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Are mortis'd and adjoin'd; which, when it falls,
HAMLET. ACT III. Sc. 3.
The poets have also made good use of the emotion produced by the elevated situation of an object:
O thou, the earthly author of my blood,
Northumberland, thou ladder wherewithal
Antony. Why was I rais'd the meteor of the world,
DRYDEN, ALL FOR LOVE.-ACT I. The description of Paradise, in the fourth book of Paradise Lost, is a fine illustration of the impression made by elevated objects:
So on he fares, and to the border comes
Of stateliest view. Yet higher than their tops
B. IV. 1. 131.
A mental progress from the capital of a kingdom to that of Europe-to the whole Earth-to the solar system-to the universe, is extremely pleasant: the heart swells, the mind is dilated at every step. Re
turning in an opposite direction, the descent is pleasant from a different cause. Looking down upon objects makes a part of the pleasure of elevation. It becomes painful when the object is so far below as to create dizziness; and even when that is the case, we feel a sort of pleasure mixed with the pain: witness Shakspeare's description of Dover cliffs:"
And dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs, that wing the midway-air,
KING LEAR.-ACT IV. Sc. 6.
Grandeur and sublimity, have hitherto been considered as applicable to objects of sight; we now proceed to consider them in relation to the fine arts, and in their figurative signification. The term beauty is also extended to intellectual and moral objects, as well as to objects of sight. Generosity is an elevated emotion; firmness of soul, when superior to misfortune, is called magnanimity. Every emotion that contracts the mind, and fixeth it upon things trivial or of no importance, is termed low, by its resemblance to an emotion produced by a little or low object of sight: thus an appetite for trifling amusements is called a low taste. The same terms are applied to characters and actions: we talk familiarly of an elevated genius, of a great man, and equally so of littleness of mind: some actions are great and elevated, and others are little and grovelling. Sentiments, and even expressions, are characterized in the same manner: an expression or sentiment that raises the mind is denominated great or elevated; and hence the SUBLIME in poetry. In such
figurative terms, we lose the distinction between great and elevated in their proper sense; for the resemblance is not so entire as to preserve these terms distinct in their figurative application.
A gradual progress from small to great is no less remarkable in figurative, than in real grandeur or elevation and when the thoughts rise in an ascending series, the period is termed a climax.)
Within certain limits, grandeur and sublimity pro duce their strongest effects, which lessen by excess as well as by defect. This is remarkable in grandeur and sublimity taken in their proper sense: the grandest emotion that can be raised by a visible object, is where the object can be taken in at one view; if so immense as not to be comprehended but in parts, it tends rather to distract than satisfy the mind. In like manner, the strongest emotion produced by elevation is where the object is seen distinctly; a greater elevation lessens in appearance the object, till it vanishes out of sight with its pleasant emotion. The same is equally remarkable in figurative grandeur and elevation, because, as observed above, they are scarcely distinguishable.
Objects of sight that are not remarkably great nor high, scarce raise any emotion of grandeur or of sublimity the same holds in other objects; for we find the mind roused and animated, without being carried to that height. This difference may be discerned in many sorts of music, as well as in some musical instruments: a kettle-drum rouses, a hautboy animates; but neither of them inspires an emotion of sublimity revenge animates; but never produces an emotion grand or sublime. I am willing to put this to the test, by placing before my reader a most spirited picture of revenge: it is a speech of Antony, wailing over the body of Cæsar :
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
(Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips,
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
That mothers shall but smile, when they behold
A capital rule for reaching the sublime in such works of art as are capable of it, is, to present those parts or circumstances only which make the greatest figure, keeping out of view every thing low or trivial; for the mind, elevated by an important object, cannot, without reluctance, be forced down to bestow any share of its attention upon trifles. Such judicious selection of capital circumstances, is styled grandeur of manner. In none of the fine arts is there so great Scope for that rule as in poetry; which, by that means, enjoys a remarkable power of bestowing upon objects and events an air of grandeur: when we are spectators, every minute object presents itself in its order; but, in describing at second-hand, these are laid aside, and the capital objects are brought close together. A judicious taste in thus selecting the most interesting incidents, to give them an united force, accounts for a fact that may appear surprising; which is, that we are more moved by a spirited narrative at secondhand, than by being spectators of the event itself, in all its circumstances.
The following description of a battle is remarkably sublime, by collecting together, in the fewest words, those circumstances which make the greatest figure.
Like autumn's dark storms pouring from two echoing hills, toward each other approached the heroes: as two dark streams from high rocks meet and roar on the plain, loud, rough, and dark in battle, meet Lochlin and Inisfail. Chief mixes his strokes with chief, and man with man: steel sounds on steel, and helmets are cleft on high: blood bursts and smokes around; strings mur
mur on the polished yew: darts rush along the sky: spears fall like sparks of flame that gild the stormy face of night.
As the noise of the troubled ocean when roll the waves on high, as the last peal of thundering heaven, such is the noise of battle. Though Cormac's hundred bards were there, feeble were the voice of a hundred bards to send the deaths to future times; for many were the deaths of the heroes, and wide poured the blood of the valiant.
This rule is applicable to other fine arts, especially painting. Smaller parts are suppressed, folds of drapery are few and large; fore-shortenings are bad, and all muscles ought to be entire.
Every one at present subscribes to that rule as applied to gardening, in opposition to parterres split into a thousand small parts in the stiffest regularity of figure. The most eminent architects have governed themselves by the same rule in all their works.
Another rule chiefly regards the sublime, though it is applicable to every sort of literary performance; intended for amusement; and that is, to avoid as much as possible abstract and general terms. Such terms, similar to mathematical signs, are contrived to express our thoughts in a concise manner; but images, which are the life of poetry, cannot be raised in any perfection but by introducing particular objects. General terms that comprehend a number of individuals, must be excepted from that rule; our kindred, our clan, our country, and words of the like import, though they scarce raise any image, have, however, a wonderful power over our passions: the greatness of the complex object overbalances the obscurity of the image.
As, on the one hand, no means directly applied have more influence to raise the mind than grandeur and sublimity; so, on the other, no means indirectly applied have more influence to sink and depress it; for in a state of elevation, the artful introduction of an humbling object, makes the fall great in proportion to the elevation. Of this observation Shakspeare gives a beautiful example: