JANUARY the 4th
Read the First of Alison's Two Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste. Taste, he defines, That faculty by which we perceive and enjoy whatever is sublime and beautiful: and he proposes to investigate, 1st, what is the effect produced on the mind, when the emotions of taste are felt; 2ndly, what are the qualities which produce these emotions; and 3rdly., what is the faculty by which they are received. The present Volume is confined to the first of these objects. In the 1st chapter, he endeavours to establish by examples, That whenever the emotions of sublimity and beauty are felt, an exercise of imagination is excited, consisting in a train of thought; that without this exercise of imagination, these emotions are unfelt; and, that they obtain in proportion to this exercise: the consequence from which is, that the effect produced by objects of sublimity and beauty, consists in the excitation of this exercise. Of this train of thought, however, upon which the imagination is exerted whenever we feel the emotions of Taste, he proceeds, in the 2nd chapter, to maintain, That it must consist of ideas producing emotion; and, That one uniform character, with respect to the emotion produced, must pervade and connect the whole series. If the first proposition, he proceeds to show, be true, then no objects can be experienced to be sublime or beautiful, which do not primarily excite some simple emotion, without which no such train could be suggested: if the second, then no composition of objects can produce emotions of Taste, in which this unity of character is not preserved;—and in this consists the great advantage of artificial compositions, such as gardening, painting, and (above all) poetry, over natural combinations of objects; and the great test of the excellence of the former, that composition being the best, in which the different parts most completely unite in the production of one unmingled emotion. The effect, therefore, of objects of Taste, may be considered as resting in the production of a consistent train of ideas of emotion: and emotions of Taste, may be distinguished from emotions of simple pleasure, in this, that the latter, as joy, pity, gratitude, &c, terminate in themselves; whereas the former, though founded on some simple emotion, require, in addition to this, an exercise of the imagination on a consequent train of thought, from which we are conscious of a higher and more pleasing emotion, to which he wishes to appropriate the designation of "delight".—The characteristic of this solution of the pleasures of Taste, appears to be, the placing them in a succession of pleasurable images:—for as to the mere exercise of the imagination, though he takes up this idea decidedly enough at first, he very judiciously abandons it, since the imagination, it is obvious, may often be exerted, without any gratification whatever to the feelings. But surely this succession—(I wish to say it without offence)—reminds one of the hypothesis of the elephant and tortoise: for where a train of similar causes, multiplied indefinitely (it should seem) for no other purpose but to increase the intensity or duration of the effect, is called in to account in one grand result, we are still left to search for the efficient causes of that result, in the agency of the separate principles which compose the series to which it is ascribed.
Finished Sully's Memoirs. The presages of Henry's death, are very extraordinary. The connection, in these cases, no doubt, is only in the mind of the observer: the emotion, however, which this supposed correspondence excites, when the feelings are powerfully agitated by any great event, is so truly congenial and delightful, that the most philosophical spirit can scarcely resist a temporary submission to its. influence; and must find in its own illusions, however transient, a satisfactory solution of the general propensity of mankind, at all times, and in all countries to believe in prodigies and portents.—Henry's great political scheme for the perpetual peace and security of Europe, appears more splendid than specious:—though, indeed, the political face of Europe has been since so greatly changed, that it is difficult to form just opinion of it.—One wishes that Sully had retired sooner on the accession of the Queen Regent. For his reputation, his career ought to have closed with that of his illustrious Patron.
JAN. the 8th
Read. Alison's 2nd Essay—on the Sublimity and Beauty. of the Material World: He denies that mere matter is capable of, exciting any emotion whatever; and contends—from the general turn of language, and by pointing out, removing, or changing, the associations, through, which he conceives them to be transferred—that the beauty and sublimity of material objects,, spring solely from their being the signs or expressions of such qualities as are fitted to produce those emotions. What these qualities are, he leaves very undetermined; merely observing, at the close, that, besides the qualities of mind and matter, there are qualities arising from the relation of matter to matter, of mind to mind, and of matter to mind: nor does he intimate, how he means to distinguish the sublime from the beautiful, by these qualities; though, from incidental glances, he seems to agree in substance with Burke (wham he only once slightly notices), That such qualities are sublime, as turn on pain and danger; and beautiful, as turn on pleasure.—The material qualities he considers, are, 1st:, Those that we receive from Hearing—Sounds, simple and composed: 2ndly, Those that we receive from Sight—Colours, Forms, and Motions. The associations he enumerates, as the sources from which material qualities derive their power of producing emotion, are, 1st, Those which obtain, with the ends for which they are destined; 2ndly, with the power by which they are contrived; 3rdly, in the human form, with the mental qualities they denote; 4thly, in inanimate substances, with resembling qualities in animated ones; 5thly, such as arise from resemblances between the sensations which material qualities excite, and certain emotions; 6thly, the associations produced by language, which collects and confirms all others; 7thly, accidental associations, peculiar to the individual.—There are repeated incidental observations in the course of this Work, which display great depth of research and justness of taste; but, upon the whole, it leaves the mind miserably dissatisfied with respect to the main object which is proposed to be explored.
Read the Supplement to Sully's Memoirs. Sully—such is the total change of manners—appears to have kept up more state in private life, after his retirement, than a crowned head does at present, in the plenitude of power: yet I question whether Henry the 4th himself, enjoyed half the personal accommodations and real luxury of a respectable London merchant of this day.—The trial of Ravaillac is extremely interesting. His answers are clear, collected, and consistent; and evidently show him to have been an enthusiast, intrepidly pursuing the dictates of a misguided conscience. The account of his torture, is horrible.
JAN. the 9th
Looked over the Introduction to Pemberton's View of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy. He affirms (sect. 2.) that it is the gratification of our taste, which is the source of our desire of knowledge; perspicuous reasoning being not only beautiful, but, when set forth in its full strength and dignity, partaking of the sublime. In some cases it may be so: but the general stimulus to the acquisition of knowledge, is, I am satisfied, the mere love of novelty or ambition of distinction.—The proofs in Natural Philosophy, Pemberton observes (sect. 20.), cannot be so conclusive as in the Mathematics, because the subjects of the latter are merely ideas, the arbitrary productions of our own minds; of the former, objects without us. I confess I long for some fair opportunity of exposing this superannuated distinction between abstract science and physical knowledge. As if all knowledge that did not immediately refer to real existencies, would not be perfectly fantastic—as much so, as a disquisition on the natural history of the Centaur, or a diatribe on the polity of Sylphs; and as if Euclid's Elements of Geometry had not as absolute a reference to those existencies, and did not as much derive its sole value from the means it affords of extending our knowledge respecting them, as a dissertation on the properties of platinum!—The three fundamental principles of the Newtonian Philosophy, are; That more causes are not to be allowed, than are sufficient to account for effects; That like effects are to be ascribed to the same (to like) causes; and, That those qualities which belong to all bodies with which we are acquainted, and which in the same body can neither be increased nor lessened, should be deemed the universal properties of all bodies. The obvious tendency of these principles—resting solely, it should seem, on the general simplicity and constancy which we observe to reign in all the works of nature—is, to authorise the induction of general conclusions from particular experiments.
Finished Moore's Zeluco. This character is well contrived to purge the selfish and malignant passions, by exhibiting the hideous effect of their unrestricted indulgence; and the crush of the sparrow at the outset, and of the child at the close, is felicitously conceived for this purpose: but the last moments of Zeluco should have been deepened with greater horror;—it was a most inviting opportunity for applying the terrible graces to a great moral purpose.
JAN. the 13th
Assisted at the first distribution of Soup to the Poor, in this hard season:—a mode of relief, which, however exposed to obloquy, seems eagerly and gratefully accepted. It was gratifying to observe Churchmen, Presbyterians, Independents, Unitarians, Quakers, all actively united in the same benevolent design; and warmed, from this circumstance, into complacency and kindness to each other. If no other good arises from the undertaking, this is a great one.
Read Pope's five Ethic Epistles, or Moral Essays. There is an occasional pertness and flippancy in them, not to my taste; and which would never have accorded, with the Essay on Man completed, of which they are professed to be "membra disjecta"<124>. Pope, I suspect, felt himself unequal to the execution of this Essay in all its proposed extent;—if he ever seriously designed it, which I much doubt.
Finished Moore's Edward. The outset of this novel delighted me highly; but as it advances, the interest declines. Rather too many characters, with perplexing relations, are introduced; the narrative is precipitated, on important occasions, too rapidly for exciting a lively concern; and the final denouement is forced and hurried. Barnet's, however, is an original and finished portrait: and Edward, himself, forms an admirable contrast to Zeluco.
JAN. the 18th
Read the 1st Book of Pemberton's Newton. The Laws of Motion on which Newton grounds all his conclusions, (and the simplicity of which Pemberton has injured by periphrasis), are these: 1st, That all bodies persist in a state of rest, or of moving uniformly onwards in a straight line, till compelled to change this state by some force impressed upon them: 2ndly, That the change of state thus produced, is always proportional to the moving force impressed, and takes place in the right line in which that force is impressed: 3rdly, That the re-action of any body acted on by another, is always equal in force, and opposite in direction, to the action of that other body upon it. These Laws established—and uniform observation attests them to obtain wherever we have an opportunity of making the experiment—by simply assuming an original projectile and rotatory motion impressed, and a power of gravitation in all bodies, proportioned to their quantity of matter, and diminishing (as all radiating power will of course diminish) in the duplicate ratio of the distance to which it extends, he accounts for all the planetary movements, and all the influences of these bodies on each other. That such a power of gravitation retains the moon in its orbit, seems past all doubt, because it is demonstrable, that the same power of gravity which operates on the surface of the earth, extended to the moon, is precisely what is requisite for effecting this purpose: and the exact solution which this principle affords, not only of all the simple planetary motions, but of all their disturbances of each other—disturbances, which on the supposition of such a power must exist, which observation exactly verifies, and which the assumption of such a power enables us to calculate with the utmost nicety beforehand—can surely leave no doubt on the most sceptical mind, that the same principle pervades and sustains the whole of our system.—Such is the solid and broad basis of Newton's distinguishing fame as an original discoverer in science: and it may well sustain the loftiest column.
JAN. the 20th
Looked over Whitehurst's Theory of the Earth. His hypothesis is, That our globe was originally a confused mass of all the elements; That from gravitation and elective attraction, these elements gradually subsided into concentric layers, of which water occupied the highest station; That during this process, the whole mass assumed, from rotation, a spheroidical form; That the terraqueous part of the antediluvian world was formed of mud, congested by the aestuation of the tides; and, That the deluge, and present state of continents and islands, was produced by the superficial water falling, through chasms, on an ignited stratum beneath; and bursting, by the expansive force of steam (twenty-eight times more powerful than gunpowder) the superincumbent layers:—whence the ruins of order that we discover in mountainous regions, together with the remains of animals and, vegetables found imbedded there.—These Theories may amuse the imagination, but, can surely never satisfy the judgment.
Finished afterwards the 3rd and last book of Pemberton's. Newton;—on Optics. Bold and sublime invention may be regarded as the predominant feature of the Principia, patient and sagacious investigation of the Optics; but, both, these qualities eminently obtain in each of these immortal Works.
JAN. the 23rd
Read the 1st Part of Price's Essay on the Picturesque. After urging the propriety of an attention to landscape-painting in the improvement of ground, on the principle that landscape-painters, have made the most pleasing selections from nature, he proceeds to the consideration of picturesqueness. This he regards, not (what its name might seem to denote) as whatever affords us pleasure in a picture—for beauty and, sublimity, may do this; but as a third quality, distinct from both, and furnishing a pleasure sui generis: and he places it, in that intricacy and variety which obtain in objects, rough, suddenly diversified, and irregular; and which nourish, by partial concealments and perpetual change, a lively and active curiosity in the mind of the observer.—Picturesqueness stands thus distinguished, from Beauty, which arises from smoothness instead of roughness, and from gradual instead of sudden variation, and which disposes the soul to languor; and from Sublimity, which is promoted by simplicity, instead of variety, and whose tendency is to rigify with terror: it holds a middle station between these qualities: it is engrafted, not on pleasure like the former, nor on pain like the latter, but on curiosity; it neither relaxes, like the one, nor violently stretches like the other, but maintains the fibres, by its active stimulus, in their full tone, and just tension; and may thus advantageously mingle with either, correcting the languor of beauty and the horror of sublimity, though it must necessarily diminish in this, case the peculiar effect of each—As the sublime cannot be created; the art of improving landscape must depend on cultivating the beautiful, and the picturesque; and the grand mistake in this art has hitherto been, in pursuing the former to the exclusion of the latter—the effect of mere beauty being repose, which may degenerate into insipidity, of the picturesque, irritation, by which that faulty tendency is counteracted. He proceeds to instance the presence of the picturesque, where beauty alone has been supposed to obtain,—in the crisped and shadowy hair of the human head—the jagged and angular leaves of shrubs—and the sharp and rough ornaments of architecture: to enforce this distinction still farther, he points to Claude and Correggio on the one hand, and to Rubens on the other—to the light sprayey foliage and fresh tints of spring, and to the rich masses of chiaroscuro and the deep mellow glowing hues of autumn—as furnishing eminent examples, the former of the beautiful, and the latter of the picturesque: and he closes, with endeavouring to establish, that the properties of objects which constitute beauty of form, by having their smooth and flowing outlines clogged up, degenerate, through insipidity, into ugliness; white those which constitute picturesqueness, tend, by distortion, into deformity—so that deformity is to ugliness, what picturesqueness is to beauty.—Such, on a rough view, seems the outline of Mr. Price's theory, and of the arguments which he adduces to support it: and to me, I confess, they appear fully to justify the separation he has made, of the Picturesque, from the other qualities with which it is commonly confounded. It is only by discriminations like these in the different species of delight with which we are touched in contemplating the physical and moral world—modes of affection, which, however distinct in their nature, are, in ordinary language, usually lumped together under some general title expressive of the gratification they in common afford—that we can ever hope to arrive at any clear and precise views of the pleasures of taste, or qualify ourselves to form any satisfactory hypothesis respecting them.
JAN. the 26th
Read the 2nd Part of Price on the Picturesque: in which he exposes, with great wit, force, and effect, the insipidity, monotony, and ugliness; of the clump, the belt, the fir groves, serpentine walks, and aqueous' sheets, of Kent, Brown, and the herd of modern landscape-gardeners; and deduces, as a general conclusion, that that artist is the best improver of landscape, who leaves, or who creates, the greatest variety of pictures, such as painters will least wish to alter.—He admits, nay contends for, the propriety of rich artificial scenery near the house, and derides the affectation of simplicity, and what is called nature, there.—Whatever becomes of his theory, we must allow that his taste in practice—in the practice, I mean, which he prescribes—is admirable: for who would not wish to realise, around him, the scenes which he paints so vividly to the imagination as examples of his principles!
JAN. the 27th
Looked over Gilpin's Two Essays; on Picturesque Beauty, and Picturesque Travel. The former of these, evidently manifests the necessity, and points to the establishment, of Price's distinction. Gilpin enforces the propriety of discriminating, between such objects as are beautiful, and such as are picturesque; such as please in their natural state, and such as please from some quality capable of being illustrated in painting; and he makes roughness, this distinguishing quality: but why roughness should make this essential difference between the beautiful and the picturesque, the objects of nature and the objects of artificial representation, he cannot satisfy himself: and Reynold's Letter leaves the question still more perplexed.—Dipped afterwards into Knights' Landscape. He inculcates the same practical doctrine as Price; though his theory, which he does not clearly propound, seems to be different.
