Abbildungen der Seite

from one idea to another, and admits the whole with pleasure. If, on the contrary, the train he introduceth run counter to the current of my experience, if in many things it shock those conclusions and anticipations which are become habitual to me, my mind attends him with difficulty, suffers a sort of violence in passing from one idea to another, and rejects the whole with disdain :

"For while upon such monstrous scenes we gaze,

They shock our faith, our indignation raise."+-FRANCIS. In the former case I pronounce the narrative natural and credible; in the latter I say it is unnatural and incredible, if not impossible; and which is particularly expressive of the different appearancés in respect of connexion made by the ideas in my mind, the one tale I call coherent, the other incoherent. When, therefore, the orator can obtain no direct aid from the memory of his hearers, which is rarely to be obtained, he must, for the sake of brightening, and strengthening, and, if I may be permitted to use so bold a metaphor, cementing his ideas, bespeak the assistance of experience. This, if properly employed, will prove a potent ally, by adding the grace of verisimilitude to the whole. It is, therefore, first of all requisite that the circumstances of the narration, and the order in which they are exhibited, be what is commonly called natural, that is, congruous to general experience.

Where passion is the end, it is not a sufficient reason for introducing any circumstance that it is natural, it must also be pertinent. It is pertinent when either necessary for giving a distinct and consistent apprehension of the object, at least for obviating some objection that may be started, or doubt that may be entertained concerning it, or when such as in its particular tendency promotes the general aim. All circumstances, however plausible, which serve merely for decoration, never fail to divert the attention, and so become prejudicial to the proposed influence on passion.

But I am aware that, from the explication I have given of this quality, it will be said that I have run into the error, if it be an error, which I intended to avoid, and have confounded it with probability, by deriving it solely from the same origin, experience. In answer to this, let it be observed, that in every plausible tale which is unsupported by external evidence, there will be found throughout the whole, when duly canvassed, a mixture of possibilities and probabilities, and that not in such a manner as to make one part or incident probable, another barely possible, but so blended as equally to affect the whole, and every member. Take the Iliad for an example: That a haughty, choleric, and vindictive hero, such as Achilles is represented to have been, should, upon

+ "Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulsu odi."-HOR., De Arte Poet.

the public affront and injury he received from Agamemnon, treat that general with indignity, and form a resolution of withdrawing his troops, remaining thenceforth an unconcerned spectator of the calamities of his countrymen, our experience of the baleful influences of pride and anger renders in some degree probable: again, that one of such a character as Agamemnon, rapacious, jealous of his pre-eminence as commander-in-chief, who envied the superior merit of Achilles, and harboured resentment against him—that such a one, I say, on such an occurrence as is related by the poet, should have given the provocation, will be acknowledged also to have some probability. But that there were such personages, of such characters, in such circumstances, is merely possible. Here there is a total want of evidence. Experience is silent. Properly, indeed, the case comes not within the verge of its jurisdiction. Its general conclusions may serve in confutation, but can never serve in proof of particular or historical facts. Sufficient testimony, and that only, will answer here. The testimony of the poet in this case goes for nothing. His object, we know, is not truth, but likelihood. Experience, however, advances nothing against those allegations of the poet, therefore we call them possible; it can say nothing for them, therefore we do not call them probable. The whole. at most, amounts to this: If such causes existed, such effects probably followed. But we have no evidence of the existence of the causes, therefore we have no evidence of the existence of the effects. Consequently, all the probability implied in this quality is a hypothetical probability, which is, in effect, none at all. It is an axiom among dialecticians in relation to the syllogistic art, that the conclusion always follows the weaker of the premises. To apply this to the present purpose, an application not illicit, though unusual; if one of the premises, suppose the major, contain an affirmation that is barely possible, the minor one that is probable, possibility only can be deduced in the conclusion.

These two qualities, therefore, PROBABILITY and PLAUSIBILITY (if I may be indulged a little in the allegoric style), I shall call Sister-graces, daughters of the same father, Experience, who is the progeny of Memory, the first-born and heir of Sense. These daughters Experience had by different mothers. The elder is the offspring of Reason, the younger is the child of Fancy, The elder, regular in her features, and majestic both in shape and mien, is admiraby fitted for commanding esteem, and even a religious veneration; the younger, careless, blooming, sprightly, is entirely formed for captivating the heart and engaging love. The conversation of each is entertaining and instructive, but in different ways. Sages seem to think that there is more instruction to be gotten from the just observations of the elder; almost all are

agreed that there is more entertainment in the lively sallies of the younger. The principal companion and favourite of

the first is Truth, but whether Truth or Fiction share most in the favour of the second, it were often difficult to say. Both are naturally well disposed, and even friendly to Virtue, but the elder is by much the more steady of the two; the younger, though perhaps not less capable of doing good, is more easily corrupted, and hath sometimes basely turned procuress to Vice. Though rivals, they have a sisterly affection to each other, and love to be together. The elder, sensible that there are but a few who can for any time relish her society alone, is generally anxious that her sister be of the party; the younger, conscious of her own superior talents in this respect, can more easily dispense with the other's company. Nevertheless, when she is discoursing on great and serious subjects, in order to add weight to her words, she often quotes her sister's testimony, which she knows is better credited than her own, a compliment that is but sparingly returned by the elder. Each sister hath her admirers. Those of the younger are more numerous, those of the elder more constant. In the retinue of the former, you will find the young, the gay, the dissipated; but these are not her only attendants. The middle-aged, however, and the thoughtful, more commonly attach themselves to the latter. To conclude: as something may be learned of characters from the invectives of enemies as well as from the encomiums of friends, those who have not judgment to discern the good qualities of the first-born accuse her of dulness, pedantry, and stiffness; those who have not taste to relish the charms of the second, charge her with folly, levity, and falseness. Meantime, it appears to be the universal opinion of the impartial, and such as have been best acquainted with both, that though the attractives of the younger be more irresistible at sight, the virtues of the elder will be longer remembered.

