« AnteriorContinuar »
interwoven with the mystic sublimity of Platonism, which pervades more especially the spirited and lofty verses of Lorenzo de' Medici. It next allied itself equally with classical mythology, generalizing the “Jehovah, Jove, or Lord,” as Mr. Pope has it, of ğ. and Heathens; under which system every Pagan deity had his name continued, and was regarded as nothing more than a separate attribute of the true God. Sannazaro and Pontano, like the Portuguese epic poet Camoens, are full of this absurd amalgamation; but from the time of Vida to the present day the devotional effusions of the Tuscan muse have been purged from foreign dross, and in subject as well as in style, while highly impassioned, are equally pure, pious, and erudite. Were I to be called upon to point out the two best sacred poets of modern times, I should instantly name Filicaja and Klopstock; both men of exemplary goodness, whose lives were dedicated to religion, and who, while they wrote from the heart, adorned their compositions with every classical excellence. Bion has nothing sweeter or more touching than Klopstock; Pindar nothing more ardent or sublime than Filicaja.
Yet, to determine the question fairly, whether religious subjects can afford a proper ground for poetry, or the language of the passions, it is necessary to look back to nations of a very remote antiquity, and who cultivated such attempts as a national pursuit. Surely, if the erroneous and extravagant mythologies and superstitions of ancient Greece possessed interest enough to concentrate equally the fond attention of the poets and the people, and to be laid hold of as the standard theme of odes, dramas, and epopees; if the sacred fictions of Isis and Osiris, of Ormuzd and Ahriman, of Brahma and Pracriti, were deemed the noblest subject for song in Egypt, Persia, and Hindostan; and song, too, composed by the most learned hierophants and the most celebrated bards of their day, in colleges expressly founded for the occasion; what ought we not to look for in countries of coeval antiquity, preternaturally illuminated with the principles of genuine religion, and where colleges also were founded of the same mixed kind for the same lofty purpose? What ought we not to expect from the rapt patriarchs of Idumaea, or the inspired prophets of Salem; from the magnificent schools of Dedan and Theman, or those of Naioth and Mount Zion ? From the two latter, more especially, since one of their chief, and certainly one of their most pleasing, duties was to compose a regular series of sacred odes and other canticles to the praise of the great Creator, and to sing them daily to the skilful sound of psaltery, tabret, and harp, in sweet, alternate concert; and accompanied with the symphonious movements cf solemn attitudes and sacred dance. We have not time for examples, pleasant as the task would be to introduce them; but the question seems to be unanswerably settled, by the general and well-known history of these countries, and the exquisite specimens of their sacred lyrics which have descended to our own day; and which prove unequivocally that the language of the passions, of hope and fear, of joy and sorrow, of compunction and triumph, are directly fitted to become the language of devotion; and that the
urest and sublimest religion is capable of giving rise to the purest and subF. poetry. The Bible, indeed, which is the first book we should prize and the last we should part with, is as much superior to all other books, whether of ancient or modern times, in its figurative and attractive dress, as it is in its weighty and oracular doctrines; in the hopes it enkindles and the fears it arrays. In its exterior as in its interior, in its little as in its great, it displays alike its divine original.
BeroRE we close our analysis of the faculties of the mind, there are yet three powers, that have a larger claim upon our attention than we have hitherto been able to give them. These are, the faculties of TAstE, GENIUs, and IMAGINATIon; the alliance between which is so close, that many philosophers have conceived they are produced at the same moment, and cannot exist separately. This, however, is an erroneous opinion, proceeding from a want of clear ideas as to their respective characters—characters which do not apf. to have been at any time very accurately defined; and the pecular imits and distinctions of which I shall take leave, therefore, before we close this course of instruction, to fix by a new boundary. IMAGINATION, then, is that faculty of the mind which calls forth and combines ideas with great rapidity and vivacity, whether congruous or incongruous. Genius is that faculty which calls forth and combines ideas with great rapidity and vivacity, and with an intuitive perception of their congruity or incongruity. Taste is that faculty which selects and relishes such combinations of ideas as produce genuine beauty, and rejects the contrary.
These definitions are simple, but, I trust, correct; and if so, "MAGINATIox is .
the basis of the whole; TAste may exist without GENIUs, and GENIUs without taste, as I shall presently endeavour to show; but neither can exist without IMAGINATION. Yet imagination is neither taste nor genius, since, though absolutely necessary to the subsistence of these powers, the great mart that furnishes them with their daily food, it may also exist without them. Let us commence, then, with the faculty of IMAGINATION. Whence comes it that the mind, at first a tabula rasa, a sheet of white paper, without characters of any kind, becomes furnished with that vast store of ideas, the materials of wisdom and knowledge, which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety The whole, as I had occasion to prove in a preceding lecture," is derived from experience,—the experience of sensation and reflection; from what have been called objective and subjective ideas; from the observations of the mind employed either about external sensible objects, or the internal operations of itself, perceived and reflected upon by its own faculties. Now, it is the office of the reason to hunt out for and accumulate ideas from both the above sources, as it is that of the perception to distinguish them when present, and of the memory to recall them on future occasions. And hence, he who has laid in the largest stock of ideas is possessed, not indeed of the most extensive knowledge, but of the most extensive materials of knowledge. For, in order to produce knowledge, we must not only have a numerous stock of ideas, but these ideas must be examined, compared, arranged, combined, according to their connexion and agreement, or disconnexion and repugnancy. To do this is the office of the JudgMENT; and hence, he who has a power of making such assortment and comparison with clearness and precision is said to have a deep insight into things; which is nothing more than affirming that the faculty of his judgment is correct and acute. I have stated genius to be that faculty by which the mind rapidly or intuitively perceives the congruity or incongruity of ideas; so that genius is intuitive judgment; it is judgment that looks forward at once from the beginning to the end of a chain of ideas, and stands in little or no need of the intermediate links on which proper or common judgment depends for its guidance.
