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OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CLEARNESS
he has finished the portrait of the king of ter- which reason I shall take a little more pains in
clearing it up. The verses are,
Segnius irritant animos demissa per arres, Distinguishable, in member, joint, or limb;. Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus. Or substance might be callid that shadow
On this the Abbé du Bos founds a criticism, seein'd; For each seem'd either; black he stood as wherein he gives painting the preference to night :
poetry in the article of moving the passions ; Fierce as ten furies ; terrible as hell ; And shook a deadly dar. What seem’d his of the ideas it represents. I believe this ex
principally on account of the greater clearness head The likeness of a kingly crown had on.
cellent judge was led into this mistake (if it be In this description all is dark, uncertain, con- it more conformable than I imagine it will be
a mistake) by his system, to which he found fused, terrible, and sublime to the last degree. found by experience. I know several who ad
mire and love painting, and yet who regard
the objects of their admiration in that art with SECTION IV.
coolness enough in comparison of that warmth with which they are animated by affecting pieces of poetry or rhetoric. Among the
common sort of people, I never could perceive AND OBSCURITY WITH REGARD TO THE
that painting had much influence on their pasPASSIONS.
sions. It is true, that the best sorts of paintIt is one thing to make an idea clear, and ing, as well as the best sorts of poetry, are not another to make it affecting to the imagination. much understood in that sphere. But it is If I make a drawing of a palace, or a temple, most certain, that their passions are very or a landscape, I present a very clear idea of strongly roused by a fanatic preacher, or by those objects ; but then (allowing for the effect the ballads of Chevy-chace, or the Children in of imitation, which is something) my picture the Wood, and by other little popular poems can at most affoct only as the palace, temple, and tales that are current in that rank of life. or landscape, would have affected in the real- I do not know of any paintings, bad or good, ity. On the other hand, the most lively and that produce the same effect. So that poetry, spirited verbal description I can give, raises a with all its obscurity, has a more general, as very obscure and imperfect idea of such ob- well as a more powerful dominion over the jects; but then it is in my power to raise a passions, than the other art. And I think there stronger emotion by the description than I are reasons in nature, why the obscure idea, could do by the best painting. This experi- when properly conveyed, should be more affectence constantly evinces. The proper manner ing than the clear. It is our ignorance of of conveying the affections of the mind from things that causes all our admiration, and one to another, is by words ; there is a great chiefly excites our passions. Knowledge and insufficiency in all other methods of communi- acquaintance make the most striking causes cation; and so far is a clearness of imagery affect but little. It is thus with the vulgar; from being absolutely necessary to an influence and all men are as the vulgar in what they do upon the passions, that they may be consider- not understand. The ideas of eternity, and ably operated upon, without presenting any infinity, are among the most affecting we have: image at all, by certain sounds adapted to that and yet perhaps there is nothing of which we purpose;
of which we have a sufficient proof really understand so little, as of infinity and in the acknowledged and powerful effects of eternity. We do not any where meet a more instrumental music. In reality, a great clear. sublime description than this justly celebrated ness helps but little towards affecting the pas. one of Milton, wherein he gives the portrait sions, as it is in some sort an enemy to all of Satan with a dignity so suitable to the subenthusiasms whatsoever.
