« PredošláPokračovať »
idiom of ours. ff I would compare him with Shakspeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shakspeare the greater wit. Shakspeare was the Homer, or father of our dramatic poets; Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing. I admire him, but I love Shakspeare. DRYDEN.
This inestimable good is the mark of civilisation ; it is the work of the laws. Without law there is no security, no abun. dance, no certain subsistence; and the only equality in such a condition is an equality of misery. To estimate the benefit of the laws, it is only necessary to consider the condition of savages. They struggle against famine, which sometimes in a few days cuts off whole nations. Rivalry for the means of subsistence produces among them cruel wars; and, like ferocious beasts, men pursue men, that they may feed on one another. The gentlest sentiments of nature are destroyed by the fear of famine; old persons are put to death, because they can no longer follow their
prey. Examine what passes when civilized men return almost to the savage state. I refer to a time of war, when the laws are in part suspended. Every instant is fruitful in calamity; at every step which it imprints on the globe, the mass of riches, the foundation of subsistence, decreases or disappears; the cottage and the palace alike suffer from its ravages; and frequently the anger or caprice of a moment consigns to destruction the slow productions of an age of labour. Law alone has accomplished what all the natural feelings were unable to do; it alone has created a fixed possession, which deserves the name of, property; it alone could accustom us to the yoke of foresight. Economy has as many enemies as there are men who would enjoy without taking the trouble to produce. Labour is too painful for indolence, too slow for impatience, cunning and injustice conspire to carry off its fruits; insolence and audacity plot to seize them by open force; society, always threatened, lives in the midst of snares, requiring in the legislator vigil
ance and power always in action. Moreover, since pain and pleasure are felt by anticipation, the expectation of security in man is not limited to the present time, or to the period of his own life; it must be prolonged to him through the whole vista that his imagination can measure. If he have proof that such an expectation can be realized, the fact entitles him to form a general plan of conduct, and to regard the moments that compose the present life not as isolated points, but as parts of a continuous whole; it forms a chain passing beyond himself to the generations which are to follow, the sensibility of the individual being prolonged through all the links of the chain.
In creating property, the laws have created wealth, at the same time that they are benefactors to those who remain in their original poverty—the primitive condition of the human race. In civilized society the poorest participate more or less in its resources; hope mingles with their labours; they enjoy the pleasures of acquisition; their industry places them among the candidates for fortune. Those who look down from above at the inferior ranks see all objects less than they really are; but at the base of the pyramid the summit disappears in turn. The poor never dream of making these comparisons, or torment themselves with impossibilities; and, if all things be considered, it will be found that the protection of the laws contributes as much to the happiness of the cottage as to the security of the palace.
49.-ON THE SUBLIME IN WRITING.
It is, generally speaking, among the most ancient authors, that we are to look for the most striking instances of the sublime. The early ages of the world, and the rude unimproved state of society, are peculiarly favourable to the strong emotions of sublimity. The genius of men is then much turned to admiration and astonishment. Meeting with many objects, to them new and strange, their imagination is kept glowing, and their passions are often raised to the utmost. They think, and express themselves boldly, and without restraint. In the progress of society, the genius and manners of men undergo a change more favourable to accuracy than to strength or sublimity.
Of all writings, ancient or modern, the Sacred Scriptures afford us the highest instances of the sublime. The descriptions of the Deity in them are wonderfully noble, both from the grandeur of the object, and the manner of representing it. What an assemblage, for instance, of awful and sublime ideas is
presented to us, in that passage of the XVIIIth Psalm, where an appearance of the Almighty is described ! “In my distress I called upon the Lord; he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills were moved; because he was wroth. He bowed the heavens and came down, and darkness was under his feet; and he did ride upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters, and thick clouds of the sky.” We see, with what propriety and success the circumstances of darkness and terror are applied for heightening the sublime. So, also, the prophet Habakkuk, in a similar passage : “He stood, and measured the earth; he beheld, and drove asunder the nations. The everlasting mountains were scattered; the perpetual hills did bow; his ways are everlasting. The mountains saw thee; and they trembled. The overflowing of the water passed by. The deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high.”
