Imatges de pÓgina

deur ; which so far justifies Boileau : but then every one must be sensible, that the emotion is merely a flash which, vanishing instantaneously, gives, way to humility and veneration. That indirect effect of sublimity justifies Huet, who, being a man of true piety, and probably not much carried by imagination, felt the humbling passion more sensibly than his antagonist did. And, laying aside difference of character, Huet's opinion may, I think, be defended as the more solid; because in such images, the depressing emotions are the more sensibly felt, and have the longer endurance.

The straining an elevated subject beyond due bounds, is a vice not so frequent as to require the correction of criticism. But false sublime is a rock that writers of more fire than judgment commonly split on; and, therefore, a collection of examples may be of use as a beacon to future adventurers. One species of false sublime, known by the name of bombast, is common among writers of a mean genius : it is a serious endeavour, by strained description, to raise a low or familiar subject above its rank; which, instead of being sublime, becomes ridiculous. I am extremely sensible how prone the mind is, in some animating passions, to magnify its objects beyond natural bounds: but such hyperbolical description has its limits ; and, when carried beyond the impulse of the propensity, it degenerates into burlesque. Take the following examples :


Great and high
The world knows only two, that's Rome and I.
My roof receives me not; 'tis air I tread,
And at each step I feel my advanc'd head
Knock out a star in heav’n.

Sejanus, Ben Johnson, Act V.

A writer who has no natural elevation of mind, deviates readily into bombast: he strains above his natural powers; and the violent effort carries him beyond the bounds of propriety. Boileau expresses this happily:

L'autre à peur

de ramper, il se perd dans la nue.*

The same author, Ben Johnson, abounds in the bombast:

The mother,
Th'expulsed Apicata, finds them there;
Whom when she saw lie spread on the degrees,
After a world of fury on herself,
Tearing her hair, defacing of her face,
Beating her breasts and womb, kneeling amaz’d,
Crying to heav'n, then to them; at last
Her drowned voice got up above her woes :
And with such black and bitter execrations,
As might affright the gods, and force the sun
Run backward to the east; nay, make the old
Deformed chaos rise again t' overwhelm
Them, (us and all the world,) she fills the air,
Upbraids the heavens with their partial dooms,
Defies their tyrannous powers,

and demands
What she and those poor innocents have transgress’d,
That they must suffer such a share in vengeance.

Sejanus, Act V. Sc. last.

Lentulus, the man,
If all our fire were out, would fetch down new
Out of the hand of Jove ; and rivet him
To Caucasus should he but frown; and let
His own gaunt eagle fly at him to tire.

Catiline, Act III.
Can these or such, be any aid to us?
Look as they were built to shake the world,
Or be a moment to our enterprise ?
A thousand such as they are, could not make
One atom of our souls. They should be men

* L'art Poet. chant. 1. 1. 58.

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Worth heaven's fear, that looking up, but thus,
Would make Jove stand upon his guard, and draw
Himself within his thunder ; which, amaz'd,
He should discharge in vain, and they unhurt.
Or, if they were, like Capaneus at Thebes,
They should hang dead upon the highest spires
And ask the second bolt to be thrown down.
Why Lentulus talk you so long? This time
Had been enough t' have scattered all the stars,
T' have quench'd the sun and moon, and made the world
Despair of day, or any light but ours.

Catiline, Act IV.
This is the language of a madman:

Guildford. Give way, and let the gushing torrent come; Behold the tears we bring to swell the deluge, Till the flood rise upon the guilty world And make the ruin common.

Lady Jane Grey, Act IV. near the end. I am sorry to observe that the following bombast stuff dropt from the pen of Dryden :

To see this fleet upon the ocean, move,

Angels drew wide the curtains of the skies ;
And heaven, as if there wanted lights above,

For tapers made two glaring comets rise. Another species of false sublime is still more faulty than bombast; and that is, to force elevation by introducing imaginary beings without preserving any propriety in their actions; as if it were lawful to ascribe every extravagance and inconsistence to beings of the poet's creation. No writers are more licentious in that article than Johnson and Dryden :

Methinks I see Death and the Furies waiting
What we will do, and all the heaven at leisure
For the great spectacle. Draw then your swords :

And if our destiny envy our virtue
The honour of the day, yet let us care
To sell ourselves at such a price, as may
Undo the world to buy us, and make Fate,
While she tempts ours, to fear her own estate.

Catiline, Act V.

-The Furies stood on hill Circling the place, and trembled to see men Do more than they ; whilst Piety left the field, Griev'd for that side, that in so bad a cause They knew not what a crime their valour was. The Sun stood still, and was, behind the cloud The battle made, seen sweating to drive up His frighted horse, whom still the noise drove backward.

Ibid. Act V.

Osmyn. While we indulge our common happiness,
He is forgot by whom we all possess,
The brave Almanzor, to whose arms we owe
All that we did, and all that we shall do ;
Who like a tempest that outrides the wind,
Made a just battle ere the bodies join'd.

Ablalla. His victories we scarce could keep in view, Or polish 'em so fast as he rough drew.

Abdemelech. Fate after him below with pain did move, And Victory could scarce keep pace above. Death did at length so many slain forget, And lost the tale, and took ’em by the great.

Conquest of Grenada, Act II, at beginning. The gods of Romę fight for ye ; loud Fame calls ye, Pitch'd on the topless Apenine, and blows To all the under world, all nations The seas, and unfrequented deserts, where the snow dwells, Wakens the ruin'd monuments, and there, Where nothing but eternal death and sleep is, Informs again the dead bones.

Beaumont and Fletcher, Bonduca, Act III. Sc. 3.

An actor on the stage may be guilty of bombast as well as an author in his closet; a certain manner of acting, which is grand when supported by dignity in the sentiment and force in the expression, is ridiculous where the sentiment is mean, and the expression flat.

This chapter shall be closed with some observations. When the sublime is carried to its due height, and circumscribed within proper bounds, it enchants the mind, and raises the most delightful of all emotions: the reader, engrossed by a sublime object, feels himself raised as it were to a higher rank. Considering that effect, it is not wonderful that the history of conquerors and heroes, should be universally the favourite entertainment. And this fairly accounts for what I once erroneously suspected to be a wrong bias originally in human nature; which is, that the grossest acts of oppression and injustice scarce blemish the character of a great conqueror : we, nevertheless, warmly espouse his interest, accompany him in his exploits, and are anxious for his success: the splendour and enthusiasm of the hero, transfused into the readers, elevate their minds far above the rules of justice, and render them in a great measure insensible of the wrongs that are committed:

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For in those days might only shall be admir'd,
And valour an heroic virtue call'd;
To overcome in battle, and subdue
Nations, and bring home spoils with infinite
Manslaughter, shall be held the highest pitch
Of human glory, and for glory done
Of triumph, to be styl'd great conquerors,
Patrons of mankind, gods, and sons of gods,
Destroyers rightlier call'd, and plagues of men.
Thus fame shall be achieved, renown on earth,
And what most merits fame in silence hid.'

Milton, b. xi..

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