Page images
PDF
EPUB

shew, that this is not owing to the bad taste of the Asiatics, but to the old language and popular religion of their country. But the truth is, that the very same criticism will be found to apply to the juvenile productions of every author pofseffed of a warm imagination; and to the compofitions of every people among whom a cultivated and philosophical taste has not established a fufficiently marked distinction between the appropriate styles of poetry and of profe. The account given by the Abbé Girard of the meaning of the word Phébus, as employed by the French critics, confirms strongly this observation. “ Phébus a un brillant qui signifie, ou semble figni“ fier quelque chose: le soleil y entre d'ordinaire ; & “ c'est peut-etre ce qui, en notre langue, a donné " lieu au nom de Phébus*."

Agreeably to these principles, Gray, in describing the infantine reveries of poetical genius, has fixed, with exquisite judgment, on this class of our conceptions:

66 Le

Yet oft before his infant eye would run
Such Forms as glitter in the Muse's ray
With Orient hues-

From these remarks it may be easily understood, why the word Imagination, in its most ordinary acceptation, should be applied to cases where our conceptions are derived from the sense of fight; although the province of this power be, in fact, as unlimited as the sphere of human enjoyment and of human thought. Hence, the origin of those partial defini. tions which I have been attempting to correct; and hence too, the origin of the word Inagination ; the etymology of which implies manifestly a reference to visible objects.

Synonymes François. li3

hence

To all the various modes in which Imagination may display itself, the greater part of the remarks contained in this Chapter will be found to apply, under proper limitations ; but, in order to render the subject more obvious to the reader's examination, I shall, in the farther prosecution of it, endeavour to convey my ideas, rather by means of particular examples, than in the form of general principles; leaving it to his own judgment to determine, with what modifications the conclusions to which we are led, may be extended to other combinations of circum. stances.

Among the innumerable phenomena which this part of our constitution presents to our examination, the combinations which the mind forms out of materials supplied by the power of Conception recommend themselves strongly, both by their fimplicity, and by the interesting nature of the discussions to which they lead.' I shall avail myself, therefore, as much as posfible, in the following inquiries, of whatever illustrations I am able to borrow from the arts of Poetry and of Painting; the operations of Imagination in these arts furnishing the most intelligible and pleasing exemplifications of the intellectual processes, by which, in those analogous but less palpable instances that fall under the consideration of the Moralist, the mind de viates from the models presented to it by experience, and forms to itself, new and untried objects of pur. fuit. It is in consequence of such processes (which,

how

how little foever they may be attended to, are habi. tually passing in the thoughts of all men,) that human affairs exhibit so busy and so various a scene; tending, in one case, to improvement, and, in another, to decline ; according as our notions of excellence and of happiness are just or erroneous.

It was observed, in a former part of this work, that Imagination is a complex power. It includes Conception or simple Apprehension, which enables us to form a notion of those former objects of perception, or of knowledge, out of which we are to make a selection ; Abstraction, which separates the selected materials from the qualities and circumstances which are connected with them in nature; and Judgment or Talte, which selects the materials, and di. rects their combination. To these powers, we may add, that particular habit of association to which I formerly gave the name of Fancy; as it is this which presents to our choice, all the different materials which are subservient to the efforts of Imagination, and which may therefore be considered as forming the groundwork of poetical genius.

To illustrate these observations, let us consider the steps by which Milton must have proceeded in creating his imaginary Garden of Eden. When he first proposed to himself that subject of description, it is reasonable to suppose, that a variety of the most striking scenes which he had seen crowded into his mind. The association of ideas suggested them, and the power of Conception placed each of them before him with all its beauties and imperfections. In every natural scene, if we destine it for any particular purpose, there are defects and redundancies, which art may sometimes, but cannot always, correct. But the power of Imagination is unlimited. She can create and annihilate ; and dispose, at pleasure, her wcods, her rocks, and her rivers. Milton, accordingly, would not copy his Eden from any one scene, but would select from each the features which were most emi. nertly beautiful. The power of Abstraction enabled him to make the feparation, and Taste directed him in the selection. Thus he was furnished with his mate:ials ; by a skilful combination of which, he has created a landscape, more perfect probably in all its parts, than was ever realised in nature; and certainly very different from any thing which this country exhibited, at the period when he wrote. It is a curious remark of Mr. Walpole, that Milton's Eden is free from the defects of the old English garden, and is imagined on the same principles which it was reserved for the present age to carry into execution.

* See p. 136.

li 4

with ency

From what has been faid, it is sufficiently evident, that Imagination is not a simple power of the mind, like Attention, Conception, or Abstraction ; but that it is formed by a combination of various faculties. It is farther evident, that it must appear under very different forms, in the case of different individuals ; as some of its component parts are liable to be greatly influenced by habit, and other accidental circumfances. The variety, for example, of the materials out of which the combinations of the Poet or the Painter are formed, will depend much on the tendency of external situation, to store the mind with a multiplicity of Conceptions ; and the beauty of these combinations will depend entirely on the success with which the power of Taste has been cultivated. What we call, therefore, the power of Imagination, is not the gift of nature, but the result of acquired habits, aided by favourable circumstances. It is not an original endowment of the mind, but an accomplishment formed by experience and situation ; and which, in its different gradations, fills up all the interval between the first efforts of untutored genius, and the sublime creations of Raphael or of Milton.

An uncommon degree of Imagination constitutes poetical genius; a talent which, although chiefly difplayed in poetical composition, is also the foundation (though not precisely in the same manner) of various other Arts. A few remarks on the relation which Imagination bears to some of the most interesting of these, will throw additional light on its nature and office.

SECTION II.

of Imagination considered in its Relation to some of the

Fine Arts.

A

MONG the Arts connected with Imagination, some

not only take their rise from this power, but produce objects which are addressed to it. Others take their rise from Imagination, but produce objects which are addressed to the power of Perception.

То

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »