Imágenes de página

sorrow, life begins to be a burden, and you wish to perish. At the very moment when you are taking this melancholy view of human affairs, and hating the postilion, and blaming the horses, there bursts upon your view, with all its towers, forests, and streams, the deep and shaded Vale of Severn. Sterility and nakedness are thrown in the background: as far as the eye can reach, all is comfort, opulence, product, and beauty; now it is an ancient city, or a fair castle rising out of the forests, and now the beautiful Severn is noticed winding among the cultivated fields, and the cheerful habitations of men. The train of mournful impressions is quite effaced, and you descend rapidly into a vale of plenty, with a heart full of wonder and delight. Now the effect produced by sudden variation on a great scale, impresses itself, perhaps, on the mind, and is not forgotten on lesser occasions; and what Mr. Price calls the picturesque may be the faintest state of this feeling, which requires nothing but greater dimensions to exalt itself into the real sublime. I only mention this as a very frivolous conjecture, upon a very unimportant subject, which I bring forward without reflection, and part with without difficulty.



1 MEAN by the sublime, as I meant by the beautiful, a feeling of mind; though, of course, a very different feeling. It is a feeling of pleasure, but of exalted tremulous pleasure, bordering on the very confines of pain; and driving before it every calm thought, and every regulated feeling. It is the feeling which men experience when they behold marvellous scenes of nature; or when they see great actions performed. Such feelings as come on the top of exceeding high mountains; or the hour before a battle; or when a man of great power, and of an unyielding spirit, is pleading before some august tribunal against the accusations of his enemies. These are the hours of sublimity, when all low and little passions are swallowed up by an overwhelming feeling; when the mind towers and springs above its common limits, breaks out into larger dimensions, and swells into a nobler and grander nature. It is necessary here to notice the opinions of Dr. Reid and Mr. Alison, upon the subject of the sublime, which I think may be very fairly expressed by this short quotation from the former of these gentlemen: — “When we consider matter as an “inert, extended, divisible, and moveable substance, “there seems to be nothing in these qualities which we “can call grand; and when we ascribe grandeur to any “ portion of matter, however modified, may it not bor“row this quality from something intellectual, of which “it is the effect, or sign, or instrument, or to which it “bears some analogy; or, perhaps, because it produces “in the mind an emotion that has some resemblance to “that admiration, which truly grand objects raise ? # # # # # # # “Upon the whole, I humbly apprehend, that true “grandeur is such a degree of excellence as is fit to “raise an enthusiastic admiration; that this grandeur is “found originally and properly in qualities of the mind; “that it is discerned in objects of sense, only by reflec“tion, as the light we perceive in the moon and planets “is, truly, the light of the sun; and that those who look “for grandeur in mere matter, seek the living among “ the dead. “If this be a mistake, it ought at least to be granted, “that the grandeur which we perceive in qualities of “mind, ought to have a different name from that which “belongs properly to the objects of sense, as they are “very different in their nature, and produce very “different emotions in the mind of the spectator.”” Upon the justice of these observations every one must determine for themselves. When I look upon a forest, I confess I am quite unconscious of any qualities of mind, which excite in me the feelings by which I am then possessed; nor can I, upon mature reflection, find that any other feelings are excited in me but wonder and terror: nor can I admit that the sublimity excited by matter, or by qualities of mind, should have different names, because I firmly believe that the two feelings do very much resemble each other; and if that be the case, their similarity of name indicates their affinity, and introduces something like classification into such a dark and mysterious subject as the feelings of the mind. I have said so much in my Lectures on the Beautiful, against referring that feeling to moral qualities alone, and the arguments would be so precisely the same for this feeling of the sublime, that I forbear going over them again. “The first cause of this feeling,” says Mr. Burke, “is obscurity. “In thoughts from the visions “of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, fear “came upon me, and trembling; which made all my “bones to shake: then, a spirit passed before my face; “the hair of my flesh stood up! it stood still, but I “could not discern the form thereof: an image was “before mine eyes! there was silence, and I heard a “voice! Shall mortal man be more just than God?’” Now, throughout the whole of this description, as Mr. Burke very justly observes, there is an obscurity which fills the mind with terror; (such terror, I mean, as is excited by description;) every thing is half obscure; it takes place in a dream. The apparition is half seen, – it has no determinate form. There is space and verge enough for every horror that the most fruitful imagination can suggest; there are no limits to the conception of the dreadful: no man's fancy could paint any thing positive, so terrific, as every man's fancy, in this instance, is left to paint for itself. Obscurity here seems to operate in the production of the sublime, as it is a medium of terror; for whatever else be added to it, terror seems in one shape or another, or in some degree or another, to be essential to the sublime. The degree that each individual can bear of terror, without destroying the feeling of the sublime, must of course depend upon the force of every man's blood, and the strength of his nerves. I have heard of a clergyman so extremely fond of the sublime, that he procured admission into the foremost parallels at the siege of Valenciennes, in order to contemplate the firing from the batteries of the town the more distinctly: such a situation, I should have thought, would have been a little too sublime for Longinus himself, and evinces certainly a disregard for personal danger, with which the generality of the world, in their enjoyment of this high feeling, cannot keep pace. Mere terror, even in that moderated degree of which I am speaking, does not produce the sublime by itself; for if an angry man flourishes a loaded pistol near me, in all directions, and exhibits a very careless management of that interesting machine, I have fear in a certain degree, without a particle of sublimity. If a cow show some slight disposition to run at me as I am crossing a field, I am frightened, but my mind experiences nothing of the sublime. If I am attended by a bad apothecary in an illness, I am excessively frightened, but he never appears to me in the light of a sublime apothecary. Fear, therefore, commonly enters into the feeling of the sublime as an ingredient; or rather, I should say, is an ingredient of the cause of that feeling; though it cannot excite it by itself. But some men tell you it is not fear which is the ingredient, but awe; but is not fear an ingredient of awe? — for what is awe, but fear and admiration mingled together; both existing, perhaps, in a less degree, than they are to be met with in the sublime 2 But if the feeling of awe be not of the family of fear, I am quite ignorant both of its genealogy and nature. A mixture of wonder and terror almost always excites the feeling of the sublime. Extraordinary power generally excites the feeling of the sublime by these means, – by mixing wonder with terror. A person who has never seen any thing of the kind but a little boat, would think a sloop of eighty tons a goodly and somewhat of a grand object, if all her sails were set, and she were going gallantly before the wind; but a first-rate man-of-war would sail over such a sloop, and send her to the bottom, without any person on board the man-of-war perceiving that they had encountered any obstacle. Such power is wonderful and terrible, – therefore, sublime.

* Reid's Essays on the Powers of the Mind.

« AnteriorContinuar »