Read Fielding's Life of Jonathan Wild; a caustic satire, in Swift's coarsest manner; but displaying a wonderful knowledge of low and villainous life: and his Journey into Another World; in which much useful irony is couched in a very wild and original form.
Finished the perusal of the First Six Books of Milton's Paradise Lost. The scene betwixt Satan, Sin, and Death, in the 2nd Book, is transcendently sublime: the Allegory, to which Addison objects, is lost amidst such force and vividness and majesty of description, as, I think with Atterbury, renders the grandest passages in Homer and Virgil comparatively feeble and dwarfish.-In the 3rd Book, not all the powers of Milton's skill and genius, though vigorously exerted for the purpose, can palliate the monstrous absurdities, or reconcile the glaring inconsistencies, of the orthodox faith: they rather stare out in higher and more offensive relief, from the strength with which he has brought before us, the personages, and the state of being, to which they attach.—Relieved from these shackles, in the 4th Book, Milton once more towers into native excellence, and "is himself again".
In a note on v. 53, of the 5th Book,
fair it seem'd,
Much fairer to my fancy than by day:
Newton remarks, that our sensations are more vivid in dreams than when awake; and represents Milton as ascribing it, to the action of some spiritual Being on the sensory. I see no reason to alter the opinion I long since formed upon this subject.
Of the fact itself, there can be no question—it must have fallen, I should suppose, within almost every one's experience; and this superior susceptibility seems by no means confined to impressions from the fair and beautiful; but to extend to every species of emotion whatever. If it be a scene of horror-if we are encountered, on a trackless heath, by some dire form; if it hunts us, with a murderer's knife, to the edge of some hanging precipice; if we struggle to shriek for some near help, and utterance is denied—there is a degree of anguish and wretchedness in our sufferings, and a prostration of all manly energy under an irresistible and overwhelming terror, exceeding far, I conceive, what any mortal ever endured from real apprehension. If it be a scene of sensibility—if we recognize some long-lost friend; if we meet, after hapless separation, the dear object of our tenderest affection; if we hold sweet intercourse, if we mingle heart with heart and pour out all our fondest wishes, the melting soul dissolves in a deliquium<125> of tenderness and delight, which I doubt whether the warmest friend or most passionate lover ever experienced. We feel when we awake from such glowing visions, and while their effects still vibrate on the mind, that everything in this life is stale and flat and tasteless on the comparison. It is related of the celebrated Tartini, that he once dreamed he had entered into a compact with the Devil, who, to exhibit a specimen of his powers, played him a solo so divinely on the fiddle, that the musician waked with transports, seized his violin, and tried to catch the fleeting idea, but felt his utmost efforts at imitation so tame and unavailing, that he dashed his instrument in despair to the ground; and ever after declared, he should never have brought himself to touch catgut again, could he possibly have gained a livelihood without it. This story is by no means incredible: though, probably, had Tartini heard, when awake, the same notes which ravished him in vision, he would have formed a very different estimate of their merit. I have always found, at least, when successful in recalling any specific object—a piece of poetry or eloquence, for instance—which delighted me beyond measure in a dream, that it has appeared on the revision very puerile or uncouth. For a time indeed, and whilst the intense idea still breathes its charms or its horrors on the mind, the delusion may continue: but it soon vanishes; and had we an opportunity of making the comparison, I suspect we should invariably discover, that the strength of the emotion in our dreams, was quite disproportionate to the apparent occasion which produced it.
This curious phaenomenon, which seems to have escaped investigation, may perhaps admit of the following easy and simple solution. In sleep, not only are our senses closed against all impressions from without, but the command which we possess over the train of our ideas, when awake, seems entirely suspended; nor do these ideas appear to suggest many of the various associations with which on other occasions they are usually combined: of course, whatever image is presented to the imagination under these circumstances, must exert its whole influence on the sensibility, undiminished by any disturbing action whatever; and enjoying full occupation of the mind, must excite there all the effect which such a cause operating on such a substance is capable of producing. The case is obviously very different when we are awake; since, to say nothing of the constant importunity of what is passing around us, some voluntary or some spontaneous suggestion is for ever mingling with the immediate object of our thoughts. If we are assailed by distress, the mind naturally turns to its resources; it looks backward, it looks forward; it adopts some fortifying reflection, it encourages some soothing hope; and contrives to abate its present suffering, by the powers of consolation or the prospect of deliverance. In our happiest moments, on the other hand, our delight is not unadulterated: some obtrusive care, some obscure suspicion, some cruel jealousy or apprehension; the mere reflection that all this bliss must soon end, and may be interrupted, alloys and vitiates our very purest enjoyments. We are more poignantly affected in our dreams than when awake, not because our sensibility is more acute, or the objects presented to it are more forcible and impressive than in real life—for the contrary may rather be presumed;—but because whatever affects us in this state, operates undisturbed by the various interfering influences which are perpetually mingling with the proper current of our ideas when awake, and abating the force of the predominant impression which obtains there.-A consideration of two or three cases something analogous to dreaming, will perhaps throw some additional light and evidence on this attempted explication.
I. The susceptibility of little children to gratification or distress, is obvious to everyone. Children have little to look back upon; and they look forward, still less; nor is their attention diverted by any of those associations which farther experience contracts: their minds are almost entirely engrossed with the occupation, whatever it he, of the moment. The morning of life, therefore, is something like a dream; and real existencies affect us, in this state, much in the same manner as visions do in sleep. A child who has its favourite plaything taken away, suffers more than a monarch from the dismemberment of his empire. The monarch, indeed, by summoning before him, in succession, all the consequences of his loss, his diminution of revenue, of power, and reputation, may protract his sufferings longer; but it is impossible not to think, that the little urchin, who shrieks, and stamps his foot, and is convulsed with grief, endures, for the time, more real vexation and anguish, than the unhappy Sovereign, who eats his dinner very calmly, and partakes, though somewhat cloudy perhaps, of his ordinary amusements. "I despair", says Mr. Burke, in his Introduction to the Sublime and Beautiful "of ever receiving the same degree of pleasure from the most excellent performances of genius, which I felt, at that age, from pieces which my present judgment regards as trifling and contemptible". Mr. B. ascribes this principally to the fastidiousness which a mind acquires from cultivation. And in some measure, no doubt, this accounts for the phenomenon; but not, I think, completely. There are many persons who pass in the world for men of fair understandings and competent taste, who are just as incapable, I apprehend, of discovering the blemishes of a first-rate composition, as a child is, of detecting the nonsense of Tom Thumb; yet I much question whether such a reader would derive half the gratification from the first perusal of the Aeneid, which infant curiosity eagerly extracts from the life and achievements of the other ill-fated hero. It is not merely that in early youth we are blind to defects, but that we enter with an entire and cordial interest into whatever captivates the imagination. When I first read Robinson Crusoe—(the remembrance of it is still delightful, and refreshing to the spirits)—I went along with him completely—I was absorbed in his adventures: I sailed with him on the raft; I saw the print of the foot upon the sands; I prattled with Friday. The most devoted novel-reader, in maturer life, I would suppose, never attains to such a perfection of illusion and interest. It is indeed scarcely possible that he should. As we advance in years, a thousand collateral considerations, the fruits of our knowledge and experience, break in upon our thoughts, and mingle their influences with whatever engages our attention; that integrity of feeling, which gave to youth its frankness and its fire, its keen susceptibility and ardent passions, gradually yields to the temperament of suggestions, which at once abate our joys and sorrows, our pleasures and our pains; and life insensibly assumes, under this equalising process, that subdued tone and evenness of tenor, which distinguish old age, and for which a mere decay of sensibility, or of the stimulus of novelty in the objects which act upon it, (though these causes no doubt co-operate), will be found., in themselves, very insufficient to account.
II. Intoxication; like sleep, induces an oblivion of the past and neglect of the future; dissolves the associations by which our ideas are ordinarily combined; and disposes us to a vivid perception of the images and feelings of the moment, by obstructing the avenues to other impressions. I am not sure that it materially promotes hilarity in any other than this negative way; for those who besot themselves privately, are often sufficiently grave, and conscious of no other effect from the stimulus of their potations, than the dispersion of care. Men assemble at the table on purpose to be gay; and festivity usually accompanies the social circulation of the bottle: our hearts expand; trifles delight us; an ordinary anecdote assumes poignancy and spirit; we are enchanted with a joke which our returning reason disdains; our mirth is intemperate, boisterous, and absurdly disproportionate to the occasion. It is not however to joyous emotions, exclusively, that wine quickens us, but, as we should naturally expect from the influence of such a cause, to the predominant impression, whatever it may be. Joy commonly prevails at the table, because it is preconcerted that it should do so: this convivial arrangement, however, is sometimes disturbed: men are often exquisitely sore and irascible in their cups, whether replenished with Falernian or Champagne; and, though certainly more rare, and somewhat ridiculous, I have witnessed scenes of drunken grief and tenderness, surpassing, to all appearance, what sober sensibility ever felt, and which the parties concerned have compared, on recollection, to the vivid mockery of dreams.
III. Though it be difficult to speculate on a condition of our unhappy species which we never experienced, and whose afflicting presence, wherever it prevails, we approach with trembling and horror, yet, as far as we can explore this obscure and dreadful visitation, there seems a striking analogy between insanity and dreaming. In both cases, an unreal vision is presented to the fancy, which extinguishing memory and foresight and arresting the whole attention of the mind, induces the deluded patient to think and reason and act, in a way, which, however consistent with the scene before him, appears to the waking and rational spectator in the highest degree incoherent and preposterous. In dreams, indeed, these apparent extravagancies are usually veiled; they are not however always so. There are persons who preserve in sleep a sufficient knowledge of their actual situation, to rise, dress themselves, and perform many of the common offices of life, though actuated all the time by a fantastic illusion. Such persons, on such occasions, exhibit the picture of madness. When Lady Macbeth, under the visitation of those "terrible dreams" that "shake her nightly", seizes her taper and stalks forth; when she sees and smells' the blood upon her hand—which is not there; when, in vacancy, she communes with her husband—so express an image does she present of mental alienation, that an audience, not previously prepared for the purpose, would naturally conclude that the great Master of the human heart designed to exhibit, in her person, the hideous, but less original and striking spectacle, of a mind impelled to distraction, and permanently deranged, by the complicated pangs of horror and remorse. The maniac, indeed, perceives more distinctly than the somnambulist, the real situation of things around him: his external senses are commonly perfect and acute; nor is there visibly anything in the construction of his organs, calculated to distort the representations they transmit. It is the vision within that disturbs him. Partly, this vision confounds the real representation, and assimilates it to its own ideal forms: partly, it should seem incapable of completing the delusion. The lunatic discovers that things about him are not, as according to the phantasm that possesses his mind, they ought to be: this distracts his hurried fancy; everything around, seems wild and discomposed; his dearest friends appear his bitterest enemies; the order of nature, to his imagination, is subverted; he feels oppressed by a general conspiracy of his species; and is filled with those dark, jealous and malignant suspicions, which are considered, I believe, by those conversant with this dreadful calamity, as, above all others, the most decisive tokens of insanity. As insanity bears this resemblance to dreaming, so it seems to partake of that extreme susceptibility, and to be exposed to those excesses of delight and sorrow, which form so remarkable a feature in our dreams. That there are "joys in madness which none but madmen know", has been affirmed by one who is supposed to have felt them; and is attested by the tumultuous and frantic transports which some maniacs exhibit. We shudder, indeed, at beholding them; and Gray's image, of
Moody madness, laughing wild
Amidst severest woe,
is amongst the most affecting that poetry presents: the woe, however, seems altogether confined to the spectator, who is naturally shocked at witnessing such insensibility to the heaviest affliction with which it has pleased the Almighty to humble the arrogance of man: the maniac himself, appears perfectly and eminently happy. As there occurs, in some sorts of madness, a vacancy from care and a swelling rapture of heart, surpassing, apparently, the most pleasurable emotions a sane mind ever feels, so, in other descriptions of this deplorable malady, we behold a settled and brooding melancholy, a deep despair, whose gloomy horrors no art can divert, no consolation can assuage, and of whose unutterable anguish, the sound imagination, it may be presumed, can form no conception whatever. The mind shrinks with dismay from the aspect and contagion of a woe, which, as it springs from no visible cause, admits of no discoverable relief; nor can we easily account for the exorbitance of misery, any more than for the extravagance of joy, in disordered intellects, but by supposing (as in dreams) a total absorption of the soul in the scene presented to it, and an entire seclusion from the influence of those palliative principles, which, in a waking and sober and rational agent, produce a sort of equanimity through all the vicissitudes of existence, and if they deaden our sensibility to some of the most endearing and exalted pleasures of life, seem designed too, in the constitution of our being, to mitigate its insupportable afflictions. The poignancy of existence, no doubt, is degraded by their action: but Hope, which may be regarded as a kind of voluntary and flattering dream of the future, still remains, our last best friend, to triumph over experience; and by anticipating only the bright side of the prospects before us, to shed a ray of interest upon scenes, which, were they presented to the mind with all the drawbacks that we are morally assured must attend the actual accomplishment of our fondest wishes, would stifle every generous exertion, and sink the human heart in listlessness and despondency.
FEB. the 7th
Finished the remaining Six Books of Paradise Lost. The Battle of the Angels, in the 6th Book,—a most daring effort of invention,—is supported with wonderful force, fire, and sublimity; and rises to the last:—nor do I, myself, when warmed with the subject, object to the taunting jeers, and scornful puns, of Satan and Belial.—In the 9th Book, Milton naturalises the fall of Man, with admirable address.—The interest of the poem, no doubt, in some measure declines as it advances; but, upon the whole, my opinion of this astonishing effort of genius, is greatly raised by this review of it. Compare the slender and unpromising stamina on which Milton had to work, with the stupendous production which he has formed upon them:—this is the way to estimate his powers of invention, the great characteristic of a Poet.
Read the 4th and last Book of Fielding's Joseph Andrews. I see no necessity for the marvellous in incident, at the conclusion of this Novel: which might have ended in the same easy and natural strain in which it had been conducted; and asserted its claim to interest, solely from the masterly effect with which it exhibited a picture of real life and manners, though sketched by one who has an evident propensity to seize their coarser features.
FEB. the 11th
Read Lindsay's Sermon on the death of Dr. Towers; containing a most eloquent and masterly display of the advantages of Revelation over Reason, in our prospects beyond the grave. He who can write thus, one wishes should write more.
Finished Fielding's Amelia. There is a still stronger and more disgusting taint of vulgarity, in this novel, than in Joseph Andrews. The authors' grand agent in all his women, but his heroines, seems the furor uterinus;<126> whose prurience, when insufficient for his purpose, he elegantly and ingeniously contrives to exasperate by cordials and philters!—Fielding, after all, is but a Dutch painter of manners: he cannot soar higher than the lowest scenes of high life; and he appears to descend, con amore, into the vilest and most blasted depths of low life.—Yet, whilst I deliver this censure, I must forget (for its other merits) Tom Jones.
