Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

use the goods of fortune with moderation: a man who by temperance and activity has acquired a hardy constitution, is, on the one hand, guarded against external accidents; and, on the other, is provided with great variety of enjoyment ever at command.

I shall close this chapter with an article more delicate than abstruse, namely, what authority custom ought to have over our taste in the fine arts.

One particular is certain, that we cheerfully abandon to the authority of custom things that nature has left indifferent. It is custom, not nature, that has established a difference between the right hand and the left

, so as to make it awkward and disagreeable to use the left where the right is commonly used. The various colors, though they affect us differently, are all of them agreeable in their purity: but custom has regulated that matter in another manner; a black skin upon a human being, is to us disagreeable; and a white skin is, probably, no less so to a negro. Thus things, originally indifferent, become agreeable or disagreeable, by the force of custom. Nor will this be surprising after the discovery made above, that the original agreeableness or disagreeableness of an object, is, by the influence of custom, often converted into the opposite quality.

Proceeding to matters of taste, where there is naturally a preference of one thing before another; it is certain, in the first place, that our faint and more delicate feelings are readily susceptible of a bias from custom; and therefore that it is no proof of a defective taste to find these in some measure influenced by custom: dress and the inodes of external behavior are regulated by custom in every country: the deep red or vermilion with which the ladies in France cover their cheeks, appears to them beautiful in spite of nature; and strangers cannot altogether be justified in condemning that practice, considering the lawful authority of custom, or of the fashion, as it is called. It is told of the people who inhabit the skirts of the Alps jacing the north, that the swelling they have universally in the neck is to them agreeable. So far has custom power to change the nature of things, and to make an object originally disagreeable take on an opposite appearance.

But, as to every particular that can be denominated proper or improper, right or wrong, custom has little authority, and ought to have none. The principle of duty takes naturally place of every other; and it argues a shameful weakness or degeneracy of mind, to find it in any case so far subdued as to submit to custom.

These few hints may enable us to judge in some measure of foreign manners, whether exhibited by foreign writers or our own. A comparison between the ancients and the moderns was sometime ago a favorite subject: those who declared for ancient manners thought it sufficient that these manners were supported by custom: their antagonists, on the other hand, refusing submission to custom as a standard of laste, condemned ancient manners as in several instances irrational. In that controversy, an appeal being made to different principles, without the slightest attempt to establish a common standard, the dispute could have no end. The hints above given tend to establish a standard for judging how far the authority of custom ought to be

held lawful; and, for the sake of illustration, we shall apply that standard in a few instances.

Human sacrifices, the most dismal effect of blind and groveling superstition, wore gradually out of use by the prevalence of reason and humanity. In the days of Sophocles and Euripides, traces of that practice were still recent; and the Athenians, through the prevalence of custom, could without disgust suffer human sacrifices to be represented in their theatre, of which the Iphigenia of Euripides is a prcof. But a human sacrifice, being altogether inconsistent with modern manners, as producing horror instead of pity, cannot with any propriety be introduced upon a modern stage." I must therefore condemn the Iphigenia of Racine, which, instead of the tender and sympathetic passions, substitutes disgust and horror. Another objection occurs against every fable that deviates so remarkably from improved notions and sentiments; which is, that if it should even command our belief by the authority of history, it appears too fictitious and unnatural to produce a perception of reality:* a human sacrifice is so unnatural, and to us so improbable, that few will be affected with the representation of it more than with a fairy tale. The objection first mentioned strikes also against the Phedra of that author: the Queen's passion for her stepson, transgressing the bounds of nature, creates aversion and horror rather than compassion. The author in his preface observes, that the Queen's passion, however unnatural, was the effect of destiny and the wrath of the gods; and he puts the same excuse in her own mouth. But what is the wrath of a heathen god to us Christians ? we acknowledge no destiny in passion; and if love be unnatural, it never can be relished. A supposition like what our author lays hold of, may possibly cover slight improprieties; but it will never engage our sympathy for wh appears to us frantic or extravagant.

Neither can I relish the catastrophe of that tragedy. A man of taste may peruse, without disgust, a Grecian performance describing a sea-monster sent by Neptune to destroy Hippolytus: he considers, that such a story might agree with the religious creed of Greece, and may be pleased with the story, as what probably had a strong effect upon a Grecian audience. But he cannot have the same indulgence for such a representation upon a modern stage: because no story that carries a violent air of fiction can ever move us in any considerable degree.

In the Coephores of Eschylus,t Orestes is made to say, that he was commanded by Apollo to avenge his father's murder; and yet if he obeyed, that he was to be delivered to the furies, or be struck with some horrid malady: the tragedy accordingly concludes with a chorus, deploring the fate of Orestes, obliged to take vengeance against a mother, and involved thereby in a crime against his will. It is impossible for any modern to bend his mind to opinions so irrational and absurd, which must disgust him in perusing even a Grecian story. Again, among the Greeks, grossly superstitious, it was a common opinion, that the report of a man's death was a presage * See Chap. 2. Part 1. Sect. 7.

+ Act 2.

of his death: and Orestes, in the first act of Electra, spreading a report of his own death, in order to blind his mother and her adulterer, is even in that case affected with the presage. Such imbecility can never find grace with a modern audience: it may indeed produce some compassion for a people afflicted with absurd terrors, similar to what is felt in perusing a description of the Hottentots ; but such manners will not interest our affections, nor attach us to the personages represented.

CHAPTER XV EXTERNAL SIGNS OF EMOTIONS AND PASSIONS. The soul and body intimately connected-Every class of emotions attended with appearances peculiar to themselves—Signs of external passions,

voluntary and involuntary-Two kinds of voluntary, natural and arbitrary-They resemble the emotions which accompany them—The manifold expressions of the hands

- The difficulty of restraining them under violent emotions—The same with respect to words—The expression of every vivid passion peculiar to itselfEvery pleasant emotion has a common expression-Involuntary signs are temporary and permanent–Temporary disappear with the passion-Permanent signs formed in youth, remain fixed through life-Final cause is, to furnish us with an infallible passage to the heart—Conduct, the most perfect expression of internal disposition—The impatience to express strong emotions externally

- Involuntary signs unavoidable—No remarkable external signs produced by quiescent emotions-External signs not beheld with indifference-Signs of pleasant passions agreeable; contrary, disagreeable—External signs of a pleasant passion, produce in the spectator a pleasant emotion; and external signs of a painful one, the reverse-Little variety in external signs of pleasant passion; unpleasant, the reverse-Some external signs of painful passions attractive, some repulsive-Final causes are six: it tends to fix the signification of many words-it promotes society-it transfers through a circle the feelings of an individual-Dissocial passions, being hurtful, are very noted—Subservient to morality–Affliction, exciting sympathy, is the most illustrious of all fixed causes -Sympathy prompts us to relieve objects in distress-Accounted for, by being resolved into the constitution of our nature -Signs of passion indicate that man was intended to be open and sincere.

So intimately connected are the soul and body, that every agitation in the former produces a visible effect upon the latter. There is, at the same time, a wonderful uniformity in that operation ; each class of emotions and passions being invariably attended with an external appearance peculiar to itself.* These external appearances or signs may not improperly be considered as a natural language, expressing to all beholders emotions and passions as they arise in the heart. Hope, fear, joy, grief, are displayed externally: the character of a man can be read in his face; and beauty, which makes so deep an impression, is known to result, not so much from regular features and a fine complexion, as from good nature, good sense, sprightliness, sweetness, or other mental quality, expressed upon the countenance. Though perfect skill in that language be rare, yet what is generally known is sufficient for the ordi

* Omnis enim motus animi, suum quendam a natura habet vultum et sonum et gestum. Cicero. l. 3. De Oratore.

For every emotion of the mind naturally has its own countenance, sound, and gesture.

nary purposes of life. But by what means we come to understand the language, is a point of some intricacy: it cannot be by sight merely; for, upon the most attentive inspection of the human face, all that can be discerned, are figure, color, and motion, which, singly or combined, never can represent a passion, nor a sentiment: the external sign is indeed visible; but to understand its meaning we must be able to connect it with the passion that causes it, an operation far beyond the reach of eyesight. Where, then, is the instructor to be found that can unveil this secret connection ? If we apply to experience, it is yielded, that from long and diligent observation, we may gather, in some measure in what manner those with whom we are acquainted express their passions externally: but with respect to strangers, we are left in the dark; and yet we are not puzzled about the meaning of these external expressions in a stranger, more than in a bosom-companion. Farther, had we no other means but experience for understanding the external signs of passion, we could not expect any degree of skill in the bulk of individuals: yet matters are so much better ordered, that the external expressions of passion form a language understood by all, by the young as well as the old, by the ignorant as well as the learned : I talk of the plain and legible characters of that language: for undoubtedly we are much indebted to experience in deciphering the dark and more delicate expressions. Where then shall we apply for a solution of this intricate problem, which seems to penetrate deep into human nature? In my mind it will be convenient to suspend the inquiry, till we are better acquainted with the nature of external signs, and with their operations. These articles, therefore, shall be premised.

