Imágenes de página

“When I look up to the Heavens which thou “ hast made,” says an inspired writer; “to the Sun “ and Stars which thou hast ordained ; “Then say I, what is man that thou art mindful “ of him, or the son of man that thou shouldst visit “ him | “For thou hast made him but a little lower than “the angels; thou hast crowned his head with “glory and honour. “Thou hast put all things under his feet.” Intimately connected with the sublime effect of man’s erect form, is the imposing influence of a superiority of stature over the mind of the multitude. “And when Saul stood among the people, he was “higher than any of them, from his shoulders and “upward.—And all the people shouted and said, “God save the King.” Even in the present state of society, a superiority of stature is maturally accompanied with an air of authority, the imitation of which would be ludicrous in a person not possessed of the same advantages; and, in a popular assembly, every one must have remarked the weight which it adds to the eloquence of a speaker, “proudly eminent above the rest in shape “ and gesture.” " From these observations, it is easy to explain how the fancy comes to estimate the intellectual and moral excellencies of individuals, in a way analogous to that in which we measure their stature (I mean by an ideal scale placed in a vertical position); and to employ the words above, below, superiority, inferiority, and numberless others, to mark, in these very different cases, their relative advantages and disadvantages." We have even a bias to carry this analogy farther; and to conceive the various orders of created beings, as forming a rising scale of an indefinite Altitude. In this manner we are naturally led to give the title of Sublime to such attainments and efforts, in our own species, as rise above the common pitch of humanity; and hence the origin of an additional association, conspiring with other circumstances formerly pointed out, as suggesting a metaphorical application of that word to a particular class of the higher beauties of Style. It appears to me probable, that it was by a vague extension of this meaning of the Sublime to excellence in general, that Longinus was led to bestow this epithet on Sappho's Ode t ; and on some other specimens of the Wehement or Impassioned, and also of the Nervous, and of the Elegant, which do not seem to rise above the common tone of classical composition in any one quality, but in the finished perfection with which they are executed. I confess,

44 Atque exercendis capiendisque artibus apti, “Sensum a coelesti demissuun traximus arce, “Cujus egent prona et terram spectantia.”—

Juvenal, xv. Sat. 142. * See so i.)

* A trifling, but curious instance, of an analogous association may be remarked in the application we make of the terms High and Low to the Temperature of bodies, in consequence of the vertical position of the scale in our common Thermometers.

+ Note (K k.)

at the same time, my own opinion is, that, with all his great merits as a critic, and as an eloquent writer, his use of this word throughout his treatise can nei. ther be accounted for nor rendered consistent by any philosophical theory whatever. In various places, he evidently employs it precisely in the same sense in which it is now generally understood in our language; and in which I have all along used it, in attempting to trace the connection between its dif. ferent and apparently arbitrary significations. * It is wonderful that Longinus was not induced, by his own very metaphorical description of the ef. fects of sublime writing, to inquire, in the next place, to what causes it is owing, that sublime emotions have the tendency which he ascribes to them, to elevate the thoughts, and to communicate literally a momentary elevation to the body. At these effects he has stopped short, without bestowing any attention on what seems to me the most interesting view of the problem. Mr Burke has adopted the description of Longinus, and has stated the fact with still greater clearness and fulness. If he had followed out his ideas a little further, he would probably have perceived, more distinctly than he appears to have done, that the key to some of the chief metaphysical difficulties supposed to be connected with this inquiry, is to be found in the principles which regulate the progressive transitions and generalizations of the import of words; and in those laws of association, which, while they insensibly transfer the arbitrary signs of thought from one subject to another, seldom fail to impart to the lat ter a power of exciting, in some degree, the same emotions which are the natural or the necessary ef. fects of the former,

* See Note (L. l.)



Before I conclude this Essay, it may be proper to remind my readers, in order to prevent misapprehensions with respect to the foregoing observations, That my aim is not to investigate the principles on which the various elements of Sublimity give pleasure to the Mind; but to trace the associations, in consequence of which the common name of Sublimity has been applied to all of them; and to illustrate the influence of this common name in re-acting on the Imagination and the Taste. It is not, for instance, my aim to shew, that the whole effect of Horizontal Amplitude arises from its association with Elevation, or Height; far less, that it is this association alone which delights us in viewing the celestial vault, with all the various wonders it exhibits by day and by night; but merely to explain, from this principle, the transference of the epithet Sublime, from one modification of space to all the others. In like manner, I have abstained altogether from giving any opinion on the very curious question concerning the pleasure arising from certain modifications of Terror;

« AnteriorContinuar »