So much for the two qualities probability and plausibility, on which I have expatiated the more, as they are the principal, and, in some respect, indispensable. The others are not compatible with every subject; but as they are of real moment, it is necessary to attend to them, that so they may not be overlooked in cases wherein the subject requires that they be urged.

PART III. Importance,

The third circumstance I took notice of was importance, the appearance of which always tends, by fixing attention more closely, to add brightness and strength to the ideas. The importance in moral subjects is analogous to the quantity of matter in physical subjects, as on quantity the moment of moving bodies in a great measure depends. An ac

tion may derive importance from its own nature, from those concerned in it as acting or suffering; or from its consequences. It derives importance from its own nature if it be stupendous in its kind, if the result of what is uncommonly great, whether good or bad, passion or invention, virtue or vice, or what in respect of generosity is godlike, what in respect of atrocity is diabolical; it derives importance from those concerned in it when the actors or the sufferers are considerable, on account either of their dignity or of their number, or of both; it derives importance from its consequences when these are remarkable in regard to their greatness, their multitude, their extent, and that either as to the many and distant places affected by them, or as to the future and remote periods to which they may reach, or as to both.

All the four remaining circumstances derive their efficacy purely from one and the same cause, the connexion of the subject with those occupied, as speakers or hearers, in the discourse. Self is the centre here, which hath a similar power in the ideal world to that of the sun in the material world, in communicating both light and heat to whatever is within the sphere of its activity, and in a greater or less degree, according to the nearness or remoteness.

PART IV. Proximity of Time.

First, as to proximity of time, every one knows that any melancholy incident is the more affecting that it is recent. Hence it is become common with story-tellers, that they may make a deeper impression on their hearers, to introduce remarks like these: that the tale which they relate is not old, that it happened but lately, or in their own time, or that they are yet living who had a part in it or were witnesses of it. Proximity of time regards not only the past, but the future. An event that will probably soon happen hath greater influence upon us than what will probably happen a long time hence. I have hitherto proceeded on the hypothesis that the orator rouses the passions of his hearers by exhibiting some past transaction; but we must acknowledge that passion may be as strongly excited by his reasonings concerning an event yet to come. In the judiciary orations there is greater scope for the former, in the deliberative for the latter, though in each kind there may occasionally be scope for both. All the seven circumstances enumerated are applicable, and have equal weight, whether they relate to the future or to the past. The only exception that I know of is, that probability and plausibility are scarcely distinguishable, when used in reference to events in futurity. As in these there is no access for testimony, what constitutes the principal distinction is quite excluded. In comparing the influence of the past upon our minds with that of the future, it appears, in general,


that if the evidence, the importance, and the distance of the objects be equal, the latter will be greater than the former The reason, I imagine, is, we are conscious, that as every moment, the future, which seems placed before us, is ap proaching, and the past, which lies, as it were, behind, is retiring, our nearness or relation to the one constantly increaseth as the other decreaseth. There is something like attraction in the first case, and repulsion in the second. This tends to interest us more in the future than in the past, and consequently to the present view aggrandizes the one and diminishes the other.

What, nevertheless, gives the past a very considerable advantage, is its being generally susceptible of much stronger evidence than the future. The lights of the mind are, if I may so express myself, in an opposite situation to the lights of the body. These discover clearly the prospect lying before us, but not the ground we have already passed. By the memory, on the contrary, that great luminary of the mind, things past are exhibited in retrospect: we have no correspondent faculty to irradiate the future; and even in matters which fall not within the reach of our memory, past events are often clearly discoverable by testimony, and by effects at present existing, whereas we have nothing equivalent to found our arguments upon in reasoning about things to come. It is for this reason that the future is considered as the province of conjecture and uncertainty.

PART V. Connexion of Place.

Local connexion, the fifth in the above enumeration, hath a more powerful effect than proximity of time. Duration and space are two things (call them entities, or attributes, or what you please), in some respects the most like, and in some respects the most unlike to one another. They resemble in continuity, divisibility, infinity, in their being deemed essential to the existence of other things, and in the doubts that have been raised as to their having a real or independent existence of their own. They differ in that the latter is permanent, whereas the very essence of the former consisteth in transitoriness; the parts of the one are all successive, of the other all coexistent. The greater portions of time are all distinguished by the memorable things which have been transacted in them, the smaller portions by the revolutions of the heavenly bodies; the portions of place, great and small (for we do not here consider the regions of the fixed stars and planets), are distinguished by the various tracts of land and water into which the earth is divided and subdivided; the one distinction intelligible, the other sensible; the one chiefly known to the inquisitive, the other, in a great measure, obvious to all.

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »