Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

observations on human faces, but was very expert in mimicking such as were any way remarkable. When he had a mind to penetrate into the inclinations of those he had to deal with, he composed his face, his gesture, and his whole body, as nearly as he could, into the exact similitude of the person he intended to examine; and then carefully observed what turn of mind he seemed to acquire by this change. So that, says my author, he was able to enter into the dispositions and thoughts of people as effectually as if he had been changed into the very men. I have often observed that on mimicking the looks and gestures of angry, or placid, or frighted, or daring men, I have involuntarily found my mind turned to that passion whose appearance I en. deavored to imitate; nay, I am convinced it is hard to avoid it, though one strove to separate the passion from its correspondent gestures. Our minds and bodies are so closely and intimately connected that one is incapable of pain or pleasure without the other. Campanella, of whom we have been speaking, could so abstract his attention from any sufferings of his body that he was able to endure the rack itself without much pain; and in lesser pains everybody must have observed that, when we can employ our attention on anything else, the pain has been for a time suspended. On the other hand, if by any means the body is indisposed to perform such gestures, or to be stimulated into such emotions, as any passion usually produces in it, that passion it. self never can arise, though its cause should be never so strongly in action; though it should be merely mental, and immediately affecting none of the senses, – as an opiate, or spirituous liquors, shall suspend the operation of grief, or fear, or anger, in spite of all our efforts to the contrary; and this by inducing in the body a disposition contrary to that which it receives from these passions.

[blocks in formation]

Having considered terror as producing an unnatural tension and certain violent emotions of the nerves, it easily follows, from what we have just said, that whatever is fitted to produce such a tension must be productive of a passion similar to terror, and consequently must be a source of the sublime, though it should have no idea of danger connected with it. So that little remains towards showing the cause of the sublime, but to show that the instances we have given of it in the second part relate to such things as are fitted by nature to produce this sort of tension, either by the primary operation of the mind or the body. With regard to such things as affect by the associated idea of danger, there can be no doubt but that they produce terror, and act by some modification of that passion; and that terror, when sufficiently violent, raises the emotions of the body just mentioned can as little be doubted. But if the sublime is built on terror, or some passion like it, which has pain for its object, it is previously proper to inquire how any species of delight can be derived from a cause so apparently contrary to it. I say delight, because, as I have often remarked, it is very evidently different in its cause and in its own nature from actual and positive pleasure.

SECTION VI

HOW PAIN CAN BE A CAUSE OF DELIGHT

PROVIDENCE has so ordered it that a state of rest and inaction, however it may Aatter our indolence, should be productive of many inconveniences, - that it should generate such disorders as may force us to have recourse to some labor as a thing absolutely requisite to make us pass our lives with tolerable satisfaction; for the nature of rest is to suffer all the parts of our bodies to fall into a relaxation that not only disables the members from performing their functions, but takes away the vigorous tone of fibre which is requisite for carrying on the natural and necessary secretions. At the same time, in this languid inactive state, the nerves are more liable to the most horrid convulsions than when they are sufficiently braced and strengthened. Melancholy, dejection, despair, and often self-murder are the consequence of the gloomy view we take of things in this relaxed state of body. The best remedy for all these evils is exercise or labor; and labor is a surmounting of difficulties, an exertion of the contracting power of the muscles; and as such resembles pain, which consists in tension or contraction, in everything but degree. Labor is not only requisite to preserve the coarser organs in a state fit for their functions; but it is equally necessary to those finer and more delicate organs, on which and by which, the imagina. tion and perhaps the other mental powers, act. Since it is probable that not only the inferior parts of the soul, as the passions are called, but the understanding itself, makes use of some fine corporeal instruments in its operation; though what they are and where they are, may be somewhat hard to settle; but that it does make use of such appears from hence: that a long exercise of the mental powers induces a remarkable lassitude of the whole body; and, on the other hand, that great bodily labor or pain, weakens, and sometimes actually destroys, the mental faculties. Now, as a due exercise is essential to the coarse muscular parts of the constitution, and that without this rousing they would become languid and diseased, the very same rule holds with regard to those finer parts we have mentioned; to have them in proper order, they must be shaken and worked to a proper degree.