* Series in. Lecture iii.
We often, however, meet with persons who have a strong and active propensity to combine ideas, without any attention to their natural agreement or connexion. And it is in individuals of this description that the imagination constitutes the ruling power, and lords it over the judgment. Such combinations are soon made, for they cost no trouble, like those the judgment, engages in: and as the persons who are constitutionally prone to make them possess, perhaps without an exception, a sanguineous or irritable temperament, the nature of which I explained in a late lecture of the present series,” they are also made with peculiar liveliness and rapidity; and I have hence defined the imagination to be that faculty of the mind which calls forth and combines ideas with great rapidity and vivacity, whether congruous or incongruous. This, however, is pure or simple IMAGINAtion, and to observe it in its full sorce we must select and attend to those states of the mind in which it is altogether set at liberty from the control of the judgment; we must follow it up into the airy visions of sleep, the wild phantasms of delirium, the extravagant fictions of madness, or the dark reveries of melancholy. In all these states it has full play, and revels with unbounded career. And it shows us distinctly the error of those psychologists who have regarded imagination, genius, and fine taste as one and the same attribute. For here we behold the restless power of imagination enthroned without a rival in the centre of the intellectual empire, and yet unaccompanied, except perhaps in a few anomalous cases, with taste or genius of any kind. A long habit of association, in the case of dreaming and delirium, or some predominant feeling in the case of madness or melancholy, may occasionally give a certain degree of consistency or natural colouring to the ideas as they are successively imbodied; and I have hence described the ideas of imagination as characterized by lapid and vivacious combinations, whether congruous or incongruous; but for the most part the consistency is only occasional and momentary; or, if permament, limited to a single subject. Tried by this test, i am afraid Dr. Akenside, among others, will be found to have fallen into some slight confusion in his idea of imagination or fancy (for he uses the terms synonymously), as collected from his well-known and very admirable poem—a poem in a few places, perhaps, obscure to general readers from their unacquaintance with the Platonic philosophers, but combining as much fire, and feeling, and classical elegance, and rich imagery, and sweetness of versification, as any didactic poem of the same extent in the English tongue. This poem he entitles “The Pleasures of Imagination;” and the direct scope of it is to prove, firstly, that the highest pleasures of the mind are those furnished by the imagination; and, secondly, that they are derived from the three sources of the Fair, the Wonderful, and the Sublime, as they are discoverable in the kingdoms of art and nature, and are chiefly collected and represented to us by poets and painters:Know, then, whate'er of nature's pregnant stores, Whate'er of mimic Art's reflected forms, With love and admiration thus inflame The powers of FANcy, her delighted sons To three illustrious orders have referred;— Three sister-graces—whom the painter's hand, The poet's tongue confesses: the Sublime, The Wonderful, the Fair.—I see them dawn : I see the radiant visions where they rise, More lovely than when Lucifer displays
His beaming forehead through the gates of morn,
Who does not see that, through the whole of this the poet is speaking, not of fancy or imagination in its proper and simple capacity, but of fancy or imagination under the guidance of taste and genius; and that, consequently, he confounds these three faculties, different as they are from each other, under one common name. In like manner Mr. Allison commences the second edition of his “Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste,” with the sollowing passage:—“The emotions of sublimity and beauty are uniformly ascribed, both in popular and philosophical language, to the imagination. The fine arts are considered as the arts which are addressed to the imagination, and the pleasures they afford are described, by way of distinction, as the
* Series III. Lecture xi.
leasures of the imagination.” Now, this may be popular language, but it is
y no means philosophical. The poet as a poet may talk of the pleasures of imagination, because he limits his ideas to pleasurable objects, and submits then to the selective hand of genius and taste; but will the madman, or even at all times the lover, talk also of its pleasures 3 Shakspeare tells us, no; and in proof hereof gives us in his Midsummer Night's Dream an exquisite picture of the different subjects on which their respective imaginations are exercised:
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
This, indeed, is the language of philosophy though put into verse. The madman, the lover, and the poet are described as being joint subjects to the dominion of imagination; while the general current of their ideas, from its vehemence, abruptness, and audacity, is denominated a phrensy. But the phrensy of the poet is distinctly stated to be of a superior kind to that of the rest, and is distinguished by the epithet fine, delicate, refined, polished; and, consequently, imports skill or regulation; taste, genius, or both together. It necessarily implies a something besides the simple imagination, that unites with and controls it; and hence accurately accords with the view of the subject now taken. Let us proceed to the faculty of GENIUs. This I have defined to be that power of the mind which calls forth and combines ideas with great rapidity and vivacity, and with an intuitive perception of their congruity or incongruity. Genius is, therefore, in few words, imagination with intuitive judgment. It distinguishes the man of FINE PHRENsy, as Shakspeare expresses it, from the man of MERE PHRENsy. It is a sort of instantaneous insight, that gives us knowledge without going to school for it. Sometimes it is directed to one subject, sometimes to another; but under whatever form it exhibits itself, it enables the individual who possesses it to make a wonderful and almost miraculous progress in the line of his pursuit. Sometimes it attaches itself to the sweet harmony of sounds, and we then behold an infant of eight or ten years of age evincing the science and execution of an adult and finished musician. Sometimes it rejects the science of sounds, and prefers that of numbers; and we behold a boy of twelve years old solving, almost instantaneously, arithmetical questions which would cost an expert practitioner in the common way a labour of many hours. Sometimes we find it enamoured of the beauty of colours or the charms of eloquence; and we are struck with the precocity of perfection which it evinces in either case. In other instances we see it descending to the arts and labours of common life, and diffusing intuitive knowledge among the multitude. Go to the busy 'Change ; and you will find some individuals allowed by general consent to have a peculiar genius, or talent, as it is often called, for commerce; in other words, who are capable of calling forth and combining commercial ideas with great speed and vivacity, and with that intuitive perception of their agreement or disagreement which leads them to the most judicious results—results which the surrounding crowd would only be able to attain by a long catena
tion or process of inquiry. Go into the country, and you will find the same difference among our husbandmen and agriculturists; while some among them have no more imagination than the clods they cleave with their ploughshares, others seem to penetrate intuitively the nice order of vegetation, and never suffer a season to roll over them without wringing from it some important secret; as Aristaeus in the Georgics from the pinioned form of old Proteus. Go to our manufacturing and mechanical towns—to Manchester, Birmingham, and Sheffield, and you will, in like manner, meet with artisans and handicrafts who discover the same acuteness of intelligence, the same rapid combination of consenting ideas, the same superiority of genius or talent in their respective callings beyond that which is possessed by their fellows, as in the cases to which I have alluded already. Genius, then, wherever it is found, and to whatever purpose directed, is mental power; it acts by an invisible impulse, and appears to act miraculously. And hence, indeed, its name—a name common to all the world—derived from the Hebrew, copied thence into the Sanscrit, Arabic, and Chinese; from the eastern tongues into the Latin, and from the Latin into our own, and almost every other language of modern Europe, and importing, in every instance, in its radical signification, a tutelary, a guiding, or inspiring divinity. It is genius, then, that must control the imagination, if the pictures it paints be of any value, if the ideas it combines be combined skilfully or accordantly, if the feelings it excites be pleasurable, or the result it produces be beneficial. To give full efficacy, however, to the daring flights of the imagination, there is another power of the mind which must associate with the attribute of genius, and that is taste; which I have already defined to be that mental faculty which selects and relishes such combinations of ideas as produce genuine beauty, and rejects the contrary. Imagination, therefore, is as necessary to the existence of taste as of genius; since each equally depends upon this active and vivacious power for the materials with which it is to work. For the most part, taste and genius are united in the same mind, but not necessarily or always so ; and hence they are by no means the same thing. We see evident proofs of this in many of the subjects selected by the lowest class of the Dutch painters, and by several of the most eminent caricature draughtsmen of the present day. The broad laughter or other distortion of the features, which they so frequently present to us, often discovers a powerful genius in this particular line, and, as displaying the effect of muscular action, may afford to the young painter a useful study; but the ideas are too ludicrous and violent for real beauty, and have, hence, no pretensions to pure taste. Among the whims and follies which have successively risen into notice in our own country, there appears at one time, among the lower ranks of life, to have been an odd and singular fashion for grinning. The third volume of the Spectator contains a paper that gives a very humorous account of this elegant rage; and informs us that grinning clubs were established in different parts of the country, grinning matches proposed, and grinning prizes adjudged to the winner. Among the competitors in this new Olympic game, there were some who seem to have been endowed with a peculiar genius for the art; and in one instance the prize fell upon a cobbler, who discovered so much accomplishment, and excited so much applause, that a hardhearted young woman, whom he had in vain wooed so five years before, immediately gave him her hand, and was married to him the week following. Now, here, as in the Dutch paintings I have just noticed, whatever may have been the genius displayed, every one, I apprehend, will admit that it was genius without taste. Let us, however, ascend to nobler regions. We occasionally meet with particular instances of deficient taste in persons of the most elevated genius, and whose general taste is acknowledged by every one to be sufficiently correct. As one instance, I may perhaps mention that Reubens, in his very excellent picture of Daniel in i. lions' den, has given a human expression to