Page images

distinguished by the length of the batoon each carries in his hand : and in Japan, princes and great lords show their rank by the length and size of their sedan-poles.* Again, it is a rule in painting, that figures of a small size are proper for grotesque pieces; but that an historical subject, grand and important, requires figures as great as the life. The resemblance of these feelings is in reality so strong, that elevation, in a figurative sense, is observed to have the same efct, even externally, with real elevation:

K. Henry. This day is called the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him in the name of Crispian.

Henry V. Act 1V. Sc. 8. The resemblance, in feeling, between real and figurative grandent, is humorously illustrated by Addison in criticising upon English tragedy: “The ordinary method of making an hero, is to clap a huge plume of feathers upon his head, which rises so high, that there is often a greater length from his chin to the top of his head, than to the sole of his foot. One would believe, that we thought a great man and a tall man the same thing. As these superfluous ornaments upon the head make a great man, a princess generally receives her grandeur from these additional encumbrances that fall into her tail: I mean the broad sweeping train, that follows her in ali her motions; and finds constant employment for a boy, who stands behind her to open and spread it to advantage." The Scythians impressed with the fame of Alexander, were astonished when they found him a little man.

A gradual progress from small to great is no less remarkable in figurative, than in real grandeur or elevation. Every one must have observed the delightful effect of a number of thoughts or sentiments, artfully disposed like an ascending series, and making impressions deeper and deeper : such disposition of members in a period, is termed a climax.

Within certain limits, grandeur and sublimity produce their strong. est effects, which lessen by excess as well as by defect. This is remarkable in grandeur and sublimity taken in their proper sepse: the grandest emotion that can be raised by a visible object, is where the object can be taken in at one view; if so immense as not to be comprehended but in parts, it tends rather to distract than satisfy the mind :f in like manner, the strongest emotion produced by elevation, is where the object is seen distinctly; a greater elevation lessens in appearance the object, till it vanishes out of sight with its pleasant emotion. The same is equally remarkable in figurative grandeur and elevation, which shall be handled together, because, as observed above, they are scarcely distinguishable. Sentiments

• Spectator, No. 42.

+ li is justly observed by Addison, that perhaps a man would have been more astonished with the majestic air that appeared in one of Lysippus's statues of Alexander, though no bigger than the life, ihan he might have been with Mouni Athos, had it been cut into the figure of the hero, according to the proposal of Phidias, with a river in one hand, and a city in the other. Spectator, No. 415.

may be so strained as to become obscure, or to exceed the capacity of the human mind. Against such licenst of imagination, every good writer will be upon his guard; and therefore it is of greater importance to observe, that even the true sublime may be carried beyond that pitch which produces the highest entertainment. We are undoubtedly susceptible of a greater elevation than can be inspired by human actions, the most heroic and magnanimous : witness what we feel from Milton's description of superior beings; yet every man must be sensible of a more constant and sweet elevation, when the history of his own species is the subject: he enjoys an elevation equal to that of the greatest hero, of an Alexander or a Cæsar, of a Brutus, or an Epaminondas; he accompanies these heroes in their sublimest sentiments and most hazardous exploits, with a magna. nimity equal to theirs; and finds it no stretch, to preserve the same tone of mind, for hours together, without sinking. The case is not the same in describing the actions or qualities of superior beings: the reader's imagination cannot keep pace with that of the poet; the mind, unable to support itself in a strained elevation, falls as from a height; and the fall is immoderate, like the elevation : where that effect is not felt, it must be prevented by some obscurity in the conception, which frequently attends the description of unknown objects. Hence the St. Francises, St. Dominics, and other tutelary saints, among the Roman Catholics. A mind unable to raise itself to the Supreme Being, self-existent and eternal, or to support itself in a strained elevation, finds itself more at ease in using the intercession of some saint, whose piety and penances while on earth, are supposed to have made him a favorite in heaven.

A strained elevation is attended with another inconvenience, that the author is apt to fall suddenly as well as the reader; because it is not a little difficult

, to descend sweetly and easily from such elevation, to the ordinary tone of the subject

. The following passage is a good illustration of that observation :

Sæpe etiam immensum cælo venit agmen aquarum,
Et fædam glomerant tempestatem imbribus atris
Conlectæ ex alto nubes. *Ruit arduus æiher,
Et pluvia ingenti sata læta boumque labores
Diluit. Inplentur fossæ, et cava humina crescunt
Cum sonitu, fervetque fretis spirantibus æquor.
Ipse Pater, media nimborum in nocte, corusca
Fulmina molitur dextra. Quo maxima motu
Terra tremit: fugère feræ, et mortalia corda
Per gentes humilis stravit pavor. Ille flagranti
Aut Atho, aut Rodopen, aut alta Ceraunia telo
Dejicit: ingeminant austri, et densissimus imber.

Virg. Georg. I. 1.
And oft whole sheets descend of sluicy rain,
Suck'd by the spungy clouds from off the main-
The lofty skies at once come pouring down,
The promised crop and golden labors drown.
The dikes are filled; and with a roaring sound,
The rising rivers float the nether ground-
And rocks the bellowing voice of boiling seas rebound.
The father of the gods his glory shrouds,
Involved in tempests and a night of clouds;

And from the middle darkness flashing out,
By fits he deals his fiery bolts about.
Farth feels the motions of her angry god;
Her entrails tremble, and her mountains nod-
And flying beasts in forests seek abode.
Deep horror seizes every human breast,
Their pride is humbled and their fear confessed,
While he from high his rolling thunder throws,
And fires the mountains with repeated blows:
The rocks are from their old foundations rent,
The winds redouble and the rains augment-
The waves on heaps are dashed against the shore,

And now the woods and now the billows roar! In the description of a storm, to figure Jupiter throwing down huge mountains with his thunder-bolts, is hyperbolically sublime, if I may use the expression : the tone of mind produced by that image is so distant from the tone produced by a thick shower of rain, that the sudden transition must be unpleasant.

Objects of sight that are not remarkably great nor high, scarcely raise any emotion of grandeur or of sublimity : and the same holds in other objects; for we often find the mind roused and animated, without being carried to that height. This difference may be discerned in many sorts of music, as well as in some musical instruments; a kettle-drum rouses, and a hautboy is animating; but neither of them inspires an emotion of sublimity : revenge animates the mind in a considerable degree; but I think it never produces an emotion that can be termed grand or sublime; and I shall have occasion afterward to observe, that no disagreeable passion ever has that effect. I am willing to put this to the test, by placing before my reader a most spirited picture of revenge: it is a speech of Antony wailing over the body of Cæsar:

Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood !
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,
(Which like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips,
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue,)
A curse shall light upon the kind of men;
Domestic fury, and fierce civil strife,
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
And dreadful objects so familiar,
That mothers shall but smile, when they behold
Their infants quarter'd by the hands of war.
All pity chok'd with custom of fell deeds,
And Cæsar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Atê by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines, with a monarch's voice,
Cry, Havock! and let slip the dogs of war.

Julius Cæsar, Act III. Sc. 4. No desire is more universal than to be exalted and honored; and upon that account chiefly are we ambitious of power, riches, titles, fame, which would suddenly lose their relish, did they not raise us above others, and command submission and deference;' and it may

* Honestum per se esse expetendum indicant pueri, in quibus, ut in speculis, natura cernitur. Quanta studia decertantium sunt! Quanta ipsa certamina! Ut illi efferuntur lætitia, cum vicerunt! Ut pudet victos! Ut se accusari nolunt!

be thought that our attachment to things grand and lofty proceeds from their connection with our favorite passion. This connection has undoubtedly an effect; but that the preference given to things grand and lofty must have a deeper root in human nature, will appear from considering, that many bestow their time upon low and trifling amusements, without having the least tincture of this favorite passion: yet these very persons talk the same language with the rest of mankind. and prefer the more elevated pleasures: they acknowledge a more refined taste, and are ashamed of their own as low and grovelling. This sentiment, constant and universal, must be the work of nature; and it plainly indicates an original attachment in human nature to every object that elevates the mind : some men may have a greater relish for an object not of the highest rank; but they are conscious of the preference given by mankind in general to things grand and sublime; and they are sensible that their peculiar taste ought to yield to the general taste.

