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common language, it is usually applied, more particularly to the interest which we take in sorrow. By some philosophers, indeed, we have been said to be incapable of this participation, except of feelings of that sadder kind ;—though the denial of this sympathy with happiness-a denial so unfavourable and so false to the social nature of man,-is surely the result only of narrow views, and imperfect analysis. Nor, is it difficult to discover the circumstances which may have tended to mislead them. The state of happiness is a state, which we are so desirous of feeling, and so readily affect to feel, even when we truly feel it not, that our participation of it becomes less remarkable, being expressed merely in the same way, as the common courtesies of society require us to express ourselves, even when we are feeling no peculiar satisfaction. If the face must, at any rate, be dressed in smiles at meeting, and retain a certain number of these smiles with an occasional smile more or less, according to the turn of the conversation, during the whole of a long interview, the real complacency which is felt in the pleasures of others, is not marked, because the air of complacency had been assumed before. All this is so well understood, in that state of strange simulation and dissimulation, which constitutes artificial politeness, that a smile of welcome is as little considered to be a certain evidence of gratification at heart, as the common forms of humility, which close a letter of business, are understood to signify truly, that 'the writer is the very humblę and most obedient servant of him to whom the letter is addressed. Joy, then,—that is to say, the appearance of joy,—may be regarded as the common dress of society, and real complacency is thus as little remarkable, as a well-fashioned coat in a drawing
Let us conceive a single ragged coat to appear in the brilliant circle, and all eyes will be instantly fixed on it. Even Beauty itself, till the buzz of astonishment is over, will, for the moment, scarcely attract a single gaze, or Wit a single listener. Such with respect to the general dress of the social mind, is grief. It is something, for the very appearance of which we are not prepar ed. A face of smiles is what we meet constantly; a face of sorrow, the fixed and serious look, the low or faultering tone, the very silence, the tear,—are foreign, as it were, to the outward scene of things in which we exist. We see evidence, in this case, that something has happened, to change the general aspect;
while the look, and the voice of gaiety, as they are the look and the voice of every hour, indicate to us only the presence of the individual, and not any peculiar affection of his mind. It is not wonderful, therefore, that the appearance of grief, as the more unusual of the two, should absorb to itself, in common language, a name, which may originally have been significant alike of the participation of grief and joy. It must be remembered, too, that joy, though delighting in sympathy, does not stand in need of this sympathy, so much as sorrow. In diffusing cheerfulness, we seem rather to give to others, than to receive ; while, in the sympathy of grief, which we excite, we feel every look and tone of kindred sorrow, as so much given to us. It is, as if we were lightened of a part of our burthen ; and we cannot feel the relief, without feeling gratitude to the compassionate heart, that has lessened our affliction, by dividing it with us. It is not merely, therefore, be
, cause the appearance of grief is more unusual, that we have affixed to this appearance a peculiar language, or at least apply to it more readily the terms, that are significant also of other appearances,—but, in some degree, also, because the sympathy of those who sorrow with us, is of far more value, than the sympathy of those who merely share our rejoicing, and therefore dwells more readily and lastingly in our remembrance.
It is not more true, however, that we weep with those who weep, than that we rejoice with those who rejoice. There is a charm in general gladness, that steals upon us without our perceiving it; and, if we have no cause of sorrow, it is sufficient for our momentary happiness, that we be in the company of the happy. Who is there, of such fixed melancholy, as not to have felt, innumerable times, this delight that arises, without any cause, but the delight which has preceded it; when we are happy for hours, and on looking back on these hours of happiness, can discover nothing, but our own happiness, and the happiness of others, which have been reflected back, and again, from each to each. So strong is this sympathetic tendency, that we not merely share the gaiety of the gay, but rejoice also with inanimate things, to which we have given a cheerfulness, that does not, and cannot belong to them. There are, in the changeful aspects of nature, so many analogies to the emotions of living beings, that in animating
poetically, what exhibits to us these analogies, we scarcely feel, till we reflect, that we are using metaphors; and that the clear and sunny sky, for example, is as little cheerful, as that atmosphere of fogs and darkness, through which the sun shines only enough to shew us, how thick the gloom must be, which has resisted all the penetrating splendours of his beams. When nature is thus once animated by us, it is not wonderful, if we sympathize with the living, that we should, for the moment, sympathize with it too, as with some living thing. It is this sympathy, with a cheerfulness which we have ourselves created, that constitutes a great part of that “moral delight and joy,” which is so well described, as “able to drive all sadness but despair.” In the poem of The Seasons, accordingly, the influence of Spring is, with not less truth than poetic beauty, supposed to be felt chiefly by those, whose moral sympathies are the most lively.
" When Heaven and Earth, as if contending, vie
The supny glade, and feels an inward bliss
In the very pleasing Ode to May, which forms one of the few relics of the genius of West, there is a thought, in accordance with this general sympathy of nature, which expresses, with great force, that animating influence of which I speak. After invoking the tardy May to resume her reign,
“With balmy breath and flowery tread,
he describes the impatience of all nature for her accustomed presence, and concludes with an image, which his friend Gray justly termed “ bold, but not too bold,”–
“Come then, with Pleasure at thy side,
In a fine morning of that delightful season, amid sunshine and fragrance, and the thousand voices of joy, that make the air one universal song of rapture, who is there that does not feel, as if heaven and earth were truly glad at heart, and who does not sympathize with Nature, as if with some living being diffusing happiness, and rejoicing in the happiness which it diffuses ?
We sympathize, then, even with the imaginary cheerfulness,
V. 866-900. + Stanza ii. v. 3~6, and Stanza v. preserved in Letter V. of Sect. iii. of Memoirs of Gray.-MATTHIAS' EDIT.
which ourselves create in things, that are as incapable of cheerfulness, as of sorrow; and still more do we sympathize with living gladness, when it does not arise from a cause so disproportioned to the violence of the emotion, as to force us to pause and measure the absurdity. I have already said, that we seem to sympathize less with the pleasures of others, than we truly do ; because the real sympathy is lost in that constant air of cheerfulness, which it is a part of good manners to assume. If the laws of politeness required of us to assume, in society, an appearance of sadness, as they now require from us an appearance of some slight degree of gaiety, or, at least, of a disposition to be gay, it is probable, that we should then remark any sympathy with gladness, as we now remark particularly any sympathy with sorrow; and we should certainly, then, use the general name, to express the former of these, as the more extraordinary,—in the same way, as use it particularly to express the feelings of commiseration.
Whatever may be the comparative tendencies of our nature, however, to the participation of the gay and sad emotions of those around us, there can be no doubt as to the double tendency. We rejoice with those who rejoice, merely because they are rejoicing ;-and, without any misfortune of our own, we feel a sadness, at the very aspect of affliction in those around us, and shrink and shudder, on the application to them of any cause of pain, which we know cannot reach ourselves.
Many of the phenomena of sympathy, I have little doubt, are referable to the same laws, to which we have traced the common phenomena of suggestion or association. It may be considered as a necessary consequence of these very laws, that the sight of any of the common symbols of internal feeling, should recal to us the feeling itself, in the same way as a portrait, or rather, as the alphabetic name of our friend, recals to us the conception of our friend bimself. Some faint and shadowy sadness we undoubtedly should feel, therefore, when the external signs of sadness were before us,—some greater cheerfulness on the appearance of cheer. fulness in otherseven though we had no peculiar susceptibility of sympathizing emotion, distinct from the mere general tendencies of suggestion. To these general tendencies, I am inclined, particularly, to refer the external involuntary signs of our sympathy,--the shrinking of our own limbs, for example, when we see