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The cloud-capt towers, the gorgeous palaces,
TEMPEST.-ACT IV. Sc. 1.
The elevation of the mind in the former part of this beautiful passage, makes the fall great in proportion, when the most humbling of all images is introduced, that of an utter dissolution of the earth and its inhabitants. The mind, when warmed, is more susceptible of impressions than in a cool state: and a depressing or melancholy object listened to, makes the strongest impression when it reaches the mind in its highest state of elevation or cheerfulness.
The straining an elevated subject beyond due bounds, is a vice not so frequent as to require the correction of criticism. But false sublime is a rock that writers of more fire than judgment commonly split on; and therefore a collection of examples may be of use as a beacon to future adventurers. One species of false sublime, known by the name of bombast, is common among writers of a mean genius; it is a serious endeavor, by strained description, to raise a low or familiar subject above its rank; which, instead of being sublime, becomes ridiculous. I am extremely sensible how prone the mind is, in some animating passions, to magnify its objects beyond natural bounds; but such hyperbolical description has its limits; and, when carried beyond the impulse of the propensity, it degenerates into burlesque. Take the following examples:
Great and high
The world knows only two, that's Rome and I.
SEJANUS, BEN JONSON.-ACT V.
A writer, who has no natural elevation of mind, deviates readily into bombast: he strains above his natural powers; and the violent effort carries him beyond the bounds of propriety.
Another species of false sublime, still more faulty than bombast, is to force elevation by introducing imaginary beings without preserving any propriety in their actions; as if it were lawful to ascribe every extravagance and inconsistence to beings of the poet's creation. No writers are more licentious in that article than Jonson and Dryden.
When the sublime is carried to its due height, and circumscribed within proper bounds, it enchants the mind, and raises the most delightful emotions: the reader, engrossed by a sublime object, feels himself raised to a higher rank. Considering that effect, it is not wonderful that the history of conquerors and heroes should be universally the favorite entertainment. And this accounts for what I once erroneously suspected to be a wrong bias originally in human nature; which is, that the grossest acts of oppression and injustice scarce blemish the character of a great conqueror: we, nevertheless, warmly espouse his interest, accompany him in his exploits, and are anxious for his success; the splendor and enthusiasm of the hero trans-* fused into the readers, elevate their minds far above the rules of justice, and render them in a great measure insensible of the wrongs that are committed.
What is the effect of great and elevated objects?
Explain the double signification of grandeur and sublimity.
What are the effects of regularity in large and in small objects? Give examples.
What are the effects of irregularity?
What rule is laid down?
What emotion is produced by an agreeable object placed high? Give examples of the pleasant emotions raised by large objects. Exemplify the pleasant effect of elevated objects?
Give an example of the mingled emotion produced by looking down on distant objects far below us.
Is the term beauty extended to intellectual and moral objects? What is a low emotion?
What is the effect of a great sentiment or expression on the mind?
What arises hence?
What is a climax?
What is the effect of excessive grandeur or sublimity?
Of excessive elevation?
Does revenge produce a sublime emotion?
Give a rule for reaching the sublime.
To what other arts is the rule applicable?
What is the exception to this rule?
What principle is illustrated by the quotation from the Tempest?
What is bombast?
Give an example.
What is another species of false sublime?
What writers use it?
What is the natural effect of the sublime on the mind?
Motion and Force.
MOTION is agreeable to the eye; yet is a body at rest not disagreeable, because the bulk of things we see are at rest. Motion is agreeable in all its varieties; the quickest for an instant is delightful, but soon appears too rapid, and becomes painful by accelerating the course of our perceptions. Regular motion is preferred to irregular motion; and uniformly accelerated motion is more agreeable than when uniformly retarded. Motion upward is agreeable by tending to elevation; in a straight line it is agreeable, but more so when undulating, and the motion of fluids is preferred to that of solid bodies.
It is agreeable to see a thing exert force; but it makes not the thing either agreeable or disagreeable, to see force exerted upon it.
Though motion and force are each of them agreeable, the impressions they make are different. This
difference, clearly felt, is not easily described. All we can say is, that the emotion raised by a moving body, resembling its cause, is felt as if the mind were carried along the emotion raised by force exerted, resembling also its cause, is felt as if force were exerted within the mind.
When great force is exerted, the effort felt is animating; and when the effort overpowers the mind, as the explosion of gunpowder, the violence of a torrent, in the weight of a mountain, and the crush of an earthquake, astonishment is created rather than pleasure.
No quality or circumstance contributes more to grandeur than force, especially where exerted by sensible beings. I cannot make the observation more evident than by the following quotations:
-Him the Almighty Power
Hurl'd headlong flaming from the ethereal sky,
-Now storming fury rose,
And clamor such as heard in heaven till now
The planetary system presents us with the finest view of motion and force in conjunction; but motion and force are also agreeable by their utility, when employed as means to accomplish some beneficial end. Hence the superior beauty of some machines, where force and motion concur to perform the work of numberless hands. Hence the beautiful motions, firm and regular, of a horse trained for war: every single step
is the fittest that can be for obtaining the purposed end. But the grace of motion is visible chiefly in man, because every gesture is significant. The power however of agreeable motion is not a common talent: every limb of the human body has an agreeable and disagreeable motion; some motions being extremely graceful, others plain and vulgar; some expressing dignity, others meanness. But the pleasure here, arising not singly from the beauty of motion, but from indicating character and sentiment, belongs to different chapters.
I should conclude with the final cause of the relish we have for motion and force, were it not so evident as to require no explanation. We are placed here in such circumstances as to make industry essential to our well-being; for without industry the plainest necessaries of life are not obtained. When our situation, therefore, in this world requires activity and a constant exertion of motion and force, Providence indulgently provides for our welfare by making these agreeable to us: it would be a gross imperfection in our nature, to make any thing disagreeable that we depend on for existence; and even indifference would slacken greatly that degree of activity which is indispensable.
Is motion agreeable to the eye?
What sorts of motion are most agreeable?
Is force agreeable?
Describe the emotion caused by it.
What is the effect of great and overpowering force?
What affords the finest view of united motion and force?
Why has Providence made motion and force agreeable?