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blem of some curiosity to ascertain, what led the Greeks to employ the word TVOX in this metaphorical acceptation; and what has determined the moderns to adopt so universally the same figure, and to give to its meaning a still greater degree of latitude. No other term can be found in our language which conveys precisely the same motion; and to this notion it is now so exclusively appropriated, that its literal import is seldom thought of. To use the word sublimity, in prose composition, as synonymous with altitude or height, would be affectation and pedantry. Among the critics hitherto mentioned, Lord Kames alone has observed, that, “generally speak“ing, the figurative sense of a word is derived from “its proper sense;” and that “this holds remark“ably with respect to Sublimity.” But of this observation, so just and important in itself, he has made little or no use in the sequel; nor has he once touched on the most interesting and difficult point in the problem,-the grounds of that natural transition which the mind is disposed to make from Sublimity, literally so called, to the numerous metaphorical uses of the term. To assert that, in all these cases, an emotion somewhat similar is eagerienced,” is at best but a vague and unsatisfactory solution of the dif. ficulty. Before I proceed farther, it is proper for me to observe, that my aim is not to substitute a new theory of my own, instead of those offered by my predecessors; but only to account, from the general laws of human thought, for the various metaphorical or transitive meanings of the word Sublimity. If I shall be successful in this attempt, I may, perhaps, be able to throw some light on the circumstances, by which such a variety of hypotheses, so widely different from each other, have been suggested by the same phenomena. My own opinion is, that there is a large mixture of truth in most of these theories ; but that all of them have taken their rise from partial views of the subject, or rather from a mistaken view of the mature of the problem to be resolved. In reflecting on the circumstances by which Sublimity in its primitive sense is specifically distinguish
ed me of gratifying my readers with a short extract from his animadversions; and, at the same time, of indulging my own vanity, by preserving a memorial of the literary intercourse which I have sometimes been permitted to enjoy with the most profound and accomplished scholar of his age.—See Appendix annexed to this volume.] * “An increasing series of numbers, producing an emotion si“milar to that of mounting upward, is commonly termed an as
“cending series: a series of numbers gradually decreasing, pro“ducing an emotion similar to that of going downwards, is com“monly termed a descending series.—The veneration we have “for our ancestors, and for the ancients in general, being similar “to the emotion produced by an elevated object of sight, justifies “the figurative expression, of the ancients being raised above us, “ or possessing a superior place. The notes of the gamut, “proceeding regularly from the blunter or grosser sounds, to the “more acute and piercing, produce in the hearer a feeling some“what similar to what is produced by mounting upward; and this “gives occasion to the figurative expressions a high note, and a “low note."—Elements of Criticism.
I need scarcely remark, that, in these instances, the real difficulty, so far from being explained, is not even pointed out as an object of curiosity.
ed, the first thing that strikes us is, that it carries the thoughts in a direction opposite to that in which the great and universal Law of terrestrial Gravitation operates. Hence it is, that while motion downwards conveys the idea only of a passive obedience to the laws of nature, motion upwards always produces, more or less, a feeling of pleasing surprise, from the comparative rarity of the phenomenon. In the ascent of flame; of sparks of fire; of rockets; may, even of a column of smoke, there is something amusing and fascinating to the eye;—trifling, however, in the effect produced on the imagination, when compared with the flight of an eagle soaring towards the sun. The fact is, that the ascent of an animated being into the upper regions, while it attracts the attention, in common with the ascent of smoke or of flame, exhibits active powers which are completely denied to ourselves, not only in degree, but in kind; and, accordingly, when we wish to convey the idea of a supernatural agent, the most obvious image which presents itself, is that of the human form invested with wings; pennis non homini datis. The same image has been employed for this purpose in all ages and in all countries; and must, therefore, have been suggested by the common nature and common circumstances of the human race. * An image perfectly analogous to this has universally occurred as an expressive type of those mental endowments which are confined to a few favoured individuals. It is thus we speak of the flights of imagination and of fancy; both of which powers are commonly supposed to be the immediate gift of hea. ven ; and not, like our scientific habits and acquirements, the result of education or of study. Among the sciences, Astronomy is that to which the epithet Sublime is applied with the most appropriate precision; and this evidently from the Elevation of the objects with which it is conversant : “Aërias tentasse domos, animoque rotundum Per“currisse polum.”—We do not, however, speak of the flights of the astronomer, as we do of those of the poet; because the proceedings of experience and of reason are slow in comparison of those of imagination. Ovid has happily marked this circumstance by the word scandere, in the following verses, which I quote chiefly on account of the additional proof they afford of the intimate association between the conception of mere height or superiority, and of that metaphorical sublimity which falls under the cognizance of critical and of ethical inquirers. “Felices animos, quibus haec cognoscere primis “Inque domos superas scandere cura suit ! “Credibile estillos pariter vitiisque locisque “Altius humanis exseruisse caput. “Non Venus et Vinum subli MIA pectora fregit, “Officiumve fori, militiaeve labor, “Nec levis ambitio, perfusaque gloria fuco, “Magnarumve fames sollicitavit opum. “Admovere oculis distantia sidera nostris,
* See Note (A a.)
“AEtheraque ingenio supposuere suo.
Eminent moral qualities, too, particularly those of the more rare and heroical kind, are frequently characterized by the same language.
-“Pauci quos aequus amavit
“Wirtus, recludens immeritis moti
The more sober imagination of philosophical moralists has, in general, disposed them to content themselves with likening the discipline of a virtuous life to a toilsome ascent up a rugged steep, growing less and less difficult at every step that we gain. In this, as in the allusions just quoted from the poets, the radical idea is, a continued course of active exertion, in opposition to the downward tendency of ter. restrial gravitation.”
To the more eminent and distinguishing attainments, accordingly, of the virtuous man, some modern writers have given the title of the moral sublime ; a metaphorical phrase, to which another matural association, afterwards to be mentioned, lends much additional propriety and force.
Three other very conspicuous peculiarities distinguish Sublimity from Depth, and also from horizontal Distance. 1. The vertical line in which Vegetables shoot : 2. The erect form of Man, surmounted with the seat of intelligence, and with the elewated aspect of the human face divine ; 3. The upward growth of the Human Body, during that pe. riod when the intellectual and moral progress of the mind is advancing with the greatest rapidity:-All
* See Note (B. b.)