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I. IMMEDIATE EMOTIONS, NOT NECESSARILY INVOLVING ANY
MORAL FEELING. -RETROSPECT OF THE DISCUSSION OF
ARISES FROM UNEXPECTED CONGRUITIES
CONGRUITIES IN LANGUAGE-IN THOUGHT-OR IN OBJECTS
GENTLEMEN, after the remarks which I had made on the varieties of the emotion of beauty, it was not necessary for me to dwell at so much length on the kindred emotions of sublimity, to the elucidation of which, I proceeded in my last Lecture ;—the principal inquiries which had engaged us, with respect to the nature of beauty, being only another form of inquiries, which we might have pursued, indeed, in like manner, in the case of sublimity, but which it would have been tedious and profitless to repeat.
Opposed as the sublime and beautiful usually are, by a sort of antithetic arrangement, in our works of rhetoric, or of the philosophy of taste, they are far from being essentially distinct, but at least in the greater number of instances, shadow into each other; the sublime, in these cases, being only one portion of a series of feelings, of which the beautiful, as it has been termed, is also a part. The emotions of sublimity may, indeed, be excited by ob. jects, which no diminution of the attendant circumstances, or of intensity of quality, could render beautiful, but which on the contrary, when thus diminished, are disgusting or ridiculous, rather than agreeable. Yet, though there are, unquestionably, cases of this sort; as when guilt becomes sublime by the very atrocity with which it dares, and executes what other bosoms might shudder even to conceive, or the mean wretchedness of some sterile waste acquires a kind of dignity from the extent of that very desolation, which, in a less degree, made it meaply wretched, the greater number of cases are, as unquestionably, of a different sort ;-in which, by gradual increase, or diminution of qualities, or alteration of the attendant circumstances, the emotion is progressively varied, till, by change after change, what was merely beautiful, becomes grand, and ultimately sublime,- the extremes seeming, perhaps, to have no resemblance, but this very difference of the extremes resulting only from the number of successive feelings in the long scale of emotion, in each sequence of which, compared with the feelings immediately preceding, there may have been shadowing of the closest resemblance. How very natural a process this is, I shewed you, by examples of progressive beauty, grandeur, and sublimity, on different aspects, both of matter, and of mind.
Since beauty, then, by a gradual change of circumstances, can thus rise into sublimity, it is not wonderful that phenomena, which are parts of a series, should be, in many important respects, analogous; so that properties or relations, which are found to belong to one portion of the series, should be found to belong also to the other,—that, for example, as we diffuse, unconsciously, our delightful feeling of beauty, in the object which excites it, we should diffuse, in like manner, our feelings of sublimity in the objects, which we term sublime, and imagine some awful majesty to hang around them, even when there is no eye to behold them, and consequently no heart to be impressed with their overwhelming presence. The tendency which this continued incorporation of our feeling in those sublime objects on which we gaze, or of which we think, produces, to the belief of a permanent sublimity in objects, may, very naturally, be supposed to flow into the illusion, which imagines the existence of something, that, independently of our feelings, is common to all the objects which thus powerfully impress us, and which may, of itself, be termed the sublime; as something common to all beautiful objects, independently of our feeling of their beauty, was, in like manner, imagined, and termed
the beautiful. It was necessary for me, therefore, to expose the fallacy of these last lingering universal essences of the schools, and to shew, that, as we have not one emotion of beauty, but a multitude of emotions, which, from their analogy, are comprehended under that one general term, so we have not one feeling of sublimity, but various analogous feelings, arising from various objects, that agree, perhaps, in no circumstance, but that of the analogous emotions which they excite.
