« PreviousContinue »
observed in the chapter immediately foregoing, that all the various emotions of beauty have one common character, that of sweetness and gaiety. The emotion of grandeur has a different character: a large object that is agreeable, occupies the whole attention, and swells the heart into a vivid emotion, which, though extremely pleasant, is rather serious than gay. And this affords a good reason for distinguishing in language these different emotions. The emotions raised by color, by regularity, by proportion, and by order, have such a resemblance to each other, as readily to come under one general term, viz. the emotion of beauty; but the emotion of grandeur is so different from these mentioned, as to merit a peculiar name.
Though regularity, proportion, order, and color, contribute to grandeur as well as to beauty, yet these qualities are not by far so essential to the former as to the latter. To make out that proposi. tion, some preliminaries are requisite. In the first place, the mind, not being totally occupied with a small object, can give its attention at the same time to every minute part; but in a great or extensive object, the mind being totally occupied with the capital and striking parts, has no attention left for those that are little or indifferent. In the next place, two similar objects appear not similar when viewed at different distances; the similar parts of a very large object, cannot be seen but at different distances; and for that reason, its regularity, and the proportion of its parts, are, in some measure, lost to the eye; neither are the irregularities of a very large object so conspicuous as of one that is small. Hence it is, that a large object is not so agreeable by its regularity, as a small object; nor so disagreeable by its irregularities.
These considerations make it evident, that grandeur is satisfied with a less degree of regularity and of the other qualities mentioned, than is requisite for beauty; which may be illustrated by the following experiment. Approaching to a small conical hill,' we take an accurate survey of every part, and are sensible of the slightest deviation from regularity and proportion. Supposing the hill to be considerably enlarged, so as to make us less sensible of its regularity, it will, upon that account, appear less beautiful. It will not, however, appear less agreeable, because some slight emotion of grandeur comes in place of what is lost in beauty. And at last, when the hill is enlarged to a great mountain, the small degree of beauty that is left
, is sunk in its grandeur. Hence it is, that a towering hill is delightful, if it have but the slightest resemblance of a cone; and a chain of mountains no less so, though deficient in the accuracy of order and proportion. We require a small surface to be smooth; but in an extensive plain, considerable inequalities are overlooked. In a word, regularity, proportion, order, and color, contribute to grandeur as well as to beauty; but with a remarkable difference, that, in passing from small to great, they are not required in the same degree of perfection. This remark serves to explain the extreme delight we have in viewing the face of nature, when suffi-, ciently enriched and diversified with objects. The bulk of the objects in a natural landscape are beautiful, and some of them grand:
a flowing river, a spreading oak, a round hill, an extended plain, are delightful; and even a rugged rock or barren heath, though in themselves disagreeable, contribute, by contrast, to the beauty of the whole. Joining to these, the verdure of the fields, the mixture of light and shade, and the sublime canopy spread over all; it will not appear wonderful, that so extensive a group of splendid objects should swell the heart to its utmost bounds, and raise the strongest emotion of grandeur. The spectator is conscious of an enthusiasm. which cannot bear confinement, nor the strictness of regularity and order: he loves to range at large; and is so enchanted with magnificent objects, as to overlook slight beauties or deformities.
The same observation is applicable, in some measure, to works of art: in a small building, the slightest irregularity is disagreeable; but, in a magnificent palace, or a large Gothic church, irregularities are less regarded: in an epic poem we pardon many negligences that would not be permitted in a sonnet or epigram. Notwithstanding such exceptions, it may be justly laid down for a rule, that in works of art, order and regularity ought to be governing principles: and hence the observation of Longinus, * " In works of art we have regard to exact proportion; in those of nature, to grandeur and magnificence."
The same reflections are, in a good meas'ıre, applicable to sublimity; particularly, that, like grandeur, it is a species of agreeableness; that a beautiful object placed high, appearing more agreeable than formerly, produces in the spectator a new emotion, termed the emotion of sublimity; and that the perfection of order, regularity, and proportion, is less required in objects placed high, or at a distance, than at hand.
The pleasant emotion raised by large objects, has not escaped the poets
He doth bestride the narrow world
Cleopatra. I dreamt there was an Emp'ror Antony;
Hamlet, Act III. Sc. 8. The poets have also made good use of the emotion produced by the elerated situation of an object :
Quod si me lyricis vatibus inseres,
• Chab. 30.
Amongst the lyric bards let me be read,
High as the stars shall rise my lofty head.
Richard II. Act V Sc. 2.
To be trod out by Cæsar ? Dryden, All for Love, Act I. The description of Paradise in the fourth book of Paradise Lost - a fine illustration of the impression made by elevated objects :
So on he fares, and to the border comes
empire neighb'ring round.
Appear’d with gay enamel'd colors mix’d. B. 4. 1. 131. Though a grand object is agreeable, we must not infer that a little object is disagreeable; which would be unhappy for man, considering that he is surrounded with so many objects of that kind. The same holds with respect to place: a body placed high is agreeable; but the same body placed low, is not, by that circumstance, rendered disagreeable. Littleness and lowness of place are precisely similar in the following particular, that they neither give pleasure nor pain. And in this may visibly be discovered peculiar attention in fitting the internal constitution of man to his external circumstances. Were littleness and lowness of place agreeable, greatness and elevation could not be so: were littleness and lowness of place disagreeable, they would occasion perpetual uneasiness.