Looked over Dr. Parr's strictures on Dr. Combo's Horace, in the British Critic for Jan. Feb. March and April, 1794. They evince great force of mind, and depth of erudition; but are evidently dictated by a spirit of personal and exceptious hostility, which, however warranted by circumstances, and however becoming in a separate and specific attack, but ill accords with the air of dignified impartiality and judicial candour which should pervade every article of a Work professing to sit in judgment, indiscriminately, on all the literary productions of the day. His character of Horace at the outset (p. 48.) is exquisitely finished: and what he alleges (p. 122.) in defence of verbal criticism in general, and closes (p. 423.) with saying of Bentley in particular, towers into tranacendant excellence.
FEB. the 16th
Finished the 1st Book of Dr. Hey's Lectures in Divinity. His manner struck me as stiff and perplexed, at first: but this wears off, as I advance.—Hey understands (c. 12, sect. 15.) what Mosheim affirms of the Platonists—that they asserted the innocence of maintaining truth by fraud—as applied to the Platonic Christians: I incline to think the ecclesiastical historian means, the revivers of the Platonic philosophy in general. What Hey says, in a note immediately afterwards, of Warburton's talking of the roguery that is apt to mix with enthusiasm, relates, I suppose, to that passage in the D. L.<127> (B. 3. sect. 6.) which maintains the mixture of enthusiasm and policy in all great conquerors and founders of states,—though it hardly sustains this charge. —The exposition (c. 13.) of the inconceivable difficulty of forging narratives which shall pass as true, as applied to the Scriptures, has great force indeed.—The principles on which (cs. 15. and 16.) he defends the credibility, of miracles, and with respect, to which he seems to have been misled by Hume, leave the question more involved, and the mind more dissatisfied, than they found it. Twice he intimates (sect. 22, c. 15, and sect. 10, c. 16.) that, after all, we must refer something to the same powers of judging that we unconsciously exercise about prudence, beauty, virtue, &c; of which we scarcely know the nature, nor can well describe the action: though we must not rest in these feelings, where it can be avoided; but should endeavour to analyse them, and to regulate their operation by reason and utility. Ultimately, no doubt, belief must be referred to inexplicable feeling; but the farther we can advance in simplifying and classing the principles on which this feeling is produced, the better.—He denies (c. 18, sect 11.) that Christians, as such, are intolerant: I still think, however, that Gibbon's imputation of a tendency to intolerance in the very nature of the Christian faith, is perfectly well founded.—Morality, he considers (c. 19, sects. 3 and 12 ) as nothing but a set of rules conducive to happiness, established and recognized by the moral sense; that this moral sense is generated by degrees; and that these rules must arise from experience. He distinctly lays it down (sect. 14.) that he who performs his duties from any principle which extends not beyond mankind—as rectitude, honour, benevolence, prudence, moral sense, the general good, the law of nature, or the fitness of things—acts from motives of virtue; he who performs them from any view to God, acts from motives of religion. I perfectly concur in this distinction.—That part of the Appendix, which developer the effects that the general principles of human nature, and the particular character of different states and stages of society, would naturally have, in modifying the Christian religion as delivered to us by its Founder, is uncommonly able.
FEB. the 21st
Read the 2nd Book of Hey's Theological Lectures. Controversy, he wishes (cs. 1. and 2.) to be conducted on the principle, of the two parties, not decidedly differing, but having doubts in common, which they desire to have cleared up by the assistance of two advocates and a judge properly qualified for their respective offices. He, is not (c. 3.) for excluding, but limiting, the use of the great characteristic of man—ridicule; a topic which he treats very felicitously. The whole evinces great candour, and refined discernment. To ridicule a subject (c. 3; sect. 11.) he defines, to be the exhibiting two different views of it, at the same time; one, which shall excite some sort of respect; the other, an opposite and predominant feeling: and on the propriety of employing this test, he enquires, at the close of the chapter, whether it is not the part of a larger proposition, That we should correct our reason by our feelings, and our feelings by our reason?—Under the limitation, that the topics of ridicule should be drawn from the subject itself, or from some matter with which it stands naturally and strictly connected, there seems no just exception to the application of this criterion: but otherwise, it is surely possible, by a mischievous dexterity, to reflect derision and disgrace, on any theme, however serious, and however true—and indeed the more solemn its character, the more easy will be to effect this injustice.—Stating (sect. 12, c. 2.) the object of controversy to be truth, he appends, in a note, "Truth or justice; either word might do: all virtues have been considered, as species of truth; and also, as reducible to justice".—Hey's general seriousness, is occasionally chastised by a festivity which is highly pleasing; and not the less so, for being unexpected.
FEB. the 25th
Finished the 3rd Book of Hey's Lectures. In the first five chapters he contends for the propriety of Articles of Faith, as promotive of unity of doctrine, which unity conduces to public worship, which mode of worship tends (through the principles of association and sympathy, from which, he thinks, most of our sentiments and affections may be deduced) to cultivate religious sentiments, which sentiments actuate our conduct:—something after the manner of "The house that Jack built". He then proceeds to prepare the way for his construction of the Articles of our Church, by maintaining, That (cs. 6. 7. and 8.) the sense which the Church, for the time being, entertains of its Articles, though it be a new one, is the sense in which they should be taken; That (c. 9.) in regarding their primitive sense, the circumstances under which they were imposed—as the heresies they were designed to guard against—should be particularly considered; and, That (c. 10.) unintelligible Articles may with propriety be subscribed, the object here, being, not truth, but utility, in not neglecting the revelation of God though at present obscure, and preserving that uniformity of worship by which devout sympathy is heightened—a proposition which savours a little of "la morale des Jesuites".—Superstition (c. 15. sect. 1.) Hey grounds in fear; and places it, in seeing the immediate agency and design of the Deity in external phaenomena: enthusiasm, in presumption; and places it in seeing the same agency and design in the internal affections of the mind: the joint and undetermined influence of both, he thinks, properly constitutes fanaticism: mysticism he regards as the result of inordinate devout affections.
FEB. the 28th
Finished a perusal of Ovid's Metamorphoses: a most extraordinary contexture of strange tales undoubtedly, and woven one into the other with exquisite and inimitable address, but of which it is surely impossible to think, with Warburton, (D. L., B. 3, sect. 3.), that it was constructed on a grand and regular plan, as a popular history of Providence; inculcating, by a methodical series of fables founded on a corruption of Pagan history from the creation of the world down to his own times,—that the Gods punished impiety!—a discovery, in all respects, worthy of its, author.—Ovid, one would think, must have known best; but surely the fulsome adulation paid to Augustus, in the close, at the expense of Julius Caesar, never could have flattered. The friend of Horace, Virgil, and Maecenas, must have had a better taste.—From the, "impleratque uterum generoso germine", B. 9, v. 280; and again, "ingentique implet Achille",<128> B. 11, v. 265, Milton probably caught his "Filled her with thee a daughter fair".—Ovid's exuberant imagination often carries us delightfully away; but I am afraid, with all its charms, we shall search in vain, in the Metamorphoses, for those great characteristics, which Hume, in his Essay on Eloquence, considers as distinguishing "a work of genius, from the adulterate beauties of a capricious wit and fancy".
MARCH the 2nd
Read the first Eight Chapters (each Chapter corresponding to an Article) of the 4th B. of Hey's Lectures. The doctrine of the Trinity, he inclines to think (c. 1.), was not reduced into form till the 4th century: he confesses that it is perfectly unintelligible, and would better be expressed by negative terms; that it is a mere hypothesis framed to make the different texts on the subject consistent—as gravitation has been assumed to account for the various phenomena of nature—and at the same time to guard against the various false suppositions which have been started for the purpose; considers Trinitarians and Anti-Trinitarians as having formed their respective doctrines in a different way, the former consulting the expressions of Scripture, and submitting their reason to the result, the latter drawing first their conclusions from reason, and then endeavouring to interpret Scripture conformably—on some occasions, with so much violence to the text, and at the expense of such extrusions from it, as might seem to admit that the doctrine is really contained there; and expresses a wish—a candid and judicious one, I think—that this mysterious topic had been suffered to remain in the indefinite state in which it rested before Christians engaged in controversy on the subject.—In the 2nd c. he applies the same train of observation, but as it appears to me with less success, to the 2nd Article: and concludes with suggesting, whether the texts of Scripture from which such doctrines are taken, ought to be studied scientifically; whether they were not the indefinite expressions of strong feeling; and whether, regarding them in this light, Christians of different opinions and tastes, might not unite in the same worship, and partake of the same spiritual food, as guests of different palates join in the same convivial repast? There is something much above the mere theologian in these suggestions.—With respect to morals, Christianity, he remarks (c. 6, sect. 5.) is not systematical—does not describe limits of rights and obligations: it rather enforces what it takes for granted, than teaches what is new: but then it searches, rectifies, and warms the heart, from which all particular modes of conferring happiness, flow; and gives a sanction to virtue of every kind, in every stage of its progressive improvement. This is happily conceived; and not less felicitously expressed.—Hey considers (c. 7.) only the moral part of the Mosaic dispensation, as binding upon Christians; but then he seems to think that some of the ceremonial laws are moral in substance; and distinctly contends (sect. 13.) that the 4th Commandment, enjoining the observance of the Sabbath—(indeed that the whole Decalogue)—is of this description.—In treating of the Athanasian Creed (c. 8.), he pushes his refinements, till he loses his credit. "No minister", he expressly affirms, "has a right to say, you will be damned if you do not account my doctrines essential to the Christian faith"; yet he zealously defends the damnatory clauses in that Creed. Common sense revolts at such a glaring contradiction.
Read the First Book of the Aeneid. There seems to be much the same relative difference between Ovid and Virgil, as between Ariosto and Tasso: Ovid's fancy, is wild and luxuriant; Virgil's, chaste and elevated: Ovid's expression, exuberantly varied; Virgil's, pure, elegant, and sometimes exquisitely felicitous—"pleno se proluit auro",<129> what can be finer!—: but in force of genius and sublimity of invention, I cannot think that Virgil will endure comparison with Milton. By the bye—did not Milton catch his
My word, my wisdom, and effectual might!"
—P. L., B. 3, v.170.
from Virgil's "Nate: meae vires, mea magna potentia"<130> Aeneid, L. 1. v. 664. Something seems very faulty in the passage beginning "Id metuens, &c." v. 24.<131>
MARCH the 7th
Pursued Hey's Lectures, B. 4. In the Introduction to the 2nd Part, he very justly remarks, that popular language expresses merely our immediate feelings; and that when we expand these expressions into general propositions, those propositions will often clash with each other.—Original Sin, he construes (c. 9.) into our appearing in the world as members of an offending community; and having a corrupted nature, derived, as bodily and mental evil is transmitted in the natural course of things, by inheritance: and he inclines to ascribe the source of both, to Adam's transgression. There appear, says he (sect. 38.) two Laws of God's government: one is, "parents by their conduct affect their children"; the other, "each man must work out his own salvation": as rules of action, these do not clash; the first is for the parent, the second for the child.—On a similar principle he endeavours (c. 10.) to solve the seeming difficulties and contradictions respecting free-will and necessity—spontaneity and divine grace—by remarking the different lights in which the same fact is, and ought to be, regarded, in different points of view. When we enter into the situation of the agent, we speak of his actions as free; when we enter into the situation of the spectator, we speak of them as necessary: beforehand, we should consider our future conduct as entirely depending on ourselves; afterwards, we should refer the good of it, to God: the same offence as instigated by Satan, is sin; as suggested by God, a judgment. The fact, is the same; the expression of that fact, springs from, and is addressed (in popular language) to, the feelings; which are different, according to the different relations in which that fact is viewed.: and he employs on this subject (sect. 49.) very felicitously, the illustration of a man withinside, and another withoutside, of a sphere, disputing on its convexity or concavity.—So (c. 11) on the doctrine of Justification: looking forward, we must strive to act as if all depended on ourselves; looking backward, even on the best course of conduct, we can only hope to be justified, in the sight of God, through the merits of Christ:—the former view, should stimulate our diligence; the latter, humble our pride.
Read to the end of the 6th Book of the Aeneid. I felt far more affected than, from recollection, I expected I should have been, with the last moments of Dido. Virgil appears to have exerted all his pathetic powers on this interesting occasion: yet one may a little question his judgment in doing so; for the more we sympathise with the unhappy Queen, the more his Hero is degraded. Aeneas, in no instance, makes a respectable figure; but in his final interview with Dido, he is contemptible.—The Games, in the 5th Book, are admirably conducted; and exhibit a fine example of improvement on their prototypes in Homer.—In the 6th Book, I do not discover a single trait which warrants Warburton's wild hypothesis. Both the topography and economy of the regions below, appear perplexed and obscure; and the whole subterraneous scene—even Elysium itself—most fearfully gloomy.
MARCH the 12th
Pursued Hey's Lectures, B. 4. On the doctrine of Atonement,—or our acceptance with God, notwithstanding our imperfections, in consequence of the merits and sufferings of Christ,—he observes (Appendix c. 11. sect. 29) that there is nothing in it repugnant to the natural sentiments of mankind:—we reward the son of a benefactor, for his father's sake; and a whole society may be benefited, on account of the services of the head of it.—On Predestination (c. 17.) he observes, that the texts in favour of this doctrine, were originally introduced in such a manner as to excite some good and pious sentiment; and that we may properly refer important events, in a general way, to the purpose of God—not as a practical rule, or speculative truth—but with a view to excite or assist devotional or moral feelings. We do the same, he observes, perpetually, in common language, on common occasions. With respect to prescience and free-will, he thinks (sect. 90) it may be impossible certainly to foresee how free agents will act; and God has only all possible knowledge.—His softenings down, and smoothing, and varnishing of the Articles—the 18th, for instance, and the 23rd-are infinitely curious.—It appears (c. 22, sect. 4) that the Jubilees at the close of the century, were kept in the years 1300, 1400 &c.: Hey thinks the preceding year is more properly the last:—he is surely wrong.—"He who refuses to admit a doctrine", Hey observes (c. 22, sect. 21), "does not of course deny it; and it may be wrong, in some cases, either to adopt or reject a notion."-In c. 21. sect. 9, he classes Voltaire and Jortin (of whom he had before, B. 4. c. 9. sect 8, spoken disparagingly) together, as flippant writers; in some little deviation, surely, from his own canons of controversy: and the mode in which he treats Robinson (c. 27, sect. 16) skews how the mild and candid Hey can occasionally feel and express himself. Such discords, unprepared and unresolved, are, from him, quite shocking.
Pursued the Aeneid. In the 7th Book, there is a very perceptible falling off; think, in smoothness and finish: Virgil becomes slovenly, harsh, and perplexed: the callida junctura,<132> the easy flow, and natural transition, are conspicuously wanting; and I am persuaded we have only the rough draft of the poet's thoughts, which his correct and exquisite taste would afterwards have polished into perfection—all the perfection, I mean, of which the productions of his genius are susceptible.—The comparison of Amata (v. 378, &c.) agitated into madness by the furies, to a whipped top, is surely very puerile and ridiculous: the "Dant animos plagae",<133> at the close of this simile, would be no bad quotation in favour of birch.
