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The last thing I fhall mention upon this head is, that turns of wit have a bad effect in fublime writing for one does not naturally think of witticifm, when one is engroffed by any of thofe grand ideas that raife pleafing aftonishment. In fact, fublime poets are feldom, what we call, men of wit: Shakespeare is an exception, but he is a fingular one. For wit arifes from the discovery of minute relations and likeneffes that had efcaped the notice of others; and therefore a talent for it implies a habit of minute attention to circumstances and words: whereas a fublime genius directs his view chiefly to the great and more important phænomena of art and nature. They who excel in epigram have not often produced fublime verfes: and Lord Chesterfield, who was a man of wit, and an epigrammatift, appears, from his letters, to have had no relifh for the fublime poets.
Let it not be thought, because fublimity is one of the higheft virtues of fine writing, that therefore no compofition is excellent but what is fublime. A book, that partakes not of this quality at all, may please by its elegance, inftruct by its doctrines, or amufe by its wit and humour, and in all, or in any of these respects, be truly valuable. Rivulets and meadows have their charms, as well as mountains and the ocean. Though Horace had never written any thing but his Epiftles, in which there is no attempt at fublimity, he must always have been confidered as an elegant and inftructive poet.
Nor think, because most of the preceding examples are taken from poetry, that the Sublime
is peculiar to that art. In the orations of Cicero and Demofthenes; in the hiftories of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Livy; in the moral writings of Addison and Johnfon, of Seneca, Plato, and Antoninus; and especially in the doctrinal and historical parts of Holy Writ, are many inftances of the true Sublime, both in fentiment and defcription. The fame thing may be faid of almost every serious author, who compofes with elegance.
Most of the writers on this fubject have confidered our paffion for what is great and elevated, as a proof of the dignity of the foul, and of the glorious ends for which it was made. The words of Longinus to this purpofe are well tranflated by Dr. Akenside. "God has not intended man "for an ignoble being; but, bringing us into "life, and the midft of this wide univerfe, as "before a multitude affembled at fome heroick
folemnity, that we might be fpectators of all "his magnificence, and candidates high in emu"lation for the prize of glory, has therefore "implanted in our fouls an inextinguishable love "of every thing great and exalted, of every "thing which appears divine beyond our com"prehenfion. Whence it comes to pafs, that " even the whole world is not an object fufficient "for the depth and rapidity of human imagination, which often fallies forth beyond the "limits of all that furrounds us. Let any man "caft his eye through the whole circle of our "exiftence, and confider how especially it a"bounds with excellent and grand objects, and "he will foon acknowledge for what enjoyments "and pursuits we are deftined."
Thefe are the fentiments of a Pagan philofopher. And how noble, (I had almoft faid, how divine) muft they appear, when compared with the selfish, fenfual, and groveling ideas of the Epicurean, or with the narrow views and brutal infenfibility of the antient and modern Pyrrhonist! I must not omit, that Addifon has adopted the fame turn of thinking; and, enlightened with the knowledge, and warmed with the piety, of a Chriftian, has greatly improved it. "The Supreme Being," fays he, " has fo "formed the foul of man, that nothing but "Himself can be its last, adequate, and proper
happiness. Because therefore a great part of our happiness must arife from the contempla"tion of his being, that he might give our "fouls a juft relifh of fuch a contemplation, he "has made them naturally delight in the appre"henfion of what is great and unlimited. Our "admiration, which is a very pleasing emotion "of the mind, immediately rifes at the confide"ration of any object that takes up a great deal "of room in the fancy; and, by confequence, "will improve into the highest pitch of aftonish"ment and devotion, when we contemplate his nature, who is neither circumfcribed by time or place, nor to be comprehended by the larg"eft capacity of a created being."
I fhall only add, that our tafte for the Sublime, cherished into a habit, and directed to proper objects, may, by preferving us from vice, which is the vileft of all things, and by recommending virtue for its intrinfick dignity, be useful in promoting our moral improvement. The fame tafte will alfo lead to the ftudy of nature,
which every where displays the fublimeft appearances. And no ftudy has a better effect upon the heart. For it keeps men at a distance from criminal pursuits, yields a variety of inoffenfive and profitable amusement, and gives full demonftration of the infinite goodness and greatnefs of the adorable Creator.