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than that arising from the correspondent perception ; yet it is possible to communicate to the mind, in a short space of time, so immense a number of these fainter impressions, as to occasion a much greater degree of pleasure, in the general result. The succession of events in the natural world, although sufficiently varied to prevent satiety and languor, is seldom so rapid as to keep pace with the restlessness of our wishes. But Imagination can glance, in the same moment, “from heaven to earth, “from earth to heaven;” and can, at will, shift the scene, from the gloom and desolation of winter, to the promises of spring, or the glories of summer and autumn. In accounting for the powerful effect which the pleasures of Imagination occasionally produce, I am disposed to lay peculiar stress on this last circumstance;—the rapidity with which they may be made to succeed each other, and, of consequence, the number of them that may be concentrated into an instant of time. A considerable part of what Mr Gilpin remarks, in the following passage, concerning the effects of the plano-convex mirror, in surveying landscapes, may be applied to the subject now before us; and I am much pleased to find, that this analogy has not escaped the notice of that ingenious writer. “In wooded scenes, the plano-convex mirror, “which was Mr Gray’s companion in all his tours, “has a pleasing effect. Distances, indeed, reduced “to so small a surface, are lost: it is chiefly calcu“lated for objects at hand, which it shews to more “advantage. When we examine mature at large,
“we study composition and effect : we examine “ also the forms of particular objects. But, from “ the size of the objects of nature, the eye cannot “ perform both these operations at once. If it be “engaged in general effects, it postpones particu“lar objects; and, if it be fixed on particular objects, “whose forms and tints it gathers up with a pas“sing glance from one to another, it is not at lei“sure to observe general effects. “But, in the minute exhibitions of the convex “mirror, composition, forms, and colours, are brought “closer together, and the eye examines the general “effect, the forms of the objects, and the beauty of “ the tints, in one complex view. As the colours, too, “ are the very colours of nature, and equally well “harmonized, they are the more brilliant, as they “ are the more condensed. In a chaise, particularly, “ the exhibitions of the convex mirror are amusing. “We are rapidly carried from one object to another. “A succession of high-coloured objects is continually “gliding before the eye. They are like the visions “ of the imagination, or the brilliant landscapes of “a dream. Forms and colours, in brightest ar“ray, fleet before us; and, if the transient glance “of a good composition happen to unite with them, “we should give any price to fix and appropriate “ the scene.” " The four different considerations now suggested will, I hope, throw some light on the point which they are meant to illustrate. At the same time, I am sensible that much remains to be explained, in
order to account completely for the different effects produced by the combinations of Imagination, and by the realities from which their materials are collected. On this very curious and fertile question, however, I must here content myself with remarking, how strikingly discriminated, in various respects, the laws are, which regulate the pleasures we derive from these two sources; insomuch, that a separate consideration of both is necessary to all who wish to think with justness and accuracy of either. Nor is the distinction between them of use in theory only : It is of important practical utility; and deserves more attention than it has yet attracted, from all who cultivate the fine arts. It was for this reason chiefly that I have kept it in view, as steadily as possible, through the whole of the foregoing speculations concerning the Beautiful. An illustration of some of the mistakes which have originated in an indiscriminate application to the various objects of taste, of conclusions deduced from a partial study of them, could not fail to place in a light still stronger the necessity of a more accurate analysis than has hitherto been attempted, of the general principles connected with this branch of the Philosophy of the Human Mind. But I have already far transgressed the limits which I had allotted to the subject of this Essay; and must now dismiss it, for the present, with a few cursory remarks. It has been often observed by those who have treated of the principles of Criticism, from the time of Aristotle downwards, that many things which are offensive in the reality may nevertheless furnish pleas
ing materials for works of imagination, and even pleasing subjects for the imitative arts: And, although I am far from considering the argument as completely exhausted by any of the writers whom I have happened to consult, yet, as the fact is now universally admitted, I shall rather direct the attemtion of my readers, on this occasion, to a proposition not altogether so common, though equally indisputable:—That some things which we see without offence, and even with pleasure, in real life, would excite disgust, if introduced into a work of imagination. * How many unexpected combinations of circumstances do we meet with, not only in history, but in the daily intercourse of society, which we should not hesitate to pronounce unnatural and improbable, if they occurred in a novel! In real life, this very singularity amuses by the surprise it occasions; but, in a professed work of imagination, the surprise of. fends us, by suggesting doubts about the fidelity of the representation.” In a work of imagination, besides, our pleasure arises, in part, from our admiration of the skill of the artist; and this is never so strongly displayed, as when extraordinary events are brought about by a series of ordinary and natural occurrences. An incident, on the other hand, out of the common course of human affairs, strikes us as a blemish, by seeming to betray a poverty of invention and genius in the author. It is chiefly owing to this, that all casual events are unpleasing in fictitious writing, when they are employed as contrivances to bring about the catastrophe. It is perfectly agreeable to the course of nature, that a man, seemingly in good health, should drop down in a fit of apoplexy ; but a play would be quite ludicrous which admitted such an incident. We may form some judgment of this, from the disagreeable impression produced in Shakespeare's King John, by the fate of Arthur, after his escape from Hubert. For the same reason, I am inclined to doubt, whether the story of Fiesco, Count of Lavagna, which, in some of its circumstances, is so admirably adapted for the stage, is fitted, on the whole, to form the ground-work of a tragedy: And yet his accidental death has a wonderfully fine ef. fect in Dr Robertson's narrative." Something analogous to this may be remarked in landscape-painting; in which (as Mr Wheatley observes) there are many things that would offend us, which are pleasing in reality. For an illustration
* Le vrai peut quelquefois n'étre pas vraisemblable.”—Boileau.
“If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it “as an improbable fiction.”—Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.
Aristotle had plainly a similar idea in his mind when he remarked, that “nothing hinders, but that some true events may “possess that probability, the invention of which entitles an au“ thor to the name of Poet.”
See a very judicious note of Mr Twining's on this passage; and a curious quotation to the same purpose which he has produced from Diderot.—Translation of Aristotle's Treatise on Poet"y, pp. 88, 408, .