Page images

he stretcheth his contemplations, which, in the discovery of infinite power, wisdom, and benevolence, afford delight of the most exalted kind. Hence it appears, that the fine arts, studied as a rational science, afford entertainment of great dignity, superior far to what they afford as a subject of taste merely.

But contemplation, however in itself valuable, is chiefly respected as subservient to action; for man is intended to be more an active than a contemplative being. He accordingly shews more dignity in action than in contemplation. Generosity, magnanimity, heroism, raise his character to the highest pitch: these best express the dignity of his nature, and advance him nearer to divinity than any other of his attributes.

By every production that shews art and contrivance, our curiosity is excited upon two points: first, how it was made; and next, to what end. Of the two, the latter is the more important inquiry, because the means are ever subordinate to the end; and, in fact, our curiosity is always more inflamed by the final than by the efficient This preference is nowhere more visible than in contemplating the works of nature. If in the efficient cause wisdom and power be displayed, wisdom is no less conspicuous in the final cause, and from it only can we infer benevolence, which, of all the divine attributes, is to man the most important.


Having endeavoured to assign the efficient cause of dignity and meanness, by unfolding the principle on which they are founded, we proceed to explain the final cause of the dignity or meanness bestowed upon the several particulars above mentioned, beginning with corporeal pleasures. These, as far as useful, are, like justice, fenced with sufficient sanctions to prevent their being neglected: hunger and thirst are painful sensations; and we are incited to animal love by a vigorous propensity were corporeal pleasures dignified over and above with a place in a high class, they would infallibly disturb the balance of the mind, by outweighing the social affections. This is a satisfactory final cause for refusing to these pleasures any degree of dignity; and the final cause is no less evident of their meanness, when they are indulged to excess. The more refined pleasures of external sense, conveyed by the eye and the ear from natural objects and from the fine arts, deserve a high place in our esteem, because of their singular and extensive utility: in some cases they rise to a considerable dignity; and the very lowest pleasures of the kind are never esteemed mean or grovelling. The pleasure arising from wit, humour, ridicule, or from what is simply ludicrous, is useful, by relaxing the mind after the fatigue of more manly occupation: but the mind, when it surrenders itself to pleasure of that kind, loses its vigour, and sinks gradually into sloth.* The place this pleasure occupies in point of dignity, is adjusted to these views: to make it useful as a relaxation, it is not branded with meanness; to prevent its usurpation, it is removed from that place but a single degree: no man values himself for

* Neque enim ita generati a natura sumus, ut ad ludum et jocum facti esse videamur, sed ad severitatem potius et ad quædam studia graviora atque majora. Ludo autem et joco, uti illis quidem licet, sed sicut sonno et quietibus cæteris, tum cum gravibus seriisque rebus satisfecerimus.-Cicero de offic. lib. 1.

that pleasure, even during gratification; and if it have engrossed more of time than is requisite for relaxation, he looks back with some degree of shame.

In point of dignity, the social emotions rise above the selfish, and much above those of the eye and ear: man is by his nature a social being; and, to qualify him for society, it is wisely contrived that he should value himself more for being social than selfish.*

The excellency of man is chiefly discernible in the great im. provements he is susceptible of in society: these, by perseverance, may be carried on progressively above any assignable limits; and, even abstracting from revelation, there is great probability, that the progress begun here will be completed in some future state. Now, as all valuable improvements proceed from the exercise of our rational faculties, the Author of our nature, in order to excite us to a due sense of these faculties, has assigned a high rank to the pleasures of the understanding: their utility, with respect to this life as well as a future, entitles them to that rank. ·

But as action is the aim of all our improvements, virtuous actions justly possess the highest of all the ranks. These, we find, are by nature distributed into different classes, and the first in point of dignity assigned to actions that appear not the first in point of use; generosity, for example, in the sense of mankind, is more respected than justice, though the latter is undoubtedly more essential to society; and magnanimity, heroism, undaunted courage, rise still higher in our esteem. One would readily think, that the moral virtues should be esteemed according to their importance. Nature has here deviated from her ordinary path, and great wisdom is shewn in the deviation: the efficient cause is explained above, and the final cause is explained in the essays of morality and natural religion.†

We proceed to analyze grace, which being in a good measure an uncultivated field, requires more than ordinary labour.

