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Sublimity in Writing.

only to fill up the rhyme; for it interrupts the description, and clogs the image. For the same reason Jupiter is represented, as shaking his locks, before he gives the nod; “Shakes his ambrosial curls, and gives the nod ;" which is trifling and insignificant; whereas in the original the shaking of his hair is the consequence of his nod, and makes a happy picturesque circumstance in the description.

The boldness, freedom, and variety of our blank verse are infinitely more propitious than rhyme, to all kinds of sublime poetry. The fullest proof of this is afforded by Milton; an author, whose genius led him peculiarly to the sublime. The first and second books of Paradise Lost are continued examples of it. Take, for instance, the following noted description of Satan, after his fall, appearing at the head of his 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 appear'd
Less than archangel ruin'd, and the excess
Of glory obscur❜d: 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.

Here various sources of the sublime are joined together; the principal object superlatively great; a high, superior nature, fallen indeed, but raising itself against distress; the grandeur of the principal object heightened by connecting it with so noble an idea, as that of the sun suffer

Sublimity in Writing.

ing an eclipse; this picture, shaded 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 circumstanees with which we surround it; and it will appear 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, leave 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 efforts, it be deserted unexpectedly, it

Sublimity in Writing.

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 ridiculous 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 cum gemitu”.

"belching up its bowels with a groan ;" which by making the mountain resemble a sick or drunken person, degrades the majesty of the description. The debasing effect of this idea will appear in a stronger light, from observing what a 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. Arbuth not humoursly observes, represented the mountain as in a fit of the cholic.

Sublimity in Writing.

Etna 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 to 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 imagine 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 expression; and when the thought is really noble, it will generally clothe itself in a native majesty of language.


The faults, opposite to the Sublime, are prin. cipally two, the Frigid and the Bombast. The Frigid consists in degrading an object or senti

Beauty and other Pleasures of Taste.

ment, 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 beyond 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 à 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; a beautiful poem; a beauti

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