Page images

Combination, that the genius of Milton produ. ced the Garden of Eden ; that of Harrington, the Commonwealth of Oceana ; and that of Shakespeare, the characters of Hamlet and Falstaff. The differ. ence between these several efforts of invention, confifts only in the manner in which the original materials were acquired; as far as the power of Imaginåtion is concerned, the processes are perfectly analo. gous.

The attempts of Mr. Addison and of Dr. Reid to limit the province of Imagination to objects of sight, have plainly proceeded from a very important fact, which it may be worth while to illustrate more particularly ;- That the mind has a greater facility, and, of consequence, a greater delight in recalling the perceptions of this sense than thofe of any of the others; while at the same time, the variety of qualities perceived by it is incomparably greater. It is this sense, accordingly, which supplies the painter and the ftatuary with all the subjects on which their genius is exercised ; and which furnishes to the descriptive poet the largest and the most valuable portion of the materials which he combines. In that absurd fpecies of prose composition, too, which borders on poetry, nothing is more remarkable than the predominance of phrases that recal to the memory, glaring colours, and those splendid appearances of nature, which make a strong impression on the eye. It has been mentioned by different writers, as a characteristical circuinstance in the Oriental or Asiatic style, that the greater part of the metaphors are taken from the celestial lurinaries. “The Works of “the Persians,” (fays M. de Voltaire,) “ are like the " titles of their kings, in which we are perpetually o dazzled with the sun and the inoon." Sir William Jones, in a short Effay on the Poetry of Eastern Nations, has endeavored to 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 poffefsed of a warm imagination ; and to the compositions of every people among whom a cultivated and philosophical talte has not established a sufficiently marked distinction between the appropriate styles of poetry and of prose. The account giv, en by the Abbé Girard of the meaning of the word Phébus, as employed by the French critics, confirms strongly this observation. - Le Phebus a un brillant “ qui lignifie, ou semble fignifier quelque chose : le « foleil y entre d'ordinaire ; & c'est peut etre ce qui, " en notre langue, a donné lieu au nom de Phé. bus."*

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

Yet oft before his infant eye

would ron 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 fense of sight; 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 Imagination ; the etymology of which implies manifestly a reference to visible objects.

To all the various modes in which Imagination may display itself, the greater part of the memarks 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 thall, in the farther prosecution of it, endeavor 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 circumstances.

* Synonymes François

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 discusions to which they lead. I shall avail myself, therefore, as niuch as possible, in the following enquiries, of whatever illustrations I am able to borrow from the arts of Poetry and of Painting; the operations of Imagi. nation in these arts furnishing the most intelligible and pleasing exemplifications of the intellectual proceffes, by which, in those analogous but less palpable instances that fall under the consideration of the Moralift, the mind deviates from the models presented to it by experience, and forms to itself, new and untried objects of pursuit. It is in consequence of such processes (which, how little foever they may be attended to, are habitually passing in the thoughts of all men,) that human affairs exhibit fo busy and fo various a scene; tending, in one case, to improve.. ment, and, in another, to decline; according as our notions of excellence and of happiness are just or er


It was observed, in a former part of this work, that Imagination is a complex power.* It includes

* See page 123. Fif

[ocr errors]

Conception or simple Apprehension, which enables us to form a notion of thofe 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 circumftances which are connected with them in nature; and Judgment or Taste, which selects the materials, and directs their combination. To thefe 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 Imagina ation, and which may therefore be considered as forming the groundwork of poetical genius.

To illustrate these observations, let us confider the steps by which Milton must have proceeded in crea. ting 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 fcenes 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 woods, 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 eminently beautiful. The power of ab. straction enabled him to make the feparation, and Taste directed him in the selection. Thus he was furnished with his materials ; 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.

From what has been said, it is sufficiently evident, that Imagination is not a simple power of the mind, likę Attention, Conception, or Abstraction ; but that it is formed by a combination of various faculties. It is farther evident, that it must appear un. der 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 circumstances. 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 fitu. ation, 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 favorable 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 displayed in poetical composition, is also the foundation (though not precisely in the same manner) of vari. ous 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.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »