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is it that general and abstract expressions are so tame and lifeless, in comparison of those which are particular and figurative? Is it not because the former do not give any exercise to the imagination, like the latter? Whence the distinction, acknowledged by all critics, ancient and modern, between that charm of words which evaporates in the process of translation, and those permanent beauties, which presenting to the mind the distinctness of a picture, may impart pleasure to the most remote regions and ages? Is it not, that in the one case, the poet addresses himself to associations which are local and temporary ; in the other, to those essential principles of human nature, from which poetry and painting derive their common attractions ? Hence, among the various sources of the sublime, the peculiar stress laid by Longinus on what he calls Visions, (φαντασίαι)-όταν λέγης υπ' ενθουσιασμού και πάθους βλέπειν δοκίς, και υπ' όψιν τιθής τους ακούσιν.*
In treating of abstraction I formerly remarked, that the perfection of philosophical style is to approach as nearly as possible to that species of language we employ in algebra, and to exclude every expression which has a tendency to divert the attention by exciting the imagination, or to bias the judgment by casual associations. For this purpose the philosopher ought to be sparing in the employment of figurative words, and to convey his notions by general terms which have been accurately defined. To the orator, on the other hand, when he wishes to prevent the cool exercise of the understanding, it may, on the same account be frequently useful to delight or to agitate his hearers, by blending with his reasonings the illusions of poetry, or the magical influence of sounds consecrated by popular feelings. A regard to the different ends thus aimed at in philosophical and in rhetorical composition, renders the ornaments which are so becoming in the one, inconsistent with good taste and good sense when adopted in the other.
In poetry, as truths and facts are introduced, not for the purpose of information, but to convey pleasure to the mind, nothing offends more, than those general expressions which form the great instrument of philosophical reasoning. The original pleasures, which it is the aim of poetry to recall to the mind, are all derived from individual objects: and, of consequence, (with a very few exceptions, which it does not belong to my present subject to enumerate,) the more particular, and the more appropriated its language is, the greater will be the charm it possesses.
With respect to the description of the course of the Danube already quoted, I shall not dispute the result of the experiment to be as the author represents it. That words may often be applied to their proper purposes, without our annexing any particular notions to them, I have formerly shown at great length; and I
* De Sublim. Ş XV.-Quas cartaoíuş Græci vocant, nos sanè Visiones appellamus; per quas imagines rerum absentium ita repræsentantur animo, ut eas cernere oculis ac præsentes habere videamur.Quinct. Inst. Orat. vi. 2.
admit that the meaning of this description may be so understood. But to be understood, is not the sole object of the poet: his primary object is to please ; and the pleasure which he conveys will, in general, be found to be proportioned to the beauty and liveliness of the images which he suggests. In the case of a poet born blind, the effect of poetry must depend on other causes; but whatever opinion we may form on this point, it appears to me impossible that such a poet should receive, even from his own descriptions, the same degree of pleasure which they may convey to a reader who is capable of conceiving the scenes which are described. Indeed this instance which Mr. Burke produces in support of his theory, is sufficient of itself to show that the theory cannot be true in the extent in which it is stated.
By way of contrast to the description of the Danube, I shall quote a stanza,from Gray, which affords a very beautiful example of the two different effects of poetical expression. The pleasure conveyed by the two last lines resolves almost entirely into Mr. Burke's principles; but, great as this pleasure is, how inconsiderable is it in comparison of that arising from the continued and varied exercise which the preceding lines give to the imagination ?
• In climes beyond the solar road,
I cannot help remarking further, the effect of the solemn and uniform flow of the verse in this exquisite stanza, in retarding the pronunciation of the reader; so as to arrest his attention to every successive picture, till it has time to produce its proper impression. More of the charm of poetical rhythm arise from this circumstance, than is commonly imagined.
To those who wish to study the theory of poetical expression, no author in our language affords a richer variety of illustrations than the poet last quoted. His merits, in many other respects, are great; but his skill in this particular is more peculiarly conspicuous. How much he had made the principles of this branch of his art an object of study, appears from his letters published by Mr. Mason.
I have sometimes thought, that, in the last line of the following passage, he had in view the two different effects of words already described; the effect of some, in awakening the powers of conception and imagination; and that of others, in exciting associated emotions :
“ Hark, his hands the lyre explore !
Continuation of the same Subject.—Relation of Imagination and of
Taste to Genius.
From the remarks made in the foregoing sections, it is obvious, in what manner a person accustomed to analyze and combine his conceptions, may acquire an idea of beauties superior to any which he has seen realized. It may also be easily inferred, that a habit of forming such intellectual combinations, and of remarking their effects on our own minds, must contribute to refine and to exalt the taste, to a degree which it never can attain in those men, who study to improve it by the observation and comparison of external objects only.
A cultivated taste, combined with a creative imagination, constitutes genius in the fine arts. Without taste, imagination could produce only a random analysis and combination of our conceptions; and without imagination, taste would be destitute of the faculty of invention. These two ingredients of genius may be mixed together in all possible proportions; and where either is possessed in a degree remarkably exceeding what falls to the ordinary share of mankind, it may compensate in some measure for a deficiency in the other. An uncommonly correct taste, with little imagination, if it does not produce works which excite admiration, produces at least nothing which can offend. An uncommon fertility of imagination, even when it offends, excites our wonder by its creative power; and shows what it could have performed, had its exertions been guided by a more perfect model.