The noted instance, given by Longinus, from Moses, “God said, Let there be light; and there was light;" is not liable to the censure, which was passed on some of his instances, of being foreign to the subject. It belongs to the true sublime; and the sublimity of it arises from the strong conception it gives of an exertion of power, producing its effect with the utmost speed and facility. A thought of the same kind is magnificently amplified in the following passage of Isaiah (chap. xliv. 24, 27, 28,)“ Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb: I am the Lord that maketh all things, that stretcheth forth the heavens alone, that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself—that saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers; that saith of Cyrus, He is my Shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure; even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.” There is a passage in the Psalms, which deserves to be mentioned under this head; “God,” says the Psalmist, "stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumults of the people.” The joining together two such grand objects, as the raging of the waters, and the tumults of the people, between which there is such resemblance as to form a very natural association in the fancy, and the representing them both as subject, at one moment, to the command of God, produces a noble effect.
Homer is a poet, who, in all ages, and by all critics, has been greatly admired for sublimity; and he owes much of his grandeur to that native and unaffected simplicity which characterizes his manner. His description of hosts engaging; the animation, the fire, the rapidity, which he throws into his battles, present to every reader of the Iliad frequent instances of sublime writing. His introduction of the gods tends often to heighten, in a high degree, the majesty of his warlike scenes. Hence Longinus bestows such high and just commendations on that passage, in the XVth Book of the Iliad, where Neptune, when preparing to issue forth into the engagement, is described as shaking the mountains with his steps, and driving his chariot along the ocean. Minerva arming herself for fight in the Vth Book ; and Apollo, in the XVth, leading on the Trojans, and flashing terror with his Ægis on the face of the Greeks, are similar instances of great sublimity added to the description of battles, by the appearance of those celestial beings. In the XXth Book, where all the gods take part in the engagement, according as they severally favour either the Grecians or the Trojans, the poet's genius is signally displayed, and the description rises into the most awful magnificence. All nature is represented as in commotion. Jupiter thunders in the heavens; Neptune strikes the earth with his trident; the ships, the city, and the mountains shake; the earth trembles to its centre; Pluto starts from his throne, in dread, lest the secrets of the infernal regions should be laid open to the view of mortals.
The works of Ossian abound with examples of the sublime. The subjects of which that author treats, and the manner in which he writes, are particularly favourable to it. He possesses all the plain and venerable manner of the ancient times. He deals in no superfluous or gaudy ornaments, but throws forth his images with a rapid conciseness, which enables them to strike the mind with the greatest force. Among poets of more polished times, we are to look for the graces of correct writing, for just proportion of parts, and skilfully connected narration. In the midst of smiling scenery and pleasurable themes, the gay and beautiful will appear, undoubtedly, to more advantage. But amidst the rude scenes of nature and of society, such as Ossian describes, amidst rocks, and torrents, and whirlwinds, and battles, dwells the sublime, and naturally associates itself with the grave and solemn spirit, which distinguishes the author of Fingal. • As autumn's dark storms pour from two echoing hills, so towards each other approached the heroes. As two dark streams from high rocks meet, and mix, and roar on the plain; loud, rough, and dark, in battle, met Lochlin and Innis-fail; chief mixed his strokes with chief, and man with man. Steel clanging sounded on steel. Hel. mets are cleft on high; blood bursts, and smokes around. As the troubled noise of the ocean when roll the waves on high; as the last peal of the thunder of heaven; such is the noise of battle. As roll a thousand waves to the rock, so Swaran's host came on; as meets a rock a thousand waves, so Innis-fail met Swaran. Death raises all his voices around, and mixes with the sound of shields. The field echoes from wing to wing, as a hundred hammers that fall by turns on the red sun of the furnace. As a hundred winds on Morven; as the streams of a hundred hills; as clouds fly successive over the heavens; or, as the dark ocean assaults the shore of the desert; so roaring, so vast, so terrible, the armies mixed on Lena's echoing heath. The groan of the people spread over the hills. It was like the thunder of night, when the clouds burst on Cona, and a thousand ghosts shriek at once on the hollow wind.” Never were images of more awful sublimity employed to heighten the terror of battle.