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Emotions and Passions.
OF all the feelings raised in us by external objects, (those only of the eye and the ear are honoured with the name of passion or emotion: the most pleasing feelings of taste, or touch, or smell, aspire not to that honour. From this observation appears the connexion of emotions and passions with the fine arts, which, as observed in the introduction, are all of them calculated to give pleasure to the eye or the ear; never once condescending to gratify any of the inferior senses. The design accordingly of this chapter is to delineate that connexion, with the view chiefly to ascertain what power the fine arts have to raise emotions and passions. To those who would excel in the fine arts, that branch of knowledge is indispensable; for without it the critic, as well as the undertaker, ignorant of any rule, have nothing left but to abandon themselves to chance. Destitute of that branch of knowledge, in vain will either pretend to foretel what effect his work will have upon the heart.
The principles of the fine arts, appear in this view to open a direct avenue to the heart of man. The inquisitive mind beginning with criticism, the most agreeable of all amusements, and finding no obstruction in its progress, advances far into the sensitive part of our nature; and gains imperceptibly
a thorough knowledge of the human heart, of its desires, and of every motive to action; a science, which of all that can be reached by man, is to him of the greatest importance.
Upon a subject so comprehensive, all that can be expected in this chapter, is a general or slight survey and to shorten that survey, I propose to handle separately some emotions more peculiarly connected with the fine arts. Even after that circumscription, so much matter comes under the present chapter, that, to avoid confusion, I find it necessary to divide it into many parts: and though the first of these is confined to such causes of emotion or passion as are the most common and the most general; yet upon examination I find this single part so extensive, as to require a subdivision into several sections. Human nature is a complicate machine, and is unavoidably so in order to answer its various purposes. The public indeed have been entertained with many systems of human nature that flatter the mind by their simplicity: according to some writers, man is entirely a selfish being; according to others, universal benevolence is his duty one founds morality upon sympathy solely, and one upon utility. If any of these systems were copied from nature, the present subject might be soon discussed. But the variety of nature is not so easily reached, and for coufuting such Utopian systems without the fatigue of reasoning, it appears the best method to take a survey of human nature, and to set before the eye, plainly and candidly, facts as they really exist.
CAUSES UNFOLDED OF THE EMOTIONS AND PASSIONS.
SECT. I.-Difference between Emotion and Passion.-Causes that are the most common and the most general.-Passion considered as productive of Action.
THESE branches are so interwoven that they cannot be handled separately. It is a fact universally admitted, that no emotion or passion ever starts up in the mind without a cause if I love a person, it is for good qualities or good offices: if I have resentment against a man, it must be for some injury he has done me: and I cannot pity any one who is under no distress of body nor of mind.
The circumstances now mentioned, if they raise an emotion or passion, cannot be entirely indifferent; for if so, they could not make any impression. And we find upon examination, that they are not indifferent: looking back upon the foregoing examples, the good qualities or good offices that attract my love, are antecedently agreeable: if an injury did not give uneasiness, it would not occasion resentment against the author: nor would the passion of pity be raised by an object in distress, if that object did not give pain.
What is now said about the production of emotion or passion, resolves into a very simple proposition, That we love what is agreeable, and hate what is disagreeable. And indeed it is evident, that a thing must be agreeable or disagreeable,
before it can be the object either of love or of hatred.
This short hint about the causes of passion and emotion, leads to a more extensive view of the subject. Such is our nature, that upon perceiving certain external objects, we are instantaneously conscious of pleasure or pain: a gently-flowing river, a smooth extended plain, a spreading oak, a towering hill, are objects of sight that raise pleasant emotions: a barren heath, a dirty marsh, a rotten carcass, raise painful emotions. Of the emotions thus produced, we inquire for no other cause but merely the presence of the object.
The things now mentioned, raise emotions by means of their properties and qualities: to the emotion raised by a large river, its size, its force, and its fluency, contributes each a share: the regularity, propriety, and convenience, of a fine building, contribute each to the emotion raised by the building.
If external properties be agreeable, we have reason to expect the same from those which are internal; and, accordingly, power, discernment, wit, mildness, sympathy, courage, benevolence, are agreeable in a high degree: upon perceiving these qualities in others, we instantaneously feel pleasant emotions, without the slightest act of reflection, or of attention to consequences. It is almost unnecessary to add, that certain qualities opposite to the former, such as dulness, peevishness, inhumanity, cowardice, occasion in the same manner painful emotions.
Sensible beings affect us remarkably by their actions. Some actions raise pleasant emotions in the spectator, without the least reflection; such as graceful motion, and genteel behaviour. But as intention, a capital circumstance in human actions,
is not visible, it requires reflection to discover their true character: I see one delivering a purse of money to another, but I can make nothing of that action, till I learn with what intention the money is given if it be given to discharge a debt, the action pleases me in a slight degree; if it be a grateful return, I feel a stronger emotion; and the pleasant emotion rises to a great height, when it is the intention of the giver to relieve a virtuous family from want. Thus actions are qualified by intention but they are not qualified by the event; for an action well intended gives pleasure, whatever the event be. Further, human actions are perceived to be right or wrong; and that perception qualifies the pleasure or pain that results from them.*
* In tracing our emotions and passions to their origin, my first thought was, that qualities and actions are the primary causes of emotions; and that these emotions are afterwards expanded upon the being to which these qualities and actions belong. But I am now convinced that this opinion is erroneous. An attribute is not, even in imagination, separable from the being to which it belongs; and, for that reason, cannot of itself be the cause of any emotion. We have, it is true, no knowledge of any being or substance but by means of its attributes; and therefore no being can be agreeable to us otherwise than by their means. But still, when an emotion is raised, it is the being itself, as we apprehend the matter, that raises the emotion; and it raises it by means of one or other of its attributes. If it be urged, That we can in idea abstract a quality from the thing to which it belongs; it might be answered, That such abstraction may serve the purposes of reasoning, but is too faint to produce any sort of emotion. But it is sufficient for the present purpose to answer, That the eye never abstracts: by that organ we perceive things as they really exist, and never perceive a quality as separated from the subject. Hence it must be evident, that emotions are raised, not by qualities abstractly considered, but by the substance or body so and so qualified. Thus, a spreading oak raises a pleasant emotion, by means of its colour, figure, umbrage, &c. it is not the colour, strictly speaking, that produces the emotion, but the tree coloured: it is not the figure abstractly considered that produces the emotion, but the tree of a certain figure. And hence, by the way, it appears, that the beauty of such an object is complex, resolvable into several beauties more simple.