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If things connected be the subject of congruity, it is reasonable beforehand to expect a degree of congruity proportioned to the degree of the connection. And, upon examination we find our expectation to be well founded: where the relation is intimate, as between a cause and its effect, a whole and its parts, we require the strictest congruity; but where the relation is slight, or accidental, as among things jumbled together, we require little or no congruity: the strictest propriety is required in behavior and manner of living; because a man is connected with these by the relation of cause and effect: the relation between an edifice and the ground upon which it stands is of the most intimate kind, and therefore the situation of a great house ought to be lofty: its relation to neighboring hills, rivers, plains, being that of propinquity only, demands but a small share of congruity: among members of the same club, the congruity ought to be considerable, as well as among things placed for show in the same niche: among passengers in a stage-coach we require very little congruity; and less still at a public spectacle.
Congruity is so nearly allied to beauty, as commonly to be hd a species of it; and yet they differ so essentially, as never to coincide beauty, like color, is placed upon a single subject; congruity upon a plurality: farther, a thing beautiful in itself
, may, with relation to other things, produce the strongest sense of incongruity,
Congruity and propriety are commonly reckoned synonymous terms; and hitherto in opening the subject they have been used indifferently: but they are distinguishable; and the precise meaning of each must be ascertained. Congruity is the genus, of which propriety is a species; for we call nothing propriety, but that congruity or suitableness, which ought to subsist between sensible beings, and their thoughts, words, and actions.
In order to give a full view of these secondary relations, I shall trace them through some of the most considerable primary relations. The relation of a part to the whole, being extremely intimate, demands the utmost degree of congruity: even the slightest deviation is disgustful; witness the Lutrin, a burlesque poem, which is closed with a serious and warm panegyric on Lamoignon, one of the king's judges:
Amphora cæpit Institui; currente rota, cur urceus exit ?* Examples of congruity and incongruity are furnished in plenty by the relation between a subject and its ornaments. A literary equality, uniformity, proximity, are relations that depend not on us, but exist equally whether perceived or not; and upon that account may justly be terme primary relations. But there are other relations, that only appear such to us, and that have not any external existence like primary relations; which is the case of congruity, incongruity, propriety, impropriety: these may be properly termed secondary relations. Thus it appears from what is said in the text, that the secondary relations mentioned arise from objects connected by some primary relation. Property is an example of a secondary relation, as it exists no where but in the mind. I purchase a field or a horse: the covenant makes the primary relation; and the secondary relation built on it, is property.
* The two-handed vessel, of a foot square, is getting in fashion—as the wheel turns, why does the pitcher disappear ?
performance intended merely for amusement is susceptible of much ornament, as well as a music-room or a playhouse; for in gayety the mind has a peculiar relish for show and decoration. The most gorgeous apparel, however improper in tragedy, is not unsuitable to opera-actors: the truth is, an opera, in its present form, is a mighty fine thing ; but, as it deviates from nature in its capital circumstances, we look not for nature nor propriety in those which are accessory. On the other hand, a serious and important subject admits not much ornament;* nor a subject that of itself is extremely beautiful: and a subject that fills the mind with its loftiness and grandeur, appears best in a dress altogether plain.
To a person of a mean appearance, gorgeous apparel is unsuitable; which beside the incongruity, shows by contrast the meanness of appearance in the strongest light. Sweetness of look and manner requires simplicity of dress joined with the greatest elegance. A stately and majestic air requires sumptuous apparel, which ought not to be gaudy, nor crowded with little ornaments. A woman of consummate beauty can bear to be highly adorned, and yet shows best in a plain dress,
Thomson's Autumn, 208. Congruity regulates not only the quantity of ornanient, but also the kind. The decorations of a dancing-room ought, all of them, to be gay. No picture is proper for a church but what has religion for its subject. Every ornament upon a shield should relate to war; and Virgil
, with great judgment, confines the carvings upon the shield of Æneas to the military history of the Romans. that beauty is overlooked by Homer; for the bulk of the sculpture upon the shield of Achilles is of the arts of peace in general, and of joy and festivity in particular: the author of Telemachus betrays the same inatten ion, in describing the shield of that young hero.
