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Milton, in alluding to the same topics, has pursued the same track:
“Or let my lamp at midnight hour
If these observations be just, the question which has been so often agitated with respect to the comparative effects of the Physical and Moral Sublime, must appear entirely nugatory; their general result leading to this conclusion, that all the qualities, which we refer to both, unite in forming one and the same group of associations. The ideas thus associated may be conceived to bear some distant analogy, in their mutual communications with each other, and in their common communication with that great fountain of sublime emotion in which they all centre, to the system of circulation in the animal frame;—or, perhaps, in this point of view, the associated elements of Sublimity may be still more aptly compared to the different jars composing an Electrical Battery; each of which is prepared to con
* The doctrine of the soul's pre-existence is ascribed by Plato himself to Orpheus.
tribute, at one and the same moment, its proportional share to the joint explosion.
In the following well-known illustration of the superiority of the Moral above the Physical Sublime, it is remarkable, that while the author exemplifies the latter only by the magnitude and momentum of dead masses, and by the immensity of space considered in general, he not only bestows on the former the interest of a historical painting, exhibiting the majestic and commanding expression of a Roman Form, but lends it the adventitious aid of an allusion, in which the imagination is carried up to Jupiter armed with his bolt. In fact, it is not the two different kinds of sublimity which he has contrasted with each other, but a few of the constituents of the Physical Sublime which he has compared, in point of effect, with the powers both of the Physical and Moral Sublime combined together in their joint operation:
“Look then abroad through nature, to the range
I shall close this Essay with hinting very slightly, that how nearly soever allied to Literal Sublimity are all the various kinds of the Metaphorical Sublime, it is by no means an infallible rule, for the attainment of the latter, to soar at once into the clouds; far less, to string together words and images expressive of what is elevated or lofty. I mention this, because it is a common mistake among juvenile writers; and a mistake into which they are not unnaturally betrayed, by the language consecrated to that group of associations which I have been endeavouring to illustrate." The employment of phrases expressive of mere elevation, and unaccompanied with any display of genius, good sense, or skill, produces one of the most absurd species of the false sublime; that which is properly expressed by the words bombast and fustian. To the faults of this inflated style, Longinus applies the metaphorical title of meteors, t a word strongly significant of the impression which they produce on minds, in which the power of Taste has not been duly cultivated. In this respect, he seems to have conceived the false Sublime as bearing the same relation to the true, which Pope has so well described, in contrasting false with true Wit : “Bright as a blaze, but in a moment gone;— “True Wit is everlasting like the Sun.”
To avoid all risk of any imputation of this sort, writers of taste find it, in most cases, expedient, in the hackneyed and worn out state of our traditional imagery, when they wish to produce an emotion of Sublimity, to touch on some of its less familiar adjuncts, or on some of the associated ideas which follow in their train; rather than to dwell on the idea of Literal Sublimity, or on any of its more commonplace concomitants." An example of this occurs in Bailly's description of an Astronomical Observer, preparing himself to enter on his nightly task, when other mortals are retiring to rest. The elevation of the spectacle above him, which forms the most prominent feature in a passage formerly quoted from Ovid's Fasti, and which undoubtedly contributes more than anything else to impart a Sublime Character to the Astronomer's situation and employment, is studiously kept out of view, while our attention is drawn to secondary and less obvious circumstances, which derive the principal part of their effect from the sublimity of that accompanyment which it is left to fancy to supply;-“to the pro“spect of a midnight solitude;—to the silent lapse “ of time, interrupted only by the beats of the As“tronomical Clock;-to the motionless posture of “ the Observer (his eye attached to the Telescope, “his ear intent upon the vibrations of the Pendu“lum, his whole soul rivetted to the fleeting instant “which is never to return);-to the mathematical “regularity of the celestial movements, inviting the “Imagination to follow them through their Stupen“dous Cycles;–and to the triumph of Human “Reason in rendering even the Heavens subser“vient, to complete the dominion of Man over the “Earth and the Ocean.”—I have attempted to bring together, from a very imperfect recollection, a few of the principal traits of this noble picture. For the rest I must refer to the very eloquent work from which they are borrowed;—recommending to my readers, if they should have the curiosity to consult the original, to observe (as a farther confirmation of the foregoing speculations) the elevation of style which the author maintains through the whole of his narrative ; an elevation naturally inspired by the Sublimity of his subject; and which would have appeared wholly out of place, in tracing the origin and progress of any other branch of physical science, involved to the same degree in the technical mysteries of numbers and of diagrams. *
* Dum vitat humum, nubes et inania captatt oz o.o. 27.2.2 airsaga.-Sect. 3.
* Among these concomitants, thunder and lightning are favourite resources with all writers whose taste inclines them to the bombast : “Up from Rhyme's poppied vale, and ride the storm “That thunders in blank verse.” Such is the exordium of a poem, by an author not destitute of genius (Aaron Hill), who lived in habits of intimacy with Pope, Thomson, and Bolingbroke. On the other hand, in proportion to the difficulty of the task, is the effect produced, when the most obvious adjuncts of sublimity are skilfully and happily presented in new and unexpected combinations. Collins furnishes an instance of this in a line quoted above; and Campbell a noble one, in a couplet, descriptive merely of the altitude of a mountain. “Where Andes, giant of the western star,
“With meteor-standard to the winds unfurl’d,