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Grandeur being one of the ftrongest emotions that can occupy the human mind, it is not eafily produced in perfection but by reiterated impreffions. The effect of a fingle impreffion can be but momentary; and if one feel fuddenly fomewhat like a fwelling or exaltation of mind, the emotion vanifheth as foon as felt. Single thoughts or fentiments, I know, are often cited as examples of the fublime; but their effect is far inferior to that of a grand fubject display'd in its capital parts. I fhall give a few examples, that the reader may judge for himfelf. In the famous action of Thermopyla, where Leonidas the Spartan king with his chofen band fighting for their country, were cut off to the last man, a faying is reported of Dieneces, one of the band, which, expreffing chearful and undisturbed bravery, is well intitled to the first place in examples of this kind: talking of the number of their enemies, it was observed, that the arrows thot by fuch a multitude would intercept the light of the fun; So much the better, fays he, for we fhall then fight in the fhade *.
Somerfet. Ah! Warwick, Warwick, wert thou as we
We might recover all our lofs again.
The Queen from France hath brought a puiffant power, Ev'n now we heard the news. Ah! couldft thou fly! Warwick. Why, then I would not fly.
Third part, Henry VI. act 5. sc. 3.
Herodotus, book 7.
6 Such a fentiment from a man expiring of his wounds, is truly heroic; and must elevate the mind to the greatest height, that can be done by a fingle expreffion: it will not fuffer by a comparifon with the famous fentiment Qu'il mourut in Corneille's Horace: the latter is a fentiment of indignation merely, the former of invincible fortitude.
In opposition to thefe examples, to cite many a fublime paffage, enriched with the fineft images, and dreffed in the moft nervous expreffions, would fcarce be fair: I fhall produce but one inftance, from Shakespear, which fets a few objects before the eye, without much pomp of language it operates its effect, by reprefenting thefe objects in a climax, raising the mind higher and higher till it feel the emotion of grandeur in perfection:
The cloud-capt tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The cloud-capt tow'rs produce an elevating e-
As, on the one hand, no means directly apply'd
indirectly apply'd have more influence to fink and deprefs it for in a state of elevation, the artful introduction of an humbling object, makes the fall great in proportion to the elevation. Of this obfervation Shakespear gives a beautiful example, in a paffage, part of which is cited above for another purpose:
The cloud-capt tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
Tempeft, at 4. Sc. 4.
The elevation of the mind in the former part of this beautiful paffage, makes the fall great in proportion, when the most humbling of all images is introduced, that of an utter diffolution of the earth and its inhabitants. The mind, when warmed, is more fufceptible of impreffions than in a cool ftate; and a depreffing or melancholy object makes the ftrongeft impreffion, when it reaches the mind in its highest state of elevation or chearfulness.
But a humbling image is not always neceffary to produce this effect; a remark is made above, that in defcribing fuperior beings, the reader's imagination, unable to fupport itfelf in a ftrained elevation, falls often as from a height, and finks even below its ordinary tone. The followIng inftance comes luckily in view; for a better
cannot be given: "God faid, Let there be "light, and there was light." Longinus cites this paffage from Mofes as a fhining example of the fublime; and it is fcarce poffible, in fewer words, to convey fo clear an image of the infinite power of the Deity: but then it belongs to the prefent fubject to remark, that the emotion of fublimity raised by this image is but momentary; and that the mind, unable to fupport itself in an elevation fo much above nature, immediately finks down into humility and veneration, for a being fo far exalted above groveling mortals. Every one is acquainted with a difpute about this paffage between two French critics *, the one pofitively affirming it to be fublime, the other as positively denying. What I have remarked fhows, that both of them have reached the truth, but neither of them the whole truth: the primary effect of this paffage, is undoubtedly an emotion of grandeur; which fo far juftifies Boileau: but then every one must be fenfible, that the emotion is merely a flash, which, vanishing inftantaneously, gives way to humility and veneration. This indirect effect of fublimity juftifies Huet, on the other hand, who being a man of true piety, and probably not much carried by imagination, felt the humbling paffions more fenfibly than his antagonist did. And even laying afide any peculiarity of character, Huet's opinion
Boileau and Huct.
may, I think, be defended as the more folid; because in such images, the depreffing emotions are the more fenfibly felt, and have the longer endurance.
The ftraining an elevated fubject beyond due bounds, and beyond the reach of an ordinary conception, is not a vice fo frequent as to require the correction of criticism. But falfe fublime is a rock that writers of more fire than judgement generally fplit on; and therefore a collection of examples may be of use as a beacon to future adventurers. One species of false fublime, known by the name of bombaft, is common among writers of a mean genius: it is a ferious endeavour, by strained description, to raise a low or familiar fubject above its rank; which instead of being fublime, fails not to be ridiculous. I am extremely fenfible how prone the mind is, in fome animating paffions, to magnify its objects beyond natural bounds: but fuch hyperbolical defcription has its limits; and when carried beyond the impulfe of the propenfity, it degenerates into burlefque. Take the following examples.
Great and high
The world knows only two, that's Rome and I.
Sejanus, Ben Johnson, act 5.
A writer who has no natural elevation of genius,