The external signs of passion are of two kinds, voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary signs are also of two kinds: some are arbitrary, some natural. Words are obviously voluntary signs: and they are also arbitrary; excepting a few simple sounds expressive of certain internal emotions, which sounds being the same in all languages, must be the work of nature: thus the unpremeditated tones of admiration are the same in all men; as also of compassion, resentment, and despair. Dramatic writers ought to be well acquainted with this natural language of passion : the chief talent of such a writer is a ready command of the expressions that nature dictates to every person,

when

any

vivid emotion struggles for utterance; and the chief talent of a fine reader is a ready command of tones suited to these expressions.

The other kind of voluntary signs comprehends certain attitudes or gestures that naturally accompany certain emotions with a surprising uniformity; excessive joy is expressed by leaping, dancing, or some elevation of the body: excessive grief, by sinking or depressing it: and prostration and kneeling have been employed by all nations, and in all ages, to signify profound veneration. Another circumstance, still more than uniformity, demonstrates these gestures to be natural, viz. their remarkable conformity or resemblance to the passions that produce them. * Joy, which is a cheerful elevation of

* See Chap. 2. Part 6.

mind, is expressed by an elevation of body: pride, magnanimity, courage, and the whole tribe of elevating passions, are expressed by external gestures that are the same as to the circumstance of elevation, however distinguishable in other respects; and hence an erect posture is a sign or expression of dignity:

Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Godlike erect, with native honor clad,
In naked majesty, seem'd lords of all.

Paradise Lost, book 4. Grief, on the other hand, as well as respect, which depresses the mind, cannot, for that reason, be expressed more significantly than by a similar depression of the body; and hence, to be cast down, is a common phrase, signifying to be grieved or dispirited.

One would not imagine who has not given peculiar attention, that the body should be susceptible of such variety of attitude and motion, as readily to accompany every different emotion with a corresponding expression. Humility, for example, is expressed naturally by hanging the head; arrogance, by its elevation; and languor or despondence, by reclining it to one side, The expressions of the hands are manifold: by different attitudes and motions, they express, desire, hope, fear; they assist us in promising, in inviting, in keeping one at a distance; they are made instruments of threatening, of supplication, of praise, and of horror; they are employed in approving, in refusing, in questioning; in showing our joy, our sorrow, our doubts, our regret, our admiration. These expressions, so obedient to passion, are extremely difficult to be imitated in a calm state: the ancients, sensible of the advantage as well as difficulty of having these expressions at command, bestowed much time and care in collecting them from observation, and in digesting them into a practical art, which was taught in their schools as an important branch of education. Certain sounds are by nature allotted to each passion for expressing it externally. The actor who has these sounds at command to captivate the ear, is mighty: if he have also proper gestures at command to captivate the eye, he is irresistible.

The foregoing signs, though in a strict sense voluntary, cannot however be restrained but with the utmost difficulty when prompted by passion. We scarcely need a stronger proof than the gestures of a keen player at bowls: 'observe only how he writhes his body, in order to restore a stray bowl to the right track. It is one article of good breeding, to suppress, as much as possible, these external signs of passion, that we may not in company appear too warm, or too interested. The same observation holds in speech: a passion, it is true, when in extreme, is silent;t but when less violent it must be vented in words, which have a peculiar force not to be equalled in a

* Instead of a complimental speech in addressing a superior, the Chinese deliver the compliment in writing, the smallness of the letters being proportioned to the degree of respect; and the highest compliment is, to make the letters so small as not to be legible. Here is a clear evidence of a mental connection between respect and littleness: a man humbles himself before his superior; and endeavors to contract himself and his hand-writing within the smallest bounds.

+ See Chap. 17.

« AnteriorContinuar »