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that act, but that I perceive the thing as a spectator, and as exist. ing in my presence; which means not that I am really a spectator, but only that I conceive myself to be a spectator, and have a perception of the object similar to what a real spectator hath.
As many rules of criticism depend on ideal presence, the reader, it is hoped, will take some pains to form an exact notion of it, as distinguished on the one hand from real presence, and on the other from a superficial or reflective remembrance. In contradistinction to real presence, ideal presence may be properly termed a waking dream; because, like a dream, it vanisheth the moment we reflect upon our present situation: real presence, on the contrary, vouched by eye-sight, commands our belief, not only during the direct perception, but in reflecting afterward on the object. To distinguish ideal presence from reflective remembrance, I give the following il. lustration: when I think of an event as past, without forming any image, it is barely reflecting or remembering that I was an eye. witness: but when I recal the event so distinctly as to form a complete image of it, I perceive it as passing in my presence; and this perception is an act of intuition, into which reflection enters not more than into an act of sight.
Though ideal presence is thus distinguished from real presence on the one side, and from reflective remembrance on the other, it is however variable, without any precise limits; rising sometimes toward the former, and often sinking toward the latter. In a vigorous exertion of memory, ideal presence is extremely distinct: thus, when a man, entirely occupied with some event that made a deep impression, forgets himself, he perceives every thing as passing before him, and hath a consciousness of presence similar to that of a spectator; with no difference but that in the former the perception of presence is less firm and clear than in the latter. But such vigorous exertion of memory is rare: ideal presence is oftener faint, and the image so obscure as not to differ widely from reflective remem. brance.
Hitherto of an idea of memory. I proceed to consider the idea of a thing I never saw, raised in me by speech, by writing, or by painting. That idea, with respect to the present subject, is of the same nature with an idea of memory, being either complete or incomplete. A lively and accurate description of an important event, raises in me ideas no less distinct than if I had been originally an eye-witness: I am insensibly transformed into a spectator; and have an impression that every incident is passing in my presence. On the other hand a slight or superficial narrative produceth but a faint and incomplete idea, of which ideal presence makes no part. Past time is a circumstance that enters into this idea, as it doth into an incomplete idea of memory: I believe that Scipio existed about 2000 years ago, and that he overcame Hannibal in the famous battle of Zama. When I reflect so slightly upon that memorable event, I consider it as long past. But let it be spread out in a lively and beautiful description, I am insensibly transformed into a spectator: I perceive these two heroes in act to engage; I perceive them brandishing their swords, and cheering their troops; and in that
manner I attend them through the battle, every incident of which appears to be passing in my sight.
I have had occasion to observe,* that ideas both of memory and of speech produce emotions of the same kind with what are produced by an immediate view of the object; only fainter in proportion as an idea is fainter than an original perception. The insight we have now got, unfolds that mystery: ideal presence supplies the want of real presence; and in idea we perceive persons acting and suffering, precisely as in an original survey: if our sympathy be engaged by the latter, it must also in some degree be engaged by the former, especially if the distinctness of ideal presence approach to that of real presence. Hence the pleasure of a reverie, where a man, forgetting himself, is totally occupied with the ideas passing in his mind, the objects of which he conceives to be really existing in his presence. The power of language to raise emotions, depends entirely on the raising such lively and distinct images as are here described; the reader's passions are never sensibly moved, till he be thrown into a kind of reverie; in which state, forgetting that he is reading, he conceives every incident as passing in his presence, precisely as if he were an eye-witness. A general or reflective remembrance cannot warm us into any emotion: it may be agreeable in some slight degree; but its ideas are too faint and obscure to raise any thing like an emotion; and were they ever so lively, they pass with too much precipitation to have that effect: our emotions are never instantaneous; even such as come the soonest to their height, have different periods of birth and increment; and to give opportunity for these different periods, it is necessary that the cause of every emotion be present to the mind a due time; for an emotion is not carried to its height but by reiterated impressions. We know that to be the case of emotions arising from objects of sight; a quick succession, even of the most beautiful objects, scarce making any impression; and if this hold in the succession of original perceptions, how much more in the succession of ideas?
Though all this while I have been only describing what passeth in the mind of every one, and what every one must be conscious of, it was necessary to enlarge upon the subject; because, however clear in the internal conception, it is far from being so when described in words. Ideal presence, though of general importance, hath scarce ever been touched by any writer; and however difficult the explica. tion, it could not be avoided in accounting for the effects produced by fiction. Upon that point, the reader, I guess, has prevented me: it already must have occurred to him, that if, in reading, ideal presence be the means by which our passions are moved, it makes no difference whether the subject be a fable or a true history: when ideal presence is complete, we perceive every object as in our sight; and the mind, totally occupied with an interesting event, finds no leisure for reflection. This reasoning is confirmed by constant and universal experience. Let us take under consideration the meeting of Hector and Andromache, in the sixth book of the Iliad, or some of the passionate scenes in King Lear: these pictures of human life,
Part 1. sect. 1. of the present chapter.
when we are sufficiently engaged, give an impression of reality not less distinct than that given by Tacitus describing the death of Otho we never once reflect whether the story be true or feigned: reflection comes afterward, when the scene is no longer before our eyes. This reasoning will appear in a still clearer light, by opposing ideal presence to ideas raised by a cursory narrative; which ideas being faint, obscure, and imperfect, leave a vacuity in the mind, which solicits reflection. And accordingly, a curt narrative of feigned incidents is never relished; any slight pleasure it affords is more than counterbalanced by the disgust it inspires for want of truth.
