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S we have already treated of thoughts and style in the TA preceding volume, under the article Rhetorie, this chapter and the ensuing may, perhaps, feem like a repetition, and be thought ufeless ; but it is to be confidered, that though thoughts in poetry and profe differ but little, (except in pieces of fićtion) a fublime thought being still the fame, whether expressed in profe or verse, yet as the diễtion of poetry is very different from that of profe, and as this volume is intended to stand alone, and to be read diftin&ly from the other fciences, it will be here necessary to fay fomething on these subjects, which are the foundation: of elegance and fublimity. - Thoughts may, not improperly, be called the foundation or body of a poem, or discourse ; and the style, or dićtion, the dress with which they are decorated ; for the choicest and most brilliant exprefions will be looked upon as mere empty and contemptible founds, unless they are animated with good fenfe and propriety of thought : but on the contrary, a new and beautiful thought will affectus v agreeably, though unadorned, because it strikes the imagination with its novelty, and carries with it fome degree of information, which it has drawn from truth and nature. Thoughts are the images of things, as words are the images of thoughts, and they are both, like other pićtures and images, to be esteemed or despised, as the representa. tion is just and natural, true or falfe.
The thoughts we find in the best authors are natural and
intelligible; they are neither affected to display wit, nor
This celebrated paffage in Lucan,
The heav'ns entomb the man that wants an urn,
which is apply’d to foldiers that are slain in the field and
lie unburied, may, at first view, feem elegant and ingenious; but when we confider that the carcass of a horfe, a kite, or a crow is entomb’d in the fame manner, the appearance of wit will subfide. For wit (in the fenfe it is used when apply’d to polite composition) is elegance of ihought, which adds beauty to propriety, and not only pleases the fancy, but informs the judgment. It is amazing, that one of the best poets this nation has produced should have been the author of the following wretched lines : Thou /halt not wiß her thine, thou /halt nat dare To be so impudent as to deffair.– There's not a star of thine dares fay with thee, I'll cehistle thy tame fàrtune after me.
. . Thoughts are more or less just and true, as they are
things not as they are, but as they Jeem to be. In describing the rainbow, for instance, he may with justnefs dwell on the colours that feem to compose that beatiful phæhomenon, though the philosopher should stand by with
his prism, to prove that the whole of this appearance was
occasioned only by the refraction of the rays of light. Nor are metaphors, hyperboles, ironies, or equivocal expresfions, when properly used, nor fétion or fable, any deviation from this rule of right thinking; for skere is a great diffe
rence between fal/bood and fiction, between that which is:
really falfe, and that which is only fo in appearance. Tropes, figures, and fićtions, when they are of any value, are raised on the foundation of right reason ; they have
truth for their basis, which is recommended and rendered.
When Cicero applauds Craffus on the fubject of his thougiits, after observing that they were just and true, he also adds, that they were new and uncommon ; that befides truth and justnefs to fatisfy the mind, he had thrown in fomething more to captivate and furprise it. Truth, fays father Bouhours, is to thoughts what foundations are to buildings, it fupports and gives then folidity ; but a building which has nothing to recommend it but folidity, will not please those who are skilled in architećture. Befides folidity therefore, magnificence, beauty and delicacy are required ; and
or they will be ever lifeless and unaffećting. Truth,
Time in his full career keeps presting on,
So when you tell a flugga: d that he has loft an hour in the morning, which he can never recover, you tell hin the truth, yet there is no beauty or wit in it, because the thought is trite and common ; but in Sir ****'s remark on his friend, that be loß an bour in the morning, and ran after it all day, there is wit.
But, as Longinus observes, it is those elevated thoughts, which represent nothing but what is great to the mind, that principally heighten and animate our poems. The sublimity and grandeur of a thought will always gratify and transport the soul, if it be just and conformable to the fub
jeći ; but where that conformity is wanting, dignity will
Sublime thoughts are no where to be found in such plenty, nor perhaps fo well decorated, as in the facred books of the Old and New Testament.–The Almighty's decking
like a curtain, making the cloud's his chariot, and riding upon the
wings of the wind, are thoughts amazingly majestic.
High heav'n with trembling the dread fignal took,
The thought with which he has described the speed of the celestial coursers is altogether as magnificent. He difdains all comparifons drawn from the wind, hail, whirl
the fwiftness and impetuofity of his combatants, and to give us an idea of the rapidity of thefe immortal horfes, he measures their strokes, as Longinus observes, by the whole breadth of the horizon. - |
Milton's Paradise Lost is replete with these fublime thoughts; among which, the feveral descriptions he has
given us of Satan are admirably adapted to raise terror in the imagination of the reader.
Thus Satan talking to his nearest mate,
And in another place :
----------- he, above the rest
In dim eclipse difast'rous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
As Homer has defcribed Distord, and Wirgil Fame, with their feet standing upon the earth, and their heads extended
above the clouds, Milton, in imitation of them, has thus described Satan ;