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The wall of China is one of these eastern pieces of magnificence, which makes a figure even in the map of the world, although an account of it would have been thought fabulous, were not the wall itself still extant.
We are obliged to devotion for the noblest buildings that have adorned the several countries of the world. It is this which has set men at work on temples and public places of Worship, not only that they might, by the magnificence of the building, invite the Deity to reside within it, but that such stupendous works might, at the same time,
open the mind to vast conceptions, and fit it to converse with the divinity of the place. For every thing that is majestic imprints an awfulness and reverence on the mind of the beholder, and strikes in with the natural greatness of the soul.
In the second place we are to consider greatness of manner in architecture, which has such force upon
the imagination, that a small building, where it appears, shall give the mind nobler ideas than one of twenty times the bulk, where the manner is ordinary or little. Thus, perhaps, a man would have been more astonished with the majestic air that appeared in one of Lysippus's statues of Alexander, though no bigger than the life, than he might have been with mount Athos, had it been cut into the figure of the hero, according to the proposal of Phidias,* with a river in one hand, and a city in the other.
Let any one reflect on the disposition of mind he finds in himself at his first entrance into the Pantheon at Rome, and how his imagination is filled with something great and amazing; and, at the same time, consider how little, in proportion, he is affected with the inside of a Gothic cathedral, though it be five times larger than the other'; which can arise from nothing else but the greatness of the manner in the one, and the meanness in the other.
I have seen an observation upon this subject in a French author, which very much pleased me.
It is in Monsieur Freart's Parallel of the ancient and modern Architecture. I shall give it the reader with the same terms of art which he has made use of. “I am observing,” says he, thing which, in my opinion, is very curious, whence it proceeds, that in the same quantity of superfices, the one
manner seems great and magnificent, and the other poor and trifling; the reason is fine and uncommon. I say, then, that to introduce into architecture this grandeur of manner, we ought so to proceed, that the division of the principal members of the order ‘may consist but of few parts, that they be all great, and of a bold and ample relievo, and swelling; and that the eye beholding nothing little and mean, the imagination may be more vigorously touched and affected with the work that stands before it. For example: in a cornice, if the gola or cymatium of the corona, the coping, the modillions or dentilli, make a noble show by their graceful projections, if we see none of that ordinary confusion which is the result of those little cavities, quarter rounds of the astragal, and I know not how many other intermingled particulars, which produce no effect in great and massy works, and which 2. very unprofitably take up place to the prejudice of the principal member, it is most certain that this manner will appear solemn and great; as, on the contrary, that it will have but a poor and mean effect, where there is a redundancy of those smaller ornaments, which divide and scatter the angles of the sight into such a multitude of -rays, so pressed together that the whole will appear but a confusion.”
Among all the figures in architecture, there are none that have a greater air than the concave and the convex; and we find the ancient and modern architecture, as well in the remote parts of China, as in countries nearer home, that round pillars and vaulted roofs make a great part of those buildings which are designed for pomp and magnificence. The reason I take to be, because in these figures we generally see more of the body than in those of other kinds. There are, indeed, figures of bodies, where the eye may take in two-thirds of the surface; but, as in such bodies, the sight must split upon several angles, it does not take in one uniform idea, but several ideas of the same kind. Look upon the outside of a dome, your eye half surrounds it; look upon the inside, and at one glance you have all the prospect of it; the entire concavity falls into your eye at once, the sight being as the centre that collects and gathers into it the lines of the whole circumference: in a square pillar, the sight often takes in but a fourth
part of the surface; and in a square concave must move up and down to the different sides, before it is master of all the inward surface. For this reason, the fancy is infinitely more struck with the view of the open air and skies, that passes through an arch, than what comes through a square, or any other figure. The figure of the rainbow does not contribute less to its magnificence than the colours to its beauty, as it is very poetically described by the son of Sirach: “Look upon the rainbow, and praise Him that made it; very beautiful is it in its brightness; it encompasses the heavens with a glorious circle, and the hands of the Most High have bended it.”
Having thus spoken of that greatness which affects the mind in architecture, I might next shew the pleasure that arises in the imagination from what appears new and beautiful in this art; but as every beholder has naturally a greater taste of these two perfections in every building which offers itself to his view, than of that which I have hitherto considered, I shall not trouble my readers with any reflections
it. It is sufficient for my present purpose to observe, that there is nothing in this whole art which pleases the imagination, but as it is great, uncommon, or beautiful.
N° 416. FRIDAY, JUNE 27, 1712.
ON THE PLEASURES OF THE IMAGINATION.
CONTENTS. The secondary pleasures of the imagination. The several sources of
these pleasures (statuary, painting, description, and music) compared together. The final cause of our receiving pleasure from these several sources. Of descriptions in particular. "The power of words over the imagination. 'Why one reader is more pleased with descriptions than another. Quatenù hoc simile est oculis, quod mente videmus.
LUCR. ix. 754. So far as what we see with our minds, bears similitude to what we
see with our eyes.
such as aris from objects that are actually before our eyes, or that once entered in at our eyes, and are after
ward called up
into the mind either barely by its own operations, or on occasion of something without us, as statues or descriptions. We have already considered the first division, and shall therefore enter on the other, which, for distinction sake, I have called “The Secondary Pleasures of the Imagination.” When I say the ideas we receive from statues, descriptions, or such-like occasions, are the same that were once actually in our view, it must not be understood that we had once seen the very place, action, or person, that are carved or described. It is sufficient that we have seen places, persons, or actions in general, which bear a resemblance, or at least some remote analogy, with what we find represented; since it is in the power of the imagination, when it is once stocked with particular ideas, to enlarge, compound, and vary them at her own pleasure.
Among the different kinds of representation, statuary is the most natural, and shews us something likest the object that is represented. To make use of a common instance: let one who is born blind take an image in his hands, and trace out with his fingers the different furrows and impressions of the chisel, and he will easily conceive how the shape of a man, or beast, may be represented by it; but should he draw his hand over a picture, where all is smooth and uniform, he would never be able to imagine how the several prominences and depressions of a human body should be shewn on a plain piece of canvas, that has in it no unevenness or irregularity. Description runs yet farther from the things it represents than painting ; for a picture bears a real resemblance to its original, which letters and syllables are wholly void of. Colours speak all languages, but words are understood only by such a people or nation. For this reason, though men's necessities quickly put them on finding out speech, writing is probably of a later invention than painting ; particularly we are told that in America, when the Spaniards first arrived there, expresses were sent to the Emperor of Mexico in paint, and the news of his country delineated by the strokes of a pencil, which was a more natural way than that of writing, though at the same time much more imperfect, because it is impossible to draw the little connexions of speech, or to give the picture of a conjunction
or an adverb. It would be yet more strange to represent visible objects by sounds that have no ideas annexed to them, and to make something like description in music. Yet it is certain, there may be confused imperfect notions of this nature raised in the imagination by an artificial composition of notes; and we find that great masters in the art are able, sometimes to set their hearers in the heat and hurry of a battle, to overcast their minds with melancholy scenes and apprehensions of deaths and funerals, or to lull them into pleasing dreams of groves andelysiums.
In all these instances, this secondary pleasure of the imagination proceeds from that action of the mind which compares the ideas arising from the original objects with the ideas we receive from the statue, picture, description, or sound, that represents them. It is impossible for us to give the necessáry reason why this operation of the mind is attended with so much pleasure, as I have before observed on the same occasion ; but we find a great variety of entertainments derived from this single principle; for it is this that not only gives us a relish of statuary, painting, and description, but makes us delight in all the actions and arts of mimicry. It is this that makes the several kinds of wit pleasant, which consists, as I have formerly shewn, in the affinity of ideas: and we may add, it is this also that raises the little satisfaction we sometimes find in the different sorts of false wit; whether it consists in the affinity of letters, as an anagram, acrostic; or of syllables, as in doggrel rhymes, echoes; or of words, as in puns, quibbles ; or of a whole sentence or poem, as wings and altars. The final cause, probably of annexing pleasure to this operation of the mind, was to quicken and encoùrage us in our searches after truth, since the distinguishing one thing from another, and the right discerning betwixt our ideas, depend wholly upon our comparing them together, and observing the congruity or disagreement that appears among the several works of nature.
But I shall here confine myself to those pleasures of the imagination which proceed from ideas raised by words, because most of the observations that agree with descriptions are equally applicable to painting and státuary.