Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

of things, the downward as well as the upward, the antecedent and cause of this emotion. We are doubtful, however, whether depth is so decisively, as it is certainly not so frequently a cause, as elevation or height; which last, on account of its frequent connection with their existence, has given the name to this class of feelings. But others may think differently. Mr. Burke has the following passage on this point, “I am apt to imagine, that height is less grand than depth ; and that we are more struck at looking down from a precipice, than looking up at an object of equal height; but of that I am not very positive.”

But, however this may be, there is no doubt that sublime emotions may arise from this cause. When we are placed on the summit of any high object, and look downward into the vast opening below, it is impossible not to be strongly affected. The sailor on the wide ocean, when in the solitary watches of the night he casts his eye upward to the lofty illuminated sky, has a sublime emotion ; and he feels the same strong sentiment stirring within him, when a moment afterwards he thinks of the vast unfathomable abyss beneath him, over which he is suspended by the frail plank of his vessel. No one, we imagine, can read Shakspeare's description of Dover Cliffs, without feeling that there is a sublimity in the depths beneath, as well as in the heights above.

“How fearful
"And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!
“The crows and choughs, that wing the midway air,
“Show scarce so gross as beetles. Half-way down
“Hangs one, that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
“Methinks he seems no bigger than his head.
“The fishermen, that walk upon the beach,
“Appear like mice; and yon tall anchoring bark
Diminished to her boat; her boat a buoy,
Almost too small for sight. The murmuring surge,
That on the unnumbered idle pebbles chafes,
Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more,
“Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
"Topple down headlong.

§. 58. Of colors in connection with the sublime. The colors also, as well as the forms of bodies, may, to a limited extent, furnish the occasion of sublime emotions

The lightning, when at a distance it is seen darting to the earth in one continuous chain of overpowering brightness; the red meteor shooting athwart the still, dark sky; the crimson Aurora Borealis, which occasionally diffuses the tints of the morning over the hemisphere of midnight, are sublime objects; and although there are other elements, which unite in forming the basis of the sublime emotion, it is probably to be ascribed in part to the richness and vividness of colors. What object is more sublimely impressive, than the contrasted hues of the mingling fires and smoke of a burning volcano! Darkness, particularly, is an element of the sublime. When the clouds are collecting together on some distinct and distant portion of the sky, how intently the eye fixes itself on those masses, which wear the visage of the deepest gloom! Forests, and frowning cliffs, and mountains, and the wide ocean itself, and whatever other objects are susceptible of sublimity, are rendered still more sublime by the shades and darkness, that are sometimes made to pass over them. The poets of all countries have represented the Deity, the most sublime object of contemplation, as enthroned in the midst of darkness."He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet. He made darkness his secret place ; his pavilion round about were dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies."

§. 59. Of sounds as furnishing an occasion of sublime emotions.

We find another element of the sublime in sounds of a certain description. There are some cries and voices of animals, which are usually regarded as sublime. The roar of the lion, not only in the solitudes of his native deserts, but at all times partakes of the character of sublimity. The human voice, in combination with a suitable number of other voices, is capable of uttering sublime sounds; and does in fact utter them, in performing many of the works of the great masters and composers of music. There is no small degree of sublimity in the low deep murmur of the organ, independently of the moral and religious associations connected with it. It is presumed no one will doubt, that the trumpet, in the hands of a skilful performer, is capable of originating sublime sounds. Almost every one must have noticed a peculiarly impressive

sound, sent forth by a large and compact forest of pines, when waved by a heavy wind, which obviously has the same character. The heavy and interminable sound of the ocean, as it breaks upon the shore, is sublime; and hardly less so, the ceaseless voice of the congregated waters of some vast cataract. To these instances may be added the sound of a cannon, not only when it comes from the field of battle, but at any time; and still more, the mighty voice of thunder. The latter sound is often mentioned in the Scriptures, in connection with the attributes of the Supreme Being ; and apparently for the purpose of heightening the idea of his sublimity. “The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice.”—“The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thundereth."

We leave this part of the subject with introducing a reinark from Coleridge, which goes to confirm the general doctrine of the sublimity of some sounds. He had been saying something of the scenery of the lake of Ratzeburg, when he adds: “About a month ago,

before the thaw came on, there was a storm of wind. During the whole night, such were the thunders and howlings of the breaking ice, that they left a conviction on my mind, that there are sounds more sublime than any sight can be, more absolutely suspending the power of comparison, and more utterly absorbing the mind's self-consciousness in its total attention to the object working upon it."

