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Look at the company in a country theatre (in comparison), and see the coldness, the sullenness, the want of sympathy, and the way in which they turn round to scan and scrutinize one another. In London there is a public; and each man is part of it. We are gregarious, and affect the kind. We have a sort of abstract existence; and a community of ideas and knowledge (rather than local proximity) is the bond of society and good-fellowship. This is one great cause of the tone of political feeling in large and populous cities. There is here a visible body-politic, a type and image of that huge Leviathan the State. We comprehend that vast denomination, the People, of which we see a tenth part daily moving before us; and by having our imaginations emancipated from petty interests and personal dependence, we learn to venerate ourselves as men, and to respect the rights of human nature. Therefore it is that the citizens and freemen of London and Westminster are patriots by prescription, philosophers and politicians by the right of their birth-place. In the country, men are no better than a herd of cattle or scattered deer. They have no · idea but of individuals, none of rights or principles and a king, as the greatest individual, is the highest idea they can form. He is “ a species alone,” and as superior to any single peasant, as the latter is to the peasant's dog, or to a crow flying over his head. In London the king is but as one to a million (numerically speaking), is seldom seen, and then distinguished only from others by the superior graces of his person. A country squire, or a lord of the manor, is a greater man in his village or hundred !
New Monthly Magazine. . EXAMINATION
MR. BURKE AND MR. KNIGHT'S THEORIES ON THE SOURCE OF THE PLEASURES DERIVED FROM
Burke, in his “Sublime and Beautiful,” has many just and profound observations on the source of tragic pleasure ; but, like all other theories on the subject, the one which he has adopted applies not to the remote, or original, but to the immediate, or proximate cause, or rather causes, of this pleasure. When I say they apply to the immediate or proximate causes, I do not mean that they unfold even these; but that he seems to have confined himself to wliat he considered the immediate agency which produced the effect. In the first place, he very justly rejects the supposition which makes this pleasure arise from “ the comfort which we receive in considering, that so melancholy a story is no more than a fiction ;” and he equally rejects that which makes it arise from “ the contemplation of our own freedom from the evils which we see represented." The reasons which he assigns for rejecting these theories are worth quoting. “I am afraid,” he says, it is a practice much too common, in inquiries of this nature, to attribute the cause of feelings which merely arise from the mechanical construction of our bodies, or from the natural frame and constitution of our minds, to certain conclusions of the reasoning faculty on the objects presented to us, for I should imagine, that the influence of reason, in
producing our passions, is nothing near so extensive as it is commonly believed.
It is curious to perceive so profound and metaphysical a writer venturing to acknowledge his suspicions, that “ the influence of reason, in producing our passions, is nothing near so extensive as it is commonly believed." Had Burke ventured a step further, and said decidedly, that reason had no influence whatever in producing our passions, he would have asserted a fact which no weight of authority could disprove, however bold and sceptical it might appear to those who have not learned to distinguish between reason and feeling. In fact, the only influence which reason possesses over our feelings, is that of moderating, or suppressing them altogether. Accordingly, a man who, while he witnesses a scene of distress, begins to reflect on his own happiness in being free from it, is infinitely less moved, and less interested in the fate of the suffering victim, than he who, while he indulges in all those feelings which the scene before him is calculated to excite, makes no reflection whatever, but what unconsciously arises from his sympathy with the dis, tressed.
Burke does not confine the pleasure derived from tragic sources to the stage. Real distress, he thinks, is a source of still greater pleasure than the mere imitation of it, and hence he infers, that the nearer the imitation approaches the reality, the more powerful is its effect. In no case, however, does he admit imitative distress to produce equal pleasure with that which it represents. “ Choose,” he says, “ a day to represent the most sublime and affecting tragedy we have ; and appoint the most favourite actors, spare no cost upon the scenes and decorations ; unite the greatest efforts of poetry, painting, and music; and when you have collected your audience, just at the moment when their minds are erect with expectation, let it be reported that a state criminal of high rank is to be executed in the adjoining square; in a moment the emptiness of the theatre would demonstrate the comrative weakness of the imitative arts, and proclaim the triumph of real sympathy.” Here, then, the sole pleasure we receive is attributed to sympathy; but, as I have already shewn, so far as our pleasure is of a sympathetic character, this pleasure does not arise from sympathetic emotion, but is the sympathetic emotion itself. But are we certain that this abandonment of the theatre is the effect of sympathy? Indeed, there seems to be very strong reasons for thinking otherwise; the strongest of which perhaps is, that people of the most tender and sympathetic nature are not those who go most frequently to witness executions. I believe there are few people of exquisite feelings who can endure such spectacles, and yet, where are we to look for sympathy if not among them? Besides, why is our propensity to behold executions so generally looked upon as a reproach to us, if it arise from sympathy? Why are even those who delight in such spectacles unwilling to avow their propensity? Why should we confide more in a person to whom such scenes are insupportable, than in him who goes to an execution with as keen an appetite as he does to his dinner? These, certainly, seem to be intuitive proofs, that we look upon such men as persons of no sympas
thy whatever. It is possible, however, as will hereafter appear, to possess sympathy, and yet feel inclined to witness executions; but it is not possible to possess it in any very high degree. Mr. Knight ascribes the abandonment of the theatre, in the case supposed by Burke, to curiosity, not to sympathy. “ Would not the sudden appearance,” he says, “ of any very renowned foreign chief or potentate in the adjoining square, equally empty the benches of the theatre? I apprehend that it would, and cannot but suspect, that even a bottle conjuror, a flying witch, or any other miraculous phenomenon of the kind, being announced with sufficient confidence to obtain belief, would have the same effect.” It is extremely difficult to meet with a writer who can avoid contradicting himself, the moment he enters into the arena of polemics, simply, because in all our controversies, we are, in general, more desirous of victory than of the elucidation of what is obscure, or the discovery of what is unknown. Mr. Knight takes every opportunity of opposing his own opinions to those of Burke, though it is difficult to conceive why he should have singled him out from all other writers on the subject of taste. He tells us himself, that his reason for exposing Burke's “ philosophical absurdities” is, that they have “ been since adopted by others, and made to contribute so largely to the propagation of bad taste.” It would be difficult to point out any writer, whose philosophical principles are less calculated to promote “bad taste," than Burke's; for, as Mr. Knight himself acknowledges, “ his feelings were generally right, even where his judgment was most