In the infancy of the arts, an union of these two powers in the same mind is necessary for the production of every work of genius. Taste, without imagination, is, in such a situation, impossible ; for, as there are no monuments of ancient genius on which it can be formed, it must be the result of experiments, which nothing but the imagination of every individual can enable him to make. Such a taste must necessarily be imperfect, in consequence of the limited experience of which it is the result; but, without imagination, it could not have been acquired even in this imperfect degree.
In the progress of the arts the case comes to be altered. The productions of genius accumulate to such an extent, that taste may be formed by a careful study of the works of others; and, as formerly imagination had served as a necessary foundation for taste, so taste begins now to invade the province of imagination. The combinations which the latter faculty has been employed in making, during a long succession of ages, approach to infinity; and present such ample materials to a judicious selection, that with a high standard of excellence, continually present to the thoughts, industry, assisted by the most moderate degree of imagination, will, in time, produce performances, not only more free from faults, but incomparably more powerful in their effects, than the most original efforts of untutored genius, which, guided by an uncultivated taste, copies after an inferior model of perfection. What Reynolds observes of painting, 'may be applied to all the other fine arts: that “ as the painter, by bringing together in one piece, those beauties, which are dispersed amongst a great variety of individuals, produces a figure more beautiful than can be found in nature; so that artist who can unite in himself the excellences of the various painters, will approach nearer to perfection than any of his masters.” -(P. 226.)
Of the Influence of Imagination on Human Character and
Happiness. HITHERTO we have considered the power of imagination chiefly as it is connected with the fine arts. But it deserves our attention still more, on account of its extensive influence on human character and happiness.
The lower animals, as far as we are able to judge, are entirely occupied with the objects of their present perceptions: and the case is nearly the same with the inferior orders of our own species. One of the principal effects which a liberal education produces on the mind is to accustom us to withdraw our attention from the objects of sense, and to direct it at pleasure to those intellectual combinations which delight the imagination. Even, however, among men of cultivated understandings, this faculty is possessed in very unequal degrees by different individuals ; and these differences (whether resulting from original constitution or from early education) lay the foundation of some striking varieties in human character.
What we commonly call sensibility depends in a great measure on the power of imagination. Point out to two men any object of compassion ;-a man, for example, reduced by misfortune from easy circumstances to indigence. The one feels merely in proportion to what he perceives by his senses. The other follows, in imagination, the unfortunate man to his dwelling, and partakes with him and his family in their domestic distresses. He listens to their conversation while they recall to remembrance the flattering prospects they once indulged; the circle of friends they had been forced to leave ; the liberal plans of education which were begun and interrupted ; and pictures out to himself all the various resourc
es which delicacy and pride suggest to conceal poverty from the world. As he proceeds in the painting his sensibility increases, and he weeps, not for what he sees, but for what he imagines. It will be said that it was his sensibility which originally roused his imagination; and the observation is undoubtedly true ; but it is equally evident, on the other hand, that the warmth of his imagination increases and prolongs his sensibility.
This is beautifully illustrated in the Sentimental Journey of Sterne. While engaged in a train of reflections on the state prisons in France, the accidental sight of a starling in a cage suggests to him the idea of a captive in his dungeon. He indulges bis imagination, "and looks through the twilight of the grated door to take the picture."
“I beheld,” says he,“ his body half wasted away with long expectation and confinement, and felt what kind of sickness of the heart it is, which arises from hope deferred. Upon looking nearer I saw him pale and feverish: in thirty years the western breeze had not once fanned his blood : he had seen no sun, no moon, in all that time, nor had the voice of friend or kinsman breathed through his lattice.-His children-But here my heart began to bleed, and I was forced to go on with another part of the portrait.
“ He was sitting upon the ground, in the farthest corner of his dungeon, on a little straw, which was alternately his chair and bed : a little calendar of small sticks was laid at the head notched all over with the dismal days and nights he had passed there : he had one of these little sticks in his hand, and with a rusty nail was etching another day of misery to add to the heap. As I darkened the little light he had, he lifted up a hopeless eye towards the door, then cast it down, shook his head, and went on with his work of affliction."
The foregoing observations may account, in part, for the effect which exhibitions of fictitious distress produce on some persons, who do not discover much sensibility to the distresses of real life. In a novel or a tragedy the picture is completely finished in all its parts; and we are made acquainted not only with every circumstance on which the distress turns, but with the sentiments and feelings of every character, with respect to his situation. In real life we see, in general, only detached scenes of the tragedy; and the impression is slight unless imagination finishes the characters, and supplies the incidents that are wanting.
It is not only to scenes of distress that imagination increases our sensibility. It gives us a double share in the prosperity of others, and enables us to partake with a more lively interest in every fortunate incident that occurs either to individuals or to communities. Even from the productions of the earth and the vicissitudes of the year, it carries forward our thoughts to the enjoyments they bring to the sensitive creation, and by interesting our benevolent affections in the scenes we behold, lends a new charm to the beauties of nature.