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ON THE BEAUTIFUL.
ON THE BEAUTIFUL, WHEN PRESENTED TO THE Power of IMAGINATION.
From the account given of Conception in my Ana
lysis of the intellectual faculties, * it appears, that we have a power of representing to ourselves the absent objects of our perceptions, and also the sensations which we remember to have felt. I can picture out, for example, in my own mind,-or (to express myself without a metaphor) I can think upon any remarkable building, or any remarkable scene with which I am familiarly acquainted. I can, in like manner (though by no means with the same distinctness and steadiness), think of the Smell of a Rose, of the Taste of a Pine-Apple, or of the Sound of a Trumpet. In consequence of the various functions of this power, which extend to the provinces of all the different Senses, the old English writers (after the example of the schoolmen) frequently dis
* See Philosophy of the Human Mind, Vol. I.
tinguish it by the title of Sensus Communis, a phrase which they employ precisely in the same acceptation in which I use the word Conception. It is in this way that the phrase common sense (which has now so many other meanings, both popular and philosophical) is employed by Sir John Davis, in his Poem on the Immortality of the Soul; by Dr Cudworth, in his Treatise of Immutable Morality; and by many others, both of an earlier and of a later date.
To the peculiar ease and vivacity with which we can recal the perceptions of Sight, it is owing, that our thoughts are incomparably more frequently occupied in such visual representations, than in conceiving Smells, Tastes, or Sounds; and that, when we think of these last sensations, we generally strive to lay hold of them by means of some visible object with which they are associated. I can easily, for example, think of the form and colour of a Rose, with little or no idea of its smell; but when I wish to conceive the smell as distinctly as possible, I find that the most effectual means I can use, is to conceive the flower itself to be presented to my eye. The sense of Sight, accordingly, maintains the same pre-eminence over our other senses, in furnishing materials to the power of Conception, that, in its actual exercise, belongs to it, as the great channel of our acquired information, and the habitual medium of our intercourse with things external. If there be any difference between the two cases, its pre-emimence is still more remarkable in the former than in the latter.
I have already endeavoured to explain how this word comes to be applied to qualities specifically and essentially different from each other, in consequence of the indivisible simplicity of the emotion which they excite in the mind, while they are presented to it at one and the same moment. The solution is more obviously satisfactory, where these qualities produce their effect through the same common channel of Vision; and this they do in every case, but that of the beauties which we are supposed to perceive by the organ of Hearing. There, it must be owned, the former principles do not apply in all their extent; but to compensate for any deficiency in their application to this class of our pleasures, a variety of peculiarities were mentioned as characteristical of Sounds, which seem to place their beauties nearly on a footing with those more immediately attached to the perceptions of the eye. The same observations hold still more completely with respect to the corresponding Conceptions of these different qualities. The features of a Beautiful Woman ; the amiable af. fections which they express; and the musical tones which accord with this expression, however intimately connected in our thoughts when the object is before us, are united still more completely, when the power of Conception (the Sensus Communis of the intellect) attempts to grasp them all in one combination. In this last case, too, it is the picture alone which strongly and permanently fixes the attention; and its agreeable concomitants add to the effect rather by the association of fugitive impressions or feelings, than by that of Conceptions, on which we are able steadily to dwell. The manner in which Conception is subservient to Imagination, and the grounds of that conspicuous and prominent place which, in all the creations of the latter power, is invariably occupied by images borrowed from Sight, have been already sufficiently explained. It is from the sense of Sight, accordingly (as was formerly remarked), that Imagination has derived its name; and it is extremely worthy of observation, that to this power, and to the nearly allied one of Fancy, the epithet Beautiful has exclusively been applied among all our various intellectual faculties. We speak of a beautiful imagination, and a beautiful fancy; and to the poet, who is supposed to unite both, we ascribe a beautiful genius. But it is not to visible things, nor to conceptions derived by any of our senses from the material world, that the province of Imagination is confined. We may judge of this from that combination of intellectual gratifications which we receive through the medium of Poetry; an art which addresses itself, in the first instance, to the ear; but which aspires to unite with the organic charm of numbers, whatever pleasures imagination is able to supply. These pleasures (as I have elsewhere observed) are as various as the objects of human thought, and the sources of human happiness. “All the beauties of external nature” (if I may be allowed to quote here a few sentences from another work); “all that is amiable “or interesting, or respectable in human character; “all that excites and engages our benevolent affec“tions; all those truths which make the heart feel “itself better and more happy;-all these supplyma“terials, out of which the poet forms and peoples a “world of his own, where no inconveniencies damp “our enjoyments, and where no shades darken our “prospects.” “The measured composition in which the poet “expresses himself, is only one of the means which . “he employs to please. As the delight which he “conveys to the imagination is heightened by the “other agreeable impressions which he can unite in “the mind at the same time, he studies to bestow, “upon the medium of communication which he em“ploys, all the various beauties of which it is sus“ceptible. Among these, the harmony of numbers “is not the least powerful; for its effect is constant, “and does not interfere with any of the other plea“sures which language produces. A succession of “agreeable perceptions is kept up by the organical “effect of words upon the ear, while they inform “the understanding by their perspicuity and pre“cision, or please the imagination by the pictures “they suggest, or touch the heart by the associa“tions they awaken. Of all these charms of lan“guage the poet may avail himself; and they are all “so many instruments of his art. To the philoso“pher, or to the orator, they may occasionally be “ of use; and to both they must be constantly so far “an object of study, that nothing may occur in their “compositions which may distract the attention, by “offending either the ear or the taste : but the “poet must not rest satisfied with this negative