MARCH the 16th
Finished the 39 Chapters (corresponding to the Articles) which compose the 4th and last Book of Hey's Lectures. Noticing (c. 28, sect. 10) the doctrine of the Romanists, who maintain that Christ's Body is naturally at the right hand of God, and sacramentally at other places, he acutely remarks, "where ideas are wanting, how useful are words!"—The 32nd c., he opens with observing, "That if one could give the natural principles of any subject, they would connect all facts; and make the best key to the history of men's practice: for all practice is only the operation of natural principles in different circumstances":-a remark at once profound and just.—Speaking of rites and ceremonies (c. 34, sect 4) he eloquently says, "all our best and finest tastes and feelings are to be set in motion, and made subservient to religion-our love of truth; our relish of order; our taste for beauty, sublimity, harmony, are to be solicited, engaged, interested: our passions are to be thrown into a devout course; and to have objects presented, which will excite and inflame them".—The being "moved by the Holy Ghost" to take holy orders, he pares away (c. 36, sect. 17) into "being conscious of good intentions" in undertaking the priestly office:—"it may afterwards be referred, with other good events, to the influence of the Spirit".—The spirit of improvement, he observes (c. 37, sect. 3), with great truth, is mild and gentle, when actuated by the good expected to accrue from it:—harsh and austere, when goaded by the faults and failures which seem to obstruct it. Speaking afterwards (sect. 19) of some of the difficult precepts of Christianity, he judiciously remarks, that what is desirable, must be limited by, and can only be attained through, what is practicable: and that though rules are delivered singly, they must not be taken as single rules and applied universally, to the exclusion of all others; but, that one rule must limit another; and that all must be tacitly limited by considerations of the greatest good.
Perspicacity, and a spirit of subtle and accurate discrimination, appear the distinguishing features of Dr. Hey's mind: but it is impossible not to perceive and mark, that these qualities are employed, on the subject which he treats, rather in the character of an advocate, who most ingeniously defends a difficult cause with which he has been entrusted, than in that of a sincere enquirer after truth, who impartially delivers his best judgment on the merits of a question which he has undertaken to investigate.—Putting all arguments on the case aside, is it not the most extraordinary thing in the world, that those who settled the doctrines of our particular Church, two centuries and a half ago, on questions the most abstruse and the most controverted, should, on every occasion, have been exactly right!
Perused the "Farmer's Boy"; a rural Poem, by Robert Bloomfield; edited by Capel Lofft. Works of mere comparative merit—which derive their claim to attention, not from any intrinsic excellence, but the unpropitious circumstances under which they were executed—are usually sickening; but I confess myself to have been sincerely and highly delighted with this pleasing poem, which vividly reflects the series of interesting images that, touched the sensibility of a young and untutored observer employed in rustic service through the year. Originality, on themes so hackneyed as pastoral delights, is invaluable; and we have it here, free from all taint of affectation, pure and unadulterate.
MARCH the 19th
Finished Pearson's Remarks on the Theory of Morals. He opens (c. 1.) with investigating the foundation of virtue; and defines it "voluntary obedience to the will of God"; contending that this, and this alone, it is; which constitutes any action virtuous or the contrary:—"what God commands, is right, and right because he commands it; what God forbids, is wrong, and wrong because he forbids it":—in perfect consistency with which principle, when he proceeds, in the next chapter, to consider the rule of virtue, he observes, that no one rule or criterion, other than one equivalent with the foundation of virtue, can comprehend all virtuous actions, or denote in any the quality which alone makes them so; but that the different rules which have been proposed on this head, though each exclusively inadequate and insufficient, have all their value, considered as indicative of the will of God; which consideration alone, however, can constitute any action performed under them, virtuous.—I object to this theory of my learned and amiable friend, in toto. In treating any popular subject, a philosopher has an unquestionable right to affix precise limits to the signification of the term, by which, in popular language, that topic is loosely and vaguely denoted:—he may perhaps venture to extend this signification, in some points, where it appears to include too little; and restrict it in others, where it appears to embrace too much: but he will exercise this power with extreme caution; and will always endeavour to keep distinctly and steadily in view, in spirit and in substance, the real subject-matter which that term, in its customary import, is meant and employed to designate. Without this, it is obvious, his speculations, however correct in themselves, must necessarily be delusive in application. "Obedience to the will of God", may be a better rule of conduct—may be derived from a higher source, and present stronger incentives to its observance—than any which mere Virtue can boast; but I do most strenuously contend, that it is a rule of conduct quite distinct from virtue, as virtue is distinct from that; that the quality of actions which stands recognized in the sentiments and expressions of mankind as virtuous, and which, of necessity, can alone be virtue, involves no consideration whatever of the divine will; and, consequently, that the System which places the essence of moral distinction in an intentional obedience or disobedience to that will, however felicitously descriptive of a more exalted principle of action, as a Theory of Virtue, is fundamentally erroneous.—Mr. Pearson (c. 1.) very justly objects to Dr. Paley's definition of virtue, which, in addition to obedience to the will of God, requires our being actuated "by the hope of everlasting happiness", that it excludes a multitude of actions approved by all mankind as virtuous: but surely the same objection applies, with equal force, though in somewhat a less extent, to his own. Will it be contended that an atheist is quite incapable of virtue or vice—that whether he poisons a kind benefactor to get possession of his wealth, or at the imminent hazard of life rescues an oppressor from destruction, there is no moral difference whatever in his actions?—If virtue consists in intentional obedience to the will of God, vice can consist only in a designed disobedience to that will—will this consequence be admitted?—But without putting extreme cases, I should broadly and unequivocally maintain, as a fundamental distinction on the subject, that actions performed from a sense of obedience to the divine will, are, in their nature and essence, emphatically, not virtuous, but religious. In practice, no doubt, these two principles will often be found to conspire, in inciting us to the performance of our duties: but for the purposes of accurate enquiry, it is essentially requisite that we should keep them, in speculation, perfectly distinct.
MARCH the 22nd
Read Hall's Sermon on Infidelity. It is really a most eloquent and masterly discourse; and nearly deserves the unbounded and unqualified praises bestowed upon it in the last Monthly Review. He has caught much from Burke, something from Mackintosh, and a little from myself: but what he has thus snatched, he has fairly made his own; and the whole composition bears, throughout, that strong impress of original character, which always distinguishes the productions of true genius.
Finished the Aeneid. Virgil's excellence, it is obvious, consists, not in the daring flights of a vigorous and sublime imagination, but in the exquisite art and consummate taste with which he turns, and polishes, and refines into perfection, both of sentiment and expression, the graceful products of a chaste and elegant fancy. Works of transcendent genius, are often rather enfeebled than improved by the last touches of the artist; and the rudest sketch of a great master, has power to fill us with admiration, by asserting the mighty energies from which it sprung: but in compositions whose principal merit is high finishing, the want of that finish, is the want of their most engaging charm—of all by which they can hope to allure our regard; and decoy us into approbation. Had Virgil lived, he would, no doubt, have greatly improved the latter portion of his poem: but it is in the subordinate department of the epic, that he was alone qualified to shine; and we may be quite sure, that his hero, partaking of his own character, would never have been great. From his first appearance, in a panic, to his final demolition of Turnus—an event ill contrived to set off either his magnanimity or prowess—Aeneas exhibits few traits which either conciliate our affection or command our respect: and after all the efforts which have been made to interest us in his favour, we dismiss him at last from our recollection with frigid indifference. Homer's second rate actors, amuse and engage us infinitely more than Virgil's principal performers.
MARCH the 25th
Read Godwin's St. Leon. In the preface, he explicitly abjures the doctrine of extinguishing the private affections, which he had inculcated in his Political Justice; and the subsequent pages bear repeated testimony to the sincerity and completeness of his conversion:—yet he professes to see no cause to change the fundamental principle of that work! I flatter myself with having been instrumental in a little humanizing him; but the volcanic and blasphemous spirit still peeps, occasionally, through a flimsy disguise. His sentiments and expressions are often borrowed; and the account of the interrogatories at the Inquisition, with the decoy employed there, are directly and impudently stolen from Mrs. Radcliffe. In his, struggles to be sublime, there is something inexpressibly hideous and revolting:—they are not the exertions of mighty power, but the convulsive throes and ghastly agonies of a distempered sensibility.—After all, too, though one may be amused with the adventures of St. Leon, what impression do they leave upon the mind? They do not indoctrinate the unsatisfactory nature of boundless opulence and immortal youth, as Nourjahad does,—for St. Leon seems rather persecuted by his ill fortune, than by the natural consequences of his supernatural acquisitions. What, then, do they inculcate?—I am quite unable to tell.
Read Warner's Metron Ariston, reviving Mekerchus' scheme of reading Greek and Latin verse according to quantity. This work is teasingly written; but it convinces me. If quantity is not observed in recitation, why should it be observed in writing? He is certainly right.
Αίγιάλώ μεγάλω βρέμεται σμαρουγεί δέ τε ποντος
[Aigialo megalo bremetai smarougei de te pontos]<135>
How grandly and expressively does this verse sound, pronounced with the emphasis which the measure demands! And who that has read it thus, will read it again in the common fashion, under the direction of those severe sticklers for quantity, whose chaste ears affect to be struck with pious horror at a false accent, while by those very accents they are for ever violating the only rational purpose for which the rules of prosody, enjoining the observance of that quantity, could possibly have been framed!
MARCH the 27th
Read, after a long intermission (April 27th, 1797) the 2nd Volume of Gregory's Essays. The distinction which he labours to establish, between the relation of motive and action, and that of cause and effect, and on which he endeavours to found the liberty of human action, is this, that in the mind there is a self-governing, self—determining power (properly denominated force of mind, he thinks), which enables it to act in opposition to any motive presented to us.—That such a distinction exits, and that we possess such a power, his most striking illustration is, the case of a porter assured of a certain reward for going in one direction, and of another reward for going in another. Were intellectual motives, like physical causes, irresistible, and constantly conjoined with actions as the latter with effects, then, Gregory contends, he must take a diagonal course between the two; or else there would be an effect wholly or partly without a cause, or a cause wholly or partly without an effect:—for, that motives which do not exactly concur do not directly oppose each other, is not only contrary to physical analogy, but to experience; since we often do really act from combined motives of this kind, differently from what we should have acted from the influence of either separately. If it be urged, that the stronger motive, only, is conjoined with its proper action, and all weaker and opposing motives separated from theirs, then if two equal and opposite motives are applied to a person at the same time, he cannot act at all: and if a small inclining motive to superadded, it follows, that a person must act from that superadded motive alone, however trivial, precisely as he would have been compelled to act from the greater motive, either applied alone, or opposed by an equal motive and assisted by the additional one in question; which he considers as a reductio ad absurdum<136>.—To the advocate for necessity, who contends, that the will is determined by the judgment of the understanding, and the judgment by the case presented to it, Gregory seems to reply, that our judgments are by no means involuntary, since attention, on which they are founded, is in a great degree voluntary; and that we frequently act in dire& opposition to our judgment—as, he maintains, would perpetually he the ease, were it not for that very self-determining power on which he founds the freedom of our actions. This power—this force of mind—he admits, is different in different persons: but though we should allow that it might be overpowered in all, it would not therefore be annihilated in any way.—The relation of evidence and belief, (where no such power obtains), bears, he thinks, a nearer affinity to cause and effect, than that of motive and action does but even these, he contends, are manifestly different.—Gregory is so abundantly slow and cautious in all his steps, and so tediously prolix in descanting as he crawls along, that it is often difficult to collect a just sense of his meaning; and I am not sure of having extracted the rectified spirit of his voluminous labours correctly.
MARCH the 31st
Looked over Dionysius Halicarnasseus Περί συνθέσεως ὀνομάτων [Peri syntheseos onomaton]<137> in which there is an infinite deal about nothing—great preparation and little advance—pompous display of learning and trifling instruction. The distinction he makes (sects. 10 and 11.) between τό θ' 'ηδύ [to th'edu] and τό χαλόν, [to chalon] might, I once thought, throw light on Horace's "non satis est pulchra esse poemata, dulcia sunto";<138> but it would be endeavouring to illustrate "obscurum per obscurius."<139>—In the 17th and 18th sects. he gives a good account of the different feet in prosody. If the observance of these, was so essential (as he makes it) to constitute a good discourse, they must have been observed in speaking:—it is impossible that their sole effect should have been (as it now is), to please the eye upon paper, or the fancy on reflection.
Finished Moore's Mordaunt. It has no pretensions in point of fable, but it pleases me more than any of his novels. All the personages brought forward, are spiritedly and characteristically sketched; and the poetical justice of the piece, is exemplarily observed:—it is impossible not to be delighted at the appropriate retribution to Grindill and Lady Deanport, springing out of their own flagitious principles and conduct. I will not dwell on the defects of this Work: they are but few.
APRIL the 6th
Read Cicero De Inventione.<140> After vast parade of preparation, but little (as might be foreseen) is effected. The exercise of invention, is a fit subject of regulation; but of all the prerogatives of genius, invention itself, seems the least capable of being communicated, or materially assisted, by art; and even the prolific vigour of Cicero, appears to sink under the exhausting and hopeless attempt to impregnate a barren fancy.—Under the head of "probabilia in opinione",<141> he gives as examples (L. 1, c. 29.), "Impiis apud inferos poenas esse praeparatus: Eos, qui philosophise dent operam, non arbitrari deos esse"<142>:—what are we to make of this?—In considering (L. 2, c. 22.) the origin of Law, he defines "jus naturae", "quod nobis, non opinio, sed quidem innata vis afferat";<143> though he seems to think, that independently of these dictates of nature, we are led to the enactment of laws, sometimes by the perception of utility, and sometimes by the force of custom.—"Res expetendae" he divides (c. 52.) into the "honestum", the object of virtue, which, "sua vi nos alliciat, et propter se est petendum",—as science, truth, &c; and the "utile", which, "non propter suam vim et naturam, sed propter fructum, petendum est",—as money;<144> and objects combined of both—as friendship, fame, &c.—There is a strange similitude (in treating of this and the former subject) between passages in c. 22, and others in cs. 53 and 54: the same sentiment is repeated in nearly the same terms—a mark of carelessness, which I do not remember to have observed before in any of Cicero's compositions.—In the last paragraph of c. 54, he remarks, that it is not merely the opposite to virtue, which is vice; but that which appears to be near, though it is in fact remote: thus "fidentiae contrarium, est diffidentia, et ea re vitium est; audacia, non contrarium sed appositum est ac propinquum, et tamen vitium est".<145> This observation, however acute, is perplexing as Cicero puts it: but the subject clears up, on reflecting, that virtue consists in the possession of a certain degree of any quality; and that the excess or defect of it, are equally faulty. A certain degree of confidence in the professions of mankind, is essential to the maintenance of social intercourse: an excess of this quality, in a rash reliance on those professions; or a defect of it, in a temper for ever suspicious and distrustful, are both, in nearly the same proportion, culpable: the supposed opposition and propinquity are merely verbal or ideal:—The commonplace topics by which Cicero endeavours to prompt invention, in this piece, display astonishing fertility of fancy on his part; but they must be consulted, rather than retained.