Of feelings which are not the same, then, in every respect, it cannot surprise us, that we should not always find on analysis, the elements to be the same. Beauty, as we have seen, is an emotion of vivid delight, referred to the object which excites it; and sublimity, as we have also seen, in tracing the progressive emotion through gradual changes of circumstances, is often only this very beauty, united with a feeling of vague indefinable grandeur in its object, and a consequent impression of delightful astonishment, intermediate between mere admiration and awe. In relation to moral actions, it is ofteu a combination of the pleasing emotion of beauty, with admiring astonishment and love, or respectful reverence. In many cases, however, there is no vivid delight of beauty intermingled in the compound feeling, but only astonishment, and a certain vague impression of unmeasurable greatness or power, which is more akin to terror, than to any emotion which can be said to be positively pleasurable. In some cases, indeed, there can be no question that images of terror contribute the chief elements of the emotion,-images, however, not of terror in that direct form in which it assails us, when danger is close and imminent, but of terror softened either by distance as long past, or by mixed feelings of security, that fluctuate with it in rapid alternation, when the danger is only contingently or remotely possible. Different as the elements may be in many cases, and different as the resulting emotions may also be, the different results of the different elements may yet, as complex feelings, be sufficiently analogous to be classed under one rank of emotions ; though, in giving one common name to the whole, we must always be aware, that it is only a certain analogy of the feelings which we mean to express, and not one common quality which can be considered as strictly the same in all,—and that it is not the sublime, therefore, which we are philosophically to seek, but the sublimities, if I may venture so to term them,—the various objects which, in various circumstances, excite emotions, that, in all their diversity, are yet of such resemblance, as to admit of being classed together, under one common appellation.
The species of emotion to which I am next to direct your attention, is that, which, in the common realism of the language of philosophers, is said to be occasioned by the ludicrous,-an emotion of light mirth, which may be considered as opposite to that of sublimity, though not opposite in the strict sense, in which beauty and ugliness are opposed. There are, indeed, some feelings of this kind, which may be said to arise from qualities that are truly the reverse of those on which sublimity depends, and in which, accordingly, the opposition is as complete as that of ugliness and beauty. In the composition of works of fancy, for example, a mere excess or diminution of the very circumstances which render a thought sublime, produces either bombast or inanity, and a consequent emotion of ridicule or gay contempt; as in the human countenance, an increase or diminution of any beautiful feature, may convert into deformity what was beauty before, and produce a corresponding change in our emotions. In this peculiar species of disproportion, when the sublime is intended, but when the images, from the inability of the author to produce and distinguish sublimity are either overstrained or mean, consists what has been termed bathos, as rhetorically opposed to those peculiar emotions, to which, indeed, the very etymology of the term marks the opposition that has been felt.
Of the ludicrousness, which arises from this species of actual opposition of the mean or bombastic fancies of the writer to the sublimity which he wished to produce, it would, indeed, scarcely be necessary to say anything, after the remarks that have been made on sublimity itself, any more than it would be necessary to dwell on illustrations of ugliness, after a full discussion of the opposite emotions of beauty. But the gay mirthful feeling is not always of this kind. The same species of emotion, or an emotion very nearly similar, may be felt where there is no accompanying belief of imperfection, and where, on the contrary, as in the sprightly sallies of wit, a very high admiration is mixed with our feeling of what is laughable,--an admiration which is much more
than mere astonishment, and which, for the moment, though only for the moment, is perhaps as great as that, which in our hours of reflection, we give to the highest efforts of meditative genius. It will therefore deserve a little fuller consideration, what the nature of the emotion is, or rather to state what is more within the power of philosophy, what are the circumstances in which the emotion arises.
Before entering on the minuter enquiry, however, I may remark, in the first place, that every theory which would make our feelings of this kind to depend on some modification of mere pride in a comparison of ourselves and others, to our advantage, and to the disparagement, therefore, of the person supposed to be compared with us, is founded on a false and very limited view of the phenomena; since the feeling is as strong, where there is the highest admiration of the wit of the speaker, and consequently, where any comparison, like that which is supposed to be essential to the production of the emotion, would be to our disadvantage. It is in vain, for example, that Hobbes defines laughter to be “a sudden glory, arising from a sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly,”—for we laugh as readily at some brilliant conception of wit, where there are no infirmities of others displayed, as where they are displayed in any awkward blunder. We often laugh, too, as this very definition, indeed, asserts, in thinking of our own mistakes of this sort, when we surely cannot feel any great glory, nor any eminence in ourselves, more than if we had never been guilty of the mistake; the effect of our discovery of our mistake being merely to raise us to that level of ordinary excellence at which we imagined ourselves before ;-not to raise us in the slightest degree above it. If the theory of Hobbes, or any theory, which converts our mere feeling of ludicrousness into a proud comparison of ourselves and others, were just, it would then follow, as has been objected to this theory, that a man who was very self-conceited and supercilious, would be peculiarly prone to mirth, when, on the contrary, it happens that children, and, if persons in advanced life, those whose temper is most social, are the most readily excited to laughter; while the proud, to whom their superiority most readily recurs, are usually very little disposed to merriment. “ Seldom they smile," may be said of them, as was.