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When the notions of enjoyment or of excellence which imagination has formed, are greatly raised above the ordinary standard, they interest the passions too deeply to leave us at all times the cool exercise of reason, and produce that state of the mind which is commonly known by the name of Enthusiasm ; a temper which is one of the most fruitful fources of error and disappointment; but which is a source, at the same time, of heroic actions and of exalted char. acters. To the exaggerated conceptions of eloquence which perpetually revolved in the mind of Cicero; to that idea which haunted his thoughts of aliquid immenfum infinitumque ; we are indebted for some of the most splendid displays of human genius : and it is probable that something of the same kind has been felt by every man who has risen much above the level of humanity, either in speculation or in action. It is happy for the individual, when these enthusiastic defires are directed to events which do not depend on the caprice of fortune.
The pleasure we receive from the higher kinds of poetry takes rise, in part, from that diffatisfaction which the objects of imagination inspire us with, for the scenes, the events, and the characters, with which our senses are conversant. Tired and disgusted with this world of imperfection, we delight to escape to another of the poet's creation, where the charms of nature wear an eternal bloom, and where sources of enjoyment are opened to us, suited to the vast capacities of the human mind. On this natural love of poetical fiction, Lord Bacon has founded a very ingenious argument for the soul's immortality; and, indeed, one of the most important purposes to which it is subservient, is to elevate the mind above the pursuits of our present condition, and to direct the views to higher objects. In the mean time, it is rendered fubfervient also, in an eminent degree, to the improvement and happiness of mankind, by the
tendency which it has to accelerate the progress of society.
As the pictures which the Poet presents to us are never even in works of pure description) faithful copies from nature, but are always meant to be improvements on the original she affords, it cannot be doubted that they must have fome effect in refining and exalting our taste, both with respect to material beauty, and to the objects of our pursuit in life. It has been alleged, that the works of our descriptive poets have contributed to diffuse that taste for picturesque beauty, which is fo prevalent in England, and to recal the public admiration from the fantastic decorations of art, to the more powerful and permanent charms of cultivated nature ; and it is certain, that the first ardours of many an illustrious character have been kindled by the compositions of Homer and Virgil. It is difficult to say to what a degree, in the earlier periods of society, the rude compositions of the bard and the minstrel may have been instrumental in humanizing the minds of favage warriors, and in accelerating the growth of cul. tivated manners. Among the Scandinavians and the Celtæ we know that this order of men was held in very peculiar veneration; and, accordingly, it would appear, from the monuments which remain of these nations, that they were distinguished by a delicacy in the passion of love, and by a humanity and generosity to the vanquished in war, which feldom appear among barbarous tribes; and with which it is hardly possible to conceive how men in such a state of society could have been inspired, but by a separate class of individuals in the community, who devoted themselves to the pacific profession of poetry, and to the cultivation of that creative power of the mind, which anticipates the course of human affairs ; and presents, in prophetic vision, to the poet and the philosopher, the blessings which accompany the progress of reason and refinement.
Nor muft we omit to mention the important effects of Imagination in multiplying the fources of innocent enjoyment, beyond what this limited scene affords. Not to insist on the nobler efforts of
gen. ius, which have rendered this part of our conftitution fubfervient to moral improvement; how much has the sphere of our happiness been extended by those agreeable fictions which introduce us to new worlds, and make us acquainted with new orders of being! What a fund of amusement, through life, iş prepared for one who reads, in his childhood, the fables of ancient Greece! They dwell habitually on the memory, and are ready, at all times, to fill up the intervals of business, or of serious reflection and in his hours of rural retirement and leisure, they warm his mind with the fire of ancient genius, and animate every scene he enters, with the offspring of classical fancy
It is, however, chiefly in painting future scenes that Imagination loves to indulge herself, and her prophetic dreams are almost always favorable to happiness. By an erroneous education, indeed, it is possible to render this faculty an instrument of conftant and of exquisite distress; but in such cases (abftracting from the influence of a constitutional melancholy) the diftreffes of a gloomy imagination are to be ascribed not to nature, but to the force of early impressions.
The common bias of the mind undoubtedly is, (such is the benevolent appointment of Providence,) to think favorably of the future; to over-value the chances of possible good, and to under-rate the risks of possible evil; and in the case of fome fortunate individuals, this disposition remains after a thoufand disappointments. To what this bias of our nature is owing, it is not material for us to inquire : the fact is certain. and it is an important one to our happiness. It supports us under the real distresses
of life, and cheers and animates all our labors : and although it is sometimes apt to produce, in a weak and indolent mind, those deceitful suggestions of ambition and vanity, which lead us to sacrifice the duties and the comforts of the present moment, to romantic hopes and expectations; yet it must be acknowledged, when connected with habits of activity, and regulated by a solid judgment, to have a favorable effect on the character, by inspiring that ardor and enthusiasm which both prompt to great enterprises, and are necessary to ensure their success. When such a temper is united (as it commonly is) with pleasing notions, concerning the order of the univerfc, and in particular concerning the condition and the prospects of man, it places our happiness, in a great measure, beyond the power of fortune. While it adds a double relish to every enjoyment, it blunts the edge of all our sufferings, and even wher human life presents to us no object on which our hopes can rest, it invites the imagination beyond the dark and troubled horizon which terminates all our earthly profpects, to wander unconfined in the regions of futurity. A man of benevolence, whose mind is enlarged by Philosophy, will indulge the fame agreeable anticipations with respect to fociety; will view all the different improvements in arts, in commerce, and in the sciences, as co-operating to promote the union, the happiness, and the virtue of mankind; and, amidst the political disorders result. ing from the prejudices and follies of his own times, will look forward with transport, to the blessings which are rekerved for posterity in a more enlight