Graceful is an attribute: grace and gracefulness express that attribute in the form of a noun.

That this attribute is agreeable, no one doubts.

As grace is displayed externally, it must be an object of one or other of our five senses. That it is an object of sight, every person of taste can bear witness; and that it is confined to that sense, appears from induction; for it is not an object of smell, nor of taste, nor of touch. Is it an object of hearing? Some music indeed is termed graceful; but that expression is metaphorical, as when we say of other music that it is beautiful: the latter metaphor, at the same time, is more sweet and easy; which shews how little appli. cable to music or to sound the former is when taken in its proper


That it is an attribute of man, is beyond dispute. But of what other beings is it also an attribute? We perceive at first sight that

[ocr errors]

*For the same reason, the selfish emotions that are founded upon a social principle, rise higher in our esteem than those that are founded upon a selfish principle. As to which see above, p. 47, note.

+ Part 1. essay 2. chap. 4,

nothing inanimate is entitled to that epithet. What animal then, beside man, is entitled? Surely, not an elephant, nor even a lion. A horse may have a delicate shape with a lofty mien, and all his motions may be exquisite; but he is never said to be graceful. Beauty and grandeur are common to man with some other beings : but dignity is not applied to any being inferior to man; and, upon the strictest examination, the same appears to hold in grace.

Confining then grace to man, the next enquiry is, whether, like beauty, it makes a constant appearance, or in some circumstances only. Does a person display this attribute at rest as well as in motion, asleep as when awake? It is undoubtedly connected with motion; for when the most graceful person is at rest, neither moving nor speaking, we lose sight of that quality as much as of colour in the dark. Grace then is an agreeable attribute, inseparable from motion as opposed to rest, and as comprehending speech, looks, gestures, and loco-motion.

As some motions are homely, the opposite to graceful, the next inquiry is, with what motions is this attribute connected? No man appears graceful in a mask; and, therefore, laying aside the expressions of the countenance, the other motions may be genteel, may be elegant, but of themselves never are graceful. A motion adjusted in the most perfect manner to answer its end, is elegant; but still somewhat more is required to complete our idea of grace, or gracefulness.

What this unknown more may be, is the nice point. One thing is clear from what is said, that this more must arise from the expression of the countenance; and from what expressions so naturally as from those which indicate mental qualities, such as sweetness, benevolence, elevation, dignity? This promises to be a fair analysis; because of all objects mental qualities affect us the most; and the impression made by graceful appearance upon every spectator of taste, is too deep for any cause purely corporeal.

The next step is, to examine what are the mental qualities, that, in conjunction with elegance of motion, produce a graceful appearance. Sweetness, cheerfulness, affability, are not separately sufficient, nor even in conjunction. As it appears to me, dignity alone with elegant motion may produce a graceful appearance; but still more graceful, with the aid of other qualities, those especially that are the most exalted.

But this is not all. The most exalted virtues may be the lot of a person whose countenance has little expression; such a person cannot be graceful. Therefore, to produce this appearance, we must add another circumstance, namely, an expressive countenance, displaying to every spectator of taste, with life and energy, every thing that passes in the mind.

Collecting these circumstances together, grace may be defined, that agreeable appearance which arises from elegance of motion, and from a countenance expressive of dignity. Expressions of other mental qualities are not essential to that appearance, but they heighten it greatly.

Of all external objects, a graceful person is the most agreeable.

Dancing affords great opportunity for displaying grace, and haranguing still more.

I conclude with the following reflection, That in vain will a person attempt to be graceful, who is deficient in amiable qualities. A man, it is true, may form an idea of qualities he is destitute of; and by means of that idea, may endeavour to express those qualities by looks and gestures; but such studied expression will be too faint and obscure to be graceful.



To define ridicule has puzzled and vexed every critic. The defi. nition given by Aristotle is obscure and imperfect.* Cicero handles it at great length ; but without giving satisfaction; he wanders in the dark, and misses the distinction between risible and ridiculous. Quintilian is sensible of the distinction, but has not attempted to explain it. Luckily this subject lies no longer in obscurity: a risible object produceth an emotion of laughter merely ;§ a ridiculous object is improper as well as risible; and produceth a mixt emotion, which is vented by a laugh of derision or scorn.||

Having therefore happily unravelled the knotty part, I proceed to other particulars.


