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Diluit. Inplentur fussæ, et cava flumina crescunt
Virg. Georg. l. 1.
In the description of a storm, to figure Jupiter throwing down huge mountains with his thunderbolts, is hyperbolically sublime, if I may use the expression: the tone of mind produced by that image is so distant from the tone produced by a thick shower of rain, that the sudden transition must be unpleasant.
Objects of sight that are not remarkably great nor high, scarce raise any emotion of grandeur or of sublimity : and the same holds in other objects; for we often find the mind roused and animated, without being carried to that height. This difference may be discerned in many sorts of music, as well as in some musical instruments : a kettle-drum rouses, and a hautboy is animating; but neither of them inspires an emotion of sublimity: revenge animates the mind in a considerable degree; but I think it never produceth an emotion than can be termed grand or sublime ; and I shall have occasion afterward to observe, that no disagreeable passion ever has that effect. I am willing to put this to the test, by placing before my reader a most spirited picture of revenge: it is a speech of Antony wailing over the body of Cæsar:
Wo to the hand that shed this costly blood !
A curse shall light upon the kind of men ;
Domestic fury, and fierce civil strife,
Julius Cæsar, Act III. Sc. 4.
No desire is more universal than to be exalted and honoured: and upon that account chiefly are we ambitious of power, riches, titles, fame, which would suddenly lose their relish, did they not raise us above others, and command submission and deference;* and it may be thought that our attachment to things grand and lofty proceeds from their connexion with our favourite passion. This connexion has undoubtedly an effect : but that the preference given to things grand and lofty must have a deeper root in human nature, will appear from considering, that many bestow their time upon low and trifling amusements, without having the least tincture of this favourite passion: yet these very persons talk the same language with the rest of mankind, and prefer the more elevated pleasures : they acknowledge a more refined taste, and are ashamed of their own as low and grovelling. This sentiment, constant and universal, must be the work of nature; and it plainly indicates an original attachment in human nature to every object that elevates the mind :
* Honestum per se esse expetendum indicant pueri, in quibus, ut in speculis, natura cernitur. Quanta studia decertantium sunt! Quanta ipsa certamina: Ut illi efferuntur lætitia, cum vicerunt! Ut pudet victos ! Ut se accusari nolunt! Ut cupiunt laudari! Quos illi labores non perferunt, ut æqualium principes sint! Cicero de finibus.
some men may have a greater relish for an object not of the highest rank; but they are conscious of the preference given by mankind in general to things grand and sublime: and they are sensible that their peculiar taste ought to yield to the general taste. What is said above suggests a capital rule for reaching the sublime in such works of art as are susceptible of it: and that is, to present those parts or circumstances only which make the greatest figure, keeping out of view every thing low or trivial; for the mind, elevated by an important object, cannot; without reluctance, be forced down to bestow any share of its attention upon trifles. Such judicious selection of capital circumstances, is by an eminent critic styled grandeur of manner. * In none of the fine arts is there so great scope for that rule as in poetry; which, by that means, enjoys a remarkable power of bestowing upon objects and events an air of grandeur: when we are spectators, every minute object presents itself in its order: but, in describing at second hand, these are laid aside, and the capital objects are brought close together. A judicious taste in thus selecting the most interesting incidents, to give them an united force, accounts for a fact that may appear surprising; which is, that we are more moved by a spirited narrative at second hand, than by being spectators of the event itself, in all its circumstances.
Longinus exemplifies the foregoing rule by a comparison of two passages. The first, from Aristæus, is thus translated :
Ye pow'rs, what madness! how on ships so frail
* Spectator, No. 415.
# Chapter VIII. of the Sublime:
No ease their hearts, no rest their eyes can find,
And gods are wearied with their fruitless prayer. The other, from Homer I shall give in Pope's translation:
Burst as a wave that from the cloud impends,
In the latter passage, the most striking circumstances are selected to fill the mind with terror and astonishment. The former is a collection of minute and low circumstances, which scatter the thought, and make no impression: it is at the same time full of verbal antitheses and low conceit, extremely improper in a scene of distress. But this last observation belongs to another head.
The following description of a battle is remarkably sublime, by collecting together in the fewest words, those circumstances which make the greatest figure.
Like Autumn's dark storms pouring from two echoing hills, toward each other approached the heroes ; as two dark streams from high rocks meet and roar on the plain, loud, rough and dark in battle, meet Lochlin and Inisfail. Chief mixes his strokes with chief, and man with man: steel sounds on steel, and helmets are cleft on high : blood bursts and smokes around; strings murmur on the polish'd yew : darts rush along the sky : spears fall like sparks of flame that gild the stormy face of night.
As the noise of the troubled ocean when roll the waves on high, as the last peal of thundering heaven, such is the noise of battle. Tho' Cormac's hundred bards were there, feeble were the voice of a hundred bards to send the deaths to future times ;
Chap. 4. for many were the deaths of the heroes, and wide poured the blood of the valiant.
Fingal. The following passage in the 4th book of the Iliad is a description of a battle, wonderfully ardent.
66 When now gathered on either side, the hosts plunged together in
fight; shield is harshly laid to shield; spears crash on 6 the brazen corslets; bossy buckler with buckler meets; “ loud tumult rages over all; groans are mixed with “ boasts of men : the slain and slayer join in noise; the “ earth is floating round with blood. As when two rush“ing streams from two mountains come roaring down, " and throw together their rapid waters below, they roar “along the gulphy vale: The startled shepherd hears the - sound, as he stalks o'er the distant hills: So, as they “mixed in fight, from both armies clamour with loud terror “ arose.” But such general descriptions are not frequent in Homer. Even his single combats are rare. The fifth book is the longest account of a battle that is in the Iliad; and yet contains nothing but a long catalogue of chiefs killing chiefs, not in single combat neither, but at a distance, with an arrow or a javelin ; and these chiefs named for the first time and the last. The same scene is continued through a great part of the sixth book. There is at the same time a minute description of every wound, which for accuracy may do honour to an anatomist, but in an epic poem is tiresome and fatiguing. There is no relief from horrid languor but the beautiful Greek language, and melody of Homer's versification.
In the twenty-first book of the Odyssey, there is a passage which deviates widely from the rule above laid down: it concerns that part of the history of Penelope and her suitors, in which she is made to declare in favour of him who should prove the most dexterous in shooting with the bow of Ulysses :