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to other things, produce the strongest sense of incongruity
Congruity and propriety are commonly reckoned synonymous terms; and hitherto, in opening the subject, they have been used indifferently: but they are distinguishable; and the precise meaning of each must be ascertained. Congruity is the genus, of which propriety is a species ;. for we call nothing propriety, but that congruity or suitableness which ought to subsist between sensible beings and their thoughts, words, and actions.
The relation of a part to the whole, being extremely intimate, demands the utmost degree of congruity. even the slightest deviation is disgustful.
Examples of congruity and incongruity are furnished in plenty by the relation between a subject and its ornaments. A literary performance intended merely for amusement, is susceptible of much ornament, as well as a music-room or a play-house; for in gaiety the mind has a peculiar relish for show and decoration. Gorgeous apparel is not unsuitable among opera actors; grave subjects need little ornament, and a person of mean appearance in such dress, is a complete incongruity. Sweetness of look and manner require simplicity of dress:
But is, when unadorn'd, adorn'd the most. Congruity regulates both the quantity and the kind of ornament; the decorations for a dancing-room must be gay; for a church, grave; for a shield, warlike; though the shield of Achilles has in general the arts of peace, joy, and festivity
Nothing is more intimately related to a man than his sentiments, words, and actions; and therefore we require here the strictest conformity. When we find what we thus require, we have a lively sense of propriety; when we find the contrary, our sense of impropriety is no less lively. Hence the universal dis
taste of affectation, which consists in making a show of greater delicacy and refinement, than is suited either to the character or circumstances of the person.
A gross impropriety is punished with contempt and indignation, which are vented against the offender by extexnal expressions; nor is even the slightest impropriety suffered to pass without some degree of contempt. But there are improprieties of the slighter kind, that provoke laughter; of which we have examples without end in the blunders and absurdities of our own species : such improprieties receive a different punishment, as will appear by what follows. The emotions of contempt and of laughter, occasioned by an impropriety of that kind, uniting intimately in the mind of the spectator, are expressed externally by a peculiar sort of laugh, termed a laugh of derision, or
An impropriety that thus moves not only contempt, but laughter, is distinguished by the epithet of ridiculous ; and a laugh of derision or scorn is the punishment provided for it by nature. Nor ought it to escape observation, that we are so fond of inflicting that punishment, as sometimes to exert it even against creatures of an inferior species; witness a turkey, swelling with pride, and strutting with displayed feathers, which in a gay mood is apt to provoke a laugh of derision. The sense of impropriety with respect to mistakes, blunders, and absurdities, is calculated for the good of mankind. In the spectators it is produc tive of mirth and laughter, excellent recreation in an interval from business. But this is a trifle compared with what follows. It is painful to be the subject of ridicule; and to punish with ridicule the man who is guilty of an absurdity, tends to put him more on his guard in time to come. It is well ordered, that even the most innocent blunder is not committed with impunity; because, were errors licensed where they do no hurt, inattention would grow into habit, and be the occasion of much hurt.
Dignity and Grace.
Dignity and meanness are terms applied to man in point of character, sentiment and behavior, and are never applicable to inanimate objects: a palace may be lofty or grand, but it is not said to have dignity; a shrub is little, but not mean.
Human actions are grand or little, as they appear in different lights: with respect to their author, they are proper or improper; with respect to those affected by them, just or unjust; and they are further distinguished by dignity or meanness; the former coincides with grandeur, the latter with littleness. The difference will be evident, upon reflecting that an action may be grand without being virtuous, and little without being faulty; but that we never attribute dignity to any action but what is virtuous, nor meanness to any but what is faulty. Every action of dignity creates respect and esteem for the
author; and a mean action draws
him contempt. A man is admired for a grand action, but frequently is neither loved nor esteemed for it; neither is a man always contemned for a low or little action. The action of Cæsar passing the Rubicon, was grand; but there was no dignity in it, considering that his purpose was to enslave his country: Cæsar, in a march, taking opportunity of a rivulet to quench his thirst, did a low action, but the action was not mean. As it
appears to me, dignity and meanness are founded on a natural principle not hitherto mentioned. Man is endowed with a Sense of the worth and excellence of his nature: he deems it more perfect than that of the other beings around him; and he perceives, that the perfection of his nature consists in virtue, particularly in virtues of the highest rank. To express that sense, the term dignity is appropriated. Further, to behave with dignity, and to refrain from all mean actions, is felt to be, not a virtue only, but a duty: it is a duty every man owes to himself. By acting in that manner, he attracts love and esteem: by acting meanly, or below himself, he is disapproved and contemned.
Dignity and meanness are a species of impropriety, for actions may be proper or improper, to which dignity or meanness cannot be applied. There is no dig. nity in eating: revenge fairly taken is improper, but not mean. Every action of dignity is proper; and every mean action is improper. The sense of dignity reaching to our pleasures and amusements, makes some manly, others childish. Corporeal pleasures are low; those of the eye and ear, rise to dignity where their objects are grand and elevated. Sympathy gives its owner dignity; gratitude animates the soul, but scarce rises to dignity. Joy bestows dignity where it proceeds from an elevated cause. Vanity is mean; shame and remorse are not mean; and pride bestows no dignity in the eye of a spectator.
The final cause may be resolved into this: of dignity, the social emotions rise above the selfish,
and much above those of the eye and ear: man is by his nature a social being; and to qualify him for society, it is wisely contrived, that he should value himself more for being social than selfish. The excellency of man is chiefly discernible in the great improvements he is susceptible of in society; these, by perseverance, may be carried on progressively above any assignable limits; and, even abstracting from revelation, there is great probability, that the progress begun here, will be completed in some future state. Now, as all valuable improvements proceed from the exercise of our rational faculties, the Author of our nature, in order to excite us to a due use of these faculties, hath assigned a high rank to the pleasures of the understanding: their utility, with respect to this life as well as a future, entitles them to that rank.
We proceed to analyze grace. Graceful is an attribute; grace and gracefulness express that attribute in the form of a noun. This attribute is agreeable: and as grace is displayed externally, it must be an object of one or other of our five senses. It is an object of sight and of hearing; for some music is graceful; sweet and easy; and grace, like beauty, makes its constant
, appearance in company with our own species. Grace is inseparable from motion, as opposed to rest, and comprehends speech, looks, gestures. Dignity alone, without motion, may produce a graceful appearance; but still more graceful with the aid of exalted qualities.
But this is not all. The most exalted virtues may be the lot of a person whose countenance has little expression: such a person cannot be graceful. Therefore, to produce this appearance, we must add another circumstance, namely, an expressive countenance, displaying to every spectator of taste, with life and energy, every thing that passes in the mind. Collecting these circumstances together, grace may be defined, that agreeable appearance which arises from elegance of motion, and from a countenance expressive of dignity. Expressions of other mental qualities are not