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might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with large ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a corn-field.”
Now there is no one who in reading this passage, does not admire it as a description. And any one in assigning the reason of his admiration, would at once pronounce it a fine description, because all the circumstances mentioned tend so admirably to the design of the writer.
The examples which have been stated and examined, are amply sufficient to illustrate and establish the position, that in descriptive writing emotions of beauty may be excited by adaptation to a particular design.
I now wish to exhibit this same principle differently applied. I would show, that an emotion of beauty may be excited by the fitness or adaptation of the different parts of a description to the whole. For this purpose I introduce the following passage :
“ The sun gradually wheeled his broad disk down into the west. The wide bosom of the Tappaan Zee lay motionless and glassy, ex_cepting that here and there a gentle undulation waved and prolonged the blue shadow of the distant mountain. A few amber clouds floated in the sky, without a breath of air to move them. The horizon was of a fine golden tint, changing gradually into a pure apple green, and from that into the deep blue of the mid-heaven. A slanting ray lingered on the woody crests of the precipices that overhung some parts of the river, giving greater depth to the dark blue and purple of their rocky sides. A sloop was loitering in the distance, dropping slowly down with the tide, her sail hanging uselessly against the mast; and as the reflection of the sky gleamed along the still water, it seemed as if the vessel was suspended in the air."
Now, in answer to the inquiry, why this description is regarded with emotions of beauty, it may at once be said, that the scene itself is fitted to excite emotions of this kind, and also, that it is most clearly exhibited to our view. But in looking at the different circumstances which make up the description, it may be still further noticed, that they all correspond with each other,—they are of like importance, and produce a similar effect on the mind. The “ glassy bosom of the lake,"—the " amber clouds,"—the “varying tints of the horizon,"—the “light and shades on surrounding objects," and the becalmed vessel apparently “suspended in the air,” are prominent objects in the scene, each worthy of notice, and each producing a similar effect on the mind. That the emotion of beauty, felt in reading this description, is to be ascribed in part to the correspondence and fitness of the several parts, may be made evident, if we attempt to introduce an object of a different nature. Suppose that after mentioning the clouds floating in the sky, the writer had said, the Dutch farmers were driving home their cows from pasture,—who would not say at once, that the beauty of the description is gone? An emotion of beauty may then be excited by the fitness of the parts of a description to the whole, on the same principle, as it is by the fitness of the whole to some particular design.
The application of the principle of fitness or adaptation in accounting for emotions of taste, may be carried still further. From the different circumstances of a description, we may proceed to notice the words, and we shall find that part of the effect of passages of descriptive writing, as fitted to excite emotions of taste, is to be ascribed to what is usually called the happy choice of words, or the choice of those words which are best suited to the design of the writer. In the examples already given, we have full illustration of the correctness of this statement. I would direct the attention particularly to that in which the writer says, the ocean beats with “deadéning, shivering weight, against the staggered vessel." How much of the beauty of this part of the description is to be ascribed to the choice of the epithets here used ? To be persuaded of this, we have only to make some alteration this respect, to substitute one word for another, and the charm is broken. Had the writer, just quoted, said,—The ocean beats with a stupifying, shocking weight, against the shattered vessel, who, in reading the description, would have felt an emotion of beauty ?
If in what has now been stated, in connexion with passages of descriptive writing, the student has been led fully to understand what is meant by fitness or adaptation, and to see, that it may be regarded as one of those principles on which are founded attempts to excite emotions of taste, the design of their introduction has been answered. It will be shown in the examination of the ornaments of style, that, whether we regard them only as parts of the literary production in which they are found, or look on them as tending to produce some designed effect, we may in part account for the emotion of taste which they excite, on this same principle of adaptation.
I have thus brought to view three different principles, on which are founded attempts, on the part of the writer, to excite emotions of taste in the minds of his readers. 1. Primary laws, or original tendencies of our natures. 2. Association. 3. Fitness, or adaptation. Full opportunity for illustration will be presented in connexion with what follows. In examining the classified ornaments of style, I begin with the SIMILE, OR FORMAL COMPARISON.
EXAMPLE 1.-6. Wit and humour are like those volatile essences, which, being too delicate to bear the open air, evaporate almost as soon as they are exposed to it.”
In this example, as in all instances of the Formal Comparison, different objects are brought together, and the resemblance which they bear to each other is formally stated. My design, in introducing it, is to show the student the kind of resemblance on which the Comparison is founded. It will at once occur to him, that wit and humour are in their nature different from volatile essences. The latter are perceived by one of the senses ; the former exist only in the mind.
Still there is a resemblance between them as they are here viewed, and it is a resemblance which is discerned with pleasure. Had the wit and humour of one man been compared with the wit and humour of another, we might have derived information from the comparison; but the effect upon us, as a pleasing comparison, would have been unfelt. It is the unexpectedness of the resemblance which pleases us. Hence then we deduce the caution, that the resemblance on which the Simile or Formal Comparison is founded, should not be too obvious.
EXAMPLE 2. — “ The minds of the aged are like the tombs to which they are approaching ; where, though the brass and the marble remain, yet the inscriptions are effaced by time, and the imagery has mouldered away."
This beautiful passage is introduced to show, that it is essential to a good comparison, that the object, to which a resemblance is traced, be naturally suggested. We say that the object is in this case suggested naturally, because the transition is easy from the minds of the aged to the tombs, which they are approaching. The image brought to our view is in consonance with the feelings, which the thought to be illustrated had excited. While then, as before stated, we guard against drawing our comparisons from objects to which the resemblance is too close, it should be remembered, that it heightens the beauty of the comparison, to discover that the object to which a resemblance is traced, is naturally suggested.
In applying this direction, we are to take into view, not only the nature of the subject, but the circumstances,
with which the writer is surrounded. Some of the most admired comparisons in our language, are those which are obviously suggested by an object immediately before the writer. Thus Burke, describing his deep affliction under the loss of his son, says,
6. The storm has
gone over me; and I lie like one of those old oaks, which the late hurricane has scattered about me. I am stripped of all my honours; I am torn up by the roots, and lie prostrate on the earth."
It is on the same principle, that, in the following lines, from Gray's Elegy in a Country Church Yard, the comparison in the first couplet has been censured, and that in the second approved.
“ Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
And waste its sweetness on the desert air." When a comparison is thus naturally suggested, there is found in it a fitness or adaptation to the subject and occasion on which it is introduced ; and in such instances, the emotion of taste which is called forth, may be traced in part to this principle of adaptation as its exciting cause. To show inore fully that this fitness must exist, in order that a comparison may be approved, I introduce another example.
Suppose, that in a discourse from the pulpit the following sentence should be found :
Curses, like chickens, always come home to roost." This comparison is founded on an unexpected resemblance, and is illustrative; but if we regard it in relation to the occasion, there is a want of fitness. It is not in consonance with the sober, elevated train of thought and feeling, which should characterize a religious discourse; and the man of literary taste at once condemns it, because of its want of fitness to the occasion.