APRIL the 9th
Looked into Marsh's Michaelis. Michaelis reckons 292 Mss of the whole or a part of the New Testament, in Greek, which have been wholly or partially collated; to which Marsh adds 177 more, making in the whole 469: of these, only two, the Montfortianus and Ravianus, and those both modern, contain the disputed passage in the 1st Epistle of John, c. 5, v. 7. The four fundamental printed editions, from which all the rest, with one or two exceptions, are taken, are, the Complutensian (Editio Princeps), Erasmus', Beza's, and Stephens'. It appears (Vol. 2, p. 780) that a Ms copy which belonged to Cromwell, is deposited, with his other Mss, in the Bodleian Library.—Marsh (Vol. 2, p. 892) mentions a Greek, who, in reading verse, distinctly marked both accent and quantity; raising or depressing his voice, according to the former; and shortening or prolonging it, according to the latter; and this independently of each other. We, he observes, reject the Greek accents, and pronounce it as if it were Latin; which we again pronounce, not according to quantity, but accent—in dissyllables, accenting the first syllable, whether long or short; in polysyllables, the penultimate, if long; if short, the antepenultimate, whether long or short: so that there is only one case in which the accent and quantity must necessarily coincide—which is, where the penultimate is long. It is to this mixture of coincidence and disagreement, that he ascribes the harmony of Latin verse; which is greatest, he conceives, where this mixture most obtains; while the effect, he asserts, would be intolerable, did accent and quantity always coincide—instancing an hexameter consisting of six words, of which the first five are dactyls. But suppose two or three of those words to be, not real dactyls, but trisyllables which we dactylise in defiance of quantity:—here the effect, on the ear, would be precisely the same; yet the mixture he talks of, complete. From what authority, too, I should wish to ask, is our mode of accenting Latin as we do, derived?
APRIL the 12th
Read Frend's Animadversions on Prettyman's Theology:—more temperate and chastised than I expected; though the spirit of this bold reformer still shines through him. The Bishop has unquestionably brought himself into an awkward scrape, by requiring implicit assent to the Articles from others, while he withholds it from them, in some instances, himself.—Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, Frend regards as merely temporary rites:—the former, for new converts, in compliance with Jewish prejudices; the latter, for the Apostles merely, so long as they observed the Passover.
Finished Parson's Letters to Travis, on the disputed passage in John:<50> displaying uncommon robustness of judgment, keenness of perspicacity, and vigour of argumentation. In the consciousness of transcendent superiority, he dandles Travis as a tiger would a fawn; and appears only to reserve him alive, for a time, that he may gratify his appetite for sport, before he consigns his feeble prey, by a rougher squeeze, to destruction.—The whole argument is ably summed up at the close of the last Letter.
APRIL the 16th
Finished a perusal of Warton's Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope. Invention, he regards as the characteristic of a Poet; and therefore looks upon Burnet (the cosmogonist—not the Bishop), and Addison in his prose works, as displaying a truly poetic, i.e., creative genius: Pope, though an excellent improver, he esteems no great original inventor; and rests his pretensions to immortal fame as a poet (as he afterwards narrows those of Dryden to his Fables) on his Windsor Forest, the Rape of the Lock, and Eloisa's Epistle to Abelard—observing, that wit and satire, are transitory and perishable; but nature and passion, eternal.—The fine arts, he thinks (p. 182.),—poetry, painting, music—naturally flourish in the luxury of monarchy; but the sciences, eloquence, history, and philosophy, demand the freedom of a republic to raise them to their full vigour and growth. I doubt exceedingly whether this distinction can be sustained either by reason or experience. At first glance, I should suppose, that such productions as most powerfully agitated strong feeling, would be most in request, and most likely to be supplied, in a republic; those which administered gratification to a delicate and refined taste, in a monarchy:—but this is a very hasty view of the subject.—In enquiring into the causes, why genius declines as taste improves, he asks, at the close of the 3rd sect., "whether that philosophical, that geometrical and systematical spirit, so much in vogue, which has spread itself from the sciences even into polite literature, by consulting only reason, has not diminished and destroyed sentiment; and made our poets write from and to the head, rather than the heart?" This is just, as far as it goes: but why, as knowledge, civilization, and refinement, advance, reason should thus encroach upon sentiment, is not so obvious. Partly, no doubt, it arises from the dissipation of those illusions by which, in times less knowing, sensibility was excited and cherished; partly, from the difficulty with which a fastidious taste can be satisfied by what remains to be presented to it from the regions of imagination: but much, I think, must be ascribed to the discovery, that in a settled and quiescent state of things—a state rather of speculation than action-we are far more uniformly and steadily accessible to what is addressed to our reason, than our feelings; to be gratified with what is rational, than to be amused with what is pleasing, or touched with what is moving. Nature and passion, it is true, are eternal; and just representations of them will ever continue to delight: but addresses to our understanding, we find, are more constant, and sure, and appreciable in their effects; and they accordingly rise, with the progress of society, in our esteem.—The use, the force, and the excellence, Warton observes (sect. 10.) of language—an excellence essential to poetry—consists in raising clear, complete, and circumstantial images; and thus turning readers into spectators: the prevailing fault in poets, is the dwelling in generalities; and Homer was fortunate in writing before general and abstract terms were invented. Tacitus, on this occasion, he calls a great Poet; and soon afterwards pronounces Pain's-Hill, and Persefield, fine examples of practical poetry; and Brown, a great painter:<146>—vivid and forcible expressions.—Of Pope's Preface to the Iliad, he speaks in very different terms Vol. 1, p. 115; and Vol. 2, p. 475: a change of opinion, which may in some measure be explained by the length of time which elapsed between the publication of these volumes.—He sums up and concludes, with ascribing to Pope, in a tone more subdued (I think) than that with which he started, the characteristic excellence of judgment rather than invention.—The multifarious erudition and exquisite taste which Warton displays in his critiques, the various productions he takes occasion to perstringe in his progress through Pope's Works, and the curious anecdotes with which he occasionally seasons his remarks, render this Essay one of the most interesting and delightful compositions in the English language.
APRIL the 17th
Read Pope's Preface to the Iliad. He makes invention the grand characteristic of genius, of poetical excellence, and of Homer. It is Homer's superiority of invention, that renders his fable, so extensive and copious; his manners, so lively and forcibly marked; his speeches, so affecting and transported; his sentiments, so warm and sublime; his images and descriptions, so full and animated; his expression, so raised and daring; and his numbers, so rapid and various.—Pope could at least enthusiastically praise, the quality which Warton imagines be did not eminently possess.—As Homer's peculiar excellence is invention, so Virgil's, in Pope's estimation, is judgment. He is certainly right: though one always listens with some scruples of caution, to a comparative estimate of poetical merit by a translator of one of the parties.
Looked over Price's Three Essays on the Picturesque; in which he attempts the difficult task of reducing his principles, on this subject, to practice. In the first, on Artificial Water, he is more successful than I expected. In the 2nd, on the Decorations near the House, be contends, very forcibly, for the spirited effect here, of symmetrical abruptness, in graves, parapets, balustrades, statues, fountains, &c, after the old Italian style of gardening; as, in the distance, he would have the picturesque effects of irregular abruptness, in rocks, broken ground, and nature unreformed; employing the modem style of landscape gardening, to form a gradual and easy transition between them.—The 3rd Essay, on the Picturesque in Architecture, is very unsatisfactory.
APRIL the 20th
Read again Hurd's Dissertations, on Universal Poetry, and The Provinces of the Drama.—In the former, on the ground that the end of poetry is pleasure, to which use itself must submit, as in all other kinds of literary composition pleasure is subordinate to use, he infers the necessity of an ornamented, figurative, and numerous style;—of fiction, to represent the fairest objects only, and in the fairest lights; and of verse, to charm the ear; for the want of which latter requisite, apparently, he blazes out into an outrageous fury against novels and romances. The principle he takes up, it is obvious, is much too general and vague to support the specific conclusions he deduces from it; and the whole disquisition has more the air of a mere trial of skill, than a serious exercise of critical sagacity.-.On the "Provinces of the Drama", he makes the object of tragedy to be, the excitation of the passions of pity and terror; of comedy, the gratification arising from a just exhibition of the human character, with its specific shades of difference; and of farce, the mere provocation of laughter. Tragedy, he infers, requires for its subject, actions rather than manners; important actions; and the actions of important personages: Comedy, manners rather than actions; these not too interesting; and of private persons. Both, demand a plot; an unity and even simplicity of fable; and that the characters exhibited, should neither be perfectly good or bad: but differ in this, that a good plot is most essential to comedy; that tragedy succeeds best when the subject is real, comedy when it is feigned; Tragedy requires more particular characters, comedy more general—so that a. sameness of character is tolerable in the former, but not in the latter; and, that comedy is most successful when the scene is laid at home, tragedy when abroad. The genius of comedy, he considers to be humour, or the just expression of character without design-a happy definition! This expression may, or may not, be enlivened with ridicule; and the drama, in consequence, may take the complexion of serious or pleasant; or it may unite both: but when the qualities common to human nature at large, are overcharged in the exhibition; or when, instead of the peculiarities of particular characters and times, some real individual is personated, the representation degenerates into the lower province of farce.—Hurd's qualifications as a critic, are obviously subtlety and acumen, rather than sensibility and taste; but we must allow that he makes the most of the powers with which he has been gifted.
APRIL the 23rd
Finished Marsh's Tract on the Politics of Great Britain and France, from the Conference at Pilnitz, to the Declaration of War; in which he demonstrates (as far as such a subject is susceptible of demonstration) from authentic documents, that we were reluctantly forced into the present contest by a series of unprovoked and intolerable injuries. The whole is conducted in a very temperate, but dignified, and masterly manner; and appears conclusive on the subject. I do not envy Mr. Erskine his feelings on the perusal of this Work:—it operates as the most complete extinguisher that could possibly be placed on the doctrines of his pamphlet.—Whether, in point of policy, it might not have been prudent, as we had borne so long, to have endured with patience our wrongs a little longer, just when things were drawing to a crisis; so that we might have extorted conviction of our moderation and forbearance froth the most obdurate, and heaped coals of hotter fire on the heads of our frantic aggressors—may perhaps admit of question: but that we were fully justified, by the law of nature and nations, in the measures we did pursue, preliminary to the rupture, is a point which Mr. Marsh appears to have put beyond all contestation.—One is surprised that a work of this nature should not have been exhibited to the public, before: it has been delayed, till the period for its immediate efficacy is past; and it becomes principally valuable, as an historical memorial.
APRIL the 27th
Read again, and with more attention, Hurd's Discourse on Poetical Imitation. He considers what is called invention, in criticism, as being, in philosophical language, simply an imitation of natural objects: that these objects, from which it is the office of genius to select its sentiments and images, fall under the heads, either of, 1st the material world; 2ndly, the internal workings and movements of our minds; or, 3rdly., those internal operations that are made objective to sense, by gesture, attitude, or action: and, that, being by the constitution of our common nature, 1st, sensible to the same beauties in external objects; 2ndly, subject to the same passions, affections and sentiments; and, 3rdly, expressing our internal feelings by the same outward signs,—mere resemblance in subject-matter between two single images or sentiments, is no sufficient proof that one was copied from the other. This respects the matter of poetical composition: and with regard to the manner, he thinks that common principles may determine us to adopt, not only the same general form of composition, but even similar constituent members—as episodes, descriptions, and similes; and that peculiarities of expression, are the surest tests of imitation. Having thus reduced the criteria for detecting plagiarism, within as narrow a range as possible, he proceeds to vindicate imitation itself, by maintaining, that we are naturally led to regard the copies rather than the originals; and that the two great faculties, of Judgment and Invention, are exercised in the highest degree, in selecting from, and improving upon, these.—Nothing can equal the exquisite subtlety which Hurd displays in spinning the texture of his Theory:—an awkward assailant would find himself entangled in a web, from which extrication would be rendered hopeless, by the multitude, and tenuity, and involution, of the filmy threads that compose it.—The comparison (P. 1, sect.) of the influence of certain sentiments on the human form, to the gentle breathings of the air on the face of nature, is wonderfully fine, and highly wrought up. Parr's vivid description of the effect of these isolated passages, of bright and unsullied lustre, on his feelings, flashed instantly and forcibly upon my mind, on the occasion.
MAY the 2nd
Looked into Hurd's Notes on Horace's Art of Poetry.—On v. 94, he remarks, that figurative language is not to be rejected in dramatic writing; but only such images to be given to the speaker, as the passion by which he is affected naturally suggests to the human mind. This is very just: the prevailing fault of dramatic writers in this respect, is, the imparting to their characters under the agitation of the passions, not such images as passion rouses in the mind immediately subject to its fervour, but as the observer is prone to indulge on contemplating this spectacle and aiming to describe it.—On v. 244, he ascribes the pleasure derived from pastoral poetry, to its addressing itself to the three leading principles in human nature, the love of ease, the love of beauty, and the moral sense; by exhibiting the tranquillity, the scenery, and the innocence of rural life:—a happy example of a solution exact and complete in all its parts; and which leaves nothing wanting, to give absolute and entire satisfaction to the mind of the enquirer.—On v. 317, he contends, that both in poetry and painting, an artist may confine himself too much to individuals, and thus fail in exhibiting the kind; or, in giving the general idea, he may collect it from an extended view, of real life, instead of taking it from the nobler conception existing only in the mind: and that by deviating from particular, he more faithfully imitates universal truth—on which principle, Aristotle affirms fiction to be φιλοσοφω τερον χαι ςπυδαιο τερον [philosopho teron kai studaio teron](more philosophical and instructive) than history.—On v. 410, he remarks, that of Longinus' five sources of the sublime; two—a grandeur of conception, and the pathetic, come from nature; three—a just arrangement of figures, a splendid diction, and dignity of composition, are the province of art:—but, even in this view of it, it is impossible to conceal, that Longinus' division of the subject, is miserably lame and defective.
MAY the 6th
Read Gildon's Essay, prefixed to Shakespeare's Poems; in which he largely discusses dramatic poetry. Poetry, he considers as an art; and he is a grand stickler for the rules of this art, which he regards, rather as the original suggestions of right reason, instructing us how to please; than the mere conclusions of experience from what has pleased:—a preposterous piece of folly, nearly akin to that which attempts to solve the phenomena of nature from the chimaeras of the fancy, instead of collecting the materials for this solution from a patient investigation of the laws by which nature is really governed in all her operations; but as a practical piece of folly, leading to consequences still more absurd. According to Gildon, all excellence flows from the observance of the rules of composition, and all deformity from their violation: to such a taste, Shakespeare's dramas must have a most untoward aspect; yet his "wood-notes wild" occasionally extort, even from this sturdy champion of the summum jus<147> in critical jurisprudence, an approving nod, with—"this is very well".-At the close of his Remarks on Shakespeare's Plays, he observes, that "verisimilitude in the drama, is more essential than truth, because fact itself is sometimes so barely possible that it is almost incredible". Hurd has caught this ideas and it is not the only instance in which I fancy I have detected him poaching on this ancient and neglected manor.