In judging of propriety with regard to ornaments, we must attend, not only to the nature of the subject that is to be adorned, but also to the circumstances in which it is placed: the ornaments that are proper for a ball will appear not altogether so decent at public worship: and the same person ought to dress differently for a marriage feast and for a funeral.
Nothing is more intimately related to a man than his sentiments, words, and actions; and therefore we require here the strictest conformity. When we find what we thus require, we have a lively sense of propriety: when we find the contrary, our sense of impropriety is no less lively. Hence the universal distaste of affectation, which consists in making a show of greater delicacy and refinement, than is suited, either to the character or circumstances of the
• Contrary to this rule, the introduction to the third volume of the Characteristics, is a continued chain of metaphors: these in such profusion are too florid for the subject; and have beside the bad effect of removing our attention from the principal subject, to fix it upon splendid trifles.
person. Nothing in epic or dramatic compositions is more disgustful than impropriety of manners. In Corneille's tragedy of Cinna, Æmilia, a favourite of Augustus, receives daily marks of his affection, and is loaded with benefits: yet all the while is laying plots to assassinate her benefactor, directed by no other motive but to avenge her father's death :* revenge against a benefactor, founded solely upon filial piety, cannot be directed by any principle but that of justice, and therefore never can suggest unlawful means; yet the crime here attempted, a treacherous murder, is what even a mis. creant will scarcely attempt against his bitterest enemy.
What is said might be thought sufficient to explain the relations of congruity and propriety. And yet the subject is not exhausted on the contrary, the prospect enlarges upon us, when we take under view the effects these relations produce in the mind. Congruity and propriety, wherever perceived, appear agreeable; and every agreeable object produces in the mind a pleasant emotion : incongruity and impropriety, on the other hand, are disagreeable; and of course produce painful emotions. These emotions, whether pleasant or painful, sometimes vanish without any consequence; but more frequently occasion other emotions, to which I proceed.
When any slight incongruity is perceived in an accidental combination of persons or things, as of passengers in a stage-coach, or of individuals dining at an ordinary; the painful emotion of incongruity, after a momentary existence, vanishes without producing any effect. But this is not the case of propriety and impropriety: voluntary acts, whether words or deeds, are imputed to the author; when proper, we reward him with our esteem; when improper, we punish him with our contempt. Let us suppose, for example, a generous action suited to the character of the author, which raises in him and in every spectator the pleasant emotion of propriety: this emotion generates in the author both self-esteem and joy; the former when he considers his relation to the action, and the latter when he considers the good opinion that others will entertain of him: the same emotion of propriety produces in the spectators esteem for the author of the action; and when they think of themselves, it also produces by contrast an emotion of humility. To discover the effects of an unsuitable action, we must invert each of these circumstances: the painful emotion of impropriety generates in the author of the action both humility and shame; the former when he considers his relation to the action, and the latter when he considers what others will think of him; the same emotion of impropriety produces in the spectators contempt for the author of the action; and it also produces, by contrast when they think of them. selves, an emotion of self-esteem. Here then are many different emotions, derived from the same action considered in different views by different persons-a machine provided with many springs, and not a little complicated. Propriety of action, it would seem, is a favourile of Nature, or of the Author of Nature, when such care and solicitude is bestowed on it. It is not left to our own choice; but, like
* See Act I Sc. 2.
justice, is required at our hands; and, like justice, is enforced by natural rewards and punishments: a man cannot, with impunity, do any thing unbecoming or improper; he suffers the chastisement uf contempt inflicted by others, and of shame inflicted by himself. An apparatus so complicated, and so singular, ought to rouse our attention: for nature does nothing in vain; and we may conclude with certainty, that this curious branch of the human constitution is intended for some valuable purpose. To the discovery of that purpose or final cause I shall with ardor apply my thoughts, after discoursing a little more at large upon the punishment, as it may now be called, that nature has provided for indecent and unbecom: ing behavior. This, at any rate, is necessary, in order to give a full view of the subject; and who knows whether it may not, over and above, open some track that will lead us to the final cause of which we are in quest?
