Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

You admitted, then, in your Observations on the Poetical Character of Pope, that the subject alone does not constitute poetical excellency ;” but in your Reply to Lord Byron, you turn round, and maintain that it does. But you are not satisfied with denying, in your Reply, what you had admitted in your Observations, but you admit in the very same sentence of your Reply what you had denied in your Observations. In your Reply you admit, the ship “does not derive all its poetry from nature," by which you would insinuate, that it derives part of it from the execution; but in

your Observations, as stated in page 6, you say, that “the subject is to be considered respecting the poetry, and the execution respecting the art and powers of the poet;" that is, that the poetry is to be attributed to the subject alone, and not to the execution. If then the poetry is to be attributed to the subject alone, must not the poetry of the ship be ascribed to the ship alone ? and yet you evade the force of Lord Byron's criticism, by seeming to admit, that the ship derives a part of its poetry from the execution; a position which you had already denied when you attributed all the poetry to the subject alone, and no part of it to the execution.

But how do you attempt to show that the poetical beauty of the ship depends upon nature? By an argument indeed worthy of a desperate cause ! « Its poetical beauty," you say, “ depends upon nature, for the sails would not swell, the streamers would not flow, the motion would cease, its life, which Mr. Campbell speaks of, would be extinct.” This argument is like one of the quibbles of the ancient schoolmen : in its nature it is the same, and differs from them only in not possessing that subtlety and ingenuity which characterised theirs. It is indeed in Mr. Bowles's worst style of reasoning, and proves him reduced to a shift. You did not perceive, that if the ship derives all its poetical beauty from nature, because, without nature, the sails would not swell, the streamers would not flow, &c. the ship itself must necessarily be the work of nature, and not of art. This can be proved in a moment by your own mode of reasoning, the great virtue of which would be universally acknowledged, were it universally known, that it can prove the works of art to be mere productions of na. ture. That the ship is the work of nature, according to your mode of reasoning, must appear evident ; for if nature did not produce wood, and all the original materials of which a ship is builtif the mind of man, which is the work of nature, did not discover the means of preparing these materials—if it did not devise and frame the instruments by which they were fashioned and framed into a ship, such a thing as a ship would never have existed. A ship, then, is the work of nature; and yet you yourself acknow. ledge it to be the work of art. According to your argument,

however, it cannot be; and therefore you must abandon the proposition which you deduced from it, namely, that the “poetical beauty of the ship depends upon nature ;" or otherwise contradict yourself, when you admitted the ship to be the work of art, by maintaining now that a ship is not the work of art, but of nature.

To grant, however, all that can rationally be conceded to you, I willingly admit, that a ship is originally the work of nature, that all things are originally the works of nature, or, at least, all things of which we are enabled to take cognisance, “that the sails would not swell, the streamers would not flow, the motion would cease,” without the

agency of nature ; but, with all these concessions, your argument goes for nothing. The use of words is to express such simple or compound ideas as men have agreed to attach to them, not such ideas as are philosophically true. Accordingly, we have many words that express ideas which are only the creatures of our own minds, and which have no foundation in the true and proper nature of things. Extraordinary is a word which we use to express the emotion felt at the presence of something unaccountable. From our ignorance of its cause, we feel as if it were produced contrary to the order of nature-as if it were a monster in the creation. But this emotion is founded in delu. sion; for there can be no effect without an adequate cause to produce it; and the moment we are made perfectly acquainted with the cause, we perceive there is nothing in it extraordinary. But though there is nothing extraordinary, yet the term is properly used, because it expresses an idea which, though founded in delusion, has its existence in the mind. To every word we should, therefore, attach that rigid and exact association of ideas which it suggests to the minds of men in general, or, in other words, that association of ideas which men, in general, have covenanted to attach to it. When a ship, therefore, is said to be a work of art, we only mean to say, that it is the work of man. It is true that man could never have made a ship unless nature had furnished him with the materials; but this is a consideration which the mind does not include in its idea of a ship ; and, therefore, though it be a truth, it is a truth that has no concern with the idea that mankind have agreed to attach to the term. It would, therefore, be absurd to say that a ship is the work of nature, because the idea we attach to it is limited to the notion of its being the work of man, the creations of whose genius we call works of art. Whatever ideas, then, are immediately suggested to us by a ship, are the ideas that properly belong to it, and we must never trace them beyond the ship, the very name of which is the sole cause of suggesting the ideas. As a ship, therefore, suggests the idea of sails swelling, of streamers flowing, as well as the ideas of VOL. XX.

Рат.

NO. XL. 2 C

life and motion, these ideas are to be attributed to the ship alone, and not to nature. It is not nature that suggests them to the mind, but the ship; though it is nature that partly produces the effect. The mind, however, never thinks of nature, nor of the remote causes by which the effects are produced. It looks only to the object which immediately suggested or awoke the ideas themselves. You may prove, then, that it is nature that swells the sails, that makes the streamers flow, that gives the ship life and motion ; but unless you prove that it is nature suggests the idea of swelling sails, flowing streamers, &c. you employ your logic to little purpose. Whatever object awakens these ideas in the mind is the object to which the mind attributes them, and it is idle to look for their source in remote causes, of which mankind never think, when the ideas are present to their mind. Besides,

you

should reflect, that if we were to view the question, not as philologers or poets, but as pure, abstract reasoners, who trace all effects to their ultimate causes, (and the history of literature sufficiently proves that such reasoners have been always the most wretched judges of poetry,) even in this case, the swelling of the sails, the flowing of the streamers, the life and motion of the ship, would not be entirely the work of nature, and if not, the poetical beauty of the ship could not entirely depend upon nature. That this swelling of the sails and flowing of the streamers are not entirely the work of nature is obvious; for the sails would not swell, nor would the streamers flow, if the artist had not accommodated their texture and pliancy to the action and elasticity of the air ; so that, even viewing the question in the same point of view with yourself, the swelling of the sails, and the flowing of the streamers, are as much owing to art as to nature; and if so, the proposition is doubly erroneous which asserts that the poetical beauty of the ship depends upon nature alone.

