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GENERALIZATIONS OF SUBLIMITY IN CONSEQUENCE OF ASSOCIATIONS RESULTING FROM THE PHENOMENA OF GRAVITATION, AND FROM THE OTHER PHYSICAL ARRANGEMENTS WITH WHICH OUR SENSES ARE CONVERSANT.
WHEN we confine our views to the earth's surface, a variety of additional causes conspire, with those already suggested, to strengthen the association between Elevated Position and the ideas of Power, or of the Terrible. I shall only mention the security it affords against a hostile attack, and the advantage it yields in the use of missile weapons; two circumstances which give an expressive propriety to the epithet commanding, as employed in the language of |Fortification. In other cases, elevated objects excite emotions still more closely allied to admiration and to awe, in consequence of our experience of the force of heavy bodies falling downwards from a greatheight. Masses of water, in the form of a mountain-torrent, or of a cataract, present to us one of the most impressive
images of irresistible impetuosity which terrestrial phenomena afford; and have an effect, both on the eye and on the ear, of peculiar Sublimity, of which poets and orators have often availed themselves to typify the overwhelming powers of their respective arts.
“Monte decurrens velut amnis, imbres
“Fervet, immensusque ruit profundo
“Now the rich stream of music winds along, “Deep, majestic, smooth, and strong; “Through verdant vales, and Ceres' golden reign; “Now rolling down the steep amain, “Headlong impetuous see it pour, “The rocks and nodding groves re-bellow to the roar.” “At ille,” says Quinctilian, speaking of the dif. ferent kinds of eloquence, “qui saxa devolvat, et “ pontem indignetur, et ripas sibi faciat, multus et “torrens, judicem vel nitentem contra feret, coget“que ire quá rapit.” " The tendency of these circumstances, in conjunction with others before mentioned, to associate a sublime effect with motion downwards, is too obvious to require any illustration; and, accordingly, it opens a rich field of allusion to poets, wherever an idea is to be conveyed of mighty force and power; or where emotions are to be produced, allied to terror. Motion upwards, on the other hand, and perhaps still more, whatever is able to oppose an adequate resist
ance to a superincumbent weight, or to a descending shock, furnishes, for reasons hereafter to be explained, the most appropriate images subservient to that modification of the Sublime, which arises from a strong expression of mental energy.
In looking up to the vaulted roof of a Gothic Cathedral, our feelings differ, in one remarkable circumstance, from those excited by torrents and cataracts; that whereas, in the latter instances, we see the momentum of falling masses actually exhibited to our senses; in the former, we see the triumph of human art, in rendering the law of gravitation subservient to the suspension of its own ordinary ef. fects:
“The ponderous roof,
An emotion of Wonder, accordingly, is here added to that resulting from the Sublimity of Loftiness and of Power.—As we are placed, too, immediately under the incumbent mass, the idea of the Terrible is brought home to the imagination more directly; and would, in fact, totally overpower our faculties with the expectation of our inevitable and instant destruction, were it not for the experimental proof we have had of the stability of similar edifices. It is this natural apprehension of impending danger, checked and corrected every moment by a rational conviction of our security, which seems to produce that silent and pleasing awe which we experience on entering within their walls; and which so perfectly accords with the other associations awakened by the sanctity of the place, and with the sublimity of the Being in whom they are centered.”
The effect of the habits of thought and of feeling which have been just described, give not only a propriety but a beauty to epithets expressive of the Terrible, even when applied to the great elevation of things from which no danger can, for a moment, be conceived to be possible.
“—Where not a precipice frowns o'er the heath
“Mark how the dread pantheon stands
* An emotion of wonder, analogous to that excited by the vaulted roof of a cathedral, enters deeply into the pleasing effect produced by a majestic arch thrown across a river or a gulf. That it does not depend merely on the beauty of form, or upon vastness of dimension, appears clearly from the comparative meanness of an iron bridge, though executed on a far greater scale. I was never more disappointed in my life than when I first saw the bridge at Sunderland.
In the following rude lines of Churchill, which Mr Tooke's letter to Junius has made familiar to every ear, the feelings which give to the stone arch its peculiar character of grandeur are painted with equal justness and spirit:
“'Tis the last key-stone
To all this it may be added, that the momentum of falling bodies is one of the most obvious resources of which Man avails himself for increasing his physical power, in the infancy of the mechanical arts. Even in the hostile exertions made with the rudest weapons of offence, such as the club and the mace, power is always employed from above ; and the same circumstance of superiority, in the literal sense of that word, is considered as the most decisive mark of victory in still closer conflict. The idea of Power, accordingly, comes naturally to be associated with the quarter from which it can alone be exerted in the most advantageous and effectual manner; and that of weakness with prostration, inferiority, and submission. When these different considerations are combined, it will not appear surprising, that the ideas of Power and of High Station should, in their application to our own species, be almost identified; insomuch that, in using this last expression, we are scarcely conscious of speaking metaphorically. A similar remark may be extended to the following phrases: High rank—High birth—-High-spirited—-Highminded; High-Priest—High-Churchman—Serene Highness—High and Mighty Prince. The epithet Sublime, when applied to the Ottoman Court, af. fords another example of the same association. Sir William Temple's comparison of the subordination and gradations of ranks in a mixed monarchy to a Pyramid; and Mr Burke's celebrated allusion to the “Corinthian Capitals of Society,” are but expan