The Pleasures of Imagination (Akenside, 1744)/Book 3






Book the Third.





PLEASURE in observing the tempers and manners of men, even where vicious or absurd; v. 1, to 14. The origin of vice, from false representations of the fancy, producing false opinions concerning good and evil; v. 14. to 62. Inquiry into ridicule; v. 73. The general sources of ridicule in the minds and characters of men enumerated; v. 14, to 240. Final cause of the sense of ridicule; v. 263. The resemblance of certain aspects of inanimate things to the sensations and properties of the mind; v. 282, to 311. The operations of the mind in the production of the works of imagination, described; v. 358, to 414. The secondary pleasure from imitation; to v. 436. The benevolent order of the world illustrated in the arbitrary connection of these pleasures with the objects which excite them; v. 458, to 514. The nature and conduct of taste; v. 515, to 567. Concluding with an account of the natural and moral advantages resulting from a sensible and well form'd imagination.


The Pleasures of Imagination - Akenside (1744) divider 2.jpg





Book the Third.

WHAT wonder therefore, since th' indearing ties
Of passion link the universal kind
Of man so close, what wonder if to search
This common nature thro' the various change
Of sex, and age, and fortune, and the frame5
Of each peculiar, draw the busy mind
With unresisted charms? The spacious west,
And all the teeming regions of the south
Hold not a quarry, to the curious flight
Of knowledge, half so tempting or so fair,10
As man to man. Nor only where the smiles
Of love invite; nor only where th' applause
Of cordial honour turns th' attentive eye

On virtue's graceful deeds. For since the course
Of things external acts in different ways15
On human apprehensions, as the hand
Of nature temper'd to a different frame
Peculiar minds; so haply where the pow'rs
Of fancy[1] neither lessen nor enlarge
The images of things, but paint in all20
Their genuine hues, the features which they wore

In nature; there opinion will be true,
And action right. For action treads the path
In which opinion says he follows good,

Or flies from evil; and opinion gives25
Report of good or evil, as the scene
Was drawn by fancy, lovely or deform'd:
Thus her report can never there be true,
Where fancy cheats the intellectual eye,
With glaring colours and distorted lines.30
Is there a man, who at the sound of death,
Sees ghastly shapes of terror conjur'd up,
And black before him; nought but death-bed groans
And fearful pray'rs, and plunging from the brink
Of light and being, down the gloomy air,35
An unknown depth? Alas! in such a mind,
If no bright forms of excellence attend
The image of his country; nor the pomp
Of sacred senates, nor the guardian voice
Of justice on her throne, nor aught that wakes40
The conscious bosom with a patriot's flame;
Will not opinion tell him, that to die,
Or stand the hazard, is a greater ill
Than to betray his country? And in act
Will he not chuse to be a wretch and live?45
Here vice begins then. From th' inchanting cup
Which fancy holds to all, th' unwary thirst
Of youth oft swallows a Circæan draught,
That sheds a baleful tincture o'er the eye
Of reason, till no longer he discerns,50
And only guides to err. Then revel forth

A furious band that spurn him from the throne;
And all is uproar. Thus ambition grasps
The empire of the soul: thus pale revenge
Unsheaths her murd'rous dagger; and the hands55
Of lust and rapine, with unholy arts,
Watch to o'erturn the barrier of the laws
That keeps them from their prey: thus all the plagues
The wicked bear, or o'er the trembling scene
The tragic muse discloses, under shapes60
Of honour, safety, pleasure, ease or pomp,
Stole first into the mind. Yet not by all
Those lying forms which fancy in the brain
Engenders, are the kindling passions driv'n
To guilty deeds; nor reason bound in chains,65
That vice alone may lord it: oft adorn'd
With solemn pageants, folly mounts the throne;
And plays her ideot-anticks like a queen.
A thousand garbs she wears; a thousand ways
She wheels her giddy empire.—Lo! thus far70
With bold adventure, to the Mantuan lyre
I sing of nature's charms, and touch well-pleas'd
A stricter note: now haply must my song
Unbend her serious measure, and reveal
In lighter strains, how folly's aukward arts[2]75

Excite impetuous laughter's gay rebuke;
The sportive province of the comic muse.

See! in what crouds the uncouth forms advance;
Each would outstrip the other, each prevent
Our careful search, and offer to your gaze,80
Unask'd his motley features. Wait awhile,
My curious friends! and let us first arrange
In proper order your promiscuous throng.

Behold the foremost band;[3] of slender thought,
And easy faith; whom flatt'ring fancy sooths85
With lying spectres, in themselves to view
Illustrious forms of excellence and good,
That scorn the mansion. With exulting hearts
They spread their spurious treasure to the sun
And bid the world admire! but chief the glance90
Of wishful envy draws their joy-bright eyes,

And lifts with self-applause each lordly brow.
In number boundless as the blooms of spring,
Behold their glaring idols, empty shapes
By fancy gilded o'er, and then set up95
For adoration. Some in learning's garb,
With formal band, and sable-cinctur'd gown,
And rags of mouldy volumes. Some elate
With martial splendour, steely pikes, and swords
Of costly frame, and gay Phœnician robes100
Inwrought with flow'ring gold, assume the port
Of stately valour: list'ning by his side
There stands a female form; to her, with looks
Of earnest import, pregnant with amaze,
He talks of deadly deeds, of breaches, storms,105
And sulph'rous mines, and ambush: then at once
Breaks off, and smiles to see her look so pale,
And asks some wond'ring question of her fears.
Others of graver mien; behold, adorn'd
With holy ensigns, how sublime they move,110
And bending oft their sanctimonious eyes,
Take homage of the simple-minded throng;
Ambassadors of heav'n! Nor much unlike
Is he whose visage, in the lazy mist
That mantles every feature, hides a brood115
Of politic conceits; of whispers, nods,
And hints deep-omen'd with unweildy schemes,
And dark portents of state. Ten thousand more,
Prodigious habits and tumultuous tongues,

Pour dauntless in and swell the boastful band.120

Then comes the second order;[4] all who seek
The debt of praise, where watchful unbelief
Darts thro' the thin pretence her squinting eye
On some retir'd appearance which belies
The boasted virtue, or annulls th' applause125
That justice else would pay. Here side by side
I see two leaders of the solemn train,
Approaching: one a female, old and grey,
With eyes demure and wrinkle-furrow'd brow,
Pale as the cheeks of death; yet still she stuns130
The sickning audience with a nauseous tale;
How many youths her myrtle chains have worn,
How many virgins at her triumphs pin'd!
Yet how resolv'd she guards her cautious heart;
Such is her terror at the risques of love,135
And man's seducing tongue! The other seems
A bearded sage, ungentle in his mien,
And sordid all his habit; peevish want
Grins at his heels, while down the gazing throng
He stalks, resounding in magnific phrase140
The vanity of riches, the contempt

Of pomp and pow'r. Be prudent in your zeal,
Ye grave associates! let the silent grace
Of her who blushes at the fond regard
Her charms inspire, more eloquent unfold145
The praise of spotless honour: let the man
Whose eye regards not his illustrious pomp
And ample store, but as indulgent streams
To chear the barren soil and spread the fruits
Of joy, let him by juster measures fix150
The price of riches and the end of pow'r.

Another tribe succeeds;[5] deluded long
By fancy's dazzling optics, these behold
The images of some peculiar things
With brighter hues resplendent, and portray'd155
With features nobler far than e'er adorn'd
Their genuine objects. Hence the fever'd heart
Pants with delirious hope for tinsel charms;
Hence oft obtrusive on the eye of scorn,
Untimely zeal her witless pride betrays;160
And serious manhood from the tow'ring aim
Of wisdom, stoops to emulate the boast
Of childish toil. Behold yon mystic form,
Bedeck'd with feathers, insects, weeds and shells!
Not with intenser brow the Samian sage165

Bent his fix'd eye on heav'n's eternal fires,
When first the order of that radiant scene
Swell'd his exulting thought, than this surveys
A muckworm's entrails or a spider's fang.
Next him a youth, with flow'rs and myrtles crown'd,170
Attends that virgin form, and blushing kneels,
With fondest gesture and a suppliