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perfection, not a single set of objects only; LECT. but almost the whole of those which give Pleasure to Taste and Imagination; whether that Pleasure arise from Sublimity, from Beauty in its different forms, from Design and Art, from Moral Sentiment, from Novelty, from Harmony, from Wit, Humour, and Ridicule. To whichsoever of these the peculiar bent of a perfon's Taste lies, from some writer or other, he has it always in his power to receive the gratification of it.
Now this high power which eloquence and poetry possess, of supplying Taste and Imagination with such a wide circle of pleasures, they derive altogether from their having a greater capacity of Imitation and Description than is poffefsed by any other art. Of all the means which human ingenuity has contrived for recalling the images of real objects, and awakening, by representation, funilar emotions to those which are raised by the original, none is so full and extensive as that which is executed by words and writing. Through the assistance of this happy invention, there is nothing, either in the natural or moral world, but what can be represented and set before the mịnd, in colours very strong and lively. Hence it is usual among critical writers, to speak of Discourse as the chief of all the imitarive or mimetic arts; they compare it with
LE C T. painting and with sculpture, and in many re
spects prefer it juftly before them.
This style was first introduced by Aristotle in his Poetics; and since his time, has acquired a general currency among modern authors. But, as it is of consequence to introduce as much precision as possible into critical language, I must observe, that this manner of speaking is not accurate. Neither discourse in general, nor poetry in particular, can be called altogether imitative arts. We must distinguifh betwixt Imitation and Description, which are ideas that should not be confounded. Imitation is performed by means of somewhat that has a natural likeness and resemblance to the thing imitated, and of confequence is understood by all; such are statues and pictures. Description, again, is the raising in the mind the conception of an object by means of some arbitrary or instituted fymbols, understood only by those who agree in the institution of them; such are words and writing. Words have no natural resemblance to the ideas or objects which they are employed to signify; but a ftatue, or a picture has a natural likeness to the original.
And therefore Imitation and Description differ considerably in their nature from each other.
As far, indeed, as a poet introduces into his L E C T. work persons actually speaking; and, by the words which he puts into their mouths, represents the discourse which they might be supposed to hold; so far his art may more accurately be called Imitative: and this is the case in all dramatic composition. But in Narrative or Descriptive works, it can with no propriety be called so. Who, for instance, would call Virgil's Description of a tempeft, in the first Æneid, an Imitation of a storın? If we heard of the Imitation of a battle, we might naturally think of some mock fight, or reprefentation of a battle on the stage, but would never apprehend, that it meant one of Homer's Descriptions in the Iliad. I admit, at the same time, that Imitation and Description agree in their principal effect, of recalling, by external signs, the ideas of things which we do not see. But though in this they coincide, yet it should not be forgotten, that the terms themselves are not synonymous; that they import different means of effecting the same end, and of course make different impressions on the mind *
* Though, in the execution of particular parts, Poetry is certainly Descriptive rather than Imitative, yet there is a qualified sense in which Poetry, in the general, may be termed an Imitative art. The subject of the poet (as Dr. Gerard has shown in the Appendix to his Effay on Talte) is intended to be an Imitation, not of things really existing,
Whether we consider Poetry in particular, and Discourse in general, as Imitative or Descriptive; it is evident, that their whole power in recalling the impressions of real objects, is derived from the significancy of words. As
but of the course of nature; that is, a feigned representation of such events, or such scenes, as though they never had a being, yet might have exifted; and which, therefore, by their probability, bear a resemblance to nature. It was probably, in this sense, that Aristotle termed Poetry a mimetic art. How far either the Imitation or the Description which Poetry employs, is superior to the imitative powers of Painting and Music, is well shown by Mr. Harris, in his Treatise on Music, Painting, and Poetry. . The chief advantage which Poetry, or Discourse in general, enjoys, is, that whereas, by the nature of his art, the Painter is confined to the representation of a single moment, Writing and Discourse can trace a transaction through its whole progress. That moment, indeed, which the Painter pitches upon for the subject of his picture, he may be said to exhibit with more advantage than the Poet or the Orator; inasmuch as he sets before us, in one view, all the minute concurrent circumstances of the event which happen in one individual point of time, as they appear in nature ; while Discourse is obliged to exhibit them in succession, and by means of a detail, which is in danger of becoming tedious, in order to be clear; or if not tedious, is in danger of being obscure. But to that point of time which he has chosen, the Painter being entirely confined, he cannot exhibit various stages of the same action or event; and he is subject to this farther defect, that he can only exhibit objects as they appear to the eye, and can very imperfectly delineate characters and sentiments, which are the noblest subjects of Imitation or Defcription. The power of representing these with full advantage, gives a high fuperiority to Discourse and Writing above all other imitative arts,
their excellency flows altogether from this L E C T. source, we must, in order to make way for further enquiries, begin at this fountain head. I shall, therefore, in the next Lecture, enter upon the consideration of Language: of the origin, the progress, and construction of which, I purpose to treat at some length.