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Sublimity in Writing.

sublimity. It seems just to allow that mighty force or power, whether attended by terror or not, whether employed in protecting or alarming us, has a better title, than any thing yet mentionel, to be the fundamental quality of the sublime. There appears to be no sublime object, into the idea of which strength and force either enter not directly, or are not at least intimately associated by conducting our thoughts to some astonishing power, as concerned in the production of the object.


The foundation of the SUBLIME IN COMPOSITION must always be laid in the nature of the object described. Unless it be such an olsject, as, if presented to our sight, if exhibited to us in reality, would excite ideas of that elevating, that awful, and magnificent kind, which we call sublime; the description, however finely drawn, is not entitled to be placed under this class.-This excludes all objects, which are merely beautiful, gay or elegant. Besides, the object must not only in itself be sublime, but it must be placed before us in such a light, as is best calculated to give us a clear and full impression of it; it must be described with strength, conciseness, and simplicity. This depends chiefly upon the

. lively impression, which the poet or orator has of the object, which he exhibits; and upon his being deeply affected and animated by the sublime


Sublimity in Writing.

idea, which he would convey. If his own feelingo be languid, he can never inspire his reader with any strong emotion. Instances, which on this subject are extremely necessary, will clearJy flow froin the importance of all these requisites.

It is chiefly among ancient authors, that we are to look for the most striking instances of the sublime. The early ages of the world and the uncultivated state of society were peculiarly favourable to the emotions of sublimity. The Genius of men was then very prone to admiration and astonishment. Meeting continually new and strange objects, their imagination was kept glowing, and their passions were often raised to the utmost. They thought and expressed themselves boldly without restraint. In the progress of society the genius and manners of men have undergone a change more favourable to accuracy, than 10 strength or sublimity.

of all writings, ancient or modern, the sacred scriptures afford the most striking instances of the sublime. In them the descriptions of the Supreme Being are wonderfully noble, both from the grandeur of the object, and the manner of representing it. What an assemblage of awful and sublime ideas is represented to us in that passage of the eighteenth Psalm, Where an appearance of the Almighty is described! “In my distress I called upon the Lord; be heard my veice out of lais temple, and my cry came before him. Then the earth shook and trembleil ; the foundations of the bills were moved ; because lıe was wrat. IIe bowed the heavens, and came down, and darkness was under his feet; and he did ride upon a cherub

Sublimity in Writing.

and did fly; yea he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place ; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the sky.” The circumstances of darkness and terror are here applied with propriety and suc cess for heightening the sublime.

The celebrated instance, given by Longinus, from Moses, “ God said, let there be light, and there was light,” belongs to the true sublime, and its sublimity arises from the strong conception it conveys, of an effort of power producing its effect with the utmost speed and facility. A similar thought is magnificently expanded in the following passage of Isaiah, (chap. xxiv, 24, 27, 28.) 6. Thus saith the Lord thy Redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb; I am the Lord, that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself; that saith to the deep, be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers : that saith of Cyrus, he is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure ; even saying to Jerusalem, thou shalt be built ; and to

; the temple, thy foundation shall be laid."

Homer has in all ages, been universally admired for sublimity; and he is indebted for much of liis grandeur to that native and unaffected simplicity which characterises his manner. His descriptions of conflicting armies; the spirit, the fire, the rapidity, which he throws into his battles, present to every reader of the Iliad frequent instances of sublime writing. The majesty of his warlike scenes is often heightened in a high degree by the introduction of the gods. In the twentieth book, where all the gods take part in the engagement, according as they severally favour either

Sublimity in Writing.

the Grecians or the Trojans, the poet appears to put forth one of his highest efforts, and the description rises into the most awful magnificence. All nature appears in commotion. Jupiter thunders in the heavens ; Neptune strikes the earth with his trident; the ships, the city, and the mountains shake ; the earthi trembles to its centre; Pluto starts from his throne, fearing, lest the secrets of the infernal regions should be laid open to the view of mortals.

We shall transcribe Mr. Pope's translation of this passage ; which, though interior to the original, is highly animated and sublime.

But when the powers descending swell’d the fight,
Then tumult rose, fierce rage, and pale affright.
Now thro' the trembling shores Minerva calls,
And now she thunders from the Grecian walls.
Mars, hov’ring o'er his Troy, his terror shrouds
In gloomy tempests and a night of clouds ;
Now thro' each Trojan heart he fury pours.
With voice divine from Ilion's topmost towers ;
Above the sire of gods his thunder rolls,
And peals on peals redoubled rend the poles.
Beneath, stern Neptune shakes the solid ground,
The forests wave, the mountains nod around ;
Thro' all her summits tremble Ida's wools,
And from their sources boil her hundred floods ;
Troy's turrets totter on the rocking plain,
And the toss'd navies beat the heaving main.
Deep in the dismal region of the dead,
The infernal monarch rear'd his horrid head,
Leapt from his throne, lest Neptune's arm should lay
His dark dominions open to the day,
And pour in light on Pluto's drear abodes,
Abhoit'd by men, and dreadful e'en to gols.
Such wars the immortals wage; such horrors rend:
The world's vast concave, when the gods contend.

Conciseness and simplicity will ever be found essential to sublime writing. Simplicity is proper. ly opposod to studied and profuse ornament; and

Sublimity in Writing.

conciseness to superfluous expression. It will easily appear, why a defect either in conciseness or simplicity is peculiarly hurtful to the sublime. The emotion excited in the mind by some great or noble object, raises it considerably above its common pitch. A species of enthusiasm is produced, extremely pleasing, while it lasts; but the

; mind is tending every moment to sink into its ordinary state. When an author has brought us, or is endeavouring to bring us into this state, if he multiply words unnecessarily; if he deck the sublime object on all sides with glittering ornaments; nay, if he throw in any one decoration, which falls in the least below the principal image; that moment he changes the key; he relaxes the tension of the mind ; the strength of the feeling is emasculated; the beautiful may remain, but the sublime is extinguished. Homer's description of the nod of Jupiter, as shaking the heavens, has been admired in all ages, as wonderfully sublime. Literally translated, it runs thus: “He spoke, and bending his sable brows gave the awful nod; while he shook the celestial locks of his immortal head, all Olympus was shaken.” Mr. Pope translates it thus:

He spoke, and awful bends his sable brows,
Shakes his ambrosial curls, and gives the nod,
The stamp of fate, and sanction of a God;
High heaven with trembling the dread signal took,
And all Olympus to its centre shook.

The image is expanded, and attempted to be beautiful; but in reality it is weakened. The third line—The stamp of fate, and sanction of a Gud,” is entirely expletive, and introduced

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