He above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent
Stood like a tower ; his form had yet not lost
All her original brightness, nor appear'd
Less than archangel ruin'd, and th excess
Of glory obscurd : as when the sun new ris'n
Looks through the horizontal misty air
terrour makes its appearance, what is it? is it
not wrapt up in the shades of its own incomHere is a very noble picture; and in what does prehensible darkness, more awful, more strithis poetical picture consist? in images of a king, more terrible, than the liveliest descriptower, an archangel, the sun rising through tion, than the clearest painting, could possibly mists, or in an eclipse, the ruin of monarchs, and represent it? When painters have attempted the revolutions of kingdoms. The mind is hur- to give us clear representations of these very ried out of itself, by a crowd of great and con- fanciful and terrible ideas, they have, I think, fused images; which affect because they are almost always failed; insomuch that I have crowded and confused. For separate them, and been at a loss, in all the pictures I have seen you lose much of the greatness; and join them, of hell, whether the painter did not intend someand you infallibly lose the clearness. The im- thing ludicrous. Several painters have handled ages raised by poetry are always of this obscure a subject of this kind with a view of assembling kind; though in general the effects of poetry as many horrid phantoms as their imaginations are by no means to be attributed to the images could suggest; but all the designs I have chanced it raises ; which point we shall examine more to meet of the temptations of St. Anthony, were at large hereafter.* But painting, when we rather a sort of odd, wild grotesques, than any have allowed for the pleasure of imitation, can thing capable of producing a serious passion. only affect simply by the images it presents; In all these subjects poetry is very happy. and even in painting, a judicious obscurity in Its apparitions, its chimeras, its harpies, its some things contributes to the effect of the allegorical figures, are grand and affecting; picture ; because the images in painting are and though Virgil's Fame, and Homer's Disexactly similar to those in nature ; and in cord, are obscure, they are magnificent figures. nature, dark, confused, uncertain images have These figures in painting would be clear enough, a greater power on the fancy to form the grand- but I fear they might become ridiculous. er passions, than those have which are more clear and determinate. But where and when this observation may be applied to practice, and how far it shall be extended, will be better de
SECTION V. duced from the nature of the subject, and from the occasion, than from any rules that can be given.
I am sensible that this idea has met with BESIDES those things which directly suggest opposition, and is likely still to be rejected by the idea of danger, and those which produce a several. But let it be considered, that hardly similar effect from a mechanical cause, I know any thing can strike the mind with its great- of nothing sublime, which is not some modiness, which does not make some sort of ap- fication of power. And this branch rises as proach towards infinity; which nothing can do naturally as the other two branches, from terwhilst we are able to perceive its bounds ; but rour, the common stock of every thing that is to see an object distinctly, and to perceive its sublime. The idea of power, at first view, bounds, is one and the same thing. A clear seems of the class of those indifferent ones, idea is therefore another name for a little idea. which may equally belong to pain or to pleaThere is a passage in the book of Job amazingly sure. But in reality, the affection arising from sublime, and this sublimity is principally due to the idea of vast power is extremely remote from the terrible uncertainty of the thing described: that neutral character. For first, we must reIn thoughts from the visions of the night, when member, that the idea of pain, in its highest deep sleep falleth upon men, fear came upon me degree, is much stronger than the highest deand trembling, which made all my bones to shake.gree of pleasure; and that it preserves the same Then a spirit passed before my face. The hair superiority through all the subordinate gradaof my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could tions. From hence it is, that where the chances not discern the form thereof; an image was be- for equal degrees of suffering or enjoyment are fore mine eyes; there was silence ; and I heard in any sort equal, the idea of the suffering must a voice, Shall mortal man be more just than always be prevalent. And indeed the ideas of God? We are first prepared with the utmost pain, and above all of death, are so very affectsolemnity for the vision; we are first terrified, ing, that whilst we remain in the presence of before we are let even into the obscure cause whatever is supposed to have the power of in* Part V.
