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[The young couple enter immediately after this declaration, and finding no farther obstruction to their union, the piece finishes with the consent of the Grumbler, "in the hope," as he says, "that they are possessed of mutual requisites to be the plague of each other."]
POETRY AND THE BELLES-LETTRES.
[Now first collected.-See LIFE, ch. vi. and viii.]
POETRY AND THE BELLES-LETTRES.
I. BURKE ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL.* [From the Monthly Review, 1757. "A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful." 8vo. Dodsley.
THERE are limits prescribed to all human researches, beyond which if we attempt to explore, nothing but obscurity and conjecture lie before us, and doubts instead of knowledge must terminate the inquiry. The genius, not the judgment, of an author may appear in the too abstracted speculation; he may contribute to the amusement, but seldom to the instruction of the reader. His illustrations may perplex, but not enlighten the mind; and,
* [This celebrated work, which Dr. Johnson considered "an example of true criticism," and which now forms a text-book in liberal education, was planned when Mr. Burke was in his twenty-second year, and finished before he had attained his twenty-fifth. Whether Goldsmith knew the author personally at this time is doubtful; that he may have been informed of his name, and remembered him as a college contemporary, is probable."]
like a microscope, the more he magnifies the object, he will represent it the more obscurely.
There is, perhaps, no investigation more difficult than that of the passions, and other affections resulting from them. The difference of opinion among all who have treated on this subject, serves to convince us of its uncertainty. Even the most eminent philosophers have sometimes taken novelty, not truth, for their conductor; and have destroyed the hypothesis of their predecessors without being able to establish their own. It often happens, indeed, that while we read the productions of such a philosopher, though we condemn the reasoner, we admire the writer. Yet still learning, taste, and perspicuity, can lay claim but to a subordinate degree of esteem, when they are employed in contradicting truth, or in the investigation of inextricable difficulties.
Our author thus, with all the sagacity so abstruse a subject requires; with all the learning necessary to the illustration of his system; and with all the genius that can render disquisition pleasing; by proceeding on principles not sufficiently established, has been only agreeable when he might have been instructive. He rejects all former systems, and founds his philosophy on his own particular feelings. He has divided the whole into sections, with the contents of each prefixed; a method peculiarly necessary in works of a philosophical nature; as such divisions serve for resting-places to the reader, and give him time to recollect the force of the author's reasoning.
The Sublime and the Beautiful have, through inadvertency, or ignorance, been frequently confounded and mistaken one for the other. What in its own nature is sublime, has the appellation of beauty; and what is beautiful is often called sublime. This, as the author remarks, must necessarily cause many mistakes in those whose business it is to influence the passions;