A gross impropriety is punished with contempt and indignation, which are vented against the offender by external expressions: nor is even the slightest impropriety suffered to pass without some degree of contempt. But there are improprieties of the slighter kind, that provoke laughter; of which we have examples without end in the blunders and absurdities of our own species : such improprieties receive a different punishment, as will appear by what follows. The emotions of contempt and of laughter occasioned by an impropriety of that kind, uniting intimately in the mind of the spectator, are expressed externally by a peculiar sort of laugh, termed a laugh of derision or scorn.*. An impropriety that thus moves not only contempt but laughter, is distinguished by the epithet of ridiculous; and a laugh of derision or scorn is the punishment provided for it by nature. Nor ought it to escape observation, that we are so fond of inflicting that punishment, as sometimes to exert it even against creatures of an inferior species : witness a turkeycock swelling with pride, and strutting with displayed feathers, which in a gay mood is apt to provoke a laugh of derision.
We must not expect, that these different improprieties are separated by distinct boundaries : for of improprieties, from the slightest to the most gross, from the most risible io the most serious, there are degrees without end. Hence it is, that in viewing some 'unbecoming actions, too risible for anger, and too serious for derision; (ne spectator feels a sort of mixt emotion, partaking both of derision and of anger; which accounts for an expression, common with respect to the impropriety of some actions, that we know not whether to laugh or be angry.
It cannot fail to be observed, that in the case of a risible impropriety, which is always slight, the contempt we have for the offender is extremely faint, though derision, its gratification, is extremely pleasant. This disproportion between a passion and its gratification, may seem not conformable to the analogy of nature. In looking about for a solution, I reflect upon what is laid down above, that an inproper action not only moves our contempt for the author, hut
* See Chap. 7.
also, by means of contrast, swells the good opinion we have of our. selves. This contributes, more than any other particular, to the pleasure we have in ridiculing follies and absurdities; and accordingly, it is well known, that those who have the greatest share on vanity are the most prone to laugh at others. Vanity, which is a rivid passion, pleasant in itself, and not less so in its gratification, would singly be sufficient to account for the pleasure of ridicule. without borrowing any aid from contempt. Hence appears the reason of a noted observation, that we are the most disposed to ridicule the blunders and absurdities of others, when we are in high spirits; for in high spirits, self-conceit displays itself with more than ordinary vigor.
Having with wary steps traced an intricate road, not without danger of wandering; what remains to complete our journey, is 10 account for the final cause of congruity and propriety, which make so great a figure in the human constitution. One final cause, regarding congruity, is pretty obvious, that the sense of congruity, as one principle of the fine arts, contributes, in a remarkable degree, 10 our entertainment; which is the final cause assigned above for our sense of proportion,* and need not be enlarged upon bere. Congruity, indeed, with respect to quantity coincides with proportion : when the parts of a building are nicely adjusted 10 each other, it may be said indifferently, that it is agreeable by the congruity of its parts, or by the proportion of its parts. But propriety, which regards voluntary agents only, can never be ihe same with proportion: a very long nose is disproportioned, but cannot be termed improper. In some instances, it is true, impropriety coincides with disproportion in the same subject, but never in the same respect. I give for an example, a very litile man buckled to a long toledo: considering the man and the sword with respect to size, we perceive a disproportion: considering the sirord as ihe choice of the man, we perceive an impropriety.
The sense of impropriety with respect to mistakes, blunders, and absurdities, is evidently calculated for the good of mankind. In the spectators it is productive of mirth and laughter, excellent recreation in an interval from business. But this is a trifle compared w what follows. It is painful to be the subject of ridicule; and 10 punish with ridicule the man who is guilty of an absurdity, tends to put him more on his guard in time to come. It is well ordered, that even the most innocent blunder is not committed with impunity; because, were errors licensed where they do no hurt, inajtention would grow into habit, and be the occasion of much hurt.
The final cause of propriety, as to moral duties, is of all the most illustrious. To have a just notion of it, the moral duties that respect others must be distinguished from those that respect ourselves. Fide lity, gratitude, and abstinence from injury, are examples of the first sort; temperance, modesty, firmness of mind, are examples of the other: the forme are made duties by the sense of justice; the latter, by the sense of propriety. Here is a final cause of the
* See Chap. 3.