MAY the 9th
Looked into Prettyman's Theology. The Dedication to Pitt, is insufferably fulsome. Fawning adulation, is at all times, and on all occasions, surfeiting; but from a bishop to his political creator, such cant is peculiarly offensive and detestable.—It is remarked in the Preface, that if all religions must be examined, to ascertain the best, none could be chosen: nor, on the same principle, could practice of any kind be adopted, by him that should teach, or him that should be taught; and because we know not everything, we must do nothing.
Read Cicero's Orator: in which he endeavours to exhibit the portrait of a perfect orator, according to Plato's notion of an archetypical idea, superior in excellence to any existing form: but his figure, after all, is strangely patched; and be perpetually slides, from exhibiting, to instructing.
Read Hurd's Notes on Horace's Epistle to Augustus. In the Dedication, he requires in a perfect critic, reason, or what he calls a "philosophic spirit", to penetrate the grounds of excellence in every different species of composition; and taste, or what he terms a "strong imagination", to feel those excellencies himself, and to impress them upon others: Aristotle, he considers as transcendent in the former department; Longinus, in the latter: and then—Oh! monstrous adulation!—he compliments Warburton, as perfect in both; and as exciting jealousy, because great to judge as to invent! How could such a sycophant write the Note on v. 15.—On v. 63, he observes, that the popular voice, after partialities have had time to die away, is sacred; and fixes the unalterable doom of authors.—On v. 210, he affirms, that all didactic writing, is employed in referring particular facts to general principles; and defines criticism, the referring to general rules the virtues and the faults of composition. The perfection of criticism, he thinks, would consist in referring every beauty and blemish to a separate class; and every class, by a gradual progression, to some one single principle. Critics, he continues, are properly employed, in confirming established rules, which can only be done by referring more particulars to them; or by inventing new ones, which implies, 1st, a collection of various particulars, not yet regulated; 2ndly, a. discovery of those circumstances of resemblance or agreement whereby they become capable of being regulated; and, 3rdly, an arrangement into one class, according to such similitude: when this is done, the rule is completed; and its object is, to direct the caprices of taste by an authority which we call reason. Longinus, Bouhours, and Addison, he censures as dwelling too much in generals: not only the genus to which-. they refer their species, is too large; but the species themselves, are too comprehensive. This is as just and philosophical a view of criticism, as I have, anywhere met with.
MAY the 13th
Finished Malone's Life of Dryden, prefixed to an edition of his Prose Works. By the drudgery of searching deeds, wills, genealogies, registers, and records of all sorts, Malone has discovered some new facts, and detected a few mistakes, respecting Dryden and his family, of very little consequence though they regard so great a character; and the whole substance of which, might have been appended, in a few notes, to Johnson's Life.—What a contrast between these two pieces of biography! Malone admits, indeed, that his is the life of the man, and Johnson's of the poet.—In the Preface, Malone states, that Burke greatly admired, and had diligently read, Dryden's Miscellaneous Essays; and that his own style was perhaps originally formed on Dryden's, it bearing a greater resemblance to his, than that of any other English writer. Fox, I am told, entertains a similar predilection for Dryden's prose style:—a singular coincidence of opinion, in two such men; whose taste, in their own compositions, appears to differ so essentially.—In a note (p. 140, of the Life) Malone gives to Bacon, an allusion which was intended for Hooker;—the passage referred to is the very first sentence of Ecclesiastical Polity.
MAY the 15th
Read Daines Barrington's curious Observations on the Notes of Birds. It appears, that birds are not prompted by instinct in their song, but that they will imitate, as far as their organs allow, the earliest notes they hear; and that canary birds, which are naturally silent, are thus taught from the nightingale and titlark; that cock birds alone sing; that the notes of birds are of a higher pitch than the shrillest instrument can reach; that the intervals of these notes, are too minute to be appreciated by the gross intervals of our musical scale; that as there is no apparent dissonance though a dozen birds are singing different tunes, they probably pitch on the same key, which seems to be G. with a flat third; that the oldest airs with which we are acquainted (Morva Rhyddlan particularly) are composed in a flat third; and, that there is a much higher combination of mellowness of tone, sprightliness, plaintiveness, compass, and execution, in the nightingale's song, than in that of any other bird.
Read Campbell's Pleasures of Hope. Parts of this Poem, are animated and fine; but the imagery is frequently obscure, the meaning involved, and the connection perplexing. The beautiful allusion with which this poem opens, is borrowed from one in Johnson's Collections for the Rambler; which I believe he never employed, but which was certainly too good to be lost: see Boswell's Life, 8vo. Ed., Vol. 1, p. 180.
Looked into Kirkman's Life of Macklin: he ascribes to Lord Chatham, the Speech on the licensing of Plays, which Maty gives as Lord Chesterfield's; but, whoever furnished the materials and the name, was not the manufacture Johnson's?
MAY the 17th
Began Dryden's Prose Works. In the Preface to All for Love, he contends against the judgments of self-created critics; maintaining, that an artificer must be the best judge in his own art; that poetry, as a picture of nature, must generally please, but that every species of it may not please every taste; and that it is not enough to be pleased with any species, to be a judge of it; since it is necessary, for this purpose, thoroughly to understand in what its excellencies consist. Previously to this (p. 17, Vol. 2) he makes an acute remark." that the civillest man in company is commonly the dullest".—Morris' definition of wit, as quoted by Malone (P. to Albion and Albanius, p. 152, Vol. 2.)—"the lustre resulting from the quick elucidation of one subject, by a just and unexpected arrangement of it with another", seems a good one: but when Dryden defines it, "a propriety of words and thoughts", it should be recollected, that "wit", in his days, had a much more general signification than that to which it is now restricted:—the context makes this apparent. Dryden's observation, in the same piece, that the first inventors of any art or science, provided they have brought it to perfection, are in reason to give laws to it, seems specious, but in truth has no foundation. In the republic of genius and letters, hints may be supplied, but legislation is out of question: there can be but one law on the subject—to attain the ends of composition by the best possible means.—As an excuse for the violation of the unities of time and place in dramatic poetry, he observes (P. to Don Sebastian, p. 191, Vol. 2.), that to "gain a greater beauty, it is lawful for a poet to supersede a less";—that "it is better" (P. to Cleomenes, p. 228, Vol. 2.) "to trespass on a rule, than to leave out a beauty ";—and (P. to Love Triumphant, p. 239, Vol. 2.), "that there are not, indeed, so many absurdities in their supposition"—(the supposition of the sticklers for these unities)—"as in ours; but it is an original absurdity for the audience to suppose themselves to be in any other place, than in the very theatre in which they sit; which is neither chamber, nor garden, nor yet a public place of any business but that of representation": this is the germ of the argument so finely expanded and wrought out by Johnson, in his Preface to Shakespeare.—The strongest resemblance I have yet met with to the style of Burke, is in the paragraph (Dedication to Amphytrion, p. 198, Vol. 2.) beginning, "All things of honour, &c".—Much of the matter inserted in Malone's Life, is appended in his notes—I suspect that the Life was an after-thought. His political rancour, like that of most underlings, is extreme.
MAY the 20th
Pursued Dryden's Prose Works. In his Account of Annus Mirabilis, he states (p. 260, Vol. 2.) that the composition of all Poems, is, or ought to be, wit, which he defines, "the happy product of imagination"; and this exercise of the imagination he divides into, 1st, Invention, or the finding a thought; 2ndly, Fancy, or the varying, deriving, and moulding that thought, as judgment directs; and, 3rdly, Elocution, or the expressing it in apt, significant, and sounding words: the quickness of the imagination is seen in the first exertion, its fertility in the second, and its accuracy in the third. Ovid, if I understand him, he considers as personating better than Virgil, and Virgil as describing better than Ovid: remarking on Virgil's descriptions (p. 262.) that "we see the objects he represents as within their native figures and proper motions; but so we see them, as our eyes could never have beheld them so beautiful in themselves"—a just thought, though clumsily expressed. The proper end of Heroic Poetry, he states (p. 265.) to be, Admiration.—At the close of the Preface to Religio Laici (p. 329, Vol. 2.) he observes, that for the purpose of touching the passions, objects must be represented out of their true proportion—either greater or less; but for the purpose of instruction, they must be represented as they are.—His statement of the comparative advantages of biography over history, in his Life of Plutarch, furnished hints, I think, to Barton in the address prefixed to his Edition of Plutarch's Lives—a critical composition of very considerable merit, though little known. Dryden's view, in this piece (p. 398, Vol. 2.), of the general use of history, as assisting us "to judge of what will happen, by showing us the like revolutions of former times, * * * * mankind being the same in all ages; agitated by the same passions, and moved to action by the same interests", is clear and just.—The opening of the P. S. to the History of the League, gives us a good idea of the doctrines of divine right and passive obedience.—Dryden's images are thickly sown; and some of them are wonderfully forcible. I am not surprised, that the greatest judges are charmed with his style: though debased with many uncouthnesses, it bears, throughout, the manly stamp of our genuine vernacular idiom—true English. Yet it is difficult to separate the consideration of his style, from the stream of thought which it involves: this usually breaks out, at once, in great force; and deriving vehemence and expansion, as it flows, from a thousand auxiliary rills, hurries us along through a rapid succession of ever shifting scenes; which if they fail to inform the judgment, at least, by their variegated splendour and beauty, replenish; invigorate, and delight the imagination.
MAY the 25th
Finished Dryden's Prose Works. In his Discourse on Satire (p. 73, Vol. 3.) he wavers strangely, as it was natural he should, in giving his preposterous preference to Juvenal over Horace, as a satirist. Whatever immediately occupied Dryden's fervid mind, appears to have assumed a disproportionate importance there.—By a note appended to the Parallel of Poetry and Painting (p. 323, Vol. 3.) it appears, that Aristotle accounts for the gratification afforded by imitation, on the principle, that to learn (μανθανειν [manthanein]) is a natural pleasure. Burke, in his Introduction on Taste, observes, that the mind has a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblances than searching for differences, because, by making resemblances we produce new images; we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; whereas, by making distinctions, we offer no food at all to the imagination:—whence arises our inclination to belief, rather than incredulity, It does not appear to me, that the passion for mental acquisition, is at all competent to the effects ascribed to it by either of these writers:—though indeed, if we deduct from the effect of imitations, the pleasure derived from the agreeable qualities of the object represented, and the skill and genius evinced by the artist in executing the representation, there will be little gratification of any kind left, to be accounted for from any cause whatever.
MAY the 26th
Read Mrs. Radcliffe's Tour to the Lakes. Much might perhaps be expected from this Lady's well known powers of description, exerted on so congenial a theme: but to paint from the imagination, and to copy nature, are such different achievements, that I was surprised, I confess, to find that she had succeeded so well, and failed so little. Her pictures, though somewhat overwrought and heavy compared with the expressive etchings of Gray, exhibit as clear distinct and forcible images to the minds' eye, as it is well possible for words to convey. Such a series of them "where pure description holds the place, of sense", would probably pall on most palates; but so strong a passion do I feel for the keen delights of picturesque and mountain scenery, that I was gratified, I own, to the last.—She appears to make the predominant character of Windermere, beauty; of Derwent Lake, picturesqueness; and of Ullswater, sublimity.
MAY the 28th
Finished the two first Volumes of Soame Jenyns' Works, edited by Cole. His poetry does not rise above mediocrity—indeed it scarcely deserves the name: but the style of his prose, is smooth and lucid; his turns of thought, are neat and unexpected; and when he sports in irony, in which he apparently delights to indulge, he is uncommonly playful and airy.—In his Essay on Virtue, he inculcates in verse, the same doctrine that he propounds in his Origin of Evil, in prose, that virtue consists solely and simply in promoting the general good; and promises himself great things from the diffusion of this discovery.—In his tract on American Taxation, he defends both the right, and the expediency, of taxing the Colonies;—the former, by exploding the received theories of political representation.—In his Reflections on Parliamentary Reform, he derides the projects for securing an independent Parliament; and endeavours to prove, that it would be the destruction of our Constitution, if it could be obtained.—In his Thoughts on the National Debt, he contends, that as the principal borrowed, and the interest raised, from the public, are both restored to it, the public wealth cannot be impaired by this imaginary burden; and that by enabling us to circulate the prodigious sums to which that principal and interest amount—(the circulation of money, being money)—it must, of necessity, greatly enhance that wealth;—it is from this increase of our wealth, that he alone apprehends any danger. He makes one remark on this subject, which Burke has borrowed in his last-published tract, that the sum raised for interest on a new loan, coming again into circulation, is expended in taxed commodities, which bring into the Treasury an additional income that goes far to discharge the interest on the sum borrowed.—Jenyns has evidently a predilection for paradoxical opinions: and why, he might reasonably urge in his defence, should a man address the public, who has nothing new to offer to it?
MAY the 30th
Read Jenyns' Metaphysical Disquisitions, in the 3rd Vol. of his Works.—In the 5th, he contends, that God has implanted in the material and intellectual world, powers and propensities greatly analogous: by which they are enabled and impelled, in a similar manner, to perform their appointed parts; to restrain their own excesses; and to call back each other, whenever they too far deviate from their respective destinations. This is profound and just.—In the 6th, on Rational Christianity, he reprobates the plan for reducing the doctrines of religion to the standard of our reason, instead of aiming to exalt our reason to the comprehension of those doctrines; and observes, that Revelation, in its very nature, implies information of something which reason alone was not competent to discover. The distinguishing doctrines of Christianity, he states to be, That we come into the world in a depraved and fallen condition; That we are placed here, to purge off this original guilt, and recover our lost state of innocence and happiness; That we cannot effect this, without the grace of God; and, That, after all, we can only hope for pardon, through the merits of Christ, and the atonement made for our transgressions by his sufferings and death. It would be difficult, I believe, in the work of any divine, to meet with so clear, succinct, and masterly an exposition of the orthodox faith.—In the 7th, on Government and Civil Liberty, he combats, with great shrewdness, the doctrines, that men are born free and equal; that all government is derived from the people; that it is a compact between the governors and governed; and that it should be dissolved when not to the equal advantage of both parties. To be sure, at first view, it seems very preposterous to attempt to regulate authority, and submission to authority, on a gratuitous assumption which has unquestionably no foundation in fact;—-for except (perhaps) in the case of the American States, history records no in in which such a compact was ever entered into to; but the divine right to dominion being justly exploded, there appears to remain nothing, in the shape of a rational motive, to plead, either in support or limitation of government, but mere convenience. Now, to give something like form and stability to so very loose a principle, there seems no impropriety, where the government is such as a wise man would rather choose to abide by than incur the hazard of change, in supposing, not indeed that this government was originally instituted, but that it continues to subsist, by virtue of a compact between the Rulers and the People. Such a doctrine may not have much efficacy in instructing governors in their right to rule, or the people in their duty to obey; nor, till of late, has any such lesson been necessary:—force and prejudice, the two real main-springs of all government (though not to be offered, in theory, as rational inducements on the subject) will, in ordinary cases, prove amply sufficient, in practice, for this purpose: but by the clear, just, and forcible view it exhibits, of the true nature and destination of all political authority, it can scarcely fail to teach to sovereigns, of whatever denomination, the duty of consulting the good of the people in the exercise of their power, as the only end for which that power is vested in their hands; and to the People, the right of insisting on this attention to their welfare, as the only principle on which their submission is due:—a species of admonition, which, whatever epidemic fevers of the mind may occasionally rage, will probably prove salutary in the main, as long as the world endures.—In refutation of the fashionable apophthegm, that the People should be their own governors, Jenyns judiciously and acutely remarks, that the very essence of government consists in coercion: but when he proceeds to observe, that the advocates for liberty are usually tyrannical in power, because resistance to their power becomes, in that case, an infringement of their liberty, he evidently pushes the refinements of speculation too far. The love of power, whatever may be the cant of hypocrites, is a natural and indelible passion in the human mind: and the more precarious the tenure by which that power is held—as precarious, in the hands of demagogues, it ever must be—with the more jealousy will it be guarded, and the more impatiently will resistance be endured. This forms, indeed, one of the capital objections to popular governments; which usually, on this account, infringe far more on personal liberty, than constitutions in which the supreme authority is stable and secure.—In the 8th Essay, on Religious Establishments, Jenyns maintains, That such institutions are necessary, because all religious sects seek for power, and Government, for its own security, must espouse one; That genuine Christianity can never, on account of its doctrines, becomes national religion; and, That as citizens we are bound to accept an imperfect scheme of it, though as men should aim to approach as near to its original purity as we can—Burke has borrowed from the 7th of these Disquisitions; and Hey, from the 6th and 8th.
JUNE the 3rd
Read Jenyns' View of the Internal Evidences of Christianity; in which he endeavours to establish the truth of our religion, principally on its most singular and extraordinary character—as exhibiting doctrines to our faith, which, while they surpass in excellence, are totally unlike in nature, whatever before entered into the mind of man to conceive;—and enjoining precepts on our practice, which, while they carry all the real virtues, to a much higher degree of purity and perfection than any preceding moralist had advanced them, scrupulously omit whatever are spurious and founded on false principles, and inculcate, in their stead, new and peculiar duties exactly corresponding with the new objects which this religion opens to our view. The false virtues omitted, he makes, valour, patriotism, and friendship;—the two latter, because exclusive of universal benevolence: the new virtues added, poorness of spirit, forgiveness of injuries, charity to all men, repentance, faith, self-abasement, and a detachment from the world. Is it likely, is it possible, that a religion thus distinguished, should have been the work of imposture?—He then proceeds to obviate objections. From the sufficiency of reason;—by chewing its insufficiency to construct a code of faith and practice comparable to that which Christianity unfolds. From the errors and inconsistencies to be detected in the Scriptures;—by contending that they are merely the history of God's revelations, and consequently subject, like all historical records, to such blemishes. From the opposition of Christianity to our natural propensities, and its incompatibility with the business of the world;—by maintaining, that its universal acceptance was never expected; and that it has performed all it was designed to effect, by enlightening the minds, purifying the faith, and amending the morals of mankind; while, without subverting the policy of the world, it has opened a gate, though a strait one, to the kingdom of heaven. From its corruptions;—by proving them to be the natural consequence of such a religion, delivered to such a being as man. From the incredibility of some of its doctrines;—by evincing the inadequacy of reason to the discussion of such topics. And, lastly, from its apparent partiality and injustice;—by pointing out the same seeming contradictions to our notions of impartiality and justice, in the ordinary dispensations of Providence: observing, that this objection assumes man to be as wise and perfect as his Creator; whereas, being imperfect and ignorant, it is to be presumed that the dispensations of a Being of perfect wisdom, justice, and goodness, will appear to us absurd and unjust, so as almost to justify the pious rant of a mad enthusiast "credo, quia impossibile";<148> on which principle, he conceives, it is, that faith is so particularly inculcated as a duty—an injunction which is not unreasonable, since belief is in a great measure voluntary, as what we wish to believe, we are never far from believing.—Such, on a continued, but not, inattentive, perusal, appear Mr. Jenyns' leading arguments in defence of Christianity; and I confess myself to have been powerfully impressed by their novelty and force. He seems to me to enter very fully into the true genius and character of the Christian Religion; which all attempts to soften down and rationalize, only render more incredible: and by meeting the difficulties it really presents, in their entire force, he at any rate takes the surest course to win our confidence and our esteem.—I have been told, but I know not on what authority, that the whole of this defence is a mere jeu d'esprit; an exercise of skill and ingenuity on the part of its author, unaccompanied by any serious conviction of the truth of what he professes to establish. If so, he has unquestionably carried on the deception with admirable address; for, throughout, there appear the strongest marks of sincerity and even earnestness: but I should very unwillingly believe such an imputation to be true, as it would imply a disingenuous imposition on the public, and a cruel mockery of the reason and feelings of mankind, on a subject where all but idiots and madmen must be disposed co be serious, that from every candid and honourable mind would imperiously call for the severest reprobation. An argument, it may.be urged, can derive no quality from the quarter whence it proceeds, or the spirit in which it is advanced: there it is: if weak, it must be futile, however solemnly alleged; if strong, it must be cogent, however sportively adduced: "valeat", therefore, "quantum valere potest":<149> it can make no difference, nor have we any business to enquire, by what motives the author was actuated: provided his proofs are satisfactory, that is sufficient; and we are bound to surrender ourselves to his conclusions with the same facility, though he should have been prompted by no other design than to impose, on our simplicity and to expose us co derision, as if he had been stimulated by the sincerest zeal to impress us with a conviction correspondent to his own. But let us sophisticate as we may, nature will infallibly rebel at such an audacious attempt to subjugate her instincts: and there is no man, I suppose, who, if apprised of the fact, would listen with complacency to arguments thus urged; or who, if unwittingly seduced by their influence, would not instantly, on detecting the imposition, withdraw, with scorn and indignation, an assent filched from him by so iniquitous a fraud on his good faith and understanding.
JUNE the 11th
Dipped into Boswell's Life of Johnson. Johnson pronounces Hume either mad or a liar, for having maintained to Boswell, that he was no more uneasy to think he should not be after this life, than that he had not been before he began to must s yet it is not easy, I conceive, to devise a satisfactory answer to an argument which I once urged upon this subject.
If ever there was a clear and incontestible proposition, it surely is, that an event, of which, and of whose effects, we must ever remain unconscious, is one, in which, whenever it takes place, we can have no possible interest: and if ever there was a particular ease obviously and indisputably referable to a general principle, it is, that annihilation, which implies a total extinction of all consciousness, not only of that specific event and its consequences, but of all events and all consequences whatever, is precisely an occurrence of this nature. To compare such a casualty, in point of interest, with what is passing in Jupiter or Saturn, would be doing injustice to the argument. So curious and exquisite is the concatenation of causes and effects, that it is impossible to say how much we may not be affected, while existence continues, by incidents apparently the most remote: but the contingency in question, instantly places us beyond all possibility of benefit or injury from any cause; and ought, therefore, to be regarded as purely and absolutely indifferent. It cuts us off, it may be said, from all the pleasures of existence, and is therefore an evil: Johnson has (Ought this idea—"when he dies, he at least gives up all he has": but what is a deprivation, of which we neither are, nor ever can be, in the slightest manner sensible? Obviously nothing at all; and little better, indeed, if seriously considered, than a contradiction in terms. Put the strongest case possible: suppose a being in the full enjoyment of the most exquisite delights of which his nature is susceptible, that he promises himself a continuance of these joys throughout the endless duration of time, and that in the midst of his career he is suddenly extinguished. Is he disappointed? He feels no disappointment. Is he injured? He feels no injury. It is a loss, you say: be loses eternal happiness! Who loses it? We forget that the being whom we suppose to sustain this deprivation, is no more. Such an instantaneous disappearance might indeed alarm those who witnessed it; but so far as the individual disappearing was concerned, there is surely nothing in the event which would not be perfectly consistent with the plans of entire and infinite benevolence. The "insect of the hour" enjoyed a state of high and unmixed gratification, whilst it lived; and the fond illusion of future bliss, only vanished with that existence which it so eminently tended to exhilarate.—In annihilation, therefore, regarded merely as an occurrence, and an occurrence which takes by surprise the object on whom it falls, there is obviously nothing either desirable or terrible: but, it will be said, that the expectation of this event, is dreadful; that the prospect of ceasing to exist, of parting for ever with all that we hold dear in the world, of bidding an eternal adieu to all our fondest pleasures, our most favourite pursuits, our tenderest connections, by arming death with tenfold terrors, must embitter every enjoyment of life, and cloud the desponding brow with comfortless despair—
For who would lose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated night,
Devoid of sense and motion?
Par. Lost, B 2, v 140 &c.
To such representations, however, just echoes as they may be of the natural workings of the human heart on the occasion, the obvious and the conclusive answer surely is this, That if annihilation be incontestably, in itself, an event of perfect indifference, to expect it with terror, must be in the highest degree absurd; since what can be more so, than to dread as an evil, what we are morally assured, when it comes, is no evil at all? The vainest fear of the most base and abject superstition, is sensible and judicious, compared with so groundless an alarm. Whenever we look forward to any privation, not involving positive pain—the decay of sight or hearing for instance—with dismay, it is because we anticipate, that whenever that privation occurs, we shall be conscious of our loss. This it is which constitutes that privation an evil, when it takes place; and renders it most justly such, in prospect. Remove, with the departed possession, all consciousness of what is fled, and as the whole evil (which can consist only in regret), disappears, so all just apprehensions respecting such a contingency, must necessarily vanish with it. It is possible, for may have believed it to be true, that, in former stages of existence, we ourselves may have enjoyed inlets to gratification, which are now no longer open; or derived pleasures from the senses we retain, which they are no longer competent to transmit: all memory and knowledge, however, of such, delights, if they ever existed, having passed away, it is precisely the same as if they had never been: we cannot repine at the loss, of what we never remember the possession; and as we are now sensible that it would have been absurd, in that previous state of being, if it ever obtained, to look forward with anguish to our present condition; au it must be equally to anticipate, with sorrow, a partial or a total extinction of faculties of enjoyment, whose loss, whenever it takes place, we are satisfied we shall be equally unable to feel or to deplore.—All this, it may perhaps be said, is very true; but whence, then, proceeds that sentiment of horror which does in fact accompany the prospect of annihilation. From an illusion, I conceive, on this very point, which however obvious, and however simple, it is by no means easy to expel. With the loss, whatever it be, which we incur, it is presumed that all consciousness of that loss will be extinguished: the whole argument rests on this assumption; but the mind, whose "thoughts", as Milton so finely expresses it, "wander through eternity",<150> though it admits, in terms, with difficulty acquiesces, in spirit, in this supposition. We cannot, in speculation, separate the loss, from the sense of that loss, nor the feelings with which we conceive that sense must be accompanied. In contemplating the fate of others who have undergone any partial privations of this nature—a failure of memory and reason for example—however assured we may be that they are insensible to their deprivation, and suffer nothing from it, we cannot, by any effort, refrain from entering into their situation, and feeling, by substitution, for them. What we are thus irresistibly impelled, in defiance of the plainest dictates of reason, to feel for others, it would be strange indeed if we did not feel, with a still acuter sense, for ourselves: and in looking forward, accordingly, even to a condition, which, from its very nature, precludes all possibility of regret—in anticipating a total extinction of our existence—the mind finds it impracticable to stop short at this natural boundary of hope and fear; but anticipating in imagination, what is impossible in fact, obscurely figures to itself, at the termination of life, a dark and dismal abyss, a blank and boundless void, into which we are condemned to plunge, and where we must ever remain, in a state of comfortless solitude and seclusion; cut off from those pleasures to which we were once so strongly attached; and disappointed of those prospects which we once so fondly indulged; while other and happier beings, the productions of unborn ages, are busied in those stations, and participating in those delights, which we are no longer in a capacity to fill or to enjoy:—not reflecting, or rather, not being sufficiently impressed with the reflection, that all consciousness of darkness, solitude, and horror, all recollection of past enjoyments or future prospects, all knowledge of what is passing in the universe, all joy and sorrow, all regrets and disappointments, must, on the supposed contingency, for ever cease.
Such, if I remember, was the substance of the argument: but however conclusive it may appear in itself, so powerfully is it opposed by the illusion just considered, that I should deservedly incur the reproach which I have conditionally bestowed on Jenyns, were I seriously to propose it, without acknowledging, that it seemed to me exactly to meet Hume's description of a truly sceptical argument—that it admits of no answer, and produces no conviction.
JUNE the 13th
Began Herder's Outlines of the Philosophy of the History. of Man, of which I had heard high praise;—but was soon obliged to desist. He appears to write like a great child eager to communicate its late acquirements, however trivial and however trite, with wonderment and rapture, as new and most important information. His tedious rhapsodical method, is, however, by no means peculiar to him. In the writings of all the modern German philosophers I have ever met with, there is an encumbered heaviness and wearisome prolixity, arising from a generous but most fatiguing disposition to leave nothing upon trust, but to impart, at full length, and in all the amplitude of ponderous detail, the whole mass of whatever they have laboriously collected-which gradually extinguishes every spark of curiosity and interest, and overwhelms the spirits with lassitude and languor. Something of this, may perhaps be ascribed to the particular state of science in that country; but much must be owing to the peculiar genius of the people. I fancy that in their poetry, I discover a distinguishing cast of character somewhat allied to their prosings. We search in vain, in the effusions of the German Muse, for what the French emphatically term "la spirituelle"—for traits of a delicate and refined sensibility, and cultivated imagination: but are struck, at every step, with indications of powers, rather clumsily robust, than vigorously active; and feelings, rather coarsely strong, than nicely susceptible;—a sort of intellectual constitution, which appears to accomplish everything by effort; which can neither execute what is trifling, with grace, nor what is great, with dignity; but is for ever mistaking rudeness for simplicity, violence for pathos, appetite for passion, delirium for fancy, enormity for grandeur, and whatever is ghastly ferocious and horrid, for the terrible and the sublime.
Met Dr. Garnet at a party in the evening. He was very full of the late original and important discovery, that the cold and wet weather we have had for some time, is owing to the explosion of gunpowder by the contending armies on the continent: calculating that 30,000 men, in 60 discharges, would disengage 300 cubic miles of air; and descanting largely on the consequences of such a sufflation. This foppery of philosophy, deriving countenance, I suspect, from an endeavour to accommodate science to the taste of the grown scholars of the Royal Institution, is surely mighty ridiculous. What sensible and permanent effect is it possible to suppose that 300 cubic miles of air of any description, received into the vast alembic of the atmosphere, and blown about by all the winds of heaven, can produce on whole regions 300 miles off! The only chill which these explosions have occasioned, is of a quality, I am afraid; which Count Rumford, with all his pyrotechnical devices, would find it far above his skill to remedy.—Dr. G. could not solve a difficulty I started—Why the Sun's rays, notwithstanding they are concentrated to produce a degree of heat one hundred times more intense than that of the fiercest furnace, will impart directly no perceptible warmth to water; though the same water, enclosed in a vessel the most perfectly transparent, and insulated in the completest manner from all conductors of caloric, will soon acquire a very sensible degree of heat from exposure to a common fire?
JUNE the 19th
Glanced over Pye's Commentary on Aristotle's Poetics. Pye, in his last note, discusses the question, whether beauty results from fitness and utility; but without coming to any general conclusion: though he inclines to decide, in most instances, in the affirmative; and controverts Burke's examples in favour of an opposite inference. Voltaire, he quotes, as broadly determining in the negative: illustrating his argument by a dose of physic, which however obviously beneficial to the constitution, is not on that account a whit more delectable to the palate: and maintaining, that our moral sentiments are universally the same in all ages and countries; but that our sentiments of beauty and deformity depend altogether upon habit, and will of course vary, at different times, and in different regions, as different habits prevail.
JUNE the 20
Had a long conference with Mr. M—He maintained pretty nearly the same political sentiments as when I last saw him—June 13th, 1799; except, that he spoke more despondingly of the revival of the spirit of freedom in this country.—Of—he observed, that, with all his wisdom, he was foolish enough to be factious; and from an aversion to the present administration (in common with himself) as enemies to freedom, to lend his countenance and support to a party, who were prepared to introduce a domination ten times more formidable. Expressed a vehement disgust at the intolerance of these bigots for pretended liberality —Exhibited, in a very striking point of view, the difficulty of the return of order, combined with liberty, in France, in consequence of the enormous confiscations which had taken place there; and which he computed at not much less than nine tenths of the whole landed property of the country: and remarked on this subject, that a similar proceeding was felt, to this very hour, in producing a fund of discontent and disaffection, in Ireland.—Mentioned, that upon asking Fox's opinion of what he had observed, of the necessary compexity of all free governments, from the various elements out of which they must arise, and the various interests with which they must be charged, Fox said, that nothing certainly could be more true; nor anything more foolish, than the doctrine of the advocates for simple forms of government. In addition to his History of this Country from the Revolution, had talked of preparing Memoirs of his own Times—to be published after his death. His mind perfectly composed now, and resigned to the dereliction of power.—M. recited some passages he had extracted, at Cambridge, from a work of Leibnitz, de Jure Gentium; in which that acute philosopher seemed to place Virtue, simply in promoting the good of mankind; and to account for the motives to it, by considering the interests of others as in some way incorporated with our own:—illustrating his notion on this subject, by the interest which we are naturally led to take in sublime and beautiful objects.—Had received a Letter from L., remonstrating on his calling Rousseau a sophist; which L. construed, a propagator of sophisms for hire: M. answered, that he considered a "sophist" as a promulgator of specious but false doctrines, whatever were his motives; and that the term applied most pertinently to Rousseau.
JUNE the 23rd
Looked in at the House of Commons, in the afternoon. The Question, the third reading of the Bill for Restricting Monastic Institutions in this Country. The principal speakers—Mr. Wyndham, colloquial and ingenious, but desultory and ineffective;—Mr. Ryder, precise and affected;—Sir William Scott, solemn, neat and elegant;—Mr. Johnes, coarse and ridiculous;—Mr. Hobhouse, plain and inexpert. The first and last, against the bill, as unnecessary. Left the House at eight, when Erskine was speaking for it. After having listened, term after term, with delight and exultation to this pride of the English bar, in his place, I confess I never hear him, above stairs, but with some emotions of shame for my profession. The constant habit of advocating private suits before a superior tribunal, generates a species of eloquence, which, however excellent in itself, appears to cruel disadvantage in a deliberative assembly of legislators and statesmen, debating, as equals, seriously and in earnest, the most important interests of the Empire. Bearcroft, indeed, whom I once heard on Erskine's Libel Bill, appeared to suffer little by the change of station: hut then, with a vein of the driest and happiest humour I ever met with, there was a solemn gravity in his deportment, and a didactic energy in his manner, which, even at the bar, removed the advocate from sight; and frequently rendered the argument of the counsel, more dignified and impressive than the judgment from the bench.
JUNE the 24th
Read a very elegant piece of criticism, intituled "A Letter to the Rev. Mr. T. Warton, on his late Edition of Milton's Juvenile Poems"; ascribed, and I believe truly, to the late Rev. Samuel Darby, of Ipswich. In most of the strictures, I very heartily concur; there is one, however, from which I am disposed to dissent more vehemently, perhaps, than the occasion may seem to warrant.
"Towered Cities please us then."
"Then, that is, at night!"
"An odd time, surely, for TOWERED cities to please, when they cannot be seen. It is not Milton's wont to throw about his epithets thus at random. I remember, indeed, a party of young students from the University, who skated down the river to Ely, and, arriving there late, would view the cathedral by candle and lantern. But the fact is rather singular; and it may be said in their excuse, that they were educated—juncosi ad littora Cami.<151> THEN serves only, I apprehend, to shift the scene from the country to the town. The description of the morning is inimitable; and Milton must have been a very early riser, as well as an excellent poet, to mark its progressive beauties so distinctly and minutely as he has done. The lark startling the dull night with his song—the dappled dawn—the cock with lively din scattering the rear of darkness, and strutting out before his dames—the poet stealing forth to take his walk by hedge-row elms or hillocks green, to meet the sun (as Gray expresses it) at his Eastern Gate—robed in flames of amber, the clouds dight in a thousand colours, (forgive his liveries)—the ploughman, the milkmaid, the mower, the shepherd, all with their proper attributes—the eye catching new pleasures as the sun advances—the discovery of the lawns, fallows, nibbling flocks, clouds resting on the breast of the mountains, meadows, rivers, towers and battlements bosomed high in tufted trees—form, in the whole, a picture which is unequalled, and would give new force and spirit to the glowing pencil of Rubens. I think the words, v.67.—"Every Shepherd tells has tale," are well explained, as in this interpretation (which I own is new to me) the time is precisely marked. The description of the day is carried on with the same spirit, and the evening closes with a display of rural amusements and rural superstition. We are then carried to town amidst the busy hum of men. We are not to expect here the same entertainment we met with in the country. There is, however, a day-piece and a night-piece; and the evening is passed in a manner most agreeable to a man of taste and reflection, with Johnson and Shakespeare, or in hearing soft Lydian airs, married to immortal verse." P. 7.
This is certainly ingenious and acute; and evinces a very delicate perception, and just relish, of the beautiful and appropriate imagery which Milton has employed, with such exquisite taste, in the most truly delicious and engaging, perhaps, of all his compositions: I cannot help thinking, however, that the reasons for excepting to Warton's, and (as I conceive) the ordinary, interpretation of the passage, are far from conclusive; and I must confess, at the same time, that I should very reluctantly submit to their authority, if they were, as infinitely preferring an agreeable illusion, to an unacceptable truth.
The only objection expressly alleged against the obvious construction of the line in question, is derived from the epithet "towered", regarded as inapplicable to a night-piece but there seems an indirect reference to another—the description of "the busy hum of men"—as a circumstance equally unsuitable to such a season; and an oblique glance at a third—in a supposed allusion (I conceive) of the poet to tilts and tournaments, as forming part of the amusements of the town—which, if it could be fairly established, would, no doubt, fix the period to the day. Let us examine each of these objections in its order.
I. The epithet "towered" is manifestly employed to denote populousness and opulence-
"Huge Cities, and high-towered, that well might seem.
The seats of mightiest monarchs"—
Par. Regained, B. 3, v. 261.
—such qualities, as would fit the imagined Capitals for those splendid scenes with which the Poet was preparing to enliven them; and which are by no properties more emphatically indicated, than by the clustering turrets, and aspiring battlements and pinnacles, of castles, churches, palaces, and public buildings. These, no doubt, are august and striking objects to the eye: let them be ever so imposing, however, it is not on their account that the poet, on this occasion, exhibits cities as delightful; but for considerations of a very different order, which these symbols of magnificence, thus slightly suggested to the imagination, merely serve to introduce. This, I conceive, would be a satisfactory answer to the objection, were the epithet in question altogether inapplicable, as depictive of the effect of such objects in the night: but there is no necessity for any such concession. Everyone who has entered a considerable town, by moonlight, or amidst the glare of high rejoicings, must have been struck with the sublime effect of its loftier edifices, either majestically reposing under the pale but resplendent tint which "sleeps" (as Shakespeare so exquisitely describes it) upon the face of nature; or partially illumed, in vivid gleams, by the immediate blaze of lamps and torches. Such objects may be more picturesque and pleasing, viewed at a distance—(Milton had before so viewed them)—gilded by the morning sun, or trembling in the haze of noon; but they are incomparably more grand and impressive, when approached—(and the Poet here evidently supposes them near)—under either of the former aspects.
II. But what shall we say to the circumstance by which this proximity is so strikingly marked—to "the busy hum of men"? Does not such a description instantly suggest the noontide buzz of populous cities—the indefatigable murmur of Cheapside and the 'Change; and can such an image possibly comport with the stillness and solitude of night? Certainly, not with stillness and solitude: but are these the necessary accompaniments of the close of day? Are they such accompaniments as the inhabitants of crowded capitals are accustomed to witness? Are they the accompaniments of such an evening as, I contend, the poet is about to introduce? To secluded peasantry, indeed, the objected image might well appear unsuited to the evening; but a frequenter of the parties of gaiety and fashion, will surely attest its admirable adaptation to express the first effect upon the ear, of a scene, however late the hour,
"Where throngs of knights and barons bold,
In weeds of peace, high triumphs hold;
With store of Ladies"—.
The busy bee may close his labours with the day: but Man, intent on pleasure, holds another language—
Rigour now is gone to bed,
And Advice, with scrupulous head:
Strict Age, and sour Severity,
With their grave saws in slumber lie.
We that are of purer fire,
Imitate the starry quire;
Who in their nightly, watchful spheres,
Lead, in swift round, the months and years.
* * * * * * *
What hath night to do with sleep?
Night hath better sweets to prove.
Venus now wakes, and wakens Love.
—Come! Let us now our rites begin.
Comus, 107 &c.
III. The last objection, appears at first view by far the most formidable of the three; and, could it be substantiated, would undoubtedly be decisive of the question. If tilts and tournaments are really introduced as parts of the entertainment in the town-scene, the time is irrevocably fixed to day. Let us view the passage, then:
Where throngs of knights and barons bold,
In weeds of peace, high triumphs bold;
With store of ladies, whose bright eyes
Rain influence, and judge the prize
Of wit or arms, while all contend
To win her praise whom all commend.
Here is a manifest and direct allusion, indeed, to jousts and tournaments; but surely nothing which determines them to be passing at the time. On the contrary, there are three expressions which seem purposely introduced to obviate such an interpretation:—the knights and barons are emphatically stated to be clad "in weeds of peace"; whereas a tournament was, in all respects, and particularly in dress and accoutrements, the express image of war:—the occasion of assembling, is denominated a "triumph"; which Steevens, in a note on Shakespeare's expression (1st P. of King Henry the 4th, Act 3, scene 3.) "O, thou art a perpetual triumph, an everlasting bonfire-night", defines to be "a general term for any public exhibition, such as a royal marriage, a grand procession, &c, which commonly being at night, were attended by a multitude of torch-bearers":—and the prize of wit is adjudged on the occasion, as well as arms. Whatever interpretation explained, in an easy way, these apparent inconsistencies, would merit attention, if not reception, on that consideration alone. Now it appears from M. De St. Palaye's Memoirs of Chivalry, that it was customary to close these martial exhibitions of our ancestors, with a solemn banquet—a supper—called the Feast of Tournaments; that at this high festival, this "triumph", all the guests, the dames, the barons, knights, and squires, appeared in their robes of state and ceremony; that, in the course of it, the prize of arms was frequently adjudged; that the parties afterwards engaged in contentions of wit and games of skill; and that the splendour of the evening was often still farther heightened by the introduction of masques and pageants, after the taste and fashion of the times:
"There let Hymen oft appear,
In saffron robe, with taper clear;
And pomp, and feast, and revelry,
With masque, and antique pageantry".
We have only to conceive ourselves transported to a festival of this nature, and every circumstance of Milton's description will correspond exactly with the scene into which we are ushered:—there can be little difficulty, therefore, in conceding; that this is the scene which the Poet designed to exhibit.
That Warton's construction, then, is at least admissible, I trust, may safely be assumed; and that, if admissible, it is incomparably the most poetical, is surely past all dispute.—Milton's design in the Allegro and Penseroso, has perhaps been regarded with too much refinement by Johnson, when he considers it as being—not what Theobald, with still more refinement, supposed, "to show how objects derived their colours from the mind, by representing the operation of the same things upon the gay and the melancholy temper, or upon the same man as he is differently disposed"—but rather "to illustrate, how, among the successive variety of appearances, every disposition of mind takes hold on those by which it may be gratified". To me, the poet's aim appears simply, to exhibit a succession of such appearances as are best adapted to interest and cherish a cheerful or pensive disposition. But however this may be, his conduct, in the pursuit of what must be regarded as his leading object, under any supposition, is clear and admirable. He personates, in turn, both characters; and conducts himself through a series of scenes and images congenial to each. These scenes and images are not promiscuously thrown together: they are exhibited in the order in which they naturally occur—in the succession in which they might actually have been witnessed and enjoyed; and thus essentially contribute to the vivacity and dramatic effect of the piece. In the Penseroso, the scene commences in the evening, and is pursued through the next day: in the Allegro, it opens in the morning, when first
"* * * the lark begins his flight,
And singing startles the dull night";
and is continued, through periods marked by the most characteristic imagery, true to nature and exquisitely touched,
"Till the live-long day-light fails":
But the recreations of a country life are not yet exhausted: the spicy, nut-brown ale is introduced; and the rustic beverage is accompanied with appropriate tales of village superstition, till the hour of rest (an early hour) arrives, the whispering winds lull all to slumber, and universal stillness closes up the evening. Then—at this pause—if Warton's interpretation be received, the poet shifts the scene; and from the sequestered hamlet, hushed in silence and repose, transports us suddenly, and by an unexpected and awakening contrast, into the midst of luxurious cities, now revelling in the height of their festivities; where he mingles with whatever is most crowded, and brilliant, and exhilarating—the sumptuous feast, the gorgeous pageant, the splendid drama, and the inspiring concert. A transition more truly animating and delightful, never was conceived: it has the same effect, as when, in some entrancing symphony, after a minor movement gradually softened by a lentando and diminuendo to a close that dies away upon the ear, the whole force of the orchestra abruptly breaks forth in the original key and to brisk measure. The transition it not only exquisite in itself, but its introduction is infinitely happy. It possesses perfectly both the requisites of that "curiosa felicitas"<152> which constitutes the fondest wish of the aspirer to elegance of composition;—it has all the ease which seems the gift of fortune, with all the justness which forms the triumph of art. After having chased the delights of the country through the day, the poet is naturally led to resort in the evening to cities; and cities, at this juncture, readily furnish those glittering spectacles which contrast so admirably with the tranquil pleasures of the day. Destroy this continuity—suppose a total break in the scene—conceive that the poet, after having left us to slumber through the night, goes over again the next day, in the town, the same circuit which he had, the evening before, completed in the country, and—I will not say that the spirit of the piece is gone—but I am sure it is miserably impaired. Every reader of taste, must forcibly feel the difference: he will abandon, if he be compelled to abandon, the illusion arising from the obvious interpretation of the contested passage, with sincere regret: and will be tempted to exclaim, with the enthusiast in Horace, to the sturdy disciplinarians who should compel him to such a measure-
* * * * * * * Pol, me occidistis amici,
Non servastis, ait; cui sic extorta voluptas,
Et demptus, per vim, mentis gratissimus error.
L. 2, Epis. 2, v. 138, &c.