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Treasure hid under ground; or to the Precious Metals, which are not to be obtained but by digging into the mine; or to Pearls placed at the bottom of the sea, inaccessible to all but such as dive into the deep.–Agreeably to this analogy, we speak of a profound mathematician; a profound metaphysician; a profound lawyer; a profound antiquary. *
The effect of this analogy has probably been not a little strengthened by an idea which (although I believe it to be altogether unfounded) has prevailed very generally in all ages of the world. I allude to the vulgar opinion, that, while poetical genius is the immediate gift of heaven, confined exclusively to a few of its favoured children, the most recondite truths in the most abstruse sciences are within the reach of all who can submit to the labour of the search. A philosopher of the first eminence has given to this prejudice the sanction of his authority, remarking, that “it is genius, and not the want of “it, that adulterates science, and fills it with error “ and false theory;” and that “the treasures of “knowledge, although commonly buried deep, may “be reached by those drudges who can dig with “labour and patience, though they have not wings to “fly.” +
* These opposite analogies are curiously combined together in the following sentence of Maclaurin. Speaking of Leibnitz, he remarks:—“We doubt not, that if a full and perfect account “of all that is most profound in the high geometry could have “ been deduced from the doctrine of infinites, it might have been “expected from this author.”—Fluxions, V.I. p. 45.
+ In this criticism on Dr Reid, I have been anticipated by his learned and ingenious friend Dr Gerard; who, after quoting the above passage, observes, “that the author's modesty under“rates his own abilities ; and, in this instance, renders his de“cision inaccurate.”—Gerard on Genius, pp. 382, 383.
The justness of this doctrine I shall take another opportunity to examine at some length. I have referred to it here, merely as an additional circumstance which may have influenced human fancy, in characterizing poetical and philosophical genius by two epithets, which in their literal sense express things diametrically opposite.
It is, at the same time, extremely worthy of observation, with respect to the metaphorical meaning of both epithets, that as the opposite of the Poetical Sublime is not the Profound, but the Low or the Grovelling; so the opposite of the Philosophical Profound is not what is raised Above the level of the earth, but the Superficial or the Shallow.
CONFIRMATION OF THE FOREGOING THEORY FROM THE NATURAL SIGNS OF SUBLIME EMOTION.— RECIPROCAL INFLUENCE OF THESE SIGNS ON THE ASSOCIATIONS WHICH SUGGEST THEM.
The strength and power of the associations which have been now under our review (how trifling and capricious soever some of them may appear to be in their origin) may be distinctly traced in the arts of the Actor and of the Orator, in both of which they frequently give to what may be called Metaphorical or Figurative applications of Natural Signs, a propriety and force which the severest taste must feel and acknowledge. While the tongue, for example, is employed in pronouncing words expressing elevation of character, the body becomes, by a sort of involuntary impulse, more erect and elevated than usual; the eye is raised, and assumes a look of superiority or command. Cicero takes notice of the same thing as a matural effect, produced on the Bodily Expression, by the contemplation of the universe; and more particularly of objects which are evalted and celestial, either in the literal or the metaphorical acceptations of these words. “Est animorum in
“geniorumque quoddam quasi pabulum, considera“tio contemplatioque naturae. Eriginur, elevatio“res fieri videmur ; humana despicimus; cogitan“tesque supera atque coelestia, hæc nostra ut exigua “et minima contemnimus.” Even in speaking of anything, whether physical or moral, which invites Imagination upwards, the tones of the voice become naturally higher; while they sink spontaneously to a deep bass, when she follows a contrary direction. This is the more remarkable, that the analogy apprehended between high and low in the musical scale, and high and low in their literal acceptations, seems to be the result of circumstances which have not operated universally among our species, in producing the same association of ideas. * The various associations connected with Sublimity become thus incorporated, as it were, with the Language of Nature ; and, in consequence of this incorporation, acquire an incalculable accession of influence over the human frame. We may remark this influence even on the acute and distinguishing judgment of Aristotle, in the admirable description of Meyazoologia in the third chapter of his Nicomachian Ethics; the whole of which description hinges on an analogy (suggested by a metaphorical word) between Greatness of Stature and Greatness of Mind. The same analogy is the ground-work of the account of Sublimity in writing, given by Longinus; who, although he speaks only of the
* See Philosophy of the Human Mind, Vol. I. ch, v, part ii. § 1.
effect of sublimity on the Mind, plainly identifies that effect with its Bodily expression. “The Mind,” he observes, “is naturally elevated by the true Su“blime, and, assuming a certain proud and erect atti“tude, exults and glories, as if it had itself produ“ced what it has only heard.” The description is, I think, perfectly correct; and may be regarded as a demonstrative proof, that, in the complicated effect which sublimity produces, the primary idea which has given name to the whole, always retains a decided predominance over the other ingredients. It seems to be the expression of Mental Elevation, conveyed by the “0s sublime” of man, and by what Milton calls the looks commercing with the skies, which is the foundation of the Sublimity we ascribe to the Human figure. In point of actual height, it is greatly inferior to various tribes of other animals; but none of these have the whole of their bodies, both trunk and limbs, in the direction of the vertical line ; coinciding with that tendency to rise or to mount upwards, which is symbolical of every species of improvement, whether intellectual or moral; and which typifies so forcibly to our species, the pre-eminence of their rank and destination among the inhabitants of this lower world. *
* “Omnis homines qui sese student praestare ceteris animali“bus, summa openiti decet, vitam silentio ne transeant, veluti “ pecora, qual natura prona, atque ventri obedientia, finxit.”— Sallust. “Separat hoc nos “A grege mutorum, atque ideo venerabile soli “Sortiti ingenium, divinorumque capaces,