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Milton may pass
pleasing seenes his subject is capable of admitting, and in his Georgics has given us a collection of the most delightful landskips that can be made out of fields and woods, herds of cattle, and swarms of bees.
Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, has shown us how the imagination may be affected by what is strange.
Hc describes a miracle in every story, and always gives us the sight of some new creature at the end of it. His art consists chiefly in well timing his description, before the first shape is quite worn off, and the new one perfectly finished; so that he every where entertains us with something we never saw before, and shows monster after monster to the end of the Metamorphoses.
If I were to name a poet that is a perfect master in all these arts of working on the imagination, I think
and if his Paradise Lost falls short of the Æneid or Iliad in this respect, it proceeds rather from the fault of the language in which it is written, than from any defect of genius in the author. So divine a poem in English, is like a stately palace built of brick, where one may see architecture in as great a perfection as in one of marble, though the materials are of a coarser natyre. But to consider it only as it regards our present subject; what can be conceived greater than the battle of angels, the majesty of Messiah, the stature and behaviour of Satan and his peers! What more beautiful than Pandæmonium, paradise, heaven, angels, Adam and Eve? What more strange than the creation of the world, the several metamorphoses of the fallen angels, and the surprising adventures their leader meets with in his search after paradise? No other subject could have furnished a poet with scenes 60 proper to strike the imagination,
as no other poet could have painted thosé scenes in more strong and lively colours.
ON THE PLEASURES OF THE IMAGINATION.
PAPER V11. No. 418. The pleasures of these secondary views of the imagination are of a 'wider and more universal nature than those it'has when joined with sight; for not only what is great, strange, or beautifal, but any thing that is disagreeable when looked upon, pleases us in an apt description. Here, therefore, we must inquire after a new principle of pleasure, which is nothing else but the aetion of the mind, which compares the ideas that arise from words, with the ideas that arise from'objects themselves; and why this operation of the mind is attend. ed with so much pleasure, we have before considered. For this reason, therefore, the description of a dungtil! is pleasing to the imagination, if the image be represented to our minds by suitable expressions; though, perhaps, this may be more properly called the plea. sure of the understanding than of the fancy, because we are not so much delighted with the image that is contained in the description, as with the aptness of the description to excite the image.
But if the description of what is little, common, or deformed, be acceptable to the imagination, the description of what is great, surprising or beautiful, is much more so; because, here we are not only delighted with comparing the representation with the original, bútare highly pleased with the original itself. Most readers, I believe, are more charmed with Milton's de
scription scription of paradise than of hell: they are both, pera haps, equally perfect in their kind; but in the one the brimstone and sulphur are not so refreshing to the imagination, as the beds of flowers and the wilderness of sweets in the other.
There is yet another circumstance which recommends a description more than all the rest, and that is, if it represents to us such objects as are apt to raise a secret ferment in the mind of the reader, and to work with violence upon his passions, For, in this case, we are at once warmed and enlightened, so that the pleasure becomes more universal, and is several ways qualified to entertain us. Thus, in painting, it is pleasant to look on the picture of any face, where the resemblance is hit; but the pleasure increases, if it be the picture of a face that is beautiful; and is still greater, if the beauty be softened with an air of melancholy or sorrow. The two leading passions which the more serious parts of poetry endeavour to stir up in us, are terror and pity. And here, by the way, one would wonder how it comes to pass that such passions as are very unpleasant at all other times are very agreeable when excited by proper descriptions. It is not strange, that we should take delight in such passages as are apt to produce hope, joy, admiration, love, or the like emotions in us, because they never rise in the mind without an inward pleasure which attends them. But how comes it to pass, that we should take delight in being terrified or dejected by a description, when we find so much uneasiness in the fear or grief which we receive from any other occasion?
If we consider, therefore, the nature of this pleasure, we shall find that it does not arise so properly from the description of what is terrible, as from the reflection we
- make on ourselves at the time of reading it. When we look on such hideous objects, we are not a little
pleased to think we are in no danger of them. We conBesider them, at the same time, as dreadful and harın
less ; so that, the mure frightful appearance they make, e at the greater is the pleasure we receive from the sense of se our own safety. In short, we look upon the terrors of a ue description with the same curiosity and satisfaction le:e; that we survey a dead monster.
- Informe cadaver
: nequeunt expleri corda tuendo
Virg. Æn. viji. 204.
It is for the same reason that we are delighted with the IT reflecting upon dangers that are past, or in looking on
a precipice at a distance, which would fill us with a different kind of horror, if we saw it hanging over our heads.
In the like manner, when we read of torments,
wounds, deaths, and the like disinal accidents, our be in the pleasure does not flow so properly from the grief which
such melancholy descriptions give us, as from the secret comparison which we made between ourselves and the person who suffers. Such representations teach us to set a just value upon our own condition, and make us prize our good fortune, which exempts us from the like calamities. This is, however, such a kind of plea
from the ection
sure as we are not capable of receiving, when we see a person actually lying under the tortures that we meet with in a description ; because in this case the object presses too close upon our senses, and bears so hard upon us, that it does not give us time or leisure to reflect on ourselves. Our thoughts are so intent upon the miseries of the sufferer, that we cannot turn them upon our own happiness. Whereas, on the contrary, we consider the misfortunes we read in history or poetry, either as past or as fictitious, so that the reflec, tion upon ourselves rises in us insensibly, and overbears the sorrow we conceive for the sufferings of the afflicted.
But because the mind of man requires something more perfect in matter than what it finds there, and can never meet with any sight in nature which sufficiently answers its highest ideas of pleasantness; or, in other words, because the imagination can fancy to itself things more great, strange, or beautiful, than the eye ever saw, and is still sensible of some defect in what it has seen; on this account, it is the part
of a poet to humour the imagination in our own notions, by mending and perfecting nature where he describes a reality, and by adding greater beauties than are put together in nature, where he describes a fiction.
He is not obliged to attend her in the slow advances which she makes from one season to another, or to observe her conduct in the successive production of plants and flowers. He may draw into his description all the beauties of the spring and autumn, and make the whole year contribute something to render it the more agrees able. His rose-trees, woodbines and jessamines may flower together, and his beds be covered at the sainc time with lilies, violets and amaranths. His soil is not