Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

if it be adequate to the effect which le ascribes to it; and if the mind be sensible of such a reference in the instant of its most interesting emotions; and if the inclination to be thus moved, be proportioned to the force of this supposed principle; we could not wish for a more satisfactory solution, for one which more happily applied itself to the whole subject in question.

Another ingenious Frenchman, Monsieur Fontenelle, so well known to the literary world by his Dialogues, History of Oracles, and Plurality of Worlds, in some reflections on the subject of poetry has hazarded the following fine-spun theory :-Pleasure and pain, says he, like many other extremes, approach, and, at a certain point, pass into each other. Pleasure, pushed too far, becomes pain; and the movement of pain, a little moderated, becomes pleasure.--He is obliged to adopt into his system the funda, mental principle of Du Bos; for the heart, he says, loves to be moved, and therefore objects, which are melancholy, and even

disastrous

disastrous and sorrowful, are adapted to it; provided that they are softened by some cir. cumstance. This softening circumstance, according to him, is the comfortable reflection, that the whole is but a fiction; without which, the spectacle would be painful beyond the degree in which it is capable of passing into pleasure.

This is the spirit of Fontenelle's theory ; a theory so exceedingly refined, that we hardly know how to lay hold of it. It does not present us with any thing analogous 30 the real feelings of the heart; and is, indeed, contradictory to the very nature of things. Pleasure and pain, as simple sensations, have no intercourse with each other; though the transitions from the one to the other may be exceedingly quick, and may have their origin from the same external objects. For as objects are of a mixed character, the sensations may be mixed also; and in some, the pain. ful circumstance, after a certain interval, may disappear, and vice versa. But where the characters of the painful and the pleasant

continue

continue undiminished, the sensations which correspond to them will continue also; and each, as the causes of them are alternately contemplated, be separately excited; or that which is the balance of the separate sensations will remain.

If, as Fontenelle asserts, pain can of itself pass into pleasure, and without any additional cause,

and it be in the moment of the transition that the pleasurable sensation, presents itself, it will be exceedingly difficult to determine, according to this theory, what the predominant sensation will be. If the painful sensation be then evanescent, the pleasurable one ought to be nearly unmixed; if the painful one be, then at its height, the sensation of pleasure must be hardly perceivable, and cannot, methinks, account for the interest which we have in the

representation. For the feelings, during a tragical representation, are not of this dubious and indeterminate character; the pain and the pleasure, if we must give the denomination of pleasure to the interest which we have in the

spectacle,

spectacle, are distinct, and at the same moment are each highly exquisite. There is, in truth, no passing of the one into the other.

It is a further objection to the theory of Fontenelle, that he has assigned no proper source of pleasure, which can give its complexion to the pain; the circumstance which he has noticed is merely an alleviation, and can only account for a diminution of the pain. This circumstance of the whole being but a fiction, has exceedingly little, if any, influence in softening and alleviating our painful sensation; though it be true, that if it were a spectacle of real misery, we should be repelled from approaching it at all. But it is also true, that the more the fiction is kept out of view, the more perfect is the art of the poet, and the more perfect the effect of the imitation upon the mind of the spectator; whose interest rises to its greatest height, when, by a kind of divine power, he is carried entirely out of the consideration of self, and contemplates nothing but the misery, as if it were real, and enters into it

with all the glow of natural feeling. The solution, therefore, must be sought for in some other principle than the whimsical conceit of a middle something, between pleasure and pain, founded on the cold reflection, that the whole is a delusion. It may account, in some degree, for the phlegmatic dialogues of a French tragedy-maker, and for the dubious sensation, the middle something between pleasure and pain, which they excite; but will never unfold the feelings which the magic genius of Shakespeare stirs up in the soul.

The selfish system in morals, which 'ex tracts a joy out of a painful scene, from the grovelling consideration, that, whatever sufferings are exhibited to our view, we are ourselves in a state of perfect security, is so grossly false, that a moment's consideration shakes it off with indignation, and leaves it to the sordid soul which first conceived the idea. This would suppose that suffering and distress were in themselves a grateful spectacle, if they affect not ourselves; that there

« AnteriorContinuar »