You will perceive that I have here used poetical beauty in the same sense with yourself, though I have already proved, that there is no poetical beauty, no poetical sublimity, no poetical object of any description, in all the works of nature or of art. I have, therefore, granted poetical beauty to belong to a ship, merely to confute you, even on that imaginary ground on which you have taken your station, and to show, that if the beauty of a ship could be called poetical, still this poetical beauty would belong to art alone. The real beauty of a ship, and of all the works of nature, is merely sensible beauty. Poetical beauty is the creature of the mind alone. It is not the real image of the beautiful object, but such an image of it as the poet thinks proper to represent. And as this image is the mere offspring of mental associations, it is ob

vious, that poetical beauty is to be traced to the operations of the mind alone, selecting from sensible and intellectual beng such images of matter and affections of mind, as she thinks best qualified to elicit such mental emotions as she intends to excite.

“Take away the waves, the winds," says Lord Byron, “and there will be no ship at all, not only for poetical, but for any other purpose.” To which you think it sufficient to reply, “ then its very existence depends upon them.” But do you seriously think this reply satisfactory, or can you possibly have any doubt of what Lord Byron asserts—that the existence of the ship depends upon “ the wind and waves ?” Who would ever think of building a ship if there had been neither wind nor waves ? So far from building such a machine ; the very idea of it would have never suggested itself to mankind.

To your argument, that the ship owes all its poetical beauty to the sun, wind, and waves, Lord Byron replies—« If the waves had only foam upon their bosoms—if the winds only wafted the seaweed to the shore-if the sun shone neither upon pyramids nor fleets, nor fortresses, would its beams be equally poetical ?” to which you triumphantly reply ;-If it (the sun) shone upon none of the emmets of earth, man, or his little works, it would be equally a stupendous object in the visible creation, per se, abstractedly, and- equally sublime ; " and it would be poetical, equally poetical, whether it shone on pyramids or posts, fortresses or pig-sties," a " brass warming pan, or a footman's livery, though neither pig-sties nor posts could be sublime or beautiful with or without it.”

The absurdity of this defence is so obvious, that I doubt whether it is worth commenting upon. You tell us, that if the sun never shone upon man, “it would be equally a stupendous object, per se, abstractedly, and equally sublime." "Pray, Mr. Bowles, if the sun “ never shone upon man or his little works,” to whom would it be sublime or stupendous ? To man it could be neither one nor the other, if it never shone upon him ;

for in this case, the earth would be enveloped in darkness, and man never attached the idea of sublimity to a inaterial object which he never perceived. Neither could it be sublime to the brute creation, for, so far as we are acquainted with the modes and limits of their perceptions, the idea of sublimity is an idea of which they never formed any conception. It could not be sublime to any higher order of being than man, if it never shone, because it is its resplendent light that renders it sublime ; nor can you tell whether, with all its splendor, it is sublime to any order of being but man himself. The sun, for ought that either you or I know, may appear like a dim lamp, compared to the insufferable splendor, magnitude, and magnificence of other orbs; and if so, they would not deem it either stupendous or sublime. The same reasoning which led you to suppose, that objects have a per se, or abstract poetical beauty in themselves, has also led you to suppose, that objects, and the words which express them, have also a per se or abstract sublimity, unconnected with the perceptions, feelings, emotions, passions, and sympathies of man. You do not seem to be aware, that when an object is pronounced sublime, this sublimity merely expresses, that the object has the quality of producing a certain emotion in the mind of man, which he expresses by the term sublime. It would, however, be absurd to suppose, that an object will produce the same emotion in other beings that it produces in us; for the nature of every emotion is determined by the mutual relation that exists between the natural sensibilities of the percipient, and the qualities of the thing perceived. Now, as the natural sensibilities or sensations of every being vary with its natural organisation, or original structure, and as this original structure is different in all the different species of animated being, it necessarily follows, that the same object will excite different sensations in all the different classes or tribes of animals to which it is presented, and consequently, the emotion to which we attach the term sublime, will not be the emotion produced in any other being but ourselves, because no other being is originally constituted like man. If you can point out any other being similarly constituted, I say that being is a man, in the strictest sense of the expression. A turkey-cock will fly at a person who wears a red mantle, because this color produces a disagreeable sensation in him, which is not felt by other animals. The meaning of words, therefore, must be universally understood, with regard to the perceptions which they convey to, and the sensations, emotions or passions which they excite in, the mind of man alone. Words have no meaning in themselves abstractedly; for there can be no affinity between a sound and an idea. They derive their meaning, therefore, from a mere arbitrary convention ; from an agreement among mankind to attach certain ideas to certain vocal sounds. But as the objects or qualities that excite these ideas in us, would produce different ideas in other beings, they would use different words to express them, or attach a different meaning to the words which are adopted by us. If the object that produces a sensation of disgust in us, produce a sensation of pleasure or luxury in another animal, it is obvious, that if these animals, (supposing them gifted with language) and we, express these different sensations by the same word, we must attach.

« ForrigeFortsæt »