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ORIGIN OF OUR IDEAS
SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL
AN INTRODUCTORY DISCOURSE
AND SEVERAL OTHER ADDITIONS.
I HAVE endeavoured to make this edition of our nature binds us to a strict law and very something more full and satisfactory than the narrow limits. We ought afterwards to rea first. I have sought with the utmost care, and examine the principles by the effect of the read with equal attention, every thing which composition, as well as the composition by that has appeared in public against my opinions; I of the principles. We ought to compare our have taken advantage of the candid liberty of subject with things of a similar nature, and my friends ; and if by these means I have been even with things of a contrary nature ; for better enabled to discover the imperfections discoveries may be and often are made by the of the work, the indulgence it has received, contrast, which would escape us on the single imperfect as it was, furnished me with a new view. The greater number of the comparisons motive to spare no reasonable pains for its we make, the more general and the more certain improvement. Though I have not found suffi- our knowledge is like to prove, as built upon a cient reason, or what appeared to me sufficient, more extensive and perfect induction. or making any material change in my theory, If an inquiry thus carefully conducted, should I have found it necessary in many places to fail at last of discovering the truth, it may explain, illustrate, and enforce it. I have answer an end perhaps as useful, in discovering prefixed an introductory discourse concerning to us the weakness of our own understanding. Taste: it is a matter curious in itself; and it If it does not make us knowing, it may make leads naturally enough to the principal inquiry. us modest. If it does not preserve us from This, with the other explanations, has made errour, it may at least from the spirit of errour; the work considerably larger; and by increase and may make us cautious of pronouncing with ing its bulk has, I am afraid, added to its faults; positiveness or with haste, when so much labour 30 that, notwithstanding all my attention, it may end in so much uncertainty. may stand in need of a yet greater share of in- I could wish that in examining this theory, dulgence than it required at its first appearance. the same method were pursued which I endea
They who are accustomed to studies of this voured to observe in forming it. The objecnature will expect, and they will allow too for tions, in my opinion, ought to be proposed, many faults. They know that many of the either to the several principles as they are objects of our inquiry are in themselves ob- distinctly considered, or to the justness of the scure and intricate; and that many others have conclusion which is drawn from them. But it been rendered so by affected refinements or false is common to pass over both the premises and learning; they know that there are many im- conclusion in silence, and to produce as an pediments in the subject, in the prejudices of objection, some poetical passage which does others, and even in our own, that render it a not seem easily accounted for
the princimatter of no small difficulty to shew in a clear ples I endeavour to establish. This manner light the genuine face of nature. They know of proceeding I should think very improper. that whilst the mind is intent on the general The task would be infinite, if we could estascheme of things, some particular paris must blish no principle until we had previously unbe neglected; that we must often submit the ravelled the complex texture of every image style to the matter, and frequently give up the or description to be found in poets and orators. praise of elegance, satisfied with being clear. And though we should never be able to reconcile
The characters of nature are legible, it is the effect of such images to our principles, this true; but they are not plain enough to enable can never overturn the theory itself, whilst it is those who run, to read them. We must make founded on certain and indisputable facts. A use of a cautious, I had almost said, a timorous thcory founded on experiment, and not assumed, method of proceeding. We must not attempt is always good for so much as it explains. Our to fly, when we can scarcely pretend to creep. inability to push it indefinitely is no argument In considering any complex matter, we ought io at all against it. This inability may be owing examine every distinct ingredient in the com- to our ignorance of some necessary mediums; position, one by one; and reduce every thing to a want of proper application ; to many other to the utmost simplicity; since the condition causes besides a defoct in the principles we
employ. In reality, the subject requires a in it. The use of such inquiries may be very much closer attention, than we dare claim from considerable. Whatever turns the soul inward our manner of treating it.
