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strength of the feeling is emasculated; the Beautiful may remain, but the Sublime is gone. — When Julius Cæsar said to the Pilot who was afraid to put to sea with him in a storm, “ Quid times ? Cæsarem vehis;" we are -struck with the daring magnanimity of one relying with such confidence on his cause and his fortune. These few words convey every thing necessary to give us the impression full. Lucan resolved to amplify and adorn the thought. Observe how, every time he twists it round, it departs farther from the Sublime, till it end at last in tumid declamation.
Sperne minas, inquit, pelagi, ventoque furenti
Hanc Cæsare pressam
* But Cæsar still superior to distress,
Fearless, and confident of sure success,
And, always ready, comes before I call.
! On account of the great iinportance of simplicity and conciseness, I conceive rhyme, in English verse, to be, if not inconsistent with the Sublime, at least very unfavourable to it. The constrained elegance of this kind of verse, and studied smoothness of the sounds, answering regularly to each other at the end of the line, though they be quite consistent with gentle emotions, yet weaken the native force of SubJimity; besides, that the superfluous words which the poet is often obliged to introduce, in order to fill
up the rhyme, tend farther to enfeeble it. Homer's description of the nod of Jupiter, as shaking the heavens, has been admired in all ages, as highly 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,
And all Olympus to its centre shook. The image is spread out and attempted to be beautified; but it is, in truth, weakened. The third
Let winds, and seas, loud wars at freedom wage,
line - “ The stamp of fate, and sanction of a God," is merely expletive; and introduced for no other reason but to fill up the rhyme; for it interrupts the description, and clogs the image. For the same reason, out of mere compliance with the rhyme, Jupiter is represented as shaking his locks before he gives the nod; “Shakes his ambrosial curls, and “ gives the nod,” which is trifling, and without meaning. Whereas, in the original, the hair of his head shaken, is the effect of his nod, and makes a happy picturesque circumstance in the description. *
The boldness, freedom, and variety of our blank verse, is infinitely more favourable than rhyme, to all kinds of Sublime poetry. The fullest proof of this is afforded by Milton; an author whose genius led him eminently to the Sublime. The whole first and second books of Paradise Lost, are continued instances of it. Take only for an example, the following noted description of Satan after his fall, appearing at the head of the infernal hosts :
He, above the rest, In shape and gesture proudly eminent, Stood like a tower: his form had not yet lost All her original brightness, nor appeared Less than archangel ruined; and the excessOf glory obscured: As when the sun, new risen, Looks through the horizontal misty air, Shorn of his beams; or, from behind the moon, In dim eclipse, disasterous twilight sheds On half the nations, and with fear of change Perplexes monarchs Darken'd so, yet shone Above them all, th' Archangel.
* See Webb, on the Beauties of Poetry..
Here concur a variety of sources of the Sublime; the principal object eminently great; a high superior nature, fallen indeed, but erecting itself against distress; the grandeur of the principal object heightened, by associating it with so noble an idea as that of the sun suffering an eclipse; this picture shaded with all those images of change and trouble, of darkness and terror, which coincide so finely with the Sublime emotion; and the whole expressed in a style and versification, easy, natural, and simple, but magnificent.
I have spoken of simplicity and conciseness as essential to Sublime Writing. In my general description of it, I mentioned Strength, as another necessary requisite. The Strength of description arises, in a great measure, from a simple conciseness ; but, it supposes also something more; namely, a proper choice of circumstances in the description, so as to exhibit the object in its full and most striking point of view. For every object has several faces, so to speak, by which it may be presented to us, according to the circumstances with which we surround it; and it will appear eminently Sublime, or not, in proportion as all these circumstances are happily chosen, and of a Sublime kind. Here lies the great art of the writer; and, indeed, the great difficulty of Sublime description. If the description be too general, and divested of circumstances, the object appears in a faint light; it makes a feeble impression, or no impression at all, on the reader. At the same time, if any trivial or improper circumstances are mingled, the whole is degraded.
A storm or tempest, for instance, is a Sublime object in nature. But, to render it Sublime in description, it is not enough, either to give us mere general expressions concerning the violence of the tempest, or to describe its common vulgar effects, in overthrowing trees and houses. It must be painted with such circumstances as fill the mind with great ánd awful ideas. This is very happily done by Virgil, in the following passage :
Ipse Pater, mediâ nimborum in nocte, corusca
Every circumstance in this noble description is the production of an imagination heated and astonished with the grandeur of the object. If there be any defect, it is in the words immediately following those I have quoted; “ Ingeminant Austri, et densissimus “ imber;" where the transition is made too hastily, I am afraid, from the preceding sublime images, to a thick shower, and the blowing of the south wind;
* The Father of the Gods his glory shrouds,
Involved in tempests, and a night of clouds :