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ON TRAGEDY, AND THE INTERÉST IN TRAGICAL
The propensity which human nature has, in every age and nation, discovered for spectacles and representations of a tragic kind, though it be universally confessed that the sensations and passions excited thereby are in their nature painful, and often exquisitely so, is at first view so singular and contradictory a phænomenon, as could not fail to draw the attention of moralists and philosophers; and challenge all their ingenuity to reconcile so irregular a trait of the human character with the most approved likeness of the human mind. There are, indeed, some examples of this propensity so rude, uncivilized, and inhuman, as mock all efforts of ingenuity to reduce them to a consistent and agreeable system. Such were the exhibitions
of gladiators among the Romans; the tour, naments and justs of Gothic chivalry; such are the bull-fights of the Spaniards; the combats with the broad sword; the bull-baitings, cock-fights, and Shrove-tide amusements of our own nation; together with the horrid jollity of the North American tribes, exulting over the tortures of their ill-fated pri
Most or all of these national reproaches are, in a greater or less degree, the offspring of a rude military genius and savage he roism, which, by an early familiarity with the excesses and cruelties of war, let loose in all its wildness, have triumpled over nature, over the kinder dictates of a general humanicy. In these, the pleasure of the spec-, tators, unnatural as it is, is pure and unzmixed; by whatever means they have subdued their minds to the capacity of this pleasure, when once the relish is acquired, their continued propensity; to such scenes is perfectły natural, as it is not combated by any feeling of sympathetic pain during the ex
hibition. This is clearly attested of the Roman people, by the uniform accounts of their own historians:-foreign nations ascribed their hardiness in war to this familiarity with blood and death in the amphitheatre; and a Syrian monarch, ambitious, at any rate, to rival the Roman grandeur, hoped to render his effeminate Asiatics equally intrepid and unappalled amidst the horrors of battle, by introducing the same sanguinary entertainments in peace. It is a proof that humanity had little interest in the fatal consequences of the Gothic tournaments, and bull-fights of the Spaniards, when that sex, whom compassion and an abhorrence from spectacles of blood may be supposed the last to forsake, was admitted to the most conspicuous şeats ; as if to gratify them were the chief object of the entertainment. All is mad mirth, and drunken joy, with an American village, while their captive is wasting under their protracted tortures ; compassion, or even indifference, would vitiate the festival. Humanity may have repelled from, but ne
ver invited a single guest to, the cruel enter tainments of our own nation. It is to that polished humanity, which a cultivated philosophy and a purer religion have introduced amongst us, that we owe the disrepute into which these vulgar jollities have at length happily fallen. ;. Such representations are, therefore, utterly dissimilar, in their effects upon the heart, to the representations of tragedy and romance. Humanity renounces the one, but welcomes the other. In those a brutal joy reigns triumphant; in these--if there be a joy it is of a singular kind; it wears all the dress of sorrow; and the heart feels that there is a pain more than proportioned to the joy, It is surely, therefore, unphilosophical, to reduce under one class propensities which are of so different a cast and influence; nor can that ingenious French critic, the Abbé du Bos, be justified in deriving them, without distinction, from one common source in the human mind.
But whence then is derived, and how are
we to account for, this strange intermixture of pain and a something like joy, excited, in the same instant, by the same object, each apparently dependent on each other, and yet not blended together in one undistinguished mass ?-Before I attempt the solution of this singular but universal character of man, it may not be amiss to take a brief view of some of the most celebrated theories on this subject, and the rather, as the examination of these may lead to the true solution.
The French critic just mentioned, the Abbé du Bos, whose reflections on poetry, painting, and music, form a very entertaining work, refers the solution of this difficulty to that aversion which we have to indolence; and in consequence to the delight we feel in having our most active and lively passions roused.
This account is striking and bold, as it derives a great deal from one simple and uni, form principle. If, indeed, there be such a principle in human nature, exactly as he represents it, original and independent;; and