Imatges de pÓgina
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ments. A literary performance intended merely for amusement, is susceptible of much ornament, as well as a music room or a playhouse ; for in gaiety the mind hath a peculiar relish for show and decoration. The most gorgeous apparel, however improper in tragedy, is not unsuitable to opera-actors: the truth is, an opera, in its present form, is a mighty fine thing; but, as its deviates from nature in its capital circumstances, we look not for nature nor propriety in those which are accessory. On the other hand, a serious and important subject admits not much ornament;* nor a subject that of itself is extremely beautiful: and a subject that fills the mind with its loftiness and grandeur, appears best in a dress altogether plain.

To a person of a mean appearance, gorgeous apparel is unsuitable; which beside the incongruity, shows by contrast the meanness of appearance in the strongest light. Sweetness of look and manner requires simplicity of dress joined with the greatest elegance. A stately and majestic air requires sumptuous apparel, which ought not to be gaudy, nor crowded with little ornaments. A woman of consummate beauty can bear to be highly adorned, and yet shows best in a plain dress,

For loveliness
Needs not the foreign aid of ornament,
But is, when unadorn’d, adorn'd the most.

Thompson's Autumn, 208.

Congruity regulates not only the quantity of ornament, but also the kind. The decorations of a dancing-room ought all of them to be gay. No picture is proper for a

* Contrary to this rule, the introduction to the third volume of the Characteristics, is a continued chain of metaphors: these in such profusion are too florid for the subject; and have beside the bad effect of removing our attention from the principal subject, to fix it upon splendid trifles, VoL, I.

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church, but what has religion for its subject. Every ornament upon a shield should relate to war; and Virgil, with great judgment, confines the carvings upon the shield of Æneas to the military history of the Romans : that beauty is overlooked by Homer ; for the bulk of the sculpture upon the shield of Achilles is of the arts of peace

in general, and of joy and festivity in particular: the author of Telemachus betrays the same inattention, in describing the shield of that young hero.

In judging of propriety with regard to ornaments, we must attend, not only to the nature of the subject that is to be adorned, but also to the circumstances in which it is placed: the ornaments that are proper for a ball will appear not altogether so decent at public worship : and the same person ought to dress differently for a marriagefeast and for a funeral.

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 distaste 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. Nothing in epic or dramatic compositions is more disgustsul than impropriety of manners. In Corneille's tragedy of Cinna, Æmilia, a favourite of Augustus, receives daily marks of his affection, and is loaded with benefits : yet all the while is laying plots to assassinate her benefactor, directed by no other motive than to avenge her father's death:* revenge against a benefactor, founded solely upon filial piety, cannot be directed by any principle but that of justice, and therefore never can suggest unlawful means; yet the crime here attempted, a

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* See Act 1. Sc, 2.

treacherous murder, is what even a miscreant will scarce attempt against his bitterest enemy.

What is said might be thought sufficient to explain the relations of congruity and propriety.–And yet the subject is not exhausted : on the contrary, the prospect enlarges upon us, when we take under view the effects these relations produce in the mind. Congruity and propriety, wherever perceived, appear agreeable; and every agreeable object produceth in the mind a pleasant emotion ; incongruity and impropriety, on the other hand, are disagreeable; and of course produce painful emotions. These emotions, whether pleasant or painful, sometimes vanish without any consequence : but more frequently occasion other emotions, to which I proceed.

When any slight incongruity is perceived in an accidental combination of persons or things, as of passengers in a stage-coach, or of individuals dining at an ordinary; the painful emotion of incongruity, after a momentary existence, vanisheth without producing any effect. But this is not the case of propriety and impropriety : voluntary acts, whether words or deeds, are imputed to the author : when proper, we reward him with our esteem ; when improper, we punish him with our contempt. Let us suppose, for example, a generous action suited to the character of the author, which raises in him and in

every spectator the pleasant emotion of propriety : this emotion generates in the author both self-esteem and joy; the former when he considers his relation to the action, and the latter when he considers the good opinion that others will entertain of him: the same emotion of propriety produceth in the spectators esteem for the author of the action ; and when they think of themselves, it also produceth by contrast an emotion of humility. To discover the effects of an unsuitable action, we must invert each of these circumstances : the painful emotion of impropriety generates

in the author of the action both humility and shame; the former when he considers his relation to the action, and the latter when he considers what others will think of him ; the same emotion of impropriety produceth in the spectators contempt for the author of the action ; and it also produceth, by contrast when they think of themselves, an emotion of self-esteem. Here, then, are many different emotions, derived from the same action considered in different views by different persons; a machine provided with many springs, and not a little complicated. Propriety of action, it would seem, is a favourite of Nature, or of the Author of Nature, when such care and solicitude, is bestowed on it. It is not left to our own choice : but, like justice, is required at our hands : and, like justice, is enforced by natural rewards and punishments; a man cannot, with impunity, do any thing unbecoming or improper; he suffers the chastisement of contempt inflicted by others, and of shame inflicted by himself. An apparatus so complicated, and so singular, ought to rouse our attention : for nature doth nothing in vain; and we may conclude with certainty, that this curious branch of the human constitution is intended for some valuable purpose. To the discovery of that purpose or final cause, I shall with ardour apply my thoughts, after discoursing a little more at large upon the punishment, as it may now be called, that nature hath provided for indecent and unbecoming behaviour. This, at any rate, is necessary, in order to give a full view of the subject; and who knows whether it may not, over and above, open some track that will lead us to the final cause we are in quest of ?

A gross impropriety is punished with contempt and indignation, which are vented against the offender by external 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

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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 scorn.

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 turkeycock swelling with pride, and strutting with displayed feathers, which in a gay mood is apt to provoke a laugh of derision.

We must not expect, that these different improprieties are separated by distinct boundaries ; for of improprieties, from the slightest to the most gross, from the most risible to the most serious, there are degrees without end. Hence it is, that in viewing some unbecoming actions, too risible for anger, and too serious for derision; the spectator feels a sort of mixt emotion, partaking both of derision and of anger; which accounts for an expression, common with respect to the impropriety of some actions. Thus we know not whether to laugh or be angry.

It cannot fail to be observed, that in the case of a risible impropriety, which is always slight, the contempt we have for the offender is extremely faint, though derision, its gratification, is extremely pleasant. This disproportion between a passion and its gratification, may seem not conformable to the analogy of nature. In looking about

* See Chapter vii.

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