on itself, tends to concenter its forces, and to fit If it should not appear on the face of the it for greater and stronger flights of science. work, I must caution the reader against ima- By looking into physical causes, our minds gining that I intended a full dissertation on are opened and enlarged; and in this pursuit, the Sublime and Beautiful. My inquiry went whether we take or whether we lose our game, no farther than to the origin of these ideas. the chace is certainly of service. Cicero, true If the qualities which I have ranged under as he was to the academic philosophy, and the head of the Sublime be all found consistent consequently led to reject the certainty of with each other, and all different from those physical, as of every other kind of knowledge, which I place under the head of beauty; and yet freely confesses its great importance to the if those which compose the class of the Beau- human understanding; “Est animorum inge tiful have the same consistency with them- niorumque nostrorum nuturale quod dam quasi selves, and the same opposition to those which pabulum consideratio contemplatioque nature.” are classed under the denomination of Sublime, if we can direct the lights we derive from I am in little pain whether any body chooses to such exalted speculations, upon the humbler follow the name I give them or not, provided field of the imagination, whilst we investigate he allows that what I dispose under different the springs, and trace the courses of our pasheads are in reality different things in nature. sions, we may not only communicate to the The use I nake of the words may be blamed, taste a sort of philosophical solidity, but we as too confined or too extended; my meaning may reflect back on the severer sciences some cannot well be misunderstood.
of the graces and elegancies of taste, without To conclude ; whatever progress may be which the greatest proficiency in those sciences made towards the discovery of truth in this will always have the appearance of something matter, I do not repent the pains I have taken illiberal.
On a superficial view, we may seem to dif- the imagination is not affected according to fer very widely from each other in our reason- some invariable and certain laws, our labour is ings, and no less in our pleasures: but, not like to be employed to very little purpose ; as it withstanding this difference, which I think to must be judged an useless, if not an absurd de rather apparent than real, it is probable that undertaking, to lay down rules for caprice, and the standard both of reason and taste is the to set up for a legislator of whims and fancies. same in all human creatures. For if there The term taste, like all other figurative were not some principles of judgment as well terms, is not extremely accurate ; the thing as of sentiment common to all mankind, no which we understand by it, is far from a simple hold could possibly be taken either on their and determinate idea in the minds of most reason or their passions, sufficient to maintain men, and it is therefore liable to uncertainty the ordinary correspondence of life. It ap- and confusion. I have no great opinion of a pears indeed to be generally acknowledged, definition, the celebrated remedy for the curo that with regard to truth and falsehood there is of this disorder. For when we define, we something fixed. We find people in their dis- seem in danger of circumscribing nature withputes continually appealing to certain tests and in the bounds of our own notions, which we standards, which are allowed on all sides, and often take up by hazard, or embrace on trust, are supposed to be established in our common or form out of a limited and partial considera
But there is not the same obvious tion of the object before us, instead of extendconcurrence in any uniform or settled princi- ing our ideas to take in all that nature compreples which relate to taste. It is even common hends, according to her manner of combining. ly supposed that this delicate and aerial faculty, We are limited in our inquiry by the strict which seems too volatile to endure even the laws to which we have submitted at our setting chairs of a definition, cannot be properly tried out. by any test, nor regulated by any standard.
Circa vilem patulumque morabimur There is so continual a call for the exercise of
orbem, the reasoning faculty, and it is so much strength- Unde pudor proferre pedem vetat aut operis ened by perpetual contention, that certain maxims of right reason seem to be tacitly settled A definition may be very exact, and yet go among the most ignorant. The learned have but a very little way towards informing us of improved on this rude science, and reduced the nature of the thing defined; but let the virthose maxims into a system. If taste has not tue of a definition be what it will, in the order been so happily cultivated, it was not that the of things, it seems rather o follow than to presubject was barren, but that the labourers were cede our inquiry, of which it ought to be consifew or negligent; for, to say the truth, there dered as the result. It must be acknowledged are not the same interesting motives to impel that the methods of disquisition and teachus to fix the one, which urge us to ascertain ing may be sometimes different, and on very the other. And after all, if men differ in their good reason undoubtedly; but for my part, I opinion concerning such matters, their differ- am convinced that the method of teaching ence is not attended with the same important which approaches most nearly to the method of consequences; else I make no doubt but that investigation, is incomparably the best; since, the logic of taste, if I may be allowed the ex- not content with serving up a few barren and pression, might very possibly be as well digeste lifeless truths, it leads to the stock on which ed, and we might come to discuss matters of they grew; it tends to set the reader himself this nature with as much certainty, as those in the track of invention, and to direct him which seem more immediately within the pro into those paths in which the author has made vince of mere reason. And indeed, it is very his own discoveries, if he should be so happy necessary, at the entrance into such an inquiry as to have made any that are valuable. as our present, to make this point as clear as But to cut off all pretence for cavilling, I gossible ; for if taste has no fixed principles, if mean by the word Taste no more than that