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whether accompanied with terror or not, whether employed in protecting or in alarming us, has a better title than any thing that has yet been mentioned, to be the fundamental quality of the Sublime; as, after the review which we have taken, there does not occur to me any Sublime Object, into the idea of which, power, strength, and force, either enter, not directly, or are not, at least, intimately associated with the idea, by leading our thoughts to some astonishing power, as concerned in the production of the object. However, I do not insist upon this as sufficient to found a general theory; it is enough to have given this view of the nature and different kinds of Sublime Objects; by which I hope to have laid a proper foundation for discussing, with greater accuracy, the Sublime in Writing and Composition.
THE SUBLIME IN WRITING.
HAVING treated of Grandeur or Sublimity, in external objects, the way seems now to be cleared, for treating, with more advantage, of the description of such objects; or, of what is called the Sublime in Writing. Though I may appear to enter early on the consideration of this subject; yet, as the Sublime is a Species of Writing which depends less than any
other on the artificial embellishments of rhetoric, it may be examined with as much propriety here, as in any subsequent part of the Lectures.
Many critical terms have unfortunately been employed, in a sense too loose and vague, none more so than that of the Sublime. Every one is acquainted with the character of Cæsar's Commentaries, and of the style in which they are written ; a style remarkably pure, simple, and elegant; but the most remote from the Sublime, of any of the classical authors. Yet this author has a German critic, Johannes Gulielmus Bergerus, who wrote no longer ago than the year 1720, pitched upon as the perfect model of the Sublime, and has composed a quarto volume, intitled De naturali Pulchritudine Orationis; the express intention of which is to shew, that Cæsar's Commentaries contain the most complete exemplification of all Longinus's rules relating to Sublime Writing. This I mention as a strong proof of the confused ideas which have prevailed concerning this subject. The true sense of Sublime Writing, undoubtedly, is such a description of objects, or exhibition of sentiments, which are in themselves of a Sublime nature, as shall give us strong impressions of them. But there is another very indefinite, and therefore very improper, sense, which has been too often put upon it; when it is applied to signify any remarkable and distinguishing excellency of composition; whether it raise in us the ideas of grandeur, or those of gentleness, elegance, or any other sort of beauty. In this sense Cæsar's Commentaries may, indeed, be termed Sublime, and so may many Sonnets, Pastorals, and Love Elegies, as well as Homer's Iliad. But this evidently confounds the use of words.; and marks no one species, or character, of composition whatever.
I am sorry to be obliged to observe, that the Sublime is too often used in this last and improper sense by the celebrated critic Longinus, in his treatise on this subject. He sets out, indeed, with describing it in its just and proper meaning; as something that elevates the mind above itself, and fills it with high conceptions, and a noble pride. But from this view of it he frequently departs; and substitutes in the place of it, whatever, in any strain of composition, pleases highly. Thus, many of the passages which he produces as instances of the Sublime, are merely elegant, without having the most distant relation to proper Sublimity; witness Sappho's famous Ode, on which he descants at considerable length. He points out five sources of the Sublime. The first is, Boldness or Grandeur in the Thoughts; the second is, the Pathetic; the third, the proper application of Figures; the fourth, the use of Tropes and beautiful Expressions; the fifth, Musical Structure and Arrangement of Words. This is the plan of one who was writing a treatise of rhetoric, or of the beauties of Writing in general ; not of the Sublime in particular. For of these five heads, only the two first have any peculiar relation to the Sublime; Boldness and Grandeur in the Thoughts, and, in some instances, , the Pathetic, or strong exertions of Passion : the other three, Tropes, Figures, and Musical Arrangements, have no more relation to the Sublime, than to other kinds of good Writing ; perhaps less to the Sublime than to any other species whatever; because it requires less the assistance of ornament. From this it appears, that clear and precise ideas on this
head are not to be expected from that writer. I would not, however, be understood, as if I meant, by this censure, to represent his treatise as of small value. I know no critic, ancient or modern, that discovers a more lively relish of the beauties of fine writing, than Longinus; and he has also the merit of being himself an excellent, and, in several passages, a truly Sublime, writer. But, as his work has been generally considered as a standard on this subject, it was incumbent on me to give my opinion concerning the benefit to be derived from it. It deserves to be consulted, not so much for distinct instruction concerning the Sublime, as for excellent general ideas concerning beauty in writing.
I return now to the proper and natural idea of the Sublime in composition. The foundation of it must always be laid in the nature of the object described. Unless it be such an object as, if presented to our eyes, if exhibited to us in reality, would raise ideas of that elevating, that awful, and magnificent kind, which we call Sublime; the description, however finely drawn, is not entitled to come under this class. This excludes all objects that are merely beautiful, gay, or elegant. In the next place, the object must not only, in itself, be sublime, but it must be set before us in such a light as is most proper to give us a clear and full impression of it; it must be described with strength, with conciseness, and simplicity. This depends, principally, upon the lively impression which the poet, or orator, has of the object which he. exhibits; and upon his being deeply affected, and warmed, by the Sublime idea which he would convey. If his own feeling be languid, he can never inspire us with any strong emotion. Instances, which are
extremely necessary on this subject, will clearly shew the importance of all the requisites which I have just now mentioned.
It is, generally speaking, among the most ancient authors, that we are to look for the most striking instances of the Sublime. I am inclined to think, that the early ages of the world, and the rude unim. proved state of society, are peculiarly favourable to the strong emotions of Sublimity. The genius of men is then much turned to admiration and astonishment. Meeting with many objects, to them new and strange, their imagination is kept glowing, and their passions are often raised to the utmost. They think, and express themselves boldly, and without restraint. In the progress of society, the genius and manners of men undergo a change more favourable to accuracy, than to strength or Sublimity.
Of all writings, ancient or modern, the Sacred Scriptures afford us the highest instances of the Sub. lime. The descriptions of the Deity, in them, are wonderfully noble; but from the grandeur of the object, and the manner of representing it. What an assemblage, for instance, of awful and sublime ideas is presented to us, in that passage of the XVIIIth Psalm, where an appearance of the Almighty is described ? « In my distress I called upon the Lord; “ he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry 6 came before him. Then the earth shook and “ trembled; the foundations also of the hills were “ moved; because he was wroth. He bowed the “ heavens and came down, and darkness was under “ his feet; and he did ride upon a cherub, and did “fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. “ He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion