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imagination of all the good poets that have come after him. I shall only instance Horace, who immediately takes fire at the first hint of any passage in the Iliad or Odyssey, and always rises above himself when he has Homer in his view. Virgil has drawn together, into his Æneid, all the pleasing scenes his subject is capable of admitting, and in his Georgics has given us a collection of the most delightful landscapes that can be made out of fields and woods, herds of cattle, and swarms of bees.
Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, has shown us how the imagination may be affected by what is strange. He describes a miracle in every story, and always gives us the sight of some new creature at the end of it. His art consists chiefly in well-timing his description, before the first shape is quite worn off, and the new one perfectly finished; so that he every where entertains us with something we never saw before, and shows us monster after monster to the end of the Metamorphoses.
If I were to name a poet that is a perfect master in all these arts of working on the imagination, I think Milton may pass for one: and if his Paradise Lost falls short of the Eneid or Iliad in this respect, it proceeds rather from the fault of the language in which it is written, than from any defect of genius in the author. So divine a poem in English, is like a stately palace built of brick, where one may see architecture in as great a perfection as one of marble, though the materials are of a coarser nature. But to consider it only as it regards our present subject: What can be conceived greater than the battle of angels, the majesty of Messiah, the stature and behaviour of Satan and his peers? What more beautiful than Pandemonium, Paradise, Heaven, Angels, Adam and Eve? What more strange than the creation of the world, the several metamorphoses of the fallen angels, and the surprising adventures their leader meets with in his search after Paradise? No other subject could have furnished a poet with scenes so proper to strike the imagination, as no other poet could have painted those scenes in more strong and lively colours. O.
No. 418.] Monday, June 30, 1712.
ON THE PLEASURES OF THE IMAGINATION. Contents. Why any thing that is unpleasant to behold pleases the imagination when well described. Why the imagination receives a more exquisite pleasure ful. The pleasure still heightened, if what is described from the description of what is great, new, or beauti. raises passion in the mind. Disagreeable passions pleasing when raised by apt descriptions. Why terror and grief are pleasing to the mind when excited by description. A particular advantage the writers in poetry and fiction have to please the imagination. What liberties are allowed them.
-ferat et rubus asper amomum. Virg. Ecl. iii. 89. The rugged thorn shall bear the fragrant rose. THE pleasures of these secondary views
of the imagination are of a wider and more universal nature than those it has when joined with sight; for not only what is great, strange, or beautiful, but any thing that is disagreeable when looked upon, pleases us in an apt description. Here, therefore, we must inquire after a new principle of pleasure, which is nothing else but the action of the mind, which compares the ideas that arise from words with the ideas that arise from objects themselves; and why this operation of the mind is attended with so much pleasure, we have before considered. For this reason, therefore, the description of a dunghill is pleasing to the imagination, if the image be represented to our minds by suitable expressions; though, perhaps, this may be more properly called the pleasure of the understanding than of the fancy, because we are not so much delighted with the image that is contained in the description, as with the aptness of the description to excite the image.
But if the description of what is little, common, or deformed, be acceptable to the imagination, the description of what is great, surprising, or beautiful is much more so; because here we are not only delighted with comparing the representation with the original, but are highly pleased with the original itself. Most readers, I believe, are more charmed with Milton's description of Paradise, than of hell; they are both, perhaps, equally perfect in their kind; but in the one the brimstone and sulphur are not so refreshing to the imagination, as the beds of flowers and the wilderness of sweets in the other.
There is yet another circumstance which recommends a description more than all the rest; and that is, if it represents to us such objects as are apt to raise a secret ferment in the mind of the reader, and to work with violence upon his passions. For, in this case, we are at once warmed and enlightened, so that the pleasure becomes more universal, and is several ways qualified to entertain us. Thus in painting, it is pleasant to look on the picture of any face where the resemblance is hit; but the pleasure increases if it be the picture of a face that is beautiful; and is still greater, if the beauty be softened with an air of melancholy or sorrow. The two leading passions which the more serious parts of poetry endeavour to stir up in us, are terror and pity. And here, by the way, one would wonder how it comes to pass that such passions as are very unpleasant at all other times, are descriptions. It is not strange, that we Very agreeable when excited by proper should take delight in such passages as are apt to produce hope, joy, admiration, love, or the like emotions in us, because they never rise in the mind without an inward pleasure which attends them. But how Comes it to pass, that we should take delight in being terrified or dejected by a description, when we find so much uneasiness in
the fear or grief which we receive from any other occasion?
If we consider, therefore, the nature of this pleasure, we shall find that it does not arise so properly from the description of what is terrible, as from the reflection we make on ourselves at the time of reading it. When we look on such hideous objects, we are not a little pleased to think we are in no danger of them.* We consider them at the same time, as dreadful and harmless; so that the more frightful appearance they make, the greater is the pleasure we receive from the sense of our own safety. In short, we look upon the terrors of a description with the same curiosity and satisfaction that we survey a dead monster..
Protrahitur: nequeunt expleri corda tuendo
-They drag him from his den.
beautiful than the eye ever saw, and is still sensible of some defect in what it has seen; on this account it is the part of a poet to humour the imagination in our own notions, by mending and perfecting nature where he describes a reality, and by adding greater beauties than are put together in nature, where he describes a fiction.
He is not obliged to attend her in the slow advances which she makes from one season to another, or to observe her conduct in the successive production of plants and flowers. He may draw into his description all the beauties of the spring and autumn, and make the whole year contribute something to render it the more agreeable. His rosetrees, woodbines, and jasmines, may flower together, and his beds be covered at the same time with lilies, violets, and amaranths. His soil is not restrained to any particular set of plants, but is proper either for oaks or myrtles, and adapts itself to the products of every climate. Oranges may grow wild in it; myrrh may be met with in every hedge; and if he thinks it proper to have a grove of spices, he can quickly command sun enough to raise it. If all this will not furnish out an agreeable scene, he can make several new species of flowers, with richer scents and higher colours than any that grow in the gardens of nature. His concerts of birds may be as full and harmoniIn the like manner, when we read of tor-ous, and his woods as thick and gloomy as ments, wounds, deaths, and the like dismal he pleases. He is at no more expense in a accidents, our pleasure does not flow so long vista than a short one, and can as easily properly from the grief which such melan-throw his cascades from a precipice of half choly descriptions give us, as from the secret comparison which we make between ourselves and the person who suffers. Such representations teach us to set a just value upon our own condition, and make us prize our good fortune, which exempts us from the like calamities. This is, however, such a kind of pleasure as we are not capable of receiving, when we see a person actually lying under the tortures that we meet with in a description; because, in this case, the object presses too close upon our senses, and bears so hard upon us, that it does not give No. 419.] Tuesday, July 1, 1712.
It is for the same reason that we are delighted with the reflecting upon dangers that are past, or in looking on a precipice at a distance, which would fill us with a different kind of horror, if we saw it hanging over our heads.
us time or leisure to reflect on ourselves. Our thoughts are so intent upon the miseries of the sufferer, that we cannot turn them upon our own happiness. Whereas, on the contrary, we consider the misfortunes we read in history or poetry, either as past or as fictitious; so that the reflection upon ourselves rises in us insensibly, and overbears the sorrow we conceive for the sufferings of the afflicted.
But because the mind of man requires something more perfect in matter than what it finds there, and can never meet with any sight in nature which sufficiently answers its highest ideas of pleasantness; or, in other words, because the imagination can fancy to itself things more great, strange, or
a mile high, as from one of twenty yards. He has the choice of the winds, and can turn the course of his rivers in all the variety of meanders that are most delightful to the reader's imagination. In a word, he has the modelling of nature in his own hands, and may give her what charms he pleases, provided he does not reform her too much, and run into absurdities by endeavouring to excel.
ON THE PLEASURES OF THE IMAGINATION. Contents. Of that kind of poetry which Mr. Dryden calls the fairy way of writing. How a poet should be qualified for it. The pleasures of the imagination that arise from it. In this respect why the moderns excel the ancients. Why the English excel the moderns. Who the best among the English. Of emblematical persons.
-Mentis gratissimus error.
Hor. 2. Ep. ii. Lib. 2. 140. The sweet delusion of a raptur'd mind. THERE is a kind of writing wherein the poet quite loses sight of nature, and entertains his reader's imagination with the characters and actions of such persons as have many of them no existence but what he bestows on them. Such are fairies, witches, Luer, magicians, demons, and departed spirits.
* 'Suave mare dulci turbantibus æquora ventis,' &c,
This Mr. Dryden calls the fairy way of | try among them; for, indeed, almost the writing,' which is indeed more difficult whole substance of it owes its original to than any other that depends on the poet's fancy, because he has no pattern to follow in it, and must work altogether out of his own invention.
There is a very odd turn of thought required for this sort of writing; and it is impossible for a poet to succeed in it, who has not a particular cast of fancy, and an imagination naturally fruitful and superstitious. Besides this, he ought to be very well versed in legends and fables, antiquated romances, and the traditions of nurses and old women, that he may fall in with our natural prejudices, and humour those notions which we have imbibed in our infancy. For otherwise he will be apt to make his fairies talk like people of his own species, and not like other sets of beings, who converse with different objects, and think in a different manner from that of mankind.
Sylvis deducti caveant, me judice, fauni,
Hor. Ars Poet. v. 244.
Let not the wood-born satyr fondly sport
I do not say, with Mr. Bays in the Rehearsal, that spirits must not be confined to speak sense: but it is certain their sense ought to be a little discoloured, that it may seem particular, and proper to the person and condition of the speaker.
These descriptions raise a pleasing kind of horror in the mind of the reader, and amuse his imagination with the strangeness and novelty of the persons who are represented to them. They bring up into our memory the stories we have heard in our childhood, and favour those secret terrors and apprehensions to which the mind of man is naturally subject. We are pleased with surveying the different habits and behaviours of foreign countries: how much more must we be delighted and surprised when we are led, as it were, into a new creation, and see the person and manners of another species! Men of cold fancies and philosophical dispositions, object to this kind of poetry, that it has not probability enough to affect the imagination. But to this it may be answered, that we are sure, in general, there are many intellectual beings in the world besides ourselves, and several species of spirits, who are subject to different laws and economies from those of mankind: when we see, therefore, any of these represented naturally, we cannot look upon the representation as altogether impossible; nay, many are prepossessed with such false opinions, as dispose them to believe these particular delusions; at least we have all heard so many pleasing relations in favour of them, that we do not care for seeing through the falsehood, and willingly give ourselves up to so agreeable an imposture.
the darkness and superstition of later ages, when pious frauds were made use of to amuse mankind, and frighten them into a sense of their duty. Our forefathers looked upon nature with more reverence and horror, before the world was enlightened by learning and philosophy; and loved to astonish themselves with the apprehensions of witchcraft, prodigies, charms, and enchantments. There was not a village in England that had not a ghost in it, the church-yards were all haunted; every large common had a circle of fairies belonging to it; and there was scarce a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit.
Among all the poets of this kind our English are much the best, by what I have yet seen; whether it be that we abound with more stories of this nature, or that the genius of our country is fitter for this sort of poetry. For the English are naturally fanciful, and very often disposed, by that gloominess and melancholy of temper which is so frequent in our nation, to many wild notions and visions, to which others are not so liable.
Among the English, Shakspeare has incomparably excelled all others. That noble extravagance of fancy, which he had in so great perfection, thoroughly qualified him to touch this weak superstitious part of his reader's imagination; and made him capable of succeeding, where he had nothing to support him besides the strength of his own genius. There is something so wild, and yet so solemn, in the speeches of his ghosts, fairies, witches, and the like imaginary persons, that we cannot forbear thinking them natural, though we have no rule by which to judge of them, and must confess if there are such beings in the world, it looks highly probable they should talk and act as he has represented them.
There is another sort of imaginary beings, that we sometimes meet with among the poets, when the author represents any passion, appetite, virtue or vice, under a visible shape, and makes it a person or an actor in his poem. Of this nature are the descriptions of Hunger and Envy in Ovid, of Fame in Virgil, and of Sin and Death in Milton. We find a whole creation of the like shadowy persons in Spencer, who had an admirable talent in representations of this kind. I have discoursed of these emblematical persons in former papers, and shall therefore only mention them in this place. Thus we see how many ways poetry addresses itself to the imagination, as it has not only the whole circle of nature for its province, but makes new worlds of its own, shows us persons who are not to be found in being, and represents even the faculties of the soul, with the several virtues and vices, in a sensible shape and character. I shall in my two following papers, consiThe ancients have not much of this poe-der, in general, how other kinds of writing
are qualified to please the imagination; with | veral planets that lie within its neighbourwhich I intend to conclude this essay.
No. 420.] Wednesday, July 2, 1712.
ON THE PLEASURES OF THE IMAGINATION.
Contents. What authors please the imagination. Who have nothing to do with fiction. How history pleases the imagination. How the authors of the new philosophy please the imagination. The bounds and defects of the imagination. Whether these defects are essential to the imagination.
-Quocunque volunt mentem auditoris agunto. Hor. Ars Poet. v. 100. And raise men's passions to what height they will. Roscommon.
As the writers in poetry and fiction borrow their several materials from outward objects, and join them together at their own pleasure, there are others who are obliged to follow nature more closely, and to take entire scenes out of her. Such are historians, natural philosophers, travellers, geographers, and, in a word, all who describe visible objects of a real existence.
hood, we are filled with a pleasing astonishment, to see so many worlds hanging one above another, and sliding round their axles in such an amazing pomp and solemnity. If, after this, we contemplate those wild* fields of æther that reach in height as far as from Saturn to the fixed stars, and run abroad almost to an infinitude, our imagination finds its capacity filled with so immense a prospect; and puts itself upon the stretch to comprehend it. But if we yet rise higher, and consider the fixed stars as so many vast oceans of flame, that are each of them attended with a different set of planets, and still discover new firmaments and new lights that are sunk farther in those unfathomable depths of æther, so as not to be seen by the strongest of our telescopes, we are lost in such a labyrinth of suns and worlds, and confounded with the immensity and magnificence of nature.
Nothing is more pleasant to the fancy, than to enlarge itself by degrees, in its contemplation of the various proportions which its several objects bear to each other, when it compares the body of man to the bulk of the whole earth, the earth to the It is the most agreeable talent of an his- circle it describes round the sun, that circle torian to be able to draw up his armies to the sphere of the fixed stars, the sphere and fight his battles in proper expressions, of the fixed stars to the circuit of the whole to set before our eyes the divisions, cabals, creation, the whole creation itself to the infian jealousies of great men, to lead us step nite space that is every where diffused about by step into the several actions and events it; or when the imagination works downward, of his history. We love to see the subject and considers the bulk of a human body in unfolding itself by just degrees, and break-respect of an animal a hundred times less ing upon us insensibly, so that we may be kept in a pleasing suspense, and have time given us to raise our expectations, and to side with one of the parties concerned in the relation. I confess this shows more the art than the veracity of the historian; but I am only to speak of him as he is qualified to please the imagination; and in this respect Livy has, perhaps, excelled all who went before him, or have written since his time. He describes every thing in so lively a manner that his whole history is an admirable picture, and touches on such proper circumstances in every story, that his reader becomes a kind of spectator, and feels in himself all the variety of passions which are correspondent to the several parts of the relations.
But among this set of writers there are none who more gratify and enlarge the imagination than the authors of the new philosophy, whether we consider their theories of the earth or heavens, the discoveries they have made by glasses, or any other of their contemplations on nature. We are not a little pleased to find every green leaf swarm with millions of animals, that at their largest growth are not visible to the naked eye. There is something very engaging to the fancy, as well as to our reason, in the treatises of metals, minerals, plants, and meteors. But when we survey the whole earth at once, and the se
than a mite, the particular limbs of such an animal, the different springs that actuate the limbs, the spirits which set the springs a-going, and the proportionable minuteness of these several parts, before they have arrived at their full growth and perfection; but if, after all this, we take the least particle of these animal spirits, and consider its capacity of being wrought into a world that shall contain within those narrow dimensions a heaven and earth, stars and planets, and every different species of living creatures, in the same analogy and proportion they bear to each other in our own universe; such a speculation, by reason of its nicety, appears ridiculous to those who have not turned their thoughts that way, though at the same time it is founded on no less than the evidence of a demonstration. Nay, we may yet carry it farther, and discover in the smallest particle of this little world a new inexhausted fund of matter, capable of being spun out into another universe.
I have dwelt the longer on this subject, because I think it may show us the proper limits, as well as the defectiveness of our imagination; how it is confined to a very small quantity of space, and immediately stopt in its operation, when it endeavours to take in any thing that is very great or
* Vid. ed. in folio.
while the fancy is busy in copying after the understanding, and transcribing ideas out of the intellectual world into the material.
very little. Let a man try to conceive the | them their similitudes, metaphors, and aldifferent bulk of an animal, which is twenty, legories. By these allusions, a truth in the from another which is an hundred times understanding is, as it were, reflected by less than a mite, or to compare in his the imagination; we are able to see somethoughts a length of a thousand diameters thing like colour and shape in a notion, of the earth, with that of a million, and he and to discover a scheme of thoughts traced will quickly find that he has no different out upon matter. And here the mind remeasures in his mind adjusted to such ex-ceives a great deal of satisfaction, and has traordinary degrees of grandeur or minute-two of its faculties gratified at the same time, ness. The understanding, indeed, opens an infinite space on every side of us; but the imagination, after a few faint efforts, is immediately at a stand, and finds herself swallowed up in the immensity of the void that surrounds it. Our reason can pursue a particle of matter through an infinite variety of divisions; but the fancy soon loses sight of it, and feels in itself a kind of chasm, that wants to be filled with matter of a more sensible bulk. We can neither widen nor contract the faculty to the dimension of either extreme. The object is too big for our capacity, when we would comprehend the circumference of a world; and dwindles into nothing when we endeavour after the idea of an atom.
The great art of a writer shows itself in the choice of pleasing allusions, which are generally to be taken from the great or beautiful works of art or nature; for, though whatever is new or uncommon is apt to delight the imagination, the chief design of an allusion being to illustrate and explain the passages of an author, it should be al ways borrowed from what is more known and common than the passages which are to be explained.
Allegories, when well chosen, are like so many tracks of light in a discourse, that make every thing about them clear and It is possible this defect of imagination beautiful. ́A noble metaphor, when it is may not be in the soul itself, but as it acts placed to an advantage, casts a kind of glory in conjunction with the body. Perhaps round it, and darts a lustre through a whole there may not be room in the brain for such sentence. These different kinds of allusion a variety of impressions, or the animal are but so many different manners of similispirits may be incapable of figuring them tude; and that they may please the imagiin such a manner as is necessary to excite so nation, the likeness ought to be very exact very large or very minute ideas. However or very agreeable, as we love to see a picit be, we may well suppose that beings of a ture where the resemblance is just, or the higher nature very much excel us in this posture and air graceful. But we often find respect, as it is probable the soul of man eminent writers very faulty in this respect; will be infinitely more perfect hereafter in great scholars are apt to fetch their comthis faculty, as well as in all the rest; inso-parisons and allusions from the sciences in much that, perhaps, the imagination will which they are most conversant, so that a be able to keep pace with the understand-man may see the compass of their learning ing, and to form in itself distinct ideas of all the different modes and quantities of space.
No. 421.] Thursday, July 3, 1712.
Ignotis errare locis, ignota videre,
Flumina gaudebat; studio minuente laborem.
He sought fresh fountains in a foreign soil:
THE pleasures of the imagination are not wholly confined to such particular authors as are conversant in material objects, but are often to be met with among the polite masters of morality, criticism, and other speculations abstracted from matter, who, though they do not directly treat of the visible parts of nature, often draw from
in a treatise on the most indifferent subject. I have read a discourse upon love, which none but a profound chymist could understand, and have heard many a sermon that should only have been preached before a congregation of Cartesians. On the contrary, your men of business usually have recourse to such instances as are too mean and familiar. They are for drawing the reader into a game of chess or tennis, or for leading him from shop to shop, in the cant of particular trades and employments. It is certain, there may be found an infinite variety of very agreeable allusions in both these kinds; but, for the generality, the most entertaining ones lie in the works of nature, which are obvious to all capacities, and more delightful than what is to be found in arts and sciences.
It is this talent of affecting the imagination that gives an embellishment to good sense, and makes one man's composition more agreeable than another's. It sets off all writings in general, but is the very life and highest perfection of poetry, where it shines in an eminent degree: it has preserved several poems for many ages, that have nothing else to recommend them; and