The difference between great and little with respect to agreeable. ness, is remarkably felt in a series, when we pass gradually from the one extreme to the other. A mental progress from the capital to the kingdom, from that to Europe—to the whole earth—to the planetary system-to the universe, is extremely pleasant: the heart swells, and the mind is dilated, at every step. The returning in an opposite direction is not positively painful, though our pleasure lessens at every step, till it vanishes into indifference: such a progress may sometimes produce pleasure of a different sort, which arises from
taking a narrower and narrower inspection. The same observation holds in a progress upward and downward. Ascent is pleasant, because it elevates us: but descent is never painful; it is for the most part pleasant from a different cause, that it is according to the order of nature. The fall of a stone from any height is extremely agreeable by its accelerated motion. I feel it pleasant to descend from a mountain, because the descent is natural and easy. Neither is looking downward painful; on the contrary, to look down upon objects makes part of the pleasure of elevation : looking down becomes then only painful when the object is so far below as to create dizziness; and even when that is the case, we feel a sort of pleasure mixed with pain. Witness Shakspeare's description of Dover cliffs :
Topple down headlong. King Lear, Act IV. Sc. 6. A remark is made above, that the emotions of grandeur and sublimily are nearly allied; and hence it is, that the one term is frequently put for the other. An increasing series of numbers, for example, producing an emotion similar to that of mounting upward, is commonly termed an ascending series : a series of numbers gradually decreasing, producing an emotion similar to that of going downward, is commonly termed a descending series : we talk familiarly of going up to the capital, and of going down to the country: from a lesser kingdom we talk of going up to a greater; whence the anabasis in the Greek language, when one travels from Greece to Persia. We discover the same way of speaking in the language even of Japan;* and its universality proves it the offspring of a natural feeling
The foregoing observation leads us to consider grandeur and sublimity in a figurative sense, and as applicable to the fine arts. Hitherto these terms have been taken in their proper sense, as applicable to objects of sight only: and it was of importance to bestow some pains upon ihat article; because, generally speaking, the figurative sense of a word is derived from its proper sense, which holds remarkably at present. Beauty in its original signification is confined to objects of sight; but, as many other objects, intellectual as well as moral, raise emotions resembling that of beauty, the resemblance of the effects prompts us to extend the term beauty to these objects. This equally accounts for the terms grandeur and sublimity aken in a figurative sense. Every motion, from whatever cause
• Kempfer's History of Japan, b. 5. chap. 2.
it proceeds, that resembles an emotion of grandeur or elevation, is called by the same name: thus generosity is said to be an elevated emotion, as well as great courage; and that firmness of soul which is superior to misfortunes, obtains the peculiar name of magnanimity. On the other hand, every emotion that contracts the mind, and fixes it upon things trivial or of no importance, is termed low, by its resemblance to an emotion produced by a little or low object of sight: thus an appetite for trifling amusements is called a low taste. The same terms are applied to characters and actions : we talk familiarly of an elevated genius, of a great man, and equally so of littleness of mind : some actions are great and elevated, and others are little and grovelling. Sentiments, and even expressions, are characterised in the same manner: an expression or sentiment that raises the mind is denominated great or elevated ; and hence the SUBLIME* in poetry. In such figurative terms, we lose the distinction between great and elevated in their proper sense; for the resemblance is not so entire as to preserve these terms distinct in their figurative application. We carry this figure still farther. Elevation in its proper sense, imports superiority of place; and lowness, inferiority of place: and hence a man of superior talents, of superior rank, of inferior parts, of inferior taste, and such like. The veneration we have for our ancestors, and for the ancients in general, being similar to the emotion produced by an elevated object of sight, justifies the figurative expression, of the ancients being raised above us, or possessing a superior place. And we may remark in passing, that as words are intimately connected with ideas, many, by this form of expression, are led to conceive their ancestors as really above them in place, and their posterity below them:
A grandam's name is little less in love,
Richard III. Act IV. Sc. 5. The notes of the gamut, proceeding regularly from the blunter or grosser sounds to the more acute and piercing, produce, in the hearer, a feeling somewhat similar to what is produced by mounting upward; and this gives occasion to the figurative expressions, a high note, a low note.
Such is the resemblance in feeling between real and figurative grandeur, that among the nations on the east coast of Afric, who are directed purely by nature, the officers of state are, with respect to rank,
Longinus gives a description of the Sublime that is not amiss, though far from being just in every circumstance, “ That the mind is clevated by it, and so sensibly atfected, as to swell in transport and inward pride, as if what is only heard or read, were its own invention." But he adheres not to this description; in his oth chapter, he justly observes, that many passions have nothing of the grand, such as grief, fear, pity, which depress the mind instead of raising it; ang yet, in chap. 8. he mentions Sappho's ode upon love as sublime : beautiful it is undoubtedly, but it cannot be sublime, because it really depresses the mind instead of raising it. His translator Boileaux is not more successful in his instances. In his 10th reflection, he cites a passage from Demosthenes and another from Hers dotus as sublime, which have not the least tincture of that quality.