Burlesque, though a great engine of ridicule, is not confined to that subject; for it is clearly distinguishable into burlesque that excites laughter merely, and burlesque that provokes derision or ridicule. A grave subject, in which there is no impropriety, may be brought down by a certain colouring, so as to be risible; which is the case of Virgil Travestie; and also the case of the Secchia Rapita: the authors laugh first, in order to make their readers laugh. The Lutrin is a burlesque poem of the other sort, laying hold of a low and trifling incident, to expose the luxury, indolence, and contentious spirit of a set of monks. Boileau, the author, gives a ridiculous air to the subject, by dressing it in the heroic style, and affecting to consider it as of the utmost dignity and importance. In a composition of this kind, no image professedly ludicrous ought to find quarter, because such images destroy the contrast; and accordingly, the author shews always the grave face and never once betrays a smile.

Though the burlesque that aims at ridicule, produces its effect by elevating the style far, above the subject, yet it has limits beyond which the elevation ought not to be carried: the poet, consulting the imagination of his readers, ought to confine himself to such

* Poet. cap. 5.

† L. 2. De Oratore.

+ Ideoque anceps ejus rei ratio est, quod a derisu non procul abest risus, lib 6. cap. 3. sect. 1.

§ See chap. 7. || See chap. 10.


** Tassoni.

images as are lively, and readily apprehended; a strained elevation, soaring above an ordinary reach of fancy, makes not a pleasant impression; the reader, fatigued with being always upon the stretch, is soon disgusted; and if he persevere, becomes thoughtless and indifferent. Further, a fiction gives no pleasure unless it be painted in colours so lively as to produce some perception of reality which never can be done effectually where the images are formed with labour or difficulty. For these reasons, I cannot avoid condemning the Batrachomuomachia, said to be the composition of Homer: it is beyond the power of imagination to form a clear and lively image of frogs and mice, acting with the dignity of the highest of our species; nor can we form a conception of the reality of such an action, in any manner so distinct as to interest our affections even in the slightest degree.

The Rape of the Lock is of a character clearly distinguishable from those now mentioned; it is not properly a burlesque performance, but what may rather be termed an heroi-comical poem: it treats a gay and familiar subject with pleasantry, and with a moderate degree of dignity: the author puts not on a mask like Boileau, nor professes to make us laugh like Tassoni. The Rape of the Lock is a genteel species of writing, less strained than those mentioned ; and is pleasant or ludicrous without having ridicule for its chief aim; giving way however to ridicule where it arises naturally from a particular character, such as that of Sir Plume. Addison's Spectator upon the exercise of the fan* is extremely gay and ludicrous, resembling in its subject the Rape of the Lock.


Humour belongs to the present chapter, because it is connected with ridicule. Congreve defines humour to be " a singular and "unavoidable manner of doing or saying any thing, peculiar and "natural to one man only, by which his speech and actions are distinguished from those of other men." Were this definition just, a majestic and commanding air, which is a singular property, is humour; as also a natural flow of correct and commanding eloquence, which is no less singular. Nothing just or proper is denominated humour; nor any singularity of character, words, or actions, that is valued or respected. When we attend to the character of a humorist, we find that it arises from circumstances both risible and improper, and therefore that it lessons the man in our esteem, and makes him in some measure ridiculous.

Humour in writing is very different from humour in character. When an author insists upon ludicrous subjects with a professed purpose to make his readers laugh, he may be styled a ludicrous writer; but is scarce entitled to be styled a writer of humour. This quality belongs to an author, who, affecting to be grave and serious, paints his objects in such colours as to provoke mirth and laughter. A writer that is really a humorist in character, does this without design; if not, he must affect the character in order to succeed. Swift and Fontaine were humorists in character, and their writings are full of humour. Addison was not a humorist in character; and yet in his prose writings a most delicate and refined humour prevails.

No. 102.

« PreviousContinue »