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It remains to be considered, what its merits are, when it imitates not by mere natural sound, but by sound significant; by words, the compact symbols of all kinds of ideas. From hence depends its genuine force. And here, as it is able to find sounds expressive of every idea, so is there no subject either of picture-imitation, or musical, to which it does not aspire; all things and incidents whatever being, in a manner, to be described by words.
Whether, therefore, poetry, in this its proper sphere, be equal to the imitation of the other two arts, is the question at present which comes in order to be discussed.
Now as subjects are infinite, and the other two arts are not equally adapted to imitate all, it is proposed, first, to compare poetry with them in such subjects to which they are most perfectly adapted.
II. To begin, therefore, with painting. A subject in which the power of this art may be most fully exerted, (whether it be taken from the inanimate, or the animal, or the moral world,) must be a subject which is principally and eminently characterized by certain colours, figures, and postures of figures— whose comprehension depends not on a succession of events; or at least, if on a succession, on a short and self-evident onewhich admits a large variety of such circumstances, as all concur in the same individual point of time, and relate all to one principal action.
As to such a subject, therefore, inasmuch as poetry is forced to pass through the medium of compact, while painting applies immediately through the medium of nature; the one being understood to all, the other to the speakers of a certain language only: inasmuch as natural operations must needs be more affecting than artificial: inasmuch as painting helps our own rude ideas by its own, which are consummate and wrought up to the perfection of art; while poetry can raise no other, than what every mind is furnished with before:" inasmuch as painting shews all the minute and various concurrent circumstances of the event in the same individual point of time, as they appear in nature; while poetry is forced to want this circumstance of intelligibility, by being ever obliged to enter into some degree of detail: inasmuch as this detail creates often the dilemma of either becoming
Note f, p. 28.
h When we read in Milton of Eve, that Grace was in all her steps, heav'n in her eye, In ev'ry gesture dignity and love;
we have an image, not of that Eve which Milton conceived, but of such an Eve only as every one, by his own proper genius, is able to represent, from reflecting on those ideas which he has annexed to these several sounds. The greater part, in the mean time, have never perhaps bestowed one ac
curate thought upon what grace, heaven, love, and dignity mean; or ever enriched the mind with ideas of beauty, or asked whence they are to be acquired, and by what proportions they are constituted. On the contrary, when we view Eve as painted by an able painter, we labour under no such difficulty; because we have exhibited before us the better conceptions of an artist, the genuine ideas of perhaps a Titian or a Raphael.
tedious, to be clear; or if not tedious, then obscure: lastly, inasmuch as all imitations more similar, more immediate, and more intelligible, are preferable to those which are less so; and for the reasons above, the imitations of poetry are less similar, less immediate, and less intelligible than those of painting. From all this it will follow, that in all subjects, where painting can fully exert itself, the imitations of painting are superior to those of poetry; and consequently, in all such subjects, that painting has the pre
III. And now to compare poetry with music, allowing to music the same advantage of a well-adapted subject, which has already been allowed to painting in the comparison just preceding.
What such a subject is, has already been described. And as to preference, it must be confessed, that, inasmuch as musical imitations, though natural, aspire not to raise the same ideas, but only ideas similar and analogous; while poetic imitation, though artificial, raises ideas the very same, inasmuch as the definite and certain is ever preferable to the indefinite and uncertain, and that more especially in imitations where the principal delight is in recognising the thing imitated; it will follow from hence, that even in subjects the best adapted to musical imitation, the imitation of poetry will be still more excellent.
i See chap. ii. sect. 2. * Page 31.
That there is an eminent delight in this very recognition itself, abstract from any thing pleasing in the subject recognised, is evident from hence, that, in all the mimetic arts, we can be highly charmed with imitations, at whose originals in nature we are shocked and terrifed. Such, for instance, as dead bodies, wild beasts, and the like.
The cause, assigned for this, seems to be of the following kind. We have a joy, not only in the sanity and perfection, but also in the just and natural energies of our several limbs and faculties. And hence, among others, the joy in reasoning:
being the energy of that principal faculty, our intellect or understanding. This joy extends, not only to the wise, but to the multitude. For all men have an aversion to ignorance and error ; and in some degree, however moderate, are glad to learn and to inform themselves.
Hence, therefore, the delight arising from
these imitations; as we are enabled, in each of them, to exercise the reasoning faculty; and, by comparing the copy with the architype in our minds, to infer that this is such a thing, and that another: a fact remarkable among children, even in their first and earliest days.
Τό τε γὰρ μιμεῖσθαι, σύμφυτον τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐκ παίδων ἐστὶ, καὶ τούτῳ διαφέ ρουσι τῶν ἄλλων ζώων, ὅτι μιμητικώτατόν ἐστι, καὶ τὰς μαθήσεις ποιεῖται διὰ μιμή σεως τὰς πρώτας· καὶ τὸ χαίρειν τοῖς μιμήμασι πάντας. Σημεῖον δὲ τούτου τὸ συμβαῖνον ἐπὶ τῶν ἔργων. “Α γὰρ αὐτὰ λυπηρῶς ὁρῶμεν, τούτων τὰς εἰκόνας τὰς μάλιστα ηκριβωμένας, χαίρομεν θεωροῦν τες οἷον θηρίων τε μορφὰς τῶν ἀγριωτά των, καὶ νεκρῶν. Αἴτιον δὲ καὶ τούτου, ὅτι μανθάνειν οὐ μόνον τοῖς φιλοσόφοις ἥδιστον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ὁμοίως ἀλλ' ἐπὶ βραχὺ κοινωνοῦσιν αὐτοῦ. Διὰ γὰρ τοῦτο χαίρουσι τὰς εἰκόνας ὁρῶντες, ὅτι συμβαίνει θεωροῦντας μανθάνειν καὶ συλλογίζεσθαι, τὶ ἕκαστον· οἷον, ὅτι οὗτος èkeivos. Arist. Poet. c. 4.
ON THE SUBJECTS WHICH POETRY IMITATES BY WORDS SIGNIFICANT, BEING AT THE SAME TIME SUBJECTS NOT ADAPTED TO THE GENIUS OF EITHER OF THE OTHER ARTS. THE NATURE OF THOSE SUBJECTS. THE ABILITIES OF POETRY TO IMITATE THEM. COMPARISON OF POETRY IN THESE SUBJECTS, FIRST WITH PAINTING, THEN WITH MUSIC.
THE mimetic art of poetry has now been considered in two views: first, as imitating by mere natural media; and in this it has been placed on a level with music, but much inferior to painting. It has been since considered as imitating through sounds significant by compact, and that in such subjects respectively, where painting and music have the fullest power to exert themselves. Here to painting it has been held inferior, but to music it has been preferred.
It remains to be considered, what other subjects poetry has left, to which the genius of the other two arts is not so perfectly adapted; how far poetry is able to imitate them; and whether, from the perfection of its imitation, and the nature of the subjects themselves, it ought to be called no more than equal to its sister arts; or whether, on the whole, it should not rather be called superior.
II. To begin, in the first place, by comparing it with painting. The subjects of poetry, to which the genius of painting is not adapted, are, all actions, whose whole is of so lengthened a duration, that no point of time, in any part of that whole, can be given fit for painting; neither in its beginning, which will teach what is subsequent; nor in its end, which will teach what is previous; nor in its middle, which will declare both the previous and the subsequent. Also all subjects so framed, as to lay open the internal constitution of man, and give us an insight into characters," manners, passions, and sentiments.
The merit of these subjects is obvious. They must necessarily
m For a just and accurate description of wholeness and unity, see Arist. Poet. chap. 7 and 8; and Bossu, his best interpreter, in his treatise on the Epic Poem, book ii. chap. 9-11.
For a description of character, see below, note o, of this chapter.
As for manners, it may be said in general, that a certain system of them makes a character ; and that as these systems, by being differently compounded, make each a different character, so is it that one man truly differs from another.
Sentiments are discoverable in all those things, which are the proper business and end of speech or discourse. The chief branches of this end are to assert and prove; to solve and refute; to express or excite passions; to amplify incidents, and to diminish them. It is in these things, therefore, that we must look for sentiment. See Arist. Poet. c. 19: "Eσri dè KATÀ TÙY Διάνοιαν ταῦτα, ὅσα ὑπὸ τοῦ λόγου δεῖ παρασκευασθῆναι. Μέρη δὲ τούτων, τό τε ἀποδεικνῦναι, καὶ τὸ λύειν, καὶ τὸ πάθη παρασκευάζειν,—καὶ ἔτι μέγεθος, καὶ
Passions are obvious; pity, fear, anger,&c. σμikpóτnta.
of all be the most affecting, the most improving, and such of which the mind has the strongest comprehension.
For as to the affecting part, if it be true, that all events more or less affect us, as the subjects which they respect are more or less nearly related to us, then surely those events must needs be most affecting, to whose subjects we are of all the most intimately related. Now such is the relation which we bear to mankind; and men and human actions are the subjects here proposed for imitation.
