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The shame, confufion, and terror of VERRES, no doubt, rose in proportion to the noble eloquence and vehemence of CICERO: So also did his pain and uneasia ness. These former passions were too strong for the pleasure arising from the beauties of elocution ; and operated, though from the same principle, yet in a contrary manner, to the sympathy, compassion, and indignation of the audience.
Lord CLARENDON, when he approaches towards the catastrophe of the royal party, supposes, that his narration must then become infinitely disagreeable ; and he hurries over the king's death, without giving us one circumstance of it. He considers it as too horrid a scene to be contemplated with any satisfaction, or even without the utmost pain and averfion. He himself, as well as the readers of that age, were too deeply concerned in the events, and felt a pain from subjects, which an historian and a reader of another age would regard as the the most pathetic and most interesting, and, by consequence, the most agreeable.
An action, represented in tragedy, may be too bloody and atrocious.
excite such movements of horror as will not soften into pleasure ; and the greatest energy of expression, bestowed on descriptions of that nature, serves only to augment our uneasiness. Such is that action represented in the Ambitious Stepmother, where a venerable old man, raised to the height of fury and dea spair, rushes against a pillar, and striking his head upon it, besmears it all over with mingled brains and gore. The ENGLISH theatre abounds too much with such fhocķing images.
Even the common sentiments of compassion require to be softened by some agreeable affection, in order to give a thorough fatisfaction to the audience. The mere fuf
fering of plaintive virtue, under the triumphant tyranny and oppression of vice, forms a disagreeable spectacle, and is carefully avoided by all masters of the drama. In order to dismiss the audience with entire fatisfaction and contentment, the virtue muft either convert itself into a noble courageous despair, or the vice receive its proper punilhment.
Moft painters appear in this light to have been very unhappy in their subjects. As they wrought much for churches and convents, they have chiefly represented fuch horrible subjects as crucifixions and martyrdoms, where nothing appears but tortures, wounds, executions, and passive fuffering, without any action or affection, When they turned their pencil from this ghaftly mythology, they had recourse commonly to OviD, whose fictions, though passionate and agreeable, are scarcely patural or probable enough for painting.
The same inverfion of that principle, which is here infifted on, displays itself in common life, as in the effects of oratory and poetry. Rajse so the subordinate passion that it becomes the predominant, it swallows up that affection which it before nourished and encreased. Too much jealousy extinguishes love: Too much difficulty renders us indifferent: Too much fickness and infirmity disgusts a felfish and unkind parent.
What fo disagreeable as the dismal, gloomy, difastrous stories, with which melancholy people entertain their companions ? The uneasy passion being there raised alone, unaccompanied with any fpirit, genius, or eloquence, conveys a pure uneasiness, and is attended with nothing that can soften it into pleasure or fatisfaction,
THE great variety of Taste, as well as of opinion,
which prevails in the world, is too obvious to have fallen under every one's observation. Men of the most confined knowledge are able to remark a difference of taste in the narrow circle of their acquaintance, even where the persons have been educated under the same government, and have early imbibed the same prejudices. But those, who can enlarge their view to contemplate diftant nations and remote ages, are still more surprized at the great inconsistence and contrariety, We are apt to call barbarous whatever departs widely from our own taste and apprehenfion : But foon find the epithet of reproach retorted on us. And the highest arrogance and self-conceit is a: last startled, on obserying an equal assurance on all sides, and scruples, amidst such a contest of sentiment, to pronounce positively in its own favour.
As this variety of taste is obvious to the most careless enquirer; so will it be found, on examination, to be still greater in reality than in appearance. The sentiments of men often differ with regard to beauty and deformity of all kinds, even while their general discourse is the faine. There are certain terms in every language, which import blame, and others praise; and all men, who use the
fame tongue, must agree in their application of them. Every voice is united in applauding elegance, propriety, fimplicity, spirit in writing; and in blaming fuftian, affectation, coldness, and a false brilliancy: But when critics come to particulars, this seeming unanimity vanishes; and it is found, that they had affixed a very different meaning to their expressions. In all matters of opinion and science, the case is oppofite: The difference among men is there oftener found to lie in generals than in particulars; and to be less in reality than in appearance. An explanation of the terms commonly ends the controverly;
and the disputants are surprized to find, that they had been quarrelling, while at bottom they agreed in their judgment.
Those who found morality on sentiment, more than on reason, are inclined to comprehend ethics under the former observation, and to maintain, that, in all queftions, which regard conduct and manners, the difference among men is really greater than at first fight it appears. It is indeed obvious, that writers of all nations and all ages concur in applauding justice, humanity, magnanimity, prudence, veracity; and in blaming the oppofite qualities. Even poets and other authors, whose compositions are chiefly calculated to please the imagination, are yet found, from HOMER down to FENELON, to inculcate the fame moral precepts, and to bestow their applause and Llame on the same virtues and vices. This great unanimity is usually ascribed to the influence of plain reason; which, in all these cases, maintains similar sentiments in all men, and prevents those controversies, to which the abstract fcicnces are so much exposed. So far as the unanimity is real, this account may be admitted as satisfactory: But we must also allow that some part of the feeming harmony in morals may be accounted for from the
very nature of language. The word virtue, with its equi. valent in every tongue, implies praise; as that of vice does blame : And no one, without the most obvious and groffest impropriety, could affix reproach to a term, which in general acceptation is understood in a good sense; or bestow applause, where the idiom requires disapprobation. Homer's general precepts, where he delivers any such, will never be controverted; but it is obvious, that, when he draws particular pictures of manners, and represents heroism in ACHILLES and prudence in ULYSSES, he intermixes a much greater degree of ferocity in the former, and of cunning and fraud in the latter, than FENELON would admit of. The fage ULYSSES in the Greek poet seems to delight in lies and fictions, and often employs them without any necessity or even advantage : But his more scrupulous fon, in the French epic writer, exposes himself to the most imminent perils, rather than depart from the exactest line of truth and veracity.
The admirers and followers of the ALCORAN insist on the excellent moral precepts interspersed throughout that wild and absurd performance. But it is to be supposed, that the ARABIC words, which correspond to the ENGLISH, equity, justice, temperance, meekness, charity, were such as, from the constant use of that tongue, must always be taken in a good sense; and it would have argued the greatest ignorance, not of morals, but of Janguage, to have mentioned them with, any epithets, besides those of applause and approbation. But would we know, whether the pretended prophet had really attained a just sentiment of morals ? Let us attend to his narration; and we shall foon find, that he bcitows praise on such instances of treachery, inhumanity, cruelty, revenge, bigotry, as are utterly incompatible with civilized, society. No fteady rule of right seems there to be at