« AnteriorContinuar »
of this, he has selected, very happily, the beautiful pleasure-grounds at Islam in Derbyshire; a scene, “ where,” to quote his own description, “nature “seems to have delighted to bring distances toge“ ther; where two rivers, which were ingulphed “many miles asunder, issue from their subterraneous “passages, the one often muddy when the other is “clear, within a few paces of each other; but they “appear only to lose themselves again, for they im“mediately unite their streams, just in time to fall “into another current, which also runs through the “garden.”—“Such whimsical wonders,” he very justly adds, “lose their effect, when represented in “a picture, or mimicked in ground artificially laid. “As accidents they may surprise; but they are not “objects of choice.” To these observations it may be added, that even where everything appears perfectly natural and probable in a work of imagination, it may yet offend the Taste, by exhibiting what would be highly pleasing in a historical composition. There are few books more interesting than Hume's History of England; but, if we conceived the events to be fictitious, it would make a very indifferent romance. The truth seems to be, that in a piece, where the story is plainly a fabrication, and where even the names of the characters are fictitious, it is impossible to keep up the reader's interest, without a plot, which evidently advances as the work proceeds, and to which all the various incidents are conceived to be somehow or other subservient. Hence the stress laid by so many critics, ancient and modern, on the A 3.
importance of unity of fable, in epic, and still more in tragic poetry. Nor do the historical plays of Shakespeare furnish a real exception to the general remark. Some of the most popular of these, it must indeed be confessed, consist entirely of a series of incidents, which have little or no connection but what they derive from their supposed relation to the fortunes of the same man. But such pieces, it will be found, do not interest and affect us, on the same principles with works of Imagination. We conceive them to exhibit facts which really happened, considering them partly in the light of dramatic performances, and partly of histories; and, in consequence of this, make allowance for many details, which, in a fable professedly the offspring of the poet's invention, we should have pronounced to be absurd. It would be worth while to examine what kind of incidents please in fictitious composition; and to ascertain the principles and rules of this kind of writing. What has been already observed is sufficient to shew, that the pleasure we derive from it is not owing merely to its enlarging the narrow limits of real history, by new and unheard-of events; but to something peculiar in the nature of the events, and in the manner of connecting them together. After all, however, less practical danger is to be apprehended from transferring to the imitative arts those habits of feeling and judging which have been formed by actual experience and observation, than from a transference to human life and external nature of ideas borrowed from the imitative arts. If, in the former case, an artist may be disappointed in producing the agreeable effect at which he aims; in the latter, he may expect the more serious inconvenience of contracting a fantastic singularity of opinions and manners, or of impairing his relish for the primary beauties which mature exhibits. A long and exclusive familiarity with fictitious narratives (it has been often observed) has a tendency to weaken the interest we take in the ordinary business of the world; and the slightest attempt to fashion the manners after such models as they supply, never fails to appear ludicrous in the extreme. The case is nearly similar with the painter, who applies to the beauties of a rich and varied prospect, the rules of his own limited art; or who, in the midst of such a scene, loses its general effect, in the contemplation of some accidental combination of circumstances suited to his canvas. But on this
point I have already enlarged at sufficient length. * * * o
I intended to have prosecuted still farther the subject of this Essay, and to have added to it some supplemental observations on the import of the word Beauty, when applied to Virtue; to Philosophical Theories; to Geometrical Propositions; and to some other classes of Scientific Discoveries; in all of which instances, the principles already stated will be found to afford an easy explanation of various apparent anomalies in the use of the expression. Enough, however, has been already said, for the purposes I have in view in the sequel of this volume; and I shall, therefore, reserve the topics now mentioned for future discussion
ON THE SUBLIME.
My thoughts were first turned particularly to this subject by the opposite judgments which have been lately pronounced on the merits of Mr Burke's theory of the Sublime, by two writers of great originality, acuteness, and taste, Mr Price and Mr Knight. The former of these gentlemen having done me the honour, in spring 1808, to allow me the perusal of a very valuable supplement to what he has already published in defence of the doctrines of his late illustrious friend, I was induced to commit to writing a few hasty and unconnected notes, on some incidental points to which his manuscript had attracted my attention. It was upon this occasion, that the leading idea occurred to me which runs through the whole of the following Essay; and which I had the boldness to communicate to Mr Price, in the very crude form in which it at first presented itself. At that period, I had little or no intention to prosecute it any farther; but having af. terwards recollected its close analogy to a principle