Sidor som bilder

has seen. For the same reason, when two things equally new and singular are presented, the spectator balances between them; but when told that one of them is the product of a distant quarter of the world, he no longer hesitates, but clings to it as the more singular. Hence the preference given to foreign luxuries, and to foreign curiosities, which appear rare in proportion to their original distance.

The next degree of novelty, mounting upward, is found in objects of which we have some information at second hand; for description, though it contribute to familiarity, cannot altogether remove the appearance of novelty when the object itself is presented the first sight of a lion occasions some wonder, after a thorough acquaintance with the correctest pictures and statues of that animal.


A new object that bears some distant resemblance to a known species, is an instance of a third degree of novelty a strong resemblance among individuals of the same species, prevents almost entirely the effect of novelty, unless distance of place or some other circumstance concur; but where the resemblance is faint, some degree of wonder is felt, and the emotion rises in proportion to the faintness of the resemblance.

The highest degree of wonder ariseth from unknown objects that have no analogy to any species we are acquainted with. Shakspeare in a simile introduces that species of novelty:

As glorious to the sight

As is a winged messenger from heaven
Unto the white up-turned wond'ring eye
Of mortals, that fall back to gaze on him
When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds,
And sails upon the bosom of the air.

Romeo and Juliet.

One example of that species of novelty deserves peculiar attention; and that is, when an object alVOL. I. Ff

together new is seen by one person only, and but once. These circumstances heighten remarkably the emotion the singularity of the spectator concurs with the singularity of the object, to inflame wonder to its highest pitch.

In explaining the effects of novelty, the place a being occupies in the scale of existence, is a circumstance that must not be omitted. Novelty in the individuals of a low class is perceived with indifference, or with a very slight emotion: thus a pebble, however singular in its appearance, scaree moves our wonder. The emotion rises with the rank of the object; and, other circumstances being equal, is strongest in the highest order of exist ence a strange insect affects us more than a strange vegetable; and a strange quadruped more than a strange insect.

However natural novelty may be, it is a matter of experience, that those who relish it the most are careful to conceal its influence. Love of novelty, it is true, prevails in children, in idlers, and in men of shallow understanding: and yet, after all, why should one be ashamed of indulging a natural propensity? A distinction will afford a satisfactory answer. No man is ashamed of curiosity when it is indulged in order to acquire knowledge. But to prefer any thing merely because it is new, shows a mean taste, which one ought to be ashamed of: vanity is commonly at the bottom, which leads those who are deficient in taste to prefer things odd, rare, or singular, in order to distinguish themselves from others. And in fact, that appetite, as above mentioned, reigns chiefly among persons of a mean taste, who are ignorant of refined and elegant pleasures.

One final cause of wonder, hinted above, is, that this emotion is intended to stimulate our curiosity. Another, somewhat different, is, to prepare the

mind for receiving deep impressions of new objects. An acquaintance with the various things that may affect us and with their properties, is essential to our well-being: nor will a slight or superficial acquaintance be sufficient; they ought to be so deeply engraved on the mind, as to be ready for use upon every occasion. Now, in order to make a deep impression, it is wisely contrived, that things should be introduced to our acquaintance with a certain pomp and solemnity productive of a vivid emotion. When the impression is once fairly made, the emotion of novelty, being no longer necessary, vanisheth almost instantaneously; never to return, unless where the impression happens to be obliterated by length of time or other means; in which case, the second introduction hath nearly the same solemnity with the first.

Designing wisdom is no where more legible than in this part of the human frame. If new objects did not affect us in a very peculiar manner, their impressions would be so slight as scarce to be of any use in life on the other hand, did objects continue to affect us as deeply as at first, the mind would be totally engrossed with them, and have no room left either for action or reflection.

The final cause of surprise is still more evident than of novelty. Self-love makes us vigilantly attentive to self-preservation; but self-love, which operates by means of reason and reflection, and impels not the mind to any particular object or from it, is a principle too cool for a sudden emergency: an object breaking in unexpectedly, affords no time for deliberation; and, in that case, the agitation of surprise comes in seasonably to rouse self-love into action: surprise gives the alarm; and if there be any appearance of danger, our whole force is instantly summoned up to shun or to prevent it.


Risible Objects.

SUCH is the nature of man, that his powers and faculties are soon blunted by exercise. The returns of sleep, suspending all activity, are not alone sufficient to preserve him in vigour during his waking hours, amusement by intervals is requi site to unbend his mind from serious occupation. To that end, nature hath kindly made a provision of many objects, which may be distinguished by the epithet of risible, because they raise in us a peculiar emotion expressed externally by laughter: that emotion is pleasant; and being also mirthful, it most successfully unbends the mind, and recruits the spirits. Imagination contributes a part by multiplying such objects without end.

Ludicrous is a general term, signifying, as may appear from its derivation, what is play some, sportive, or jocular. Ludicrous, therefore, seems the genus, of which risible is a species, limited as above to what makes us laugh.

However easy it may be, concerning any parti cular object, to say whether it be risible or not, it seems difficult, if at all practicable, to establish any* general character, by which objects of that kind may be distinguished from others. Nor is that a singular case; for, upon a review, we find the same difficulty in most of the articles already handled. There is nothing more easy, viewing a particular object, than to pronounce that it is beautiful or ug

ly, grand or little but were we to attempt general rules for ranging objects under different classes, according to these qualities, we should be much gravelled. A separate cause increases the difficulty of distinguishing risible objects by a general character: all men are not equally affected by risible objects; nor the same man at all times; for in high spirits a thing will make him laugh outright, which scarce provokes a smile in a grave mood. Risible objects, however, are circumscribed within certain limits; which I shall suggest, without pretending to accuracy. And, in the first place, I observe, that no object is risible but what appears slight, little, or trivial; for we laugh at nothing that is of impor tance to our own interest, or to that of others. A real distress raises pity, and therefore cannot be risible; but a slight or imaginary distress, which moves not pity, is risible. The adventure of the fulling-mills in Don Quixote, is extremely risible : so is the scene where Sancho, in a dark night, tumbling into a pit, and attaching himself to the side by hand and foot, hangs there in terrible dismay till the morning, when he discovers himself to be within a foot of the bottom. A nose remarkably long or short, is risible; but to want it altogether, far from provoking laughter, raises horror in the spectator. Secondly, With respect to works both of nature and of art, none of them are risible but what are out of rule, some remarkable defect or excess; a very long visage, for example, or a very short one. Hence nothing just, proper, decent, beautiful, proportioned, or grand, is risible.

Even from this slight sketch it will readily be conjectured, that the emotion raised by a risible object is of a nature so singular, as scarce to find place while the mind is occupied with any other passion or emotion: and the conjecture is verified

« FöregåendeFortsätt »