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a being, action, or quality, that moves us, it is supposed to be really existing. This observation shows that we have not yet completed our task; because passions, as all the world know, are moved by fiction as well as by truth. In judging beforehand of man, so remarkably addicted to truth and reality, one should little dream tha: fiction can have any effect upon him; but man's intellectual faculties are not sufficiently perfect to dive far, even into his own nature. I shall take occasion afterward to show, that the power of fiction to generate passion is an admirable contrivance, subservient to excellent purposes : in the mean time, we must try to unfold the means that give fiction such influence over the mind.
That the objects of our external senses really exist in the way and manner we perceive, is a branch of intuitive knowledge: when I see a man walking, a tree growing, or cattle grazing, I cannot doubt that these objects are really what they appear to be: if I be a spectator of any transaction or event, I have a conviction of the real existence of the persons engaged, of their words, and of their actions. Nature determines us to rely on the veracity of our senses; for otherwise they could not in any degree, answer their end—that of laying open things existing and passing around us.
By the power of memory, a thing formerly seen, may be recalled to the mind with different degrees of accuracy. We are commonly satisfied with a slight recollection of the capital circumstances; and, in such recollection, the thing is not figured as in our view, nor any image formed: we retain the consciousness of our present situation, and barely remember that formerly we saw that thing. But with respect to an interesting object or event that made a strong impression, I am not satisfied with a cursory review, but must dwell upon every circumstance. I am imperceptibly converted into a spectator, and perceive every particular passing in my presence, as when i was in reality a spectator. For example, I saw, yesterday, a beautiful woman in tears for the loss of an only child, and was greatly moved with her distress : not satisfied with a slight recollection or pare remembrance, I ponder upon the melancholy scene: conceiving myself to be in the place where I was an eye-witness, every circumstance appears to me as at first: I think I see the woman in fears, and hear her moans. Hence it may be justly said, that in a complete idea of memory there is no past nor future: a thing recalled to the mind with the accuracy I have been describing, is perceived as in our view, and, consequently, as existing at present. Past time makes part of an incomplete idea only: I remember or reflect, that some years ago I was at Oxford, and saw the first stone laid of the Ratcliff library; and I remember that, at a still greater distance of time, I heard a debate in the House of Commons about a standing army.
Lamentable is the imperfection of language, almost in every particular that falls not under external sense. I am talking of a matter exceedingly clear in the perception, and yet I find no small difficulty to express it clearly in words; for it is not accurate to talk of inci. dents long past as passing in our sight, nor of hearing at present
what we really heard yesterday, or at a more distant tine. Ana yet the want of proper words to describe ideal presence, and to distinguish it from real presence, makes this inaccuracy unavoidable. When I recall any thing to my mind in a manner so distinct as to form an idea or image of it as present, I have not words to describe that act, but that I perceive the thing as a spectator, and as existing in mny presence; which means not that I am really a spectator, but only that I conceive myself to be a spectator, and have a perception of the object similar to what a real spectator
has. As many rules of criticism depend on ideal presence, the reader, it is hoped, will take some pains to form an exact notion of it, as distinguished, on the one hand, from real presence, and on the other, from a superficial or reflective remembrance. In contradistinction to real presence, ideal presence may properly be termed a waking dream ; because, like a dream, it vanishes the moment we reflect upon our present situation : real presence, on the contrary, vouched by eye-sight
, commands our belief, not only during the direct perception, but in reflecting afterward on the object. To distinguish ideal presence from reflective remembrance, I give the following illustration : when I think of an event as past, without forming any image, it is barely reflecting or remembering that I was an eyewitness: but when I recall the event so distinctly as to form a complete image of it, I perceive it as passing in my presence; and this perception is an act of intuition, into which reflection enters not, more ihan into an act of sight.
Though ideal presence is thus distinguished from real presence on the one side, and from reflective remembrance on the other, it is, however, variable without any precise limits; rising sometimes toward the former, and often sinking toward the latter. In a vigorous exertion of memory, ideal presence is extremely distinct. Thus, when a man, entirely occupied with some event that made a deep impression, forgets himself, he perceives every thing as passing before him, and has a consciousness of presence similar to that of a spectator; with no difference but that in the former the perception of presence is less firm and clear than in the latter. But such vigorous exertion of memory is rare: ideal presence is oftener faint, and the image so obscure as not to differ widely from reflective remembrance.
Hitherto I have spoken of an idea of memory. I proceed to consider the idea of a thing I never saw, raised in me by speech, by writing, or by painting. That idea, with respect to the present subject, is of the same nature with an idea of memory, being either complete or incomplete. A lively and accurate description of an important event, raises in me ideas no less distinct than if I had been originally an eye-witness: I am insensibly transformed into a spectator; and have an impression that every incident is passing in my presence. On the other hand, a slight or superficial narrative produces but a faint and incomplete idea, of which ideal presence makes no part. Past time is a circumstance that enters into this idea, as it does into an incomplete idea of memory: I believe that Scipio existed
about 2000 years ago, and that he overcame Hannibal in the famous battle of Zama. When I reflect so slightly upon that memorable event, I consider it as long past, But let it be spread out in a lively and beautiful description, I am insensibly transformed into a spectator: I perceive these two heroes in act to er gage: I perceive them brandishing their swords, and cheering their troops; and in that manner I attend them through the battle, every incident of which appears to be passing in my sight.
I have had occasion to observe,* that ideas, both of memory and of speech, produce emotions of the same kind with what are produced by an immediate view of the object: only fainter, in proportion as an idea is fainter than an original perception. The insight we now have, unfolds that mystery: ideal presence supplies the want of real presence; and in idea we perceive persons acting and suffering, precisely as in an original survey: if our sympathy be engaged by the latter, it must also, in some degree, be engaged by the former, especially if the distinctness of ideal presence approach to that of real presence. Hence the pleasure of a reverie, where a man, forgetting himself, is totally occupied with the ideas passing in his mind, the objects of which he conceives to be really existing in his presence. The power of language to raise emotions, depends entirely on the raising of such lively and distinct images as are here described: the reader's passions are never sensibly moved, till he is thrown into a kind of reverie; in which state, forgetting that he is reading, he conceives every incident as passing in his presence, precisely as if he were an eye-witness. A general or reflective remembrance cannot warm us into any emotion : it may be agreeable in some slight degree; but its ideas are too faint and obscure to raise any thing like an emotion; and were they ever so lively, they pass with too much precipitation to have that effect: our emotions are never instantaneous; even such as come the soonest to their height, have different periods of birth and increment; and to give opportunity for these different periods, it is necessary that the cause of every emotion be present to the mind a due time; for an emotion is not carried to its height by reiterated impressions only. We know that to be the case of emotions arising from objects of sight; a quick succession, even of the most beautiful objects, scarcely making any impression; and if this hold in the succession of original perceptions, how much more in the succession of ideas?
Though all this while I have been only describing what passes in the mind of every one, and of what every one must be conscious, it was necessary to enlarge upon the subject; because, however clear in the internal conception, it is far from being so when described in
Ideal presence, though of general importance, has scarcely ever been touched by any writer; and however difficult the explication, it could not be avoided in accounting for the effects produced by fiction. Upon that point, the reader, I presume, has anticipated me: it already must have occurred to him, that if, in reading, ideal pre. sence be the means by which our passions are moved, it makes no
* Part I. sect. 1. of the present chapter.
difference whether the subject be a fable or a true history: when ideal presence is complete, we perceive every object as in our sight; and the mind, totally occupied with an interesting event, finds no leisure for reflection. This reasoning is confirmed by constant and universal experience. Let us take under consideration the meeting of Hector and Andromache, in the sixth book of the Iliad; or some of the passionate scenes in King Lear: these pictures of human life, when we are sufficiently engaged, give an impression of reality not less distinct than that given by Tacitus, in his description of the death of Otho: we never once reflect whether the story be true or feigned; reflection comes afterward, when we have the scene no longer before our eyes. This reasoning will appear in a still clearer light, by opposing ideal presence to ideas raised by a cursory nar. rative; which ideas being faint, obscure, and imperfect, leave a vacuity in the mind, which solicits reflection. And accordingly, a curt narrative of feigned incidents is never relished: any slight pleasure it affords, is more than counterbalanced by the disgust it inspires for want of truth.
To support the foregoing theory, I add what I reckon a decisive argument; which is, that even genuine history has no command over our passions but by ideal presence only; and consequently, that in this respect it stands upon the same footing with fable. To me it appears clear, that in neither can our sympathy hold firm against reflection: for if the reflection that a story is a pure fiction prevent our sympathy, so will equally the reflection that the persons described are no longer existing. What effect, for example, can the belief of the rape of Lucretia have to raise our sympathy, when she died above 2000 years ago, and has at present no painful feeling of the injury done her? The effect of history, in point of instruction, depends, in some measure, upon its veracity. But history cannot reach the heart, while we indulge any reflection upon the facts : such reflection, if it engage our belief, never fails, at the same time, to poison our pleasure, by convincing us that our sympathy for those who are dead and gone is absurd. And if reflection be laid aside, history stands upon the same footing with fable: what effect either may have to raise our sympathy, depends on the vivacity of the ideas they raise; and, with respect to that circumstance, fable is generally more successful than history.
Of all the means for making an impression of ideal presence, theatrical representation is the most powerful. That words, independent of action, have the same power in a less degree, every one of sensibility must have felt: a good tragedy will extort tears in private, though not so forcibly as upon the stage. That power belongs also to painting: a good historical picture makes a deeper impression than words can, though not equal to that of theatrical action. Painting seems to possess a middle place between reading and acting: in making an impression of ideal presence, it is not less superior to the former than inferior to the latter.
It must not, however, be thought, that our passions can be raised by painting, to such a height as by words: a picture is confined to a
single instant of time, and cannot take in a succession of incidents its impression indeed is the deepest that can be made instantane. ously; but seldom is a passion raised to any height in an instant, or by a single impression. It was observed above, that our passions, those especially of the sympathetic kind, require a succession of impressions; and for that reason, reading and acting have greatly the advantage, by reiterating impressions without end.
Upon the whole, it is by means of ideal presence that our passions are excited; and till words produce that charm, they avail nothing : even real events entitled to our belief, must be conceived present and passing in our sight, before they can move us. And this theory serves to explain several phenomena otherwise unaccountable. A misfortune happening to a stranger, makes a less impression than one happening to a man we know, even where we are no way interested in him: our acquaintance with this man, however slight, aids the conception of his suffering in our presence.
For the same reason, we are little moved by any distant event; because we have more difficulty to conceive it present, than an event that happened in our neighborhood.
Every one is sensible, that describing a past event as present, has a fine effect in language: for what other reason than that it aids the conception of ideal presence ? Take the following example.
And now with shouts the shocking armies clos'd,
And slaughter'd heroes swell the dreadful tide. In this passage we may observe how the writer, inflamed with the sudject, insensibly advances from the past time to the present; led to that form of narration by conceiving every circumstance as passing in his own sight: which, at the same time, has a fine effect upon the reader, by presenting things to him as a spectator. But change from the past to the present requires some preparation, and is not sweet where there is no stop in the sense: witness the following passage.
Thy fate was next, O Phæstus! doom'd to feel
Iliad, v. 57. It is still worse to fall back to the past in the same period; for that is an anticlimax in description :
Through breaking ranks his furious course he bends,