What is said above suggests a capital rule for reaching the subline in such works of art as are susceptible of it; and that is, to present those parts or circumstances only which make the greatest figure, keeping out of view every thing low or trivial; for the mind, elevated by an important object, cannot, without reluctance, be forced down to bestow any share of its attention upon trifles. Such judicious selection of capital circumstances, is by an eminent critic styled grandeur of manner.* In none of the fine arts is there so great scope for that rule as in poetry; which, by that means, enjoys a remarkable power of bestowing upon objects and events an air of grandeur: when we are spectators, every minute object presents itself in its order ; but, in describing at second hand, these are laid aside, and the capital objects are brought close together. A judicious taste in thus selecting the most interesting incidents, to give them an united force, accounts for a fact that may appear surprising; which is, that we are more moved by a spirited narrative at second hand, than by being spectators of the event itself, in all its circumstances.

Longinus exemplifies the foregoing rule by a comparison of two passages. The first, from Aristæus, is thus translated :

Ye pow'rs, what madness! how on ships so frail
(Tremendous thought!) can thoughtless mortals sail ?
For stormy seas they quit the pleasing plain,
Plant woods in waves, and dwell amidst the main.
Far o'er the deep (a trackless path) they go,
And wander oceans in pursuit of wo.
No ease their hearts, no rest their eyes can find,
On heaven their looks, and on the waves their mind.

Ut cupiunt laudari! Quos illi labores non perferunt, ut æqualium principes sint! Cicero de finibus.

Boys show that honor is worthy to be sought for; in whom, as in a mirror, we see nature. How zealous are the contenders! How great are their contests! How exalted with joy are the conquerors—how ashamed are the conquered! How unwilling to be blamed; how desirous of praise! What labors do they not undergo to surpass their equals !

• Spectator, No. 415.

Sunk are their spirits, while their arms they rear,

And gods are wearied with their fruitless prayer.
The other, from Homer, I shall give in Pope's translation:

Burst as a wave that from the cloud impends,
And swell’d with tempests on the ship descends.
White are the decks with foam : the winds aloud
Howl o'er the masts, and sing through every shroud.
Pale, trembling, tir'd, the sailors freeze with fears,

And instant death on every wave appears. In the latter passage, the most striking circumstances are selected to fill the mind with terror and astonishment. The former is a collec. tion of minute and low circumstances, which scatter the thought, and make no impression : it is, at the same time, full of verbal antitheses and low conceit

, extremely improper in a scene of distress. But this last observation belongs to another head.

The following description of a battle is remarkably sublime, by collecting together, in the fewest words, those circumstances which make the greatest figure.

Like Autumn's dark storms pouring from two echoing hills, toward each other approached the heroes: as two dark streams from high rocks meet and roar on the plain, loud, rough, and dark in battle, meet Lochlin and Inisfail

. Chief mixes his strokes with chief, and man with man: steel sounds on steel, and helmets are cleft on high: blood bursts and smokes around: strings murmur on the polish'd yew : darts rush along the sky: spears fall like sparks of flame that gild the stormy face of night.

As the noise of the troubled ocean when roll the waves on high, as the last peal of thundering heaven, such is the noise of battle. Tho' Cormac's hundred bärds were there, feeble were the voice of a hundred bards to send the deaths to future times; for many were the deaths of the heroes, and wide poured the blood of the valiant.

Fingal. The following passage in the 4th book of the Iliad, is a descrip.ion of a battle, wonderfully ardent. When now gathered on either side, the hosts plunged together in fight; shield is harshiy laid to shield, spears crash on the brazen corslets; bossy buckler with buckler meets; loud tumult rages over all; groans are mixed with boasts of men : the slain and slayer join in noise; the earth is floating round with blood. As when iwo rushing streams from two mountains come roaring down, and throw together their rapid waters below, they roar along the gulphy vale: The startled shepherd hears the sound, as he stalks o'er the distant hills: So, as they mixed in fight, from both armies clamor with loud terror arose. But such general descriptions are not frequent in Homer. Even his single combats are rare. The fifth book is the longest account of a battle that is in the Iliad; and yet contains nothing but a long catalogue of chiefs killing chiefs, not in single combat neither, but at a distance, with an arrow or a javelin; and these chiefs named for the Srst time and the last. The same scene is continued through a great part of the sixth book. There is, at the same time, a minute description of every wound, which for accuracy may do honor to an anatomist, but in an epic poem is tiresome and fatiguing. There is no relief from horrid languor hut the beautiful Greek language, and melody of Homer's versification.

« PreviousContinue »