Page images

dulge his fufpicion, till, by the teftimony of his fenfes, he is affured of the fact.

I'll watch to-night; perchance, 'twill walk again.

I cannot quit this admirable scene, without remarking the fuperiority of a natural, fimple, and unaffected dialogue to the vanity of figurative and elaborate diction. It has been of late infinuated, that poetical genius is on the decline, and that, if modern dramatic writers abound in declamation and artificial ornament instead of the language of nature, it is owing to the languor and fterility of their invention. May not the cause be different? Are we confident, if there was exhibited to us a genuine representation of human paffions and manners, conveyed in artless unaffected language, that we would comply with the admonitions of nature, and applaud as our feelings dictate? Are we confident that the pride of learning and the vanity of poffeffing critical difcernment,


ment, do not impose on our better judgement, and that we are not more attentive to the harmony of a period, than to the happy utterance of an ardent paffion?

Hamlet, in fome of the foregoing paffages, betrays fufpicion. But fufpicion is not natural to a humane and ingenuous temper. Is it, therefore, a blemish, or the result of an amiable difpofition influenced by a fenfe of virtue?

It is a property of the imagination, when governed by any paffion or opinion, to follow the impulse it has received, and to diminish or aggrandize any object not perfectly known to us, according to the judgment we may have formed of it. Under the influence of fear, men, tainted with fuperftition, people darkness and the night with spectres, and terrify and torment themselves with imaginary danger. If we are threatened with any unusual calamity, the nature and extent of which is unknown to us, governed by our terrors,


we render its ftature gigantic: But, if actuated by an intrepid fpirit, we brave and undervalue it; approaching to temerity and overweening confidence, we are apt to leffen it beyond its real fize. If a man of plaufible manners, dextrous in displaying his genius and understanding, fecures your esteem, and an opinion of his being endowed with uncommon abilities, you fet no limits to his capacity, and, imagining him wiser and more ingenious than he really is, you are almost led to revere him. To explain the cause of these appearances is difficult: Yet a conjecture may be hazarded. If we think attentively on any subject, a number of ideas arife in our minds concerning it. These ideas are of qualities and properties that may belong to it, or of the relations it may have to other objects, but of which we have no actual evidence. Yet, if we cannot negatively affirm that they do not belong to it; on the contrary, if they are agreeable



to its nature and circumstances, their fpontaneous appearance in our minds, as connected with it, affords a prefumption that they really exist. Our belief, though not abfolutely confirmed, is yet swayed by a plaufible probability; and what ftrengthens it ftill the more, is a reflection on the narrowness of our powers, and the imperfection of our fenses. We reason from analogy, and think it impoffible that an object should be fo completely known to us, as that we can pronounce with certainty that we are intimately acquainted with the whole of its structure; and that qualities agreeing perfectly with its nature do not refide in it, merely because we do not difcern them. As we are naturally prone to action, a state of dubiety and fufpenfe is ever accompanied with uneafinefs; we bear uncertainty with reluctance; we must be refolved; and if we cannot prove a negative, even a flight probability will influence our belief. Therefore,


fore, fince ideas of correfponding qualities and relations do arife, and engage the attention of our judging faculty, we feldom hesitate, but afcribe them imme diately to the caufe or object of our emotion. According to the vivacity of the idea, will be the energy of its impreffion; and, according to the force of the impreffion, will be our eagerness to decide. But the vivacity of the idea depends on the ftrength of the exciting paffion; therefore, proportioned to the vehemence of the paffion will be our credulity and proneness to be convinced. It is alfo manifeft, that, if any object is naturally difficult to be ap prehended, and is fo complex or delicate, as to elude the acutenefs of our difcernment, or the intenseness of our inquiry, we fhall be more liable to error in cafes of this nature, than in those things that we perceive diftinctly. Admiring the man of abilities, we cannot define with accuracy the precife boundaries of his



« PreviousContinue »