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Novelty and the unexpected Appearance of Objects.
EXCEPT beauty and greatness, novelty has the most powerful influence to raise emotions. A new object produces an emotion of wonder, which is different from admiration, because this last is directed to the person who performs any thing wonderful. We cease to wonder at objects with which we are familiarized by time. When any thing breaks unexpectedly upon the mind, it raises an emotion of surprise.
That emotion may be produced by the most familiar object, as when one unexpectedly meets a friend who was reported to be dead; or a man in high life lately a beggar. On the other hand, a new object, however strange, will not produce the emotion, if the spectator be prepared for the sight; an elephant in India will not surprise a traveller who goes to see one; and yet its novelty will raise his wonder: an Indian in Britain would be much surprised to stumble upon an elephant feeding at large in the open fields; but the creature itself, to which he was accustomed, would not raise his wonder.
Surprise thus in several respects differs from wonder: unexpectedness is the cause of the former emotion; novelty is the cause of the latter. They perfectly agree in the shortness of their duration; for things soon decay that come soon to perfection.
New objects are sometimes terrible, sometimes delightful; and a threatening object adds to our terror by its novelty; but from that experiment it does not follow, that novelty is in itself disagreeable; for it is perfectly consistent, that we be delighted with an object in one view, and terrified with it in another: a river in flood swelling over its banks, is a grand and delightful object; and yet it may produce no small degree of fear when we attempt to cross it: courage and
magnanimity are agreeable; and yet, when we view these qualities in an enemy, they serve to increase our terror. In the same manner, novelty may produce two effects clearly distinguishable from each other: it may, directly and in itself, be agreeable; and it may have an opposite effect indirectly, which is, to inspire terror; for when a new object appears in any degree dangerous, our ignorance of its powers and qualities affords ample scope for the imagination to dress it in the most frightful colors. The first sight of a lion, for example, may at the same instant produce two opposite feelings, the pleasant emotion of wonder, and the painful passion of terror: the novelty of the object produces the former directly, and contributes to the latter indirectly. Thus, when the subject is analyzed, we find, that the power which novelty hath indirectly to inflame terror, is perfectly consistent with its being in every circumstance agreeable. Surprise may be pleasant or painful, for its sole effect is to swell the emotion raised by the object. A tide of connected objects gliding gently into the mind, produces no perturbation but an object breaking in unexpectedly, sounds an alarm, rouses the mind, and directs its whole attention to the object, which, if agreeable, becomes doubly so.
The pleasure of novelty is distinguishable from that of variety; to produce the latter, a plurality of objects is necessary: the former arises from a circumstance found in a single object. Again, where objects, whether coexistent or in succession, are sufficiently diversified, the pleasure of variety is complete, though every single object of the train be familiar; but the pleasure of novelty, directly opposite to familiarity, requires no diversification.
There are different degrees of novelty, and its effects are in proportion. The lowest degree is found in objects surveyed a second time after a long interval: and that in this case an object takes on some appearance of novelty, is certain from experience: a large build
ing of many parts variously adorned, or an extensive field embellished with trees, lakes, temples, statues, and other ornaments, will appear new oftener than once the memory of an object so complex is soon lost, of its parts at least, or of their arrangement. Absence will give an air of novelty to an object once familiar. The mind balances between two things equally new and singular; but when told one of them is from a distant quarter of the world, it soon makes its election. Hence the preference for foreign luxuries and curiosities.
The next degree of novelty, mounting upwards, is found in objects of which we have some information at second-hand; for description never comes up to actual sight.
A new object that bears some distant resemblance to a known species, is an instance of a third degree of novelty: a strong resemblance among individuals of the same species, prevents almost entirely the effect of novelty, unless distance of place, or some other circumstance, concur; but where the resemblance is faint, some degree of wonder is felt, and the emotion rises in proportion to the faintness of the resemblance.
The highest degree of wonder arises from unknown objects that have no analogy to any species we are acquainted with. Shakspeare, in a simile, introduces that species of novelty:
As glorious to the sight
As is a winged messenger from heaven
ROMEO AND JULIET.
Love of novelty prevails in children, in idlers, and in men of shallow understanding. It reigns chiefly among persons of mean taste, who are ignorant of refined and elegant pleasures.
One final cause of wonder is, that this emotion is intended to stimulate our curiosity: another is, to
prepare our mind for receiving deep impressions of new objects.
Now, in order to make a deep impression, it is wisely contrived, that things should be introduced to our acquaintance with a certain pomp and solemnity, productive of a vivid emotion. When the impression is once fairly made, the emotion of novelty, being no longer necessary, vanisheth almost instantaneously, never to return, unless where the impression happens to be obliterated by length of time or other means; in which case the second introduction hath nearly the same solemnity with the first.
Designing wisdom is nowhere more legible than in this part of the human frame. If new objects did not affect us in a very peculiar manner, their impressions would be so slight as scarcely to be of any use in life: on the other hand, did objects continue to affect us as deeply as at first, the mind would be totally engrossed with them, and have no room left either for action or reflection.
The final cause of surprise is still more evident than of novelty. Self-love makes us vigilantly attentive to self-preservation; but self-love, which operates by means of reason and reflection, and impels not the mind to any particular object, or from it, is a principle too cool for a sudden emergency. An object breaking in unexpectedly, affords no time for deliberation; and, in that case, the agitation of surprise comes in seasonably to rouse self-love into action; surprise gives the alarm, and if there be any appearance of danger, our whole force is instantly summoned up to shun or prevent it.
What are the effects of novelty?
When does a familiar object produce surprise?
What is the difference between surprise and wonder?
Does novelty increase our terror at a threatening object?
What opposite effect does novelty produce?
How is the pleasure of novelty distinguished from that of variety?
Where is the second degree of novelty found?-the third ?-the highest?
In what sort of persons does the love of novelty prevail?
Why does it not last?
To amuse us in our waking hours, nature has kindly provided many objects distinguished by the epithet risible, because they raise in us a peculiar emotion, expressed externally by laughter, or pleasant and mirthful exertion, that unbends the mind, and recruits the spirits. Ludicrous signifies what is playsome, sportive, or jocular; and it is the genus of which risible is the species. No object is risible but what appears slight, little, or trivial; for we laugh at nothing that is of importance to our own interest, or to that of others. A real distress raises pity, and therefore cannot be risible; but a slight or imaginary distress, which moves not pity, is risible. The adventure of the fulling-mills in Don Quixote is extremely risible; so is the scene where Sancho, in a dark night, tumbling into a pit, and attaching himself to the side by hand and foot, hangs there in terrible dismay till the morning, when he discovers himself to be within a foot of the bottom. A nose remarkably long or short, is risible; to want it is horrible. Hence nothing just, proper, decent, beautiful, proportioned or grand, is risible.
The laugh of derision or of scorn, is occasioned by improper acts replete with blunders and absurdities. Hence objects that cause laughter are either risible