As to improvement, there can be none surely (to man at least) so great, as that which is derived from a just and decent representation of human manners and sentiments. For what can more contribute to give us that master-knowledge," without which all other knowledge will prove of little or no utility?
As to our comprehension, there is nothing certainly of which we have so strong ideas, as of that which happens in the moral or human world. For as to the internal part, or active principle of the vegetable, we know it but obscurely; because there we can discover neither passion, nor sensation. In the animal world, indeed, this principle is more seen, and that from the passions and sensations which there declare themselves. Yet all still rests upon the mere evidence of sense; upon the force only of external and unassisted experience. But in the moral or human world, as we have a medium of knowledge far more accurate than this, so from hence it is that we can comprehend accordingly.
With regard, therefore, to the various events which happen
• ΓΝΩΘΙ ΣΑΥΤΟΝ. But further, besides obtaining this moral science from the contemplation of human life, an end common both to epic, tragic, and comic poetry, there is a peculiar end to tragedy, that of eradicating the passions of pity and fear. Εστιν οὖν τραγῳδία μίμησις πράξεως σπουδαίας καὶ τελείας—δι ̓ ἐλέου καὶ φόβου περαίνουσα τὴν τῶν τοιούτων παθημάτων Kábaрow. Arist. Poet. c. 6. "Tragedy is the imitation of an action important and perfect, through pity and fear working the purgation of such-like passions."
There are none, it is evident, so devoid of these two passions, as those perpetually conversant, where the occasions of them are most frequent; such, for instance, as the military men, the professors of medicine, chirurgery, and the like. Their minds, by this intercourse, become, as it were, callous; gaining an apathy by experience, which no theory can ever teach them.
Now, that which is wrought in these men by the real disasters of life, may be supposed wrought in others by the fictions of tragedy; yet with this happy circumstance in favour of tragedy, that, without
the disasters being real, it can obtain the same end.
It must, however, for all this, be confessed, that an effect of this kind cannot reasonably be expected, except among nations, like the Athenians of old, who lived in a perpetual attendance upon these theatrical representations. For it is not a single or occasional application to these passions, but a constant and uninterrupted, by which alone they may be lessened or removed.
It would be improper to conclude this note, without observing, that the philosopher in this place by pity means not philanthropy, natural affection, a readiness to relieve others in their calamities and distress; but, by pity, he means that senseless effeminate consternation, which seizes weak minds, on the sudden prospect of any thing disastrous; which, in its more violent effects, is seen in shriekings, swoonings, &c. a passion, so far from laudable, or from operating to the good of others, that it is certain to deprive the party, who labours under its influence, of all capacity to do the least good office.
here, and the various causes by which they are produced; in other words, of all characters, manners, human passions, and sentiments; besides the evidence of sense, we have the highest evidence additional, in having an express consciousness of something similar within; of something homogeneous in the recesses of our own minds; in that which constitutes to each of us his true and real self.
These, therefore, being the subjects, not adapted to the genius of painting, it comes next to be considered, how far poetry can imitate them.
And, here, that it has abilities clearly equal, cannot be doubted; as it has that for the medium of its imitation, through which nature declares herself in the same subjects. For the sentiments in real life are only known by men's discourse.P And the characters, manners, and passions of men, being the prompters to what they say, it must needs follow, that their discourse will be a constant specimen of those characters, manners, and passions.
Format enim natura prius nos intus ad omnem
Not only, therefore, language is an adequate medium of imitation, but in sentiment it is the only medium; and in manners and passions there is no other which can exhibit them to us after that clear, precise, and definite way, as they in nature stand allotted to the various sorts of men, and are found to constitute the several characters of each."
III. To compare, therefore, poetry, in these subjects, with painting: inasmuch as no subjects of painting are wholly superior to poetry; while the subjects, here described, far exceed the power of painting: inasmuch as they are, of all subjects, the most affecting and improving, and such of which we have the
P Page 36, note n.
9 Hor. de Art. Poet. 108.
It is true, indeed, that (besides what is done by poetry) there is some idea of character, which even painting can communicate. Thus there is no doubt, but that such a countenance may be found by painters for Æneas, as would convey, upon view, a mild, humane, and yet a brave dis position. But then this idea would be vague and general. It would be concluded, only in the gross, that the hero was good. As to that system of qualities peculiar to #neas only, and which alone properly constitutes his true and real character, this would still remain a secret, and be no way discoverable. For how deduce it from the mere lineaments of a countenance? Or, if it were deducible, how few spectators would there be found so sagacious? It is here,
therefore, that recourse must be had, not to