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It is clear from the very conception of the terms congruity and propriety, that they are. not applicable to any single object: they imply a plurality, and obviously signify a particular relation between different objects. Thus we say currently, that a decent garb is suitable or proper for a judge, modest behaviour for a young woman, and a lofty style for an epic poem : and, on the other hand, that it is unsuitable or incongruous to see a little woman sunk in an overgrown farthingale, a coat richly embroidered covering coarse and dirty linen, a mean subject in an elevated style, an elevated subject in a mean style, a first minister darning his wife's stockings, or a reverend prelate in lawn sleeves dancing a hornpipe.
The perception we have of this relation, which seems peculiar to man, cannot proceed from any other cause, but from a sense of congruity or propriety; for, supposing us destitute of that sense, the terms would be to us unintelligible.*
It is matter of experience, that congruity or propriety, wherever perceived, is agreeable; and that incongruity or impropriety, wherever perceived, is disagreeable. The only difficulty is, to ascertain what are the particular objects that in conjunction suggest these relations; for there are many objects that do not; the sea, for example, viewed in conjunction with a picture, or a man viewed in conjunction with a mountain, suggest not either congruity or incongruity. It seems natural to infer, what will be found true by induction, that we never perceive congruity nor incongruity but among things that are connected by some relation; such as a man and his actions, a principal and its accessories, a subject and its ornaments. We are indeed so framed by nature, as, among things so connected, to require a certain suitableness or correspondence, termed congruity or propriety; and to be displeased when we find the opposite relation of incongruity or impropriety.†
constantiam, ordinem in consiliis factisque conservandum putat, cavetque ne quid indecore effeminateve faciat; tum in omnibus et opinionibus et factis ne quid libidinose aut faciat aut cogitet. Quibus ex rebus conflatur et efficitur id quod quærimus, honestum.-Cicero de officiis, l. 1.
From many things that pass current in the world without being generally condemned, one, at first view; would imagine, that the sense of congruity or propriety had scarce any foundation in nature; and that it is rather an artificial refinement of those who affect to distinguish themselves from others. The fulsome panegyrics bestowed upon the great and opulent, in epistles dedicatory, and other such compositions, would incline us to think so. Did there prevail in the world, it will be said, or did nature suggest, a taste of what is suitable, decent, or proper, would any good writer deal in such compositions, or any man of sense receive them without disgust. Can it be supposed that Lewis XIV. of France was endued by nature with any sense of propriety, when in a dramatic performance purposely composed for his entertainment, he suffered himself, publicly and in his presence, to be styled the greatest king ever the earth produced? These. it is true, are strong facts: but luckily they do not prove the sense of propriety to be artificial: they only prove, that the sense of propriety is at times overpowered by pride and vanity; which is no singular case, for that sometimes is the fate even of the sense of justice.
+ In the chapter of beauty, qualities are distinguished into primary and secondary; and to clear some obscurity that may appear in the text, it is proper to be observed, that the same distinction is applicable to relations. Resemblance, equality, uniformity, proximity, are relations that depend not on us, but exist equally whether perceived or not; and upon that account may justly be termed
If things connected be the subject of congruity, it is reasonable be. forehand to expect a degree of congruity, proportioned to the degree of the connexion. And, upon examination, we find our expectation to be well founded: where the relation is intimate, as between à 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 behaviour 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 it stands upon is of the most intimate kind, and therefore the situation of a great house ought to be lofty; its relation to neighbouring 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 held a species of it; and yet they differ so essentially, as never to coincide beauty, like colour, 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 mean. ing 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:
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 performance intended merely for amusement is susceptible of much ornament, as well as a music-room or a playhouse; for in gaiety the mind hath a peculiar relish for show and decoration. The most 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 nowhere 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.
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, shews by contrast the meanness of appearance in the strongest light. Sweetness of look and manner requires simplicity of dress joined with the greatest clegance. 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 shews best in a plain dress.
Needs not the foreign aid of ornaments
But is, when unadorn'd, adorn'd the most.-Thompson's Autumn, 208. Congruity regulates not only the quantity of ornament, 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 inattention 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 wor ship; and the same person ought to dress differently for a marriagefeast 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 perNothing in epic or dramatic compositions is more disgustful than impropriety of manners. In Corneille's tragedy of Cinna, Emilia, a favourite of Augustus, receives daily marks of his affection, and is loaded with benefits, yet all the while is laying plots
* 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.
to assassinate her benefactor, directed by no other motive than 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 miscreant will scarce 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 produceth 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, vanisheth 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 produceth in the spectators esteem for the author of the action; and when they think of themselves, it also produceth 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 produceth in the spectators contempt for the author of the action; and it also produceth, by contrast when they think of themselves, an emotion of self-esteem. Here then are many dif ferent 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 favourite 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 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 of contempt inflicted by others, and of shame inflicted by himself. An apparatus so complicated, and so singular,
*See act 1. sc. 2.
ought to rouse our attention; for nature doth 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 ardour apply my thoughts, after discoursing a little more at large upon the punishment, as it may now be called, that nature hath provided for indecent and unbecoming behaviour. This, at any rate, is necessa ry, 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 we are in quest of?
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 turkey-cock 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 sepa. rated by distinct boundaries; for of improprieties, from the slightest to the most gross, from the most risible to the most serious, there are degrees without end. Hence it is, that in viewing some unbe. coming actions, too risible for anger, and too serious for derision, the spectator feels a sort of mixt emotion, partak ing 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 to 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 of fender 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 improper action, not only moves our contempt for the author, but also, by means of contrast, swells the good opinion we have of ourselves. 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 of vanity, are the most prone to laugh at others. Vanity, which is a vivid passion, pleasant in itself, and not less so in its gratification,
* See chap. 7.