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an idea we have no lies the wand acting an
lively and beautiful description, I am insensibly transformed into a spectator: I perceive these two heroes in act to engage: I perceive them brandishing their swords, and cheering their troops; and in that manner I attend them through the battle, every incident of which appears to be passing in my sight.
I have had occasion to observe, * that ideas, both of memory and of speech, produce emotions of the same kind with what are produced by an immediate view of the object; only fainter, in proportion as an idea is fainter than an original perception. The insight we have now got, unfolds that mystery : ideal presence supplies the want of real presence; and in idea we perceive persons acting and suffering, precisely as in an original survey: if our sympathy be engaged by the latter, it must also in some degree be engaged by the former, especially if the distinctness of ideal presence approach to that of real presence. Hence the pleasure of a reverie, where a man, forgetting himself, is totally occupied with the ideas passing in his mind, the objects of which he conceives to be really existing in his presence. The power of language to raise emotions, depends entirely on the raising such lively and distinct images as are here described: the reader's passions are never sensibly moved, till he be thrown into a kind of reverie; in which state, forgetting that he is reading, he conceives every incident as passing in his presence, precisely as if he were an eyewitness. A general or reflective remembrance cannot warm us into any emotion : it may be agreeable in some slight degree ; but its ideas are too faint and obscure to raise apy thing like an emotion ; and were they ever so lively, they pass with too
* Part I. sect. 1. of the present chapter.
Vol. I. Art I. sect. 1. of the
much precipitation to have that effect: our emotions are never instantaneous; even such as come the soonest to their height, have different periods of birth and increment; and to give opportunity for these different periods, it is necessary that the cause of every emotion be present to the mind a due time; for an emotion is not carried to its height but by reiterated impressions. We know that to be the case of emotions arising from objects of sight; a quick succession, even of the most beautiful ob. jects, scarce making any impression; and if this hold in the succession of original perceptions, how much more in the succession of ideas?
Though all this while I have been only describing what passeth in the mind of every one, and what every one must be conscious of, it was necessary to enlarge upon the subject; because, however clear in the internal conception, it is far from being so when described in words. Ideal presence, though of general importauce, hath scarce ever been touched by any writer; and however difficult the explication, it could not be avoided in accounting for the effects produced by fiction. Upon that point, the reader, I guess, has prevented me: it already must have occurred to him, that if, in reading, ideal presence be the means by which our passions are moved, it makes no difference whether the subject be a fable or a true history : when ideal presence is complete, we perceive every object as in our sight; and the mind, totally occupied with an interesting event, finds no leisure for reflection. This reasoning is confirmed by constant and universal experience. Let us take under consideration the meeting of Hector and Andromache, in the sixth book of the Iliad, or some of the passionate scenes in King Lear: these pictures of human life, when we are sufficiently engaged, give an impression of
of generaliter; and howded in accounting
effects produce not be avoidever difficult been
reality not less distinct than that given by Tacitus describing the death of Otho : we never once re. flect whether the story be true or feigned ; reflection comes afterward, when we have the scene no longer before our eyes. This reasoning will appear in a still clearer light, by opposing ideal presence to ideas raised by a cursory-narrative; which ideas being faint, obscure, and imperfect, leave a vacuity in the mind, which solicits reflection. And ac. cordingly, a curt narrative of feigned incidents is never relished : any slight pleasure it affords, is more than counterbalanced by the disgust it inspires for want of truth...
To support the foregoing theory, I add what I reckon a decisive argument; which is, that even genuine history has no command over our passions but by ideal presence only; and consequently, that in this respect it stands upon the same footing with fable. To me it appears clear, that in neither can our sympathy hold firm against reflection : for if the reflection that a story is a pure fiction prevent our sympathy, so will equally the reflection that the persons described are no longer existing. What effect, for example, can the belief of the rape of Lucretia have to raise our sympathy, when she died above 2000 years ago, and hath at present no painful feeling of the injury done her? The effect of history, in point of instruction, depends in some measure upon its veracity. But history cannot reach the heart, while we indulge any reflection upon the facts : such reflection, if it engage our belief, never fails at the same time to poison our plea. sure, by convincing us that our sympathy for those who are dead and gone is absurd. And if reflection be laid aside, history stands upon the same footing with fable : what effect either may have to raise our sympathy, depends on the vivacity of the
If history, in Pisa veracity.dulge apy
ideas they raise ; and, with respect to that circumstance, fable is generally more successful than bis. tory.
Of all the means for making an impression of ideal presence, theatrical representation is the most powerful. That words, independent of action, have the same power in a less degree, every one of sensibility must have felt: a 'good tragedy will extort tears in private, though not so forcibly as upon the stage. T'hat power belongs also to painting : a good historical picture makes a deeper impression than words can, though not equal to that of theatrical action. Painting seems to possess a mid. dle place between reading and acting : in making an impression of ideal presence, it is not less superior to the former than inferior to the latter.
It must not however be thought, that our pas. sions can be raised by painting, to such a height as by words : a picture is contined to a single instant of time, and cannot take in a succession of inci. dents : its impression indeed is the deepest that can be made instantaneously; but seldom is a pas. sion raised to any height in an instant, or by a single impression : it was observed above, that our passions, those especially of the sympathetic kind, require a succession of impressions ; and for that reason, reading and acting have greatly the advantage, by reiterating impressions without end.
Upon the whole, it is by means of ideal presence that our passions are excited; and till words produce that charm, they avail nothing: even real events entitled to our belief, must be conceived present and passing in our sigbt, before they can move us. And this theory serves to explain seve. ral phenomena otherwise anaccountable. A misfortune happening to a stranger, makes a less im. pression than happening to a man we know, even
where we are no way interested in him: our ac. quaintance with this man, however slight, aids the conception of his suffering in our presence. For the same reason, we are little moved by any distant eveot; because we have more difficulty to con. ceive it present, than an event that happened in our neighbourhood.
Every one is sensible, that describing a past event as present, has a fine effect in language : for what other reason than that it aids the conception of ideal presence ? Take the following example.
And now with shouts the shocking armies clos'd,
In this passage we may observe how the writer, inflamed with the subject, insensibly advances from the past time to the present; led to that form of narration by conceiving every circumstance as pass. ing in his own sight: which at the same time has a fine effect upon the reader, by presenting things to him as a spectator. But change from the past to the present requires some preparation; and is not sweet where there is no stop in the sense : witness the following passage.
Thy fate was next, O Phæstus ! doom'd to feel : B1
Iliad, v. 57.