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but sublime it never can be called, without a contradiction in terms. It should seem, therefore, that Longinus considered the sublime, as the essence of fine writing; and indeed he had described it, generally, as the height, the summit, the perfection of this talent.15

In the third book of his Rhetoric, Aristotle treated the same subject. He there explains wherein fine writing consists, and by what choice of words, and what mode of arranging them, that is, by what figures, this effect may be produced. An effect so various is not to be referred to any one head; it results from perspicuity, brevity, elevation or dignity, urbanity or elegance, animation, energy and enthusiasm. All these things give pleasure, they are all beauties16: but beauties, light and airy, neat or elegant, majestic or lofty, solemn, awful, or sublime; and the perfection of style, is that in which the several elements being rightly chosen, and fitly blended, may always suit the occasion; take its form and colour from the nature of the things signified, and rise or fall with the subject.


to Lon

his fol


These notions are approved, and adopted 17 by all According the ancient rhetoricians, and also by those moderns ginus, and who adhere to the ancient school; but in later times the graceful negligence and impassioned raptures of Longinus, gained with many the ascendant, and philosophers began to examine more calmly than that ardent critic had done, the cause of the grand effect

15 Sect. 1.

16 Beauty, whether belonging to objects of sense, to objects of fancy, or to objects of intellect, consists in magnitude and arrangement; that is, the fit disposition of the parts with regard to the whole, and to each other. Of what is too great, the parts cannot be comprehended; of what is too little, they cannot be at all perceived. De Art. Poetic. c. viii. p. 214. Edit. Buhle. But within these distinct limitations, what an endless variety of beauties is contained!

17 Conf. Cicero de Claris Orator. c. 82. et seq. and Quintilian, Inst.

Fine writ

ing, according to

Aristotle :

which he had announced, and to investigate what they call the main central idea 18 on which all notions of the sublime turn. Mr. Hume, with his usual originality, declared this to be merely local elevation, and bodily ascent, which carrying us in a direction contrary to the established law of gravity, calls forth our courage to oppose and resist it.19 We thus invigorate the soul, and give it an elevation, with which it would never otherwise have been acquainted. Any great elevation of place, communicates a kind of pride or sublimity of imagination. Hence, it proceeds, that "we associate in a manner, the idea of whatever is good with that of height, and evil with lowness." But this theory reached too high among the clouds long to hold together. On the slightest reflection, it occurred, that great depth affected the mind not less powerfully than great height; and that a profound genius was an object of admiration, not less than a lofty or sublime one. Nay, further, as the altitude of the heavens augments to the eye in proportion to the

18 This doctrine of a central or common idea was not derived, as Mr. Stewart thinks, (see his Essays, p. 214. 4to. edit.,) from the scholastic ages, but was of a far more ancient date. Socrates, as Aristotle says, Metaph, 1. xi. p. 969. first shook its foundation, by regarding not merely the vague meaning of words, but their correct sense; and by requiring clear definitions of them. This is illustrated by his scholar, Xenophon, in his explanation of the words, “good” and “beautiful.” Vid. Memorabil. Socrat. p. 776. Edit. ́ Leunclav. Aristotle also refutes the same fanciful notion, which had been adopted by his master Plato, more distinctly and more scientifically. The word "good," he says, is applied to substances, to modes, and to relations; but when thus applied, is not taken in the same sense; and, therefore, does not denote any common idea. "Good" is said in as many ways as "being." It is said of God and the human mind, which are substances; of the virtues, which are qualities; of utility, which is a relation; of mediocrity, which is quantity; of a critical moment, which is time; of a fit residence, which is place. The word “good,” when said of things so totally different, cannot, therefore, denote any one idea common to all those classes or categories. Ethic. Nicom. 1. i. c. 4.

19 Treatise of Human Nature, vol. ii. p. 282.

wide extent of plain from which they are surveyed, it became necessary to take into the idea of sublime, magnitude in all directions, and to apply the same epithet to lofty mountains, deep and broad rivers, above all, to the vast and boundless ocean. All these objects delight by their greatness; they are all awful, and invested with a certain degree of terror, and also with a certain degree of obscurity from their greatness itself, which is not to be easily seized by the eye20, retained in the memory21, or comprehended by the understanding.22 According to a new theory, therefore, the essence of the sublime was said to consist in terror and obscurity23; a theory which was calculated to produce still worse effects than any of the preceding, both on the arts of design and on the rules of literary composition.24


the sublime.

All these different accounts of the matter made Mr. their appeal to Longinus, which is also the case account of with a very different explanation of it given by Mr. Knight: he ascribes "all emotions of the sublime to sympathy with the expression of energetic passions.25 But

20 Ευσυνοπτον.

21 Ευμνημονευτον.

22 Ευεπακολουθητον.

23 In the following sentence, the idea of obscurity is included in that of terror: "Terror is, in all cases whatever, either more openly or latently, the ruling principle of the sublime." Burke on the Sublime, Part p. ii.

sect. 2.

24 This appears, as Mr. Knight says, in the labours of its followers; "the works of many modern painters, poets, and romance writers, which teem with all sorts of terrific and horrific monsters and hobgoblins." p. 384. And again, " Nonsense can no more be sublime, than darkness and vacuity can be ponderous and elastic; and to controvert either position is in some measure to participate in its extravagance: nor should I presume to do it, did I not every day see the fatal effects of this seducing author's (Mr. Burke's) theories on the taste of the public, not only in England, but on the continent, particularly in Germany, where nonsense seems to have become the order of the day." p. 399.

25 See Knight on Taste, pp. 325. 331. 335. 366, 370. 371. 572. 4th Edit.

in this position, Mr. Knight, I fear, has not sufficiently attended to the force of the word sympathy. Brute matter, whatever magnitude it may assume, cannot surely create any such emotion; even the heavens themselves, in comparison with which all other greatness is nothing, raise sublime emotions of sympathy, merely by association with the creating and sustaining power of the Almighty. For a similar reason, neither powers, nor energies, nor properties of any kind, considered abstractly, can ever produce the slightest degree of sympathy: for sympathy is feeling accompanying feeling; it can be excited only by animated individual beings; and where there is no feeling in the individuals principally concerned, there cannot possibly be any fellowfeeling in the spectators.

His objec

Inattention to this distinction should seem to have led tions to the Mr. Knight, who of all the above mentioned interpreters judgments of Aristotle of Longinus appears to have come the nearest to his

& Horace.

meaning, into several erroneous conclusions. "From the days of Aristotle," he says, "to the present time, critics have repeated, the one after the other, that terror and pity, το φοβερον και το ελεεινον, are the fundamental principles of tragedy; but how any man in his senses, can feel either fear from dangers which he knows to be unreal, or commiseration for distress which he knows to be fictitious, I am at a loss to discover, never having found any such pliability in my own feelings, by which alone I can judge of those of others. I can sympathize with the expressions of passions and mental energies, which these fictitious events excite, because the expressions are real; and this is what I believe all other persons of just feeling do: but the acute Stagirite appears to have been led into an error on this point, by imagining that stage exhibitions are really meant to be deceptions. The most

able and acute of his followers seems to have been equally misled, by the same ill-founded notion.” 26

This ill-founded notion of Horace, to which Mr. Knight alludes, is conveyed with a vivacity and brightness that animates every reader's bosom, and with a resistless power to which every critic of taste had been long willing to submit27: nor, with such a passage before his eyes, would Mr. K., I think, have ventured to be the first to raise a dissentient voice. But a celebrated French critic, once highly popular, has a chapter in his ingenious but often fanciful work, to prove, that the pleasure derived from dramatic entertainments does not depend on any degree of illusion28; and an English critic, of not less name, has said with his usual perspicuity and intrepidity, "It is false that any representation is mistaken for reality, that any dramatic fable in its materiality was ever credible, or for a single moment was ever credited."29 But Johnson, when he wrote these words, had a cause to defend, and when this was the case, he was not always scrupulously nice about the justness of his arguments. He was a fine writer, a poet, a wit, a moralist, above all, a skilful rhetorician. What did he want to make an accomplished critic? Calm serenity of mind, and impartial candour. Independently, however, of these qualifications, he had an easy triumph in defending the anomalies of Shakspeare before an English public, seconded and supported as he was by the boundless veneration of that public for their first and

26 Knight on Taste. p. iii. c. 1. p. 335. fourth Edit.

27 Ille per extentum funem mihi posse videtur

Ire poeta, meum qui pectus inaniter angit,

Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet,

Ut Magus; et modo me Thebis, modo ponit Athenis.

De Art. Poet. v. 210. et seq. 28 Du Bos, Reflexions Critiques, sect. xl. p. 420. Edit. Paris, 1719.

29 Johnson's Preface to Shakspeare.

These had been before

made by Du Bos &


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