Imágenes de páginas

beings; some things were made for others; and it is a self-evident proposition, that “the end must be of greater value than its means.” Hooker says that “stones are in dignity of nature inferior to plants.” Without attempting to settle the rights of precedence between such parties, there can be no dispute, that what is in its nature moral and everlasting must be of greater dignity than that which is only material and transitory. The superior excellence of the thing does not, indeed, necessarily prove that the impression which the idea of it produces shall be more sublime ; but it makes it, at the least, highly probable that it will be so. And many reasons concur for believing that the fact coincides perfectly with the presumption. The most sublime of all ideas certainly is that of the Deity;—an idea which, to use the language of the same extraordinary writer whom we have before quoted", “ borrows splendour from all that is fair, subordinates to itself all that is great, and sits enthroned upon the riches of the universe.” Now it is plain that the idea of God is entirely composed of moral qualities; every material image being necessarily excluded. It is plain too, that as man matures in knowledge and virtue, the power which moral impressions possess will be continually increasing; a truth which is, or ought to be, practically experienced by every man, as he advances in life. But physical objects possess in the nature of things only a fixed value. The superiority of moral over physical sublimity may also, we think, be satisfactorily inferred from the powerful influence which the higher sorts of poetry exercise upon the mind, compared with natural scenery and painting. The principal advantage of the former consists in the facility it possesses of presenting moral ideas to the imagination. In the power of placing

* Mr. Hall. Sermon on the Effects of Infidelity,

before the mind the images of natural things, it is evidently greatly inferior, not only to original nature, but also to every graphical imitation of her. Nor is it any reply to this to say, that the moral images which poetry commands are superadded to its descriptive powers. Moral images are unquestionably associated also with scenery and landscapes. The difference is, that in these, natural objects are presented to the mind with great vividness, and moral ideas only faintly; in poetry, moral ideas are powerfully pourtrayed, and sensible objects are drawn but indistinctly. To bring this question as closely as may be to the test of experiment, let us take a passage, the effect of which is as great as can well be conceived of any uninspired production, and which unites in a peculiar manner images of the highest natural and moral sublimity. Take the celebrated description of Satan in the first book of the Paradise Lost.

Thus far these beyond Compare of mortal prowess, yet observed Their dread commander: he above the rest, In shape and gesture proudly eminent, Stood like a tower: his form had not yet lost All her original brightness, nor appeared Less than archangel ruined, and th’ excess Of glory obscured. As when the sun new risen, Looks through the horizontal misty air Shorn of his beams, or from behind the In Ooil In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds On half the nations, and with fear of change Perplexes monarchs; darkened so, yet shone Above them all th’ archangel: but his face Deep scars of thunder had entrenched, and care Sat on his faded cheek, but under brows Of dauntless courage and considerate pride Waiting revenge. Cruel his eye, but cast Signs of remorse and passion to behold The fellows of his crime, the followers rather, (Far other once beheld in bliss.) condemned For ever now to have their lot in pain; Millions of spirits for his crime amerced Of heaven, and from eternal splendours flung For his revolt; yet faithful how they stood, Their glory withered; as when leaven's fire

Hath scathed; the forest oaks or mountain pines, ,

With singed top their stately growth tho'bare Stands on the blasted heath.

In this noble description, Milton has collected some of the most sublime images which the sensible world supplies;–a tower; the sun new risen; the sun in eclipse; and the oak and pine blasted with the lightning. All these are thrown together to swell the dignity of the scene; and in the midst stands the awful figure of the archangel himself.

ABut it is the figure of the archangel

* ruined;” and that single word is so powerful that it almost etiaces, alone, every other impression. The moral sublimity of the ideas which accompany it; the despair, the cruelty, the feeling, the sufferings of Satan; the unshaken fidelity and irrevocable misery of his followers; is altogether so great, that the natural inlages, lofty as they are, seem to us to borrow all their grandeur from the associations which attend them. We should have little fear in trusting by far the largest portion of the more celebrated passages in the great poets to the same experimental test,

Indeed, it appears to us to be far less questionable whether that which is morally sublime be essentially superior to that which is naturally sublime, than whether the rule which prevails in this instance hold true also with respect to the beautiful. It may be doubted if there are not some forms of visible beauty so enchanting that no image of moral excellence would be capable of producing at once an equal effect. Dr. Akenside, however, does not admit even of this doubt;

Is aught so fair

In all the dewy landscapes of the spring,
In the bright eye of Hesper or the Morn;
In nature's fairest forms is aught so fair,
As virtuous friendship; as the candid blush
Of him who strives with fortune to be just;
The graceful tear that streaus for others'

Or the mild majesty of private life?

