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We are far from having yet attained to any system concerning this subject. Mr. Addison was the first who attempted a regular inquiry, in his Essay on the Pleasures of the Imagination, published in the sixth volume of the Spectator. He has reduced these pleasures under three heads,-beauty, grandeur, and novelty. His speculations on this subject, if not exceedingly profound, are, however, very beautiful and entertaining; and he has the merit of having opened a track, which was before unbeaten. The advances made since his time in this curious part of philosophical criticism, are not very considerable; though some ingenious writers have pursued the subject. This is owing, doubtless, to that thinness and subtilty which are found to be properties of all the feelings of taste. They are engaging objects; but when we would lay firm hold of them, and subject them to a regular discussion, they are always ready to elude our grasp. It is difficult to make a full enumeration of the several objects that give pleasure to taste: it is more difficult to define all those which have been discovered, and to reduce them under proper classes; and, when we would go farther, and investigate the effi cient causes of the pleasure which we receive from such objects, here, above all, we find ourselves at a loss. For instance; we all learn by experience, that certain figures of bodies appear to us more beautiful than others. On inquiring farther, we find that the regularity of some figures, and the gracefúl variety of others, are the foundation of the beauty which we discern in them; but when we attempt to go a step beyond this, and inquire what is the cause of regularity and variety producing in our minds the sensation of beauty, any reason we can assign is extremely imperfect. These first principles of internal sensation, nature seems to have covered with an impenetrable veil.
It is some comfort, however, that although the efficient cause be obscure, the final cause of those sensations lies in many cases more open: and, in entering on this subject, we cannot avoid taking notice of the strong impression which the powers of taste and imagination are calculated to give us of the benignity of our Creator. By endowing us with such powers, he hath widely enlarged the sphere of the pleasure of human life; and those, too, of a kind the most pure and innocent. The necessary purposes of life might have been abundantly answered, though our senses of seeing and hearing had only served to distinguish external objects, without conveying to us any of those refined and delicate sensations of beauty and grandeur, with which we are now so much delighted. This additional embellishment and glory, which for promoting our entertainment, the Author of nature hath poured forth upon his works, is one striking testimony, among many others, of benevolence and goodness. This thought, which Mr. Addison first started, Dr. Akenside, in his poem on the Pleasures of the Imagination, has happily pursued.
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I shall begin with considering the pleasure which arises from sublimity or grandeur, which I propose to treat at some length; both, as this has a character more precise and distinctly marked than any other of the pleasures of the imagination, and as it coincides more directly with our main subject. For the greater distinctness I shall, first, treat of the grandeur or sublimity of external objects themselves, which will employ the rest of this lecture; and, afterwards, of the description of such objects, or, of what is called the sublime in writing, which shall be the subject of a following lecture. I distinguish these two things from one another, the grandeur of the objects themselves when they are presented to the eye, and the description of that grandeur in discourse or writing; though most critics, inaccurately I think, blend them together; and I consider grandeur and sublimity as terms synonymous, or nearly so. If there be any distinction between them, it arises from sublimity's expressing grandeur in its highest degree. *
It is not easy to describe, in words, the precise impression which great and sublime objects make upon us, when we behold them; but every one has a conception of it. It produces a sort of internal elevation and expansion; it raises the mind much above its ordinary state, and fills it with a degree of wonder and astonishment, which it cannot well express. The emotion is certainly delightful; but it is altogether of the serious kind; a degree of awfulness and solem nity, even approaching to severity, commonly attends it when at its height; very distinguishable from the more gay and brisk emotion raised by beautiful objects.
The simplest form of external grandeur appears in the vast and boundless prospects presented to us by nature; such as wide extend. ed plains, to which the eye can see no limits; the firmament of heaven; or the boundless expanse of the ocean. All vastness produces the impression of sublimity. It is to be remarked, however, that space extended in length, makes not so strong an impression as height or depth. Though a boundless plain be a grand object, yet a high mountain, to which we look up, or an awful precipice or tower whence we look down on the objects which lie below, is still more so. The excessive grandeur of the firmament arises from its height joined to its boundless extent; and that of the ocean, not from its extent alone, but from the perpetual motion and irresistible force of that mass of waters. Wherever space is concerned, it is clear that amplitude or greatness of extent, in one dimension or other, is necessary to grandeur. Remove all bounds from any object, and you presently render it sublime. Hence infinite space, endless numbers, and eternal duration, fill the mind with great ideas,
From this some have imagined, that vastness, or amplitude of extent, is the foundation of all sublimity. But I cannot be of this opinion, because many objects appear sublime which have no relation to space at all. Such, for instance, is great loudness of sound. The burst of thunder or of cannon, the roaring of winds, the shouting of multitudes, the sound of vast cataracts of water, are all incontestably grand objects. “I heard the voice of a great multi“tude, as the sound of many waters, and of mighty thunderings, “ saying, Allelujah.” In general we may observe, that great power and strength exerted, always raise sublime ideas; and perhaps the most copious source of these is derived from this quarter. Hence the grandeur of earthquakes and burning mountains ; of great conflagrations; of the stormy ocean, and overflowing waters; of tempests of wind; of thunder and lightning; and of all the uncommon violence of the elements. Nothing is more sublime than mighty power and strength. A stream that runs within its banks, is a beautiful object, but when it rushes down with the impetuosity and noise of a torrent, it presently becomes a sublime one. From lions and other animals of strength, are drawn sublime comparisons in poets. A race-horse is looked upon with pleasure; but it is the war-horse,“ whose neck is clothed with thunder,” that carries grandeur in its idea. The engagement of two great armies, as it is the highest exertion of human might, combines a variety of sources of the sublime ; and has accordingly been always considered as one of the most striking and magnificent spectacles that can be either presented to the eye, or exhibited to the imagination in description.