To support the foregoing theory, I add what I reckon a decisive argument; which is, that even genuine history has no command over our passions but by ideal presence only; and consequently, that in this respect it stands upon the same footing with fable. To me it appears clear, that in neither can our sympathy hold firm against reflection: for if the reflection that a story is a pure fiction prevent our sympathy, so will equally the reflection that the persons described are no longer existing. What effect, for example, can the belief of the rape of Lucretia have to raise our sympathy, when she died above 2000 years ago, and hath at present no painful feeling of the injury done her? The effect of history, in point of instruc. tion, depends in some measure upon its veracity. But history cannot reach the heart, while we indulge any reflection upon the facts; such reflection, if it engage our belief, never fails at the same time to poison our pleasure, by convincing us that our sympathy for those who are dead and gone is absurd. And if reflection be laid aside, history stands upon the same footing with fable: what effect either may have to raise our sympathy, depends on the vivacity of the ideas they raise; and with respect to that circumstance, fable is generally more successful than history.
Of all the means for making an impression of ideal presence, theatrical representation is the most powerful. That words, independent of action, have the same power in a less degree, every one of sensibility must have felt; a good tragedy will extort tears in private, though not so forcibly as upon the stage. That power belongs also to painting: a good historical picture makes a deeper impression than words can, though not equal to that of theatrical action. Painting seems to possess a middle place between reading and acting in making an impression of ideal presence, it is not less superior to the former than inferior to the latter.
It must not however be thought, that our passions can be raised by painting to such a height as by words: a picture is confined to a single instant of time, and cannot take in a succession of incidents : its impression indeed is the deepest that can be made instantaneously; but seldom is a passion raised to any height in an instant, or by a single impression; it was observed above, that our passions, those especially of the sympathetic kind, require a succession of impressions; and for that reason, reading and acting have greatly the advantage, by reiterating impressions without end.
Upon the whole, it is by means of ideal presence that our passions
are excited; and till words produce that charm, they avail nothing: even real events, entitled to our belief, must be conceived present and passing in our sight, before they can move us. And this theory serves to explain several phenomena otherwise unaccountable. A misfortune happening to a stranger, makes a less impression than happening to a man we know, even where we are no way interested in him; our acquaintance with this man, however slight, aids the conception of his suffering in our presence. For this same reason, we are little moved by any distant event; because we have more difficulty to conceive it present, than an event that happened in our neighbourhood.
Every one is sensible, that describing a past event as present, has a fine effect in language; for what other reason than that it aids the conception of ideal presence? Take the following example :
And now with shouts the shocking armies clos'd,
In this passage we may observe how the writer, inflamed with the subject, insensibly advances from the past time to the present ; led to that form of narration by conceiving every circumstance as passing in his own sight: which at the same time has a fine effect upon the reader, by presenting things to him as a spectator. But change from the past to the present requires some preparation; and is not sweet where there is no stop in the sense; witness the following passage.
Thy fate was next, O Phæstus! doom'd to feel
And pierc'd his shoulder as he mounts his car.-Iliad, v. 57.
It is still worse to fall back to the past in the same period: for that is an anticlimax in description:
Through breaking ranks his furious course he bends,
And the transparent skin with crimson stain'd.-Iliad, v. 415.
Again, describing the shield of Jupiter,
Here all the terrors of grim War appear,
Here rages Force, here tremble Flight and Fear,
Here storm'd Contention, and here Fury frown'd,
And the dire orb portentous Gorgon crown'd.-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 chase,
In woods and wilds to wound the savage race;
Diana taught him all her sylvan arts,
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 hath 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 reacheth also the understanding, and contributes to belief. For when events are related in a lively manner, and every circumstance appears as passing before us, we suffer not patiently the truth of the facts to be questioned. An historian, accordingly, who hath a genius for narration, seldom fails to engage our belief. The same facts related in a manner cold and indistinct, are not suffered 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 ventured by an inferior genius: the reader, once thoroughly engaged, is susceptible of the strongest impressions:
Veraque constituunt. quæ belle tangere possunt
Aureis, et lepido quæ sunt fucata sonore.-Lucretius, lib. 1. l. 644.
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 labour will not be fruitless; because from that theory are derived many useful rules in criticism, which shall
* De Oratore, lib. 2. sect. 81.
At quæ Polycleto defuerunt, Phidiæ atque Alcameni dantur. Phidias tamen diis quam hominibus efficiendis melior artifex traditur : in ebore vero longe citra æmulum, vel si nihil nisi Minervam Athenis, aut Olympium in Elide Jovem fecisset, cujus pulcritudo adjecisse aliquid etiam receptæ religioni videtur; adeo majestas operis Deum æquavit.-Quintilian, lib. 12. cap. 10. sec. 1.