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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
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:
Sejanus, Act V. Sc. last.
Lentulus, the man,
Catiline, Act III.
* L'art Poet. chant. 1. 1. 58.
Worth heaven's fear, that looking up, but thus,
Catiline, Act IV.
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 ;
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
And if our destiny envy our virtue
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,
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:
For in those days might only shall be admir'd,
Milton, b. xi..