Imagens da página

sublime ideas than light, the inside should have all that gloom which may be consistent, at the same time, with showing the particular beauties of the architecture. Sounds also have a great power in producing the sublime: the noise of cataracts, raging storms, thunder; these overpower the soul, suspend its action, and fill all with terror. A sudden beginning also, or ceasing of sound, puts all our faculties on their guard. Low, tremulous, intermitting sounds, and the yelling of animals, all, as they inspire some degree of horror, conduce to exalt us into the sublime. Smells and tastes, particularly the ideas of excessive bitters or intolerable stenches, have some, though but a small share, in our ideas of greatness.

With respect to feeling, the idea of bodily pain in all the modes and degrees of labor, anguish, torment, is productive of the sublime; and nothing else in this sense can produce it. Hence, every cause of the sublime, with reference to the senses, evinces that the sublime is an idea belonging to self-preservation that it is therefore one of the most affecting we have; that its strongest emotion is an emotion of distress, and that no positive or absolute pleasure belongs to it.

Beauty is that quality, or those qualities, of bodies, by which they cause love, or some passion similar to it. This idea cannot arise from proportion, since in vegetables and animals there is no standard by which we can measure our ideas of proportion; and in man, exact proportion is not always the criterion of beauty; neither can it arise from fitness, since then all animals would have beauty; for every one seems best adapted to its own way of living; and in man, strength would have the name of beauty, which, however, presents a very different idea. Nor is it the result of perfection, for we are often charmed with the imperfections of an agreeable object. Nor, lastly, of the qualities of the mind; since such rather conciliate our esteem than our love. Beauty, there

fore, is no criterion of reason, but some merely sensible quality acting mechanically upon the human mind, by the intervention of the senses. I shall consider, therefore, says the author, in what manner these sensible qualities are disposed in such things as, by experience, we find beautiful, or which excite in us the passion of love, or some correspondent affection.

First, then, the qualities of beauty, as they are merely sensible qualities, are comparative smallness. Thus the diminutives of every language express affection. In the animal creation exclusive of their own species, it is the small we are inclined to be fond of Secondly, they must be smooth; a quality so essential, that few things are beautiful that are not smooth in trees and flowers, smooth leaves are beautiful, smooth slopes in gardens, smooth streams in landscapes. Thirdly, to have a variety in the lirection of parts. Fourthly, to have those parts not angular, but melted, as it were, into each other. Fifthly, to be of a delicate frame, without any remarkable appearance of strength. Sixthly, to have its colors clear and bright, but not very strong and glaring. Seventhly, or if it should have any gloomy colors, to have it diversified with others. In sounds, the most beautiful are the soft and delicate; not that strength of note required to raise other passions, nor notes which are shrill, or harsh, or deep. It agrees best with such as are clear, even, smooth, and weak. Thus there is a remarkable contrast between the beautiful and the sublime sublime objects are vast in their dimensions; beautiful ones comparatively small. Beauty should be smooth and polished; the great, rugged and negligent. Beauty should not be obscure; the great ought to be dark and gloomy. Beauty should be light and delicate; the great ought to be solid and even massive.

The author comes next to consider in what manner the sublime and beautiful are produced. As the sublime is founded on

pain and terror, which are but different degrees of an unnatural tension of the nerves, whatever produces this tension must be productive also of the sublime; but how any species of delight can be derived from a cause so apparently contrary to it, deserves to be considered.

As the body, by inactivity, contracts disorders, so labor is necessary to prevent those evils. Labor is an exertion of the contracting power of the muscles, and as such resembles pain, (which consists in tension or contraction) in every thing but degree. Thus, as common labor, which is a mode of pain, is the exercise of the grosser, a mode of terror is the exercise of the finer parts of the system. In this case, if the pain or terror be so modified as not to be actually noxious, they are capable of producing delight, since they serve to put the machine into motion. In visual objects, the eye labors to take in their great dimensions; and by a parity of reasoning, we may extend this to every sense in its reception of sublimity. Darkness has, by general consent of mankind and perhaps by its own painful operation on the sensory, been accounted terrible; too great a dilatation of the pupil of the eye, caused by darkness, may be offensive to the mind, as being primarily so to the organs of the body; and hence this sensation is so well fitted to produce sublimity.

Beauty, as we may gather from the attitude of any person beholding a beautiful object, arises from a quite contrary cause to the sublime, namely, from a universal relaxation of the

The muscles the uvea act in the contraction, but are relaxed in the dilatation of the ciliary circle. Therefore, when the pupil dilates, they are in a state of relaxation, and the relaxed state of a muscle is its state of rest. In an amaurosis, where these muscles are never employed, the pupil is always dilated. Hence darkness is a state of rest to the visual organ, and consequently the obscurity which the author justly remarks to be often the cause of the sublime, can affect the sensory by no painful impression; so that the sublime is often caused by a relaxation of the muscles, as well as by a tension.

[ocr errors]

nervous system. Hence smoothness, which has no asperities to vellicate the parts, nor cause a sensation of pain, is beautiful. Sweets also, which, when reduced to their proper salts, assume a globular figure, and may be called the smooth in taste, must consequently relax, that is, be beautiful to the sense which they respectively affect. Smallness and color may be accounted for on the same principles.

Thus have we given an abstract of the more material parts of a performance, which seems to have cost the author much study and attention; and which, with all the charms of style, is branched out more extensively on the subject than any modern work of this kind within our recollection. A writer who endeavors to penetrate beyond the surface of things, though he may be sometimes too minute, and at others even erroneous, will, however, clear the way for succeeding adventurers; and perhaps make even his errors subservient to the investigation of truth. If we have, in a very few instances, attempted to point out any mistake or oversight in this very agreeable author's principles, not a captious spirit of controversy, but a concern for truth, was the motive: and the ingenious inquirer, we are persuaded, is too much a philosopher to resent our sometimes taking a different course in pursuit of the game he has started.


[From the Monthly Review, 1757. On "Remains of the Mythology and Poetry of the Celtes, particularly of Scandina via, designed as a Supplement and Proof of the Introduction to the History of Denmark." By P. H. Mallet,* Copenhagen, 1756. 4to.

Ir all the brilliancy of sentiment which so dry a subject may require to its support, and all the laborious assiduity which may be necessary in the solution of its intricacies, demand applause, Professor Mallet must deserve it, who has so happily united both. The learned on this side of the Alps have long labored at the antiquities of Greece and Rome, but almost totally neglected their own; like conquerors who, while they have made inroads into the territories of their neighbors, have left their own natural dominions to desolation.

The cause of this our author ascribes; first, to the disadvantageous idea we have conceived of the Celtes in general, an idea entirely groundless, and which offers no reason for not studying those antiquities to which our manners, our government, our laws, are continually calling us back. Secondly, to the few monuments of Celtic mythology which have reached our times. "To draw this subject from obscurity, we ought in some measure to give new life to those poetical mythologists, our ancestors; we should consult them, and attend, in the frightful

* [Paul Henry Mallet was born at Geneva in 1731. He was for some time professor of history in his native city, and became afterwards professor royal of the Belles-Lettres at Copenhagen, a member of the academies of Upsal, Lyons, Cassel, and of the Celtic Academy at Paris. An excellent translation, by Bishop Percy, of his "Northern Antiquities, including the Edda," was published in 1770. He died in 1807.]

« AnteriorContinuar »