SECTION VII

EXERCISE NECESSARY FOR THE FINER ORGANS

As COMMON labor, which is a mode of pain, is the exercise of the grosser, a mode of terror is the exercise of the finer parts of the system; and if a certain mode of pain be of such a nature as to act upon the eye or the ear, as they are the most delicate organs, the affection approaches more nearly to that which has a mental cause. In all these cases, if the pain and terror are so modified as not to be actually noxious,- if the pain is not carried to violence, and the terror is not conversant about the present destruction of the person, as these emotions clear the parts, whether fine or gross, of a dangerous and troublesome encumbrance, they are capable of producing delight; not pleasure, but a sort of delightful horror, a sort of tranquillity tinged with terror, which, as it belongs to self-preservation, is one of the strongest of all the passions. Its object is the sublime. Its highest degree I call astonishment; the subordinate degrees are awe, reverence, and respect, which, by the very etymology of the words, show from what source they are derived, and how they stand distinguished from positive pleasure.

Section VIII

WHY THINGS NOT DANGEROUS PRODUCE A PASSION LIKE TERROR

A MODE of terror or pain is always the cause of the sublime. For terror, or associated danger, the foregoing explication is, I believe, sufficient. It will require some more trouble to show that such examples as I have given of the sublime are capable of producing a mode of pain, and of being thus allied to terror, and to be accounted for on the same principles. And first of such objects as are great in their dimensions. I speak of visual objects.

SECTION IX

WHY VISUAL OBJECTS OF GREAT DIMENSIONS ARE SUBLIME

Vision is performed by having a picture, formed by the rays of light which are reflected from the object, painted in one piece, instantaneously, on the retina, or last nervous part of the eye. Or, according to others, there is but one point of any object painted on the eye in such a manner as to be perceived at once; but by moving the eye we gather up with great celer. ity the several parts of the object, so as to form one uniform piece. If the former opinion be allowed, it will be considered that though all the light reflected from a large body should strike the eye in one instant, yet we must suppose that the body itself is formed of a vast number of distinct points, every one of which, or the ray from every one, makes an impression on the retina. So that, though the image of one point should cause but a small tension of this membrane, another, and another, and another stroke must in their progress cause a very great one until it arrives at last to the highest degree; and the whole capacity of the eye, vibrating in all its parts, must approach near to the nature of what causes pain, and consequently must produce an idea of the sublime. Again, if we take it that one point only of an object is distinguishable at once, the matter will amount nearly to the same thing, or rather it will make the origin of the sublime from greatness of dimension yet clearer. For if but one point is observed at once, the eye must traverse the vast space of such bodies with great quickness, and consequently the fine nerves and muscles destined to the motion of that part must be very much strained; and their great sensibility must make them highly affected by this straining. Besides, it signifies just nothing to the effect produced whether a body has its parts connected and makes its impression at once; or, making but one impression of a point at a time, it causes a succession of the same or others so quickly as to make them seem united; as is evident from the common effect of whirling about a lighted torch or piece of wood, which, if done with celerity, seems a circle of fire.

SECTION X

UNITY — WHY REQUISITE TO VASTNESS

It may be objected to this theory that the eye generally receives an equal number of rays at all times, and that therefore a great object cannot affect it by the number of rays more than that variety of objects which the eye must always discern whilst it remains open. But to this I answer that admitting an equal number of rays, or an equal quantity of luminous particles, to strike the eye at all times, yet if these rays frequently vary their nature, now to blue, now to red, and so on, or their manner of termination, as to a number of petty squares, triangles, or the like, at every change, whether of color or shape, the organ has a sort of relaxation or rest; but this relaxation and labor so often interrupted is by no means productive of ease; neither has it the effect of vigorous and uniform labor. Whoever has remarked the different effects of some strong exercise and some little action will understand why a teasing, fretful employment, which at once wearies and weakens the body, should have nothing great; these sorts of impulses, which are rather teasing than painful by continually and suddenly altering their tenor and di. rection, prevent that full tension, that species of uniform labor, which is allied to strong pain, and causes the sublime. The sum total of things of various kinds, though it should equal the num. ber of the uniform parts composing some one entire object, is not equal in its effect upon the organs of our bodies. Besides the one already assigned, there is another very strong reason for the difference. The mind in reality hardly ever can attend diligently to more than one thing at a time; if this thing be little the effect is little, and a number of other little objects cannot engage the attention; the mind is bounded by the bounds of the

« AnteriorContinuar »