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that their primary object is to please. This observation applies to the art of Poetry, no less than to the others; nay, it is this circumstance which characterizes Poetry, and distinguishes it from all the other classes of literary composition. The object of the Philosopher is to inform and enlighten mankind ; that of the Orator, to acquire an ascendant over the will of others, by bending to his own purposes their judgments, their imaginations, and their passions : but the primary and the distinguishing aim of the Poet is, to please ; and the principal resource which he possesses for this purpose, is by addressing the imagination. Sometimes, indeed, he may seem to encroach on the province of the Philosopher or of the Orator; but, in these instances, he only borrows from them the means by which he accomplishes his end. If he attempts to enlighten and to inform, he addresses the understanding only as a vehicle of pleasure : if he makes an appeal to the passions, it is only to passions which it is pleasing to indulge. The Philosopher, in like manner, in order to accomplish his end of instruction, may find it expedient, occasionally, to amuse the imagination, or to make an appeal to the passions : the Orator may, at one time, state to his hearers a process of reasoning ; at another, a calm narrative of facts; and, at a third, he may give the reins to poetical fancy. But still the ultimate end of the Philosopher is to instruct, and of the Orator to persuade ; and whatever means they make use of, which are not subservient to this purpose, are out of place, and obstruct the effect of their labours. The measured composition in which the Poet expresses himself, is only one of the means which he employs to please. As the delight which he conveys to the imagination, is heightened by the other agreeable impressions which he can unite in the mind at the same time ; he studies to bestow, upon the medium of communication which
he employs, all the various beauties of which it is susceptible. Among these beauties, the harmony of numbers is not the least powerful; for its effect is constant, and does not interfere with any of the other pleasures which language produces. A succession of agreeable perceptions is kept up by the organical effect of words upon the ear; while they inform the understanding by their perspicuity and precision, or please the imagination by the pictures they suggest, or touch the heart by the associations they awaken. Of all these charms of language, the Poet may avail himself; and they are all so many instruments of his art. To the Philosopher and the Orator they may occasionally be of use ; and to both they must be constantly so far an object of attention, that nothing may occur in their compositions, which may distract the thoughts, by offending either the ear or the taste ; but the Poet must not rest satisfied with this negative praise. Pleasure is the end of his art; and the more numerous the sources of it which he can open, the greater will be the effect produced by the efforts of his genius. The province of the poet is limited only by the variety of human enjoyments. Whatever is in reality subservient to our happiness, is a source of pleasure, when presented to our conceptions, and may sometimes derive from the heightenings of imagination a momentary charm, which we exchange with reluctance for the substantial gratifications of the senses. The province of the painter, and of the statuary, is confined to the imitation of visible objects, and to the exhibition of such intellectual and moral qualities, as the human body is fitted to express. In ornamental architecture, and in ornamental gardening, the sole aim of the artist is to give pleasure to the eye, by the beauty or sublimity of material forms. But to the poet all the glories of external nature; all that is amiable or interesting, or respectable in WOL. I. 53
human character; all that excites and engages our benevolent
“lime and Beautiful,” has disputed the common notions upon
this subject, I shall consider some of the principal arguments by which he has supported his opinion.
The leading principle of the theory which I am now to examine is, “That the common effect of poetry is not to “raise ideas of things;” or, as I would rather choose to express it, its common effect is not to give exercise to the powers of conception and imagination. That I may not be accused of misrepresentation, I shall state the doctrine at length in the words of the author. “If words have all their “possible extent of power, three effects arise in the mind of “the hearer. The first is the sound ; the second, the pic“ture, or representation of the thing signified by the sound; “the third is, the affection of the soul produced by one or “by both of the foregoing. Compounded abstract words, “ (honour, justice, liberty, and the like,) produce the first “ and the last of these effects, but not the second. Simple “abstracts are used to signify some one simple idea, without “much adverting to others which may chance to attend ii; “as blue, green, hot, cold, and the like: these are capable “of effecting all three of the purposes of words; as the ag“gregate words, man, castle, horse, &c. are in a yet higher “degree. But I am of opinion, that the most general ef.
“fect even of these words, does not arise from their forming “pictures of the several things they would represent in the “imagination ; because, on a very diligent examination of “my own mind, and getting others to consider theirs, I do “not find that once in twenty times any such picture is “formed ; and when it is, there is most commonly a par“ticular effort of the imagination for that purpose. But “the aggregate words operate, as I said of the compound “abstracts, not by presenting any image to the mind, but “by having from use the same effect on being mentioned, “that their original has when it is seen. Suppose we were “to read a passage to this effect : “The river Danube “rises in a moist and mountainous soil in the heart of Ger“many, where, winding to and fro, it waters several princi“palities, until turning into Austria, and leaving the walls “of Vienna, it passes into Hungary; there with a vast “flood, augmented by the Saave and the Drave, it quits “Christendom, and rolling through the barbarous countries “which border on Tartary, it enters by many mouths into “the Black Sea.” In this description many things are “mentioned ; as mountains, rivers, cities, the sea, &c. But “let any body examine himself, and see whether he has “had impressed on his imagination any pictures of a river, “mountain, watery soil, Germany, &c., Indeed, it is im“possible, in the rapidity and quick succession of words “in conversation, to have ideas both of the sound of the “word, and of the thing represented ; besides, some words “expressing real essences, are so mixed with others of a “general and nominal import, that it is impracticable to “jump from sense to thought, from particulars to generals, “from things to words, in such a manner as to answer the “purposes of life ; nor is it necessary that we should.” In farther confirmation of this doctrine, Mr. Burke refers to the poetical works of the late amiable and ingenious Dr.
Blacklock. “Here,” says he, “is a poet, doubtless as “much affected by his onn descriptions, as any that reads “ them can be ; and yet he is affected with this strong “enthusiasm, by things of which he neither has, nor can “possibly have, any idea, farther than that of a bare sound; “ and why may not those who read his works be affected in “the same manner that he was, with as little of any real “ideas of the things described.” Before I proceed to make any remarks on these passages, I must observe in general, that I perfectly agree with Mr. Burke, in thinking that a very great proportion of the words which we habitually employ, have no effect to “raise “ideas in the mind;” or to exercise the powers of conception and imagination. My notions on this subject I have already sufficiently explained in treating of abstraction. I agree with him farther, that a great proportion of the words which are used in poetry and eloquence, produce very powerful effects on the mind, by exciting emotions which we have been accustomed to associate with particular sounds; without leading the imagination to form to itself any pictures or representations; and his, account of the manner in which such words operate, appears to me satisfactory. “Such words are in reality but mere sounds; “but they are sounds, which, being used on particular “occasions, wherein we receive some good, or suffer “some evil ; or see others affected with good or evil ; or “which we hear applied to other interesting things or “events; and being applied in such a variety of cases, “that we know readily by habit to what things they belong, “ they produce in the mind, whenever they are afterwards “mentioned, effects similar to those of their occasions. “The sounds being often used without reference to any “ particular occasion, and carrying still their first impres
“sions, they at last utterly lose thcir connection with the w