* See a Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful :-Dr. Gerard on Taste, section ii. :-Elements of Criticism, chap. iv.
For the farther illustration of this subject, it is proper to remark, that all ideas of the solemn and awful kind, and even bordering on the terrible, tend greatly to assist the sublime; such as darkness, solitude, and silence. What are the scenes of nature that elevate the mind in the highest degree, and produce the sublime sensation? Not the gay landscape, the flowery field, or the flourishing city; but the hoary mountain, and the solitary lake; the aged forest, and the torrent falling over the rock. Hence, too, night-scenes are commonly the most sublime. The firmament when filled with stars, scattered in such vast numbers, and with such magnificent profusion, strikes the imagination with a more awful grandeur, than when we view it enlightened by all the splendour of the sun. The deep sound of a great bell, or the striking of a great clock, are at any time grand; but when heard amid the silence and stillness of the night, they become doubly so. Darkness is very commonly applied for adding sublimity to all our ideas of the Deity. “He maketh darkness his pavilion; he “ dwelleth in the thick cloud.” So Milton:
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Book II. 263. Observe, with how much art Virgil has introduced all those ideas of silence, vacuity, and darkness, when he is going to introduce his hero to the infernal regions, and to disclose the secrets of the great deep.
Dii, quibus imperium est animarum, umbræque silentes,
Perque domos Ditis vacuos, et inania regna;
Est iter in Sylvis.....* These passages I quote at present, not so much as instances of sublime writing, though in themselves they truly are so, as to show, by the effect of them, that the objects which they present to us, belong to the class of sublime ones.
Obscurity, we are farther to remark, is not unfavourable to the sublime. Though it render the object indistinct, the impression, however, may be great; for as an ingenious author has well observed, it is one thing to make an idea clear, and another to make it affecting to the imagination; and the imagination may be strongly affected, and, in fact, often is so, by objects of which we have no clear conception. Thus we see, that almost all the descriptions given us of the appearances of supernatural beings, carry some sublimity, though the conceptions which they afford us be confused and indistinct. Their sublimity arises from the ideas, which they always convey, of superior power and might, joined with an awful obscurity. We may see this fully exemplified in the following noble passage of the book of Job. “In thoughts from the visions of the 6 night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, fear came upon me, and “trembling, which made all my bones to shake. Then a spirit “passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up: it stood “ still; but I could not discern the form thereof; an image was “ before mine eyes; there was silence; and I heard a voice-Shall “mortal man be more just than God ?”+ (Job iv. 15.) No ideas, it is plain, are so sublime as those taken from the Supreme Being; the most unknown, but the greatest of all objects; the infinity of whose nature, and the eternity of whose duration, joined with the omnipotence of his power, though they surpass our conceptions, yet exalt
* Ye subterranean gods, whose awful sway
The gliding ghosts and silent shades obey :
+ The picture which Lucretius has drawn of the dominion of superstition over mankind, representing it as a portentous spectre showing its head from the clouds and dismaying the whole human race with its countenance, together with the mag. nanimity of Epicurus in raising himself up against it, carries all the grandeur of a sublime, obscure, and awful image.
Humana ante oculos fæde cum yita jaceret
them to the highest. In general, all objects that are greatly raised above us, or far removed from us, either in space or in time, are apt to strike us as great. Our viewing them, as through the mist of distance or antiquity, is favourable to the impressions of their sublimity.
As obscurity, so disorder too, is very compatible with grandeur ; nay, frequently heightens it. Few things that are strictly regular and methodical, appear sublime. We see the limits on every side; we feel ourselves confined ; there is no room for the mind's exerting any great effort. Exact proportion of parts, though it enters often into the beautiful, is much disregarded in the sublime. A great mass of rocks, thrown together by the hand of nature with wildness and confusion, strike the mind with more grandeur, than if they had been adjusted to one another with the most accurate symmetry.
In the feeble attempts, which human art can make towards producing grand objects, (feeble, I mean, in comparison with the powers of nature,) greatness of dimensions always constitutes a principal part. No pile of building can convey any idea of sublimity, unless it be ample and lofty. There is too, in architecture, what is called greatness of manner; which seems chiefly to arise, from presenting the object to us in one full point of view ; so that it shall make its impression whole, entire, and undivided upon the mind. A Gothic cathedral raises ideas of grandeur in our minds, by its size, its height, its awful obscurity, its strength, its antiquity, and its durability.
There still remains to be mentioned one class of sublime objects, which may be called the moral, or sentimental sublime; arising from certain exertions of the human mind; from certain affections, and actions, of our fellow-creatures. These will be found to be all, or chiefly, of that class, which comes under the name of magnanimity or heroism : and they produce an effect extremely similar to what is produced by the view of grand objects in nature; filling the mind with admiration, and elevating it above itself. A noted instance of this, quoted by all the French critics, is the celebrated Qu'il Mourut of Corneille, in the tragedy of Horace. In the famous combat between the Horatii and the Curiatii, the old Horatius being informed that two of his sons are slain, and that the third had betaken himself to flight, at first will not believe the report; but being thoroughly assured of the fact, is fired with all the sentiments of high honour and indignation at this supposed unworthy behaviour of his surviving son. He is reminded, that his son stood alone against three, and asked what he wished him to have done? “ To have died,” he answers. In the same manner Porus, taken prisoner by Alexander, after a gallant defence, and asked how he wished to be treated ? answering, “ Like a king;" and Cæsar chiding the pilot who was afraid to set out with him in the storm,“ Quid times? Cæsarem vehis;" are good instances of this sentimental sublime. Wherever, in some critical and high situation, we behold a man uncommonly intrepid, and resting upon himself; superior to passion and to fear; animated by some great principle