain swelling kind of expression, by rising above what is customary or vulgar, constitute the sublime; yet nothing is in reality more false. In genuine instances of sublime writing nothing of this kind appears.

"God said, let there be light; and there was light." This is striking and sublime; but put it into what is commonly called the sublime style: "The Sovereign Arbiter of nature, by the potent energy of a single "word, commanded the light to exist;" and, as Boileau justly observed, the style is indeed raised, but the thought is degraded. In general it may be observed, that the sublime lies in the thought, not in the expres sion; and, when the thought is really noble, it will generally clothe itself in a native majesty of lan


The faults, oposite to the Sublime, are principally two, the Frigid and the Bombast. The Frigid consists in degrading an object or sentiment, which is sublime in itself, by a mean conception of it; or by a weak, low, or puerile description of it. This betrays entire absence, or at least extreme poverty of genius. The Bombast lies in forcing a common or trivial object out of its rank, and in labouring to raise it into the sublime; or in attempting to exalt a sublime object be yond all natural bounds.




BEAUTY next to Sublimity affords the highest pleasure to the imagination. The emotion, which it raises, is easily distinguished from that of sublimity.


It is of a calmer kind; more gentle and soothing; does not elevate the mind so much, but produces a pleasing serenity. Sublimity excites a feeling, too violent to be lasting; the pleasure, proceeding from Beauty, admits longer duration: It extends also to a much greater variety of objects than sublimity ; to a variety indeed so great, that the sensations which beautiful objects excite, differ exceedingly, not in degree only, but also in Kind, from each other. Hence no word is used in a more undetermined signification than Beauty. It is applied to almost every external object, which pleases the eye or the ear; to many of the graces of writing; to several dispositions of the mind; nay, to some objects of abstract science. We speak frequently of a beautiful tree or flower,;;ma beautiful poem; a beautiful character; and a beau tiful theorem in mathematics.

[ocr errors]


Colour seems to afford the simplest instance of Beauty. Association of ideas, it is probable, has some influence on the pleasure, which we receive from colours. Green, for example, may appear more beautiful from being connected in our ideas with rural scenes and prospects; white with innocence; blue with the serenity of the sky. Independently of associations of this sort, all that we can farther observe respecting colours is, that those, chosen for Beauty, are commonly delicate, rather than glaring. Such are the feathers of several kinds of birds, the leaves of flowers, and the


« EelmineJätka »