* Part I. sect. 7
flicting either, it is impossible to be perfectly or rhinoceros. Whenever strength is only usefree from terrour. Again, we know by experi- ful, and employed for our benefit or our pleaence, that for the enjoyment of pleasure, no sure, then it is never sublime; for nothing can great efforts of power are at all necessary; nay, act agreeably to us, that does not act in conwe know, that such efforts would go a great formity to our will; but to act agrecably to our way towards destroying our satisfaction; for will, it must be subject to us, and therefore can pleasure must be stolen, and not forced upon never be the cause of a grand and commanding us; pleasure follows the will; and therefore we conception. The description of the wild ass, are generally affected with it by many things of in Job, is worked up into no small sublimity, a force greatly inferiour to our own. But pain is merely by insisting on his freedom, and his always inflicted by a power in some way supe. setting mankind at defiance; otherwise the deriour, because we never submit to pain willingly. scription of such an animal could have nothing So that strength, violence, pain, and terrour, noble in it. Who hath loosed (says he,) the are ideas that rush in upon the mind together. bands of the wild ass ? whose house I have made Look at a man, or any other animal of prodigious the wilderness, and the barren land his dwellings. strength, and what is your idea before retlec- He scorneth the multitude of the city, neither Tee tion? Is it that this strength will be subser gardeth he the voice of the driver. The range vient to you, to your ease, to your pleasure, to of the mountains is his pasture. The magnificent your interest in any sense? No; the emotion description of the unicorn and of leviathan in you feel is, lest this enormous strength should the same book is full of the same heightening be employed to the purposes of rapine* and circumstances: Will the unicorn be willing to destruction. That power derives all its subli- serve thee? canst thou bind the unicorn with his mity from the terrour with which it is generally band in the furrow? will thou trust him because accompanied, will appear evidently from its his strength is great ?--Canst thou draw out effect in the very few cases in which it may leviathan with an hook ?--will he make a covebe possible to strip a considerable degree of nant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant strength of its ability to hurt. When you do for ever? shall not one be cast down even at the this, you spoil it of every thing sublime, and it sight of him? In short, wheresoever we find immediately becomes contemptible. An ox is strength, and in what light soever we look upon a creature of vast strength, but he is an inno- power, we shall all along observe the sublime cent creature, extremely serviceable, and not at the concomitant of terrour, and contempt the all dangerous ; for which reason the idea of an attendant on a strength that is subservient and ox is by no means grand. A bull is strong too: innoxious. The race of dogs in many of their but his strength is of another kind; often very kinds, have generally a competent degree of destructive, seldom (at least among us) of strength and swiftness; and they exert these any use in our business; the idea of a bull is and other valuable qualities which they possess, therefore great, and it has frequently a place in greatly to our convenience and pleasure. Dogs sublime descriptions, and elevating compari- are indeed the most social, affectionate, and sons. Let us look at another strong animal, in amiable animals of the whole brute creation; the two distinct lights in which we may consi- but love approaches much nearer to contempt der him. The horse in the light of an useful than is commonly imagined ; and accordingly, beast, fit for tho plough, the road, the draft; in though we caress dogs, we borrow from them every social useful light, the horse has nothing an appellation of the most despicable kind, when sublime: but is it thus that we are affected we employ terms of reproach; and this appellawith him, whose neck is clothed with thunder, the tion is the common mark of the last vileness glory of whose nostrils is terrible, who swalloweth and contempt in every language. Wolves havo the ground with fierceness and rage, neither be- not more strength than several species of dogs; lieveth that it is the sound of the trumpet? In but, on account of their unmanageable fiercethis description the useful character of the horse ness, the idea of a wolf is not despicable; it is entirely disappears, and the terrible and sublime not excluded from grand descriptions and simiblaze out together. We have continually about litudes. Thus we are affected by strength, us animals of a strength that is considerable, which is natural power. The power which but not pernicious. Among these we never arises from institution in kings and commandlook for the sublime; it comes upon us in the ers, has the same connection with terrour. gloomy forest, and in the howling wilderness, Sovereigns are frequently addressed with the in the form of the lion, the tiger, the panther, title of dread majesty. And it may be observed,
that young persons, little acquainted with the Vide Part III. sect. 21.
world, and who have not been used to approach
men in power, are commonly struck with an of the justice with which it is exercised, nor awe which takes away the free use of their the mercy with which it is tempered, can wholly faculties. When I prepared my seat in the remove the terrour that naturally arises from a street, (says Job,) the young men saw me, and force which nothing can withstand. If we hid themselves. Indeed, so natural is this timi- rejoice, we rejoice with trembling: and even dity with regard to power, and so strongly does whilst we are receiving benefits, we cannot but it inhere in our constitution, that very few are shudder at a power which can confer benefits able to conquer it, but by mixing much in the of such mighty importance. When the prophet business of the great world, or by using no David contemplated the wonders of wisdom and small violence to their natural dispositions. I power which are displayed in the economy of know some people are of opinion, that no awe, man, he seems to be struck with a sort of divine no degree of terrour, accompanies the idea of horrour, and cries out, Fearfully and wonderfully power: and have hazarded to affirm, that we am I made! An heathen poet has a sentiment can contemplate the idea of God himself, with of a similar nature; Horace looks upon it as the out any such emotion. I purposely avoided, last effort of philosophical fortitude, to behold when I first considered this subject, to introduce without terrour and amazement, this immense the idea of that great and tremendous Being, and glorious fabric of the universe: as an example in an argument so light as this ; though it frequently occurred to me, not as an
Hunc solem, et stellas, et decedentia certis objection to, but as a strong confirmation of, Imbuii spectant.
Tempora momentis, sunt qui formidine nulla my notions in this matter. I hope, in what I Lucretius is a poet not to be suspected of giving ann going to say, I shall avoid presumption, where it is almost impossible for any mortal to
way to superstitious terrours; yet when he supspeak with strict propriety. I say then, that poses the whole mechanism of nature laid open whilst we consider the Godhead merely as he is by the master of his philosophy, his transport an object of the understanding, which forms a
on this magnificent view, which he has reprecomplex idea of power, wisdom, justice, good- sented in the colours of such bold and lively ness, all stretched to a degree far exceeding poetry, is overcast with a shade of secret dread
and horrour: the bounds of our comprehension, whilst we consider the Divinity in this refined and ab
His tibi me rebus quædam divina voluptas stracted light, the imagination and passions Percipit
, atque horror, quod sic Natura tua vi
Tam manifesta patet ex omni parte retecta. are little or nothing affected. But because we are bound, by the condition of our nature, to But the scripture alone can supply ideas anascend to these pure and intellectual ideas, swerable to the majesty of this subject. In the through the medium of sensible images, and to scripture, wherever God is represented as apjudge of these divine qualities by their evident pearing or speaking, every thing terrible in acts and exertions, it becomes extremely hard nature is called up to heighten the awe and to disentangle our idea of the cause from the solemnity of the divine presence. The psalms, effect by which we are led to know it. Thus and the prophetical books, are crowded with when we contemplate the Deity, his attributes instances of this kind. The earth shook (says and their operation coming united on the mind, the psalmist,) the heavens also dropped at the form a sort of sensible image, and as such are presence of the Lord. And, what is remarkcapable of affecting the imagination. Now, able, the painting preserves the same characthough in a just idea of the Deity, perhaps ter, not only when he is supposed descending none of his attributes are predominant, yet to to take vengeance upon the wicked, but even our imagination, his power is by far the most when he exerts the like plenitude of power, in striking. Some reflection, some comparing, is acts of beneficence to mankind. Tremble, thone necessary to satisfy us of his wisdom, his jus- earth! at the presence of the Lord; at the pretice, and his goodness. To be struck with his sence of the God of Jacob; which turned the power, it is only necessary that we should open rock into standing water, the flint into a fountain our eyes. But whilst we contemplate so vast an of waters! It were endless to enumerate all object, under the arm, as it were, of Almighty the passages, both in the sacred and profane power, and invested upon every side with om- writers, which establish the general sentiment nipresence, we shrink into the minuteness of of mankind, concerning the inseparable union our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihi- of a sacred and reverential awe, with our lated before him. And though a consideration ideas of the divinity. Hence the common of his other attributes may relieve in some maxim, Primus in orbe deos fecit timor. This measure our apprehensions; yet no conviction maxim may be, as I believe it is, falso with
regard to the origin of religion. The maker Ibant obscuri, sola sub nocte, per umbram, of the maxim saw how inseparable these ideas Perque domos Ditis vacuas, et inania regna. were, without considering that the notion of Ye subterraneous gods! whose awful sway
The gliding ghosts, and silent shades obey; some great power must be always precedent to
O Chaos, hoar ! and Phlegethon profound ! our dread of it. But this dread must necessa
Whose solemn empire stretches wide around! rily follow the idea of such a power, when it is Give me, ye great iremendous powers, to tell once excited in the mind. It is on this principle Give me your mighty secrets to display
Of scenes and wonders in the depth of hell: that true religion has, and must have, so large From those black realms of darkness to the a mixture of salutary fear; and that false reli
Рітт. gions have generally nothing else but fear to Obscure they went through dreary shades that support them. Before the Christian religion led had, as it were, humanized the idea of the Di- Along the waste dominions of the dead.
DRYDEN. vinity, and brought it somewhat nearer to us, there was very little said of the love of God. The followers of Plato have something of it, and only something; the other writers of pagan
SECTION VII. antiquity, whether poets or philosophers, nothing at all. And they who consider with what infinite attention, by what a disregard of every perishable object, through what long habits of
GREATNESS* of dimension is a powerful piety and contemplation it is, any man is able
cause of the sublime. This is too evident, to attain an entire love and devotion to the
and the observation too common, to need any Deity, will easily perceive, that it is not the illustration ; it is not so common to consider in first, the most natural
, and the most striking what ways greatness of dimension, vastness of effect which proceeds from that idea. Thus we have traced power through its several gra. For certainly, there are ways, and modes,
extent or quantity, has the most striking effect. dations unto the highest of all, where our ima- wherein the same quantity of extension shall gination is finally lost; and we find terrour, produce greater effects than it is found to do in quite throughout the progress, its inseparable others. Extension is either in length, height, companion, and growing along with it, as far
or depth. Of these the length strikes least; as we can possibly trace them. Now as power an hundred yards of even ground will never is undoubtedly a capital source of the sublime, work such an effect as a tower an hundred this will point out evidently from whence its yards high, or a rock or mountain of that altienergy is derived, and to what class of ideas inde. I am apt to imagine likewise, that we ought to unite it,
height is less grand than depth; and that we are more struck at looking down from a precipice, than looking up at an object of equal
height; but of that I am not very positive. A SECTION VL.
perpendicular has more force in forming the sublime than an inclined plane; and the effects of a rugged and broken surface seem stronger
than where it is smooth and polished. It would ALL general privations are great, because they are all terrible ; Vacuity, Darkness
, Soli- carty us out of our way to enter in this place
into the cause of these appearances; but certude, and Silence. With what a fire of imagi- tain it is they afford a large and fruitful field nation, yet with what severity of judgment, has of speculation. However, it may not be amiss Virgil amassed all these circumstances, where
to add to these remarks upon magnitude, that he knows that all the images of a tremendous
as the great extreme of dimension is sublime, dignity ought to be united, at the mouth of hell! so the last extreme of littleness is in some meawhere, before he unlocks the secrets of the
sure sublime likewise; when we attend to the great deep, he seems to be seized with a reli- infinite divisibility of matter, when we pursue gious horrour, and to retire astonished at the animal life into these excessively small
, and boldness of his own design:
yet organised beings, that escape the nicest Dii quibus imperium est animarum, umbræque inquisition of the sense, when we push our --Silentes!
discoveries yet downward, and consider thoso Et Chaos, et Plegethon! Joca nocte silentia late?
creatures so many degrees yet smaller, and tho Sit mihi fas audita loqui! sit numine vestro Pandero res alla terra et caligine mersas :
• Part IV. sect. 9.