§. 60. Of motion in connection with the sublime. It will be noticed from the train of thought, which has been pursued, that there is a close analogy between beauty and sublimity, not only in the feelings which are originated, but also in the occasions of their origin. As the sentiments of beauty were found to be connected not only with the forms of objects, but also with colors and sounds ; so also are those of sublimity. And, furthermore, as we found beauty connecting itself with certain kinds of motion, we find motion the basis likewise, in some of its modifications, of emotions of the sublime. We often experience, for instance, emotions of sublimity

* Phe Friend, Am. Ed. p. 323.

*

in witnessing objects, that move with great swiftness. This is one source of the feelings we have, at beholding bodies of water rushing violently down a cataract. For the same reason, although there are undoubtedly other elements of the emotions we feel, the hurricane, that hastens onward with irresistible velocity, and lays waste whatever it meets, is sublime. And here also we find a cause of part of that sublime emotion, which men have often felt on seeing at a distance the electric fluid, darting from the cloud to the earth; and at witnessing the sudden flight of a meteor. $. 61. Indications of power accompanied by emotions of the sublime.

The contemplation of mental objects, as well as of material, may be attended with this species of emotion. Power,

, for instance, is an attribute of mind, and not of matter ; and the exhibition of it is frequently sublime. It is hardly necessary to say, in making this remark, that power is not any thing, which is directly addressed to the outward senses ; but is rather presented to the mind as an object of inward suggestion. Nevertheless, the causes of this suggestion may exist in outward objects; and whenever this is the case, the feelings, with which we contemplate such objects, are generally increased. In other words, whatever sublimity may characterize an object, if, in addition to its other sublime traits, it strongly suggests to us the idea of power, the sublime feeling is more or less heightened by this suggestion.

Nothing can be more sublime, than a volcano throwing out from its bosom clouds, and burning stones, and immense rivers of lava. And it is unquestionable, that the sublime emotion is attributable, in part, to the overwhelming indications of power, which are thus given. An earthquake is sublime; not only in its mightier efforts of destruction, but hardly less so in those slighter tremblings and heavings of the earth, which indicate the footsteps of power, rather than of ruin. The ocean, greatly agitated with a storm, and tossing the largest navies, as if in sport, possesses an increase of sublimity, on account of the more striking indications of power, which it at such a time gives. The shock of large armies also, which concentrates the most terrible exhibition of human energy, is attended with an increased sublimity

for the same reason. But in all these instances, as in most others, the sublime emotion cannot be ascribed solely to one cause; something is to be attributed to vast extent; something to the original effect of the brilliancy or darkness of colors; and something to feelings of dread and danger.

§. 62. Of moral worth in connection with sublimity. A consciousness of the feeling of the sublime is not limited to suggestions of POWER. There are other mental attributes, which, under certain circumstances, are attended with the same effect. In general, all those feelings, which are of a praise-worthy character, such as sympathy, benevolence, and the sentiment of justice, may become sublime, when put forth under such circumstances as strongly to affect our hearts. The man, who, in support of some great moral or religious principle, not only surrenders his property, but calmly and triumphantly sacrifices his life, is, in the highest sense, a sublime object of contemplation. This is a topic of no small interest. But as, under the head of the Moral Sublime, it will be made the subject of a distinct chapter, it is unnecessary to delay upon it here.

§. 63. Sublime objects have some elements of beauty. We have seen at the commencement of this chapter, that a regular progression may, in most instances, be traced from the beautiful to the sublime. It seems, therefore, to follow, that instances of the sublime will, on the removal of some circumstances, possess more or less of the beautiful. And this, on examination, will be found to be generally the case. Take, as an example, the shock of powerful armies, which is confessedly a sublime scene. We have only to remove the circumstance of slaughter; and at once the regular order of the troops, their splendid dress and rapid moveinents, together with the floating of banners and the sound of music, are exceedingly picturesque and beautiful ; nothing more so. And all this, in point of fact, is probably none the less beautiful, when thousands are falling and dying in actual contest; although the painful emotion, consequent on witnessing a scene of slaughter, so much overpowers the sense of the beautiful, that it appears even not to have an existence. If

« PoprzedniaDalej »