« PreviousContinue »
Again, describing the shield of Jupiter:
Here all the terrors of grim War appear,
Here rages Force, here tremble Flight and Fear,
Iliad, v. 914.
Nor is it pleasant to be carried backward and forward alternately in
a rapid succession:
Then dy'd Scamandrius, expert in the chace,
In woods and wilds to wound the savage race;
To bend the bow and aim unerring darts:
Through his broad back and heaving bosom went
nrad, v. 65. It is wonderful to observe, upon what slight foundations Nature erects some of her most solid and magnificent works. In appearance at least, what can be more slight than ideal presence; and yet from it is derived that extensive influence which language has over the heart; an influence which, more than any other means, strengthens the bond of society, and attracts individuals from their private system to perform acts of generosity and benevolence. Matters of fact, it is true, and truth in general, may be inculcated without taking advantage of ideal presence; but without it, the finest speaker or writer would in vain attempt to move any passion: our sympathy would be confined to objects that are really present; and language would lose entirely its signal power of making us sympathize with beings removed at the greatest distance of time as well as of place. Nor is the influence of language, by means of ideal presence, confined to the heart; it reaches also the understanding, and contributes to belief. For when events are related in a lively manner, and every circumstance appears to be passing before us, we suffer not patiently the truth of the facts to be questioned. An historian, accordingly, who has a genius for narration, seldom fails to engage our belief. The same facts related in a manner cold and indistinct, are not suf fered to pass without examination: a thing ill described is like an object seen at a distance, or through a mist; we doubt whether it be a reality or a fiction. Cicero says, that to relate the manner in which an event passed, not only enlivens the story, but makes it appear more credible.* For that reason, a poet who can warm and animate his reader, may employ bolder fictions than ought to be venured by an inferior genius: the reader, once thoroughly engaged, is susceptible of the strongest impressions:
Veraque constituunt, quæ belle tangere possunt
Lucretius, lib. 1. 1. 644.
And most believing true
The silver sounds that charm th' enchanted ear.
* De Oratore, lib. 2. sect. 81.
A masterly painting has the same effect. Le Brun is no small support to Quintus Curtius: and among the vulgar in Italy, the belief of scripture-history is, perhaps, founded as much upon the authority of Raphael, Michael Angelo, and other celebrated painters, as upon that of the sacred writers.*
The foregoing theory must have fatigued the reader with much dry reasoning; but his labor will not be fruitless; because from that theory are derived many useful rules in criticism, which shall be mentioned in their proper places. One specimen shall be our present entertainment. Events that surprise by being unexpected, and yet are natural, enliven greatly an epic poem: but in such a poem, if it pretend to copy human manners and actions, no improbable incident ought to be admitted: that is, no incident contrary to the order and course of nature. A chain of imagined incidents, linked together according to the order of nature, finds easy admittance into the mind; and a lively narrative of such incidents occasions complete images, or, in other words, ideal presence: but our judgment revolts against an improbable incident; and, if we once begin to doubt of its reality, farewell relish and concern—an unhappy effect; for it will require more than an ordinary effort, to restore the waking dream, and to make the reader conceive, even the more probable incidents as passing in his presence.
I never was an admirer of machinery in an epic poem, and I now find my taste justified by reason; the foregoing argument concluding still more strongly against imaginary beings, than against improbable facts. Fictions of that nature may amuse by their novelty and singularity; but they never move the sympathetic passions, because they cannot impose on the mind any perception of reality. I appeal to the discerning reader, whether that observation be not applicable to the machinery of Tasso and of Voltaire: such machinery is not only, in itself, cold and uninteresting, but gives an air of fiction to the whole composition. A burlesque poem, such as the Lutrin or the Dispensary, may employ machinery with success; for these poems, though they assume the air of history, give entertainment chiefly by their pleasant and ludicrous pictures, to which machinery contributes. It is not the aim of such a poem, to raise our sympathy; and for that reason a strict imitation of nature is not required. A poem professedly ludicrous, may employ machinery to great advantage; and the more extravagant the better.
Having assigned the means by which fiction commands our passions, what only remains for accomplishing our present task, is to
At quæ Polycleto defuerunt, Phidiæ atque Alcameni dantur. Phidias tamen diis quam hominibus efficiendis melior artifex traditur: in ebore vero longe citra amufum, vel si nihil nisi Minervam Athenis, aut Olympium in Elide Jovem fecisset, cujus pulchritudo adjecisse aliquid etiam receptæ religioni videtur; adeo majestas operis Deum æquavit.
But Phidias and Alcamenes possess those qualities which were denied to Polyeletus. Phidias, however, is said to be a better artificer of gods than of men-in ivory, indeed, he is far beyond his rival, even if he had made nothing except his Minerva at Athens, or his Olympian Jove in Elis, whose beauty seems to have even added something to the received religion, so much has the majesty of the work represented a god. Quintilian, lib. 12. cap. 10. § 1.
assign the final cause. I have already mentioned, that fiction, by means of language, has the command of our sympathy for the good of others. By the same means, our sympathy may also be raised for our own good. In the fourth section of the present chapter, it is observed, that examples, both of virtue and of vice, raise virtuous emotions; which becoming stronger by exercise, tend to make us virtuous by habit, as well as by principle. I now farther observe, that examples confined to real events are not so frequent as without other means to produce a habit of virtue: if they be, they are not recorded by historians. It therefore shows great wisdom, to form us in such a manner, as to be susceptible of the same improvement from fable that we receive from genuine history. By that contrivance, examples to improve us in virtue may be multiplied without end: no other sort of discipline contributes more to make virtue habitual, and no other sort is so agreeable in the application. I add another final cause with thorough satisfaction; because it shows, that the Author of our nature is not less kindly provident for the happiness of his creatures, than for the regularity of their conduct. The power that fiction has over the mind affords an endless variety of refined amusements always at hand to employ a vacant hour: such amusements are a fine resource in solitude; and, by cheering and sweetening the mind, contribute mightily to social happiness.
EMOTIONS AND PASSIONS AS PLEASANT AND PAINFUL, AGREEABLE AND DISAGREEABLE. MODIFICATIONS OF THESE QUALITIES.
The difference between agreeable and pleasant, and painful and disagreeable— Agreeable and disagreeable, qualities of the object-Pleasant and painful, qualities of our emotions-A passion or emotion becomes either agreeable or disagree able, when made the object of thought-Emotions pleasant or painful according to their cause-Nature and desire, the rules for determining the agreeableness or disagreeableness of emotions-Agreeable emotions follow good actions, and disagreeable emotions, bad-A passion becoming the object of thought, may produce a passion or emotion-Instances of pleasant passions that are disagreeable, and painful passions that are agreeable-Modifications of these passions are without limit-The delicacy of discriminating between them-Of pleasant emotions, some are gross and others refined-Of painful passions, some are voluntary, and others involuntary-Ridicule considered a gross pleasure.
It will naturally occur at first, that a discourse upon the passions ought to commence with explaining the qualities now mentioned; but upon trial, I found that this explanation could not be made distinctly, till the difference should first be ascertained between an emotion and a passion, and their causes unfolded.
Great obscurity may be observed among writers with regard to the present point: particularly no care is taken to distinguish agreeable from pleasant, disagreeable from painful; or rather, these terms are deemed synonymous. This is an error not at all venial in the science of ethics; as instances can and shall be given, of painful
passions that are agreeable, and of pleasant passions that are disagreeable. These terms, it is true, are used indifferently in familiar conversation, and in compositions for amusement; but more accuracy is required from those who profess to explain the passions. In writing upon the critical art, I would avoid every refinement that may seem more curious than useful; but the proper meaning of the terms under consideration must be ascertained, in order to understand the passions, and some of their effects that are intimately connected with criticism.
I shall endeavor to explain these terms by familiar examples. Viewing a fine garden, I perceive it to be beautiful or agreeable; and I consider the beauty or agreeableness as belonging to the object, or as one of its qualities. When I turn my attention from the garden to what passes in my mind, I am conscious of a pleasant emotion, of which the garden is the cause: the pleasure here is felt, as a quality, not of the garden, but of the emotion produced by it. I give an opposite example. A rotten carcass is disagreeable, and raises in the spectator a painful emotion: the disagreeableness is a quality of the object; the pain is a quality of the emotion produced by it. In a word, agreeable and disagreeable are qualities of the objects we perceive; pleasant and painful are qualities of the emotions we feel the former qualities are perceived as adhering to objects; the latter are felt as existing within us.
But a passion or emotion, beside being felt, is frequently made an object of thought or reflection: we examine it; we inquire into its nature, its cause, and its effects. In that view, like other objects, it is either agreeable or disagreeable. Hence clearly appear the different significations of the terms under consideration, as applied to passion: when a passion is termed pleasant or painful, we refer to the actual feeling; when termed agreeable or disagreeable, we refer to it as an object of thought or reflection; a passion is pleasant or painful to the person in whom it exists; it is agreeable or disagreeable to the person who makes it a subject of contemplation.
In the description of emotions and passions, these terms do not always coincide: to make which evident, we must endeavor to ascertain, first, what passions and emotions are pleasant, and what painful; and next, what are agreeable, and what disagreeable. With respect to both, there are general rules, which, if I can trust to induction, admit not a single exception. The nature of an emotion or passion, as pleasant or painful, depends entirely on its cause: the emotion produced by an agreeable object is invariably pleasant; and the emotion produced by a disagreeable object is invariably painful. Thus, a lofty oak, a generous action, a valuable discovery in art or science, are agreeable objects that invariably produce pleasant emotions. A stinking puddle, a treacherous action, an irregular, illcontrived edifice, being disagreeable objects, produce painful emotions. Selfish passions are pleasant; for they arise from self, an agreeable object or cause. A social passion directed upon an agreeable object is always pleasant; directed upon an object in distress it is painful.† * See Part 7. of this chapter.
Lastly, all dissocial passions, such as envy, resentment, malice, being caused by disagreeable objects, cannot fail to be painful.
A general rule for the agreeableness or disagreeableness of emotions and passions is a more difficult enterprise: it must, however, be attempted. We have a sense of a common nature in every species of animals, particularly in our own; and we have a conviction that this common nature is right, or perfect, and that individuals ought to be made conformable to it. To every faculty, to every passion, and to every bodily member, is assigned a proper office and a due proportion: if one limb be longer than the other, or be disproportioned to the whole, it is wrong and disagreeable: if a passion deviate from the common nature, by being too strong or too weak, it is also wrong and disagreeable: but as far as conformable to common nature, every emotion and every passion is perceived by us to be right, and as it ought to be; and upon that account it must appear agreeable. That this holds true in pleasant emotions and passions, will readily be admitted: but the painful are no less natural than the other; and therefore ought not to be an exception. Thus the painful emotion raised by a monstrous birth or brutal action, is no less agreeable upon reflection, than the pleasant emotion raised by a flowing river or a lofty dome; and the painful passions of grief and pity are agreeable, and applauded by all the world.
Another rule more simple and direct for ascertaining the agreeableness or disagreeableness of a passion as opposed to an emotion, is derived from the desire that accompanies it. If the desire be to perform a right action in order to produce a good effect, the passion is agreeable: If the desire be, to do a wrong action in order to produce an ill effect, the passion is disagreeable. Thus, passions as well as actions are governed by the moral sense. These rules by the wisdom of Providence coincide: a passion that is conformable to our common nature must tend to good; and a passion that deviates from our common nature must tend to ill.
This deduction may be carried a great way farther: but to avoid intricacy and obscurity, I make but one other step. A passion which, as aforesaid, becomes an object of thought to a spectator, may have the effect to produce a passion or emotion in him; for it is natural, that a social being should be affected with the passions of others. Passions or emotions thus generated, submit, in common with others, to the general law above mentioned, namely, that an agreeable object produces a pleasant emotion, and a disagreeable object a painful emotion. Thus the passion of gratitude, being to a spectator an agreeable object, produces in him the pleasant passion of love to the grateful person: and malice being to a spectator a disagreeable object, produces in him the painful passion of hatred to the malicious person.
We are now prepared for examples of pleasant passions that are disagreeable, and of painful passions that are agreeable. Self-love, as long as confined within just bounds, is a passion both pleasant and agreeable: in excess it is disagreeable, though it continues to * See this doctrine fully explained, chap. 25. Standard of Taste.