The poet, perhaps, is right; at

least, we are not disposed to enter the lists against him. We incline, however, to think, that the expression of the beautiful in the works of nature is, if we may so speak, more characteristic and complete than the expression of the sublime. The eye reposes with unwearied delight on the landscapes of Claude; but the sketches of Salvator owe much to the imagination of the beholder;-a fact of which that master was doubtless sensible, when he threw in the wild farouche figures which appear in his Alpine scenery, and which were evidently intended to assist the fancy in her conception of what is terrible. The explanation of this is probably to be found in the effect of colours.-lt is a little curious that Mr. Stewart, who seems disposed to contend for the superior eiffect of the physical over the moral sublime, declares it to be his opinion that female beauty (which he describes to be “the master-piece of nature's handy work,”) owes its powers of enchantment rather to the moral associations with which it is surrounded by the young admirer, than to the charms of form and colour. We cannot leave this subject without observing, that any theory respecting the beautiful which professes to explain our agreeable impressions by the principle of associations alone, must be radically erroneous. It involves (as Mr. Stewari has justly and acutely remarked) a manifest absurdity, Unless some perceptions be supposed which are originally pleasing, there is nothing on which the associating principle can act. There can be no accumulation without a capital. Objects there are, then, undoubtedly, which derive their agreeable effect from the “organical adaptation of the human frame to the external universe.” But we are disposed to contend for a great deal more than this. We think there is a similar adaptation of truth to our intellectual faculties, and of virtue to our moral feelings.

We do not deny, nor for a moment

doubt, the disturbance and depravation of both, which our nature has suffered in the fall of our first parents. There is enough of obscurity in the understanding, and of corruption in the heart, to overpower, without the special grace of God exciting and aiding our own unremitting endeavours, whatever is good and tending to perfection in either. Yet surely it is true that the mind has naturally a thirst for knowledge; and that generosity, benevolence, disinterestedness, fortitude, are beheld with general approbation. Indolence, or a love of pleasure, may be so powerful as to prevent us from making a progress in the pursuit of truth. Selfishness, and the indulgence of evil passions, will soon choke up the springs of every good and noble affection. But unless we suppose some tendency towards persection to be still inherent in our nature, some traces of our original greatness, some lineaments .# out divine origin, how shall we explain the preference which has been shewn in all ages for those actions which tend to the general good, over those which have for their object the advancement of an individual How shall we explain the efforts made by so many wise and great men in ancient times, to disperse the darkness around them, and penetrate into that purer region, where they might contemplate the true images of God and virtue How shall we explain that noble aphorism of the old philosophy, that “ vice is more contrary to the nature of man, than pain, and sickness, and death, and all the evils which can besiege mortality?” Certainly it was not intended to assert that man is, in the common sense of the words, naturally virtuous. The whole world supplied but too sad and convincing evidence to the contrary. What was intended must evidently have been this, that virtue is the proper perfection of man's moral nature; that vice is destructive of the soul, as disease and death are of the body; and that (the soul being far more excellent and per

manent than the body) whatever is fatal to the former, is more truly contrary to his nature than those things which assail only the latter:a truth so momentous, and, in the opinion of Bishop Butler (surely no mean judge), so manifest, that it has been adopted by that profound writer as the simplest practical basis of all ethical science *.

There are two other Essays in this volume which still remain to be considered. The first of these is upon Taste; the second on the Culture of certain intellectual Habits.

What is Taste? This is a question which has a good deal divided the literary and philosophical world. Dr. Blair defines it to be “a power of receiving pleasure from the beauties of nature and of art.” Dr. Akenside expresses nearly the same idea in verse:

What then is taste, but these internal powers,
Active and strong, and feelingly alive
To each fine impulse.

According to both these writers, taste is nearly, or exactly, synonimous with sensibility. Mr. Burke objected, long ago, to these and similar definitions; and Mr. Stewart has satisfactorily shewn that they are erroneous. Taste and sensibility are certainly not conceived to be synonimous terms in the common apprehensions of mankind. Sensibility is often possessed, even to excess, by persons who are very deficient in taste. And those exercises which, from the constitution of our nature, have a tendency rather to impair the former, are continually enlarging and perfecting the latter.

Mr. Stewart's account of this power is to the following effect. In objects presented to the mind, an indefinite variety of circumstances may concur in producing that agreeable impression to which we give the name of Beauty. Yet the impression, as far as our consciousness can judge of it, is simple and uncompounded. It is impossi

* See the Introduction to Butler's Sernons.

ble, then, for the most acute sensibility, united with the greatest sagacity, to say, upon a single experiment, what are the circumstances in the supposed object to which we are chiefly indebted for the agreeable impression produced; what those, if any, that may be considered as

neutral; and what those which tend,

to diminish and injure the general effect. It is only by watching attentively a great variety of experiments upon different things, that we can arrive at that discriminating knowledge which enables us to se. parate, in every impression, those circumstances which have been favourable to the general result from those which have been injurious to it. This power of discrimination we call Taste. It supposes, of necessity, some sensibility to pleasure and pain; but it is formed to the perfection in which we see it often possessed, chiefly by diligence in multiplying, and accuracy in watching, those intellectual experiments from whence the materials, which inform and exercise it, are supplied. This account of the nature and formation of taste, appears to us to be, in the main, sufficiently correct. It ought, however, to be accompanied with an observation, which is much too obvious to have escaped Mr. Stewart's notice, but with which he has not expressly qualified his theory. Although taste is originally formed by a process, such as has been described, yet, in a polite age, a very large proportion of the principles adopted by those who have cultivated it with the greatest success, are not derived from experiments actually made, but are received upon the authority of earlier masters, and, at the most, are only Verified by the personal experience of those who embrace them. The view which Sir Joshua Reymolds long since took of this subject, accords very nearly with that which Mr. Stewart has more fully opened.

“The real substance" (he observes) , of *t goes under the name of Taste, is fixed

and established in the nature of thing. There are certain and regular courses by which the imagination and the passions of men are affected; and the knowledge of these causes is acquired by a laborious and diligent investigation of nature, and by the same slow progress as wisdom or knowledge of every kind, however instantaneous its operations may appear when thus atquired.”

Perhaps the process by which taste is originally formed, may be rendered more intelligible by considering how any one acquires what is called a perfect ear in music. Suppose a concerto of Mozart, or of Corelli, to be performed: some natural sensibility to the beauty of musical sounds being supposed (as it is found in fact to exist in a great majority of instances), the general impression which is made upon the hearer will be gratifying. But upon a single experiment, probably no person, entirely unpractised in music, could say more than that he received, on the whole, considerable pleasure. Suppose the same piece to be frequently repeated: he will perceive that he receives different degrees of pleasure, and pleasures also of different kinds, from distinct parts of the piece. Let the same person hear a great variety of other musical compositions; and if he is vigilant in observing his impressions, and compares the parts of the several pieces which afford him the greatest or the least gratification, he will gradually acquire cousiderable correctness and delicacy in perceiving the excellencies and the blemishes of the various passages to which he listens. Then comes the musical philosopher (Rameau would doubtless claim this dignity for his favourite science). and explains many of the causes of those perceptions which the amateur has experienced. He tells him, that in such a part his ear was offended by the introduction of too many discords into the harmony; that in another it was wearied by too monotonous a system of concords; that here the cadences are finely ma

naged (explaining the principle);

there the transition into a different key is too sudden; and he talks learnedly to him about sharp sevenths and fundamental basses. If the amateur has the fortune to have a tolerable head as well as an ear, he understands a good deal, of what is taught to him, and finds that by the help of this new knowledge the experiments which he makes are much more profitable than they had been ; that is, he observes man slight impressions which had before escaped him, and has a more perfect knowledge of those which he had already noticed. His judgment also receives great assistance from the opinions which he hears from others who have made a progress in his art, and from the rules adopted or favoured by the most celebrated masters; and thus, by degrees, with nothing but an ordinarily good ear and a plain understanding to begin with, may any person become a very skilful connoisseur in every species of musical composition, and acquire so critical a nicety in his perception of sounds as to be able to detect a single false note in the midst of the, most noisy and complicated performance. The process by which taste is acquired in any of the sister arts, certainly is not very different. If the account which has been given of the manner in which our. taste is formed, be tolerably correct, it follows that justness and comprehension of understanding are more indispensably requisite for the enjoyment of that power in great perfec-, tion, than a superior delicacy in our original perceptions. Madame de Stahl appears to have, caught a glimpse of this truth, when she says of the hero of one of her works, that the extent of his understanding enabled him to act with propriety into whatever circle of society he was introduced. Indeed, Mr. Stewart has pushed his theory so far as to insist, that great natural sensibility is un-, favourable to the formation of a good taste. Instances illustrative of this opinion will probably crowd upon the recollection of our readers;

and as it is favourable to mediocrity, there is danger of its becoming very popular. It is proper, therefore, to state, that the disadvantages to which persons of great natural sensibility are said to be subjected in respect of taste, is exactly of the same kind with the difficulties which oppose perfection in every other department. Persons who have been blessed with fine parts are sometimes deficient in judgment; but it is not because they possess distinguished faculties, but because they abuse them. All taste has its origin in sensibility; but exquisite sensibility requires to be controuled in matters of taste, as in every thing else, by a vigilance and intelligence proportioned to its vivacity. The Essay on Taste is divided into four chapters, of which only the two first are employed in the analysis of that power;—the two latter chapters are filled with miscellaneous observations nearly connected with the same subject. At the close of the second chapter, Mr. Stewart expresses an intention of resuming the subject on some future occasion, for the purpose of illustrating that “progress of taste from rudeness to refinement which accompanies the ad

vancement of social civilization.”

We trust he will find opportunity to fulfil the expectations which such a hope awakens. It is not possible for us to present, our readers with all the valuable truths and suggestions which Mr.' Stewart has collected in his two latter chapters upon taste; but the following passage deserves to be extracted, as well on account of the dignity and justness of the sentiments which it expresses, as of the peculiar felicity of the diction.

“Corresponding to the distinction which I have been attempting to illustrate between universal and arbitrary beauties, there are two different modifications of taste; modifications which are not always united (perhaps seldom united) in the same person. The one enables a writer or an artist to rise superior to the times in which he lives, and emboldens him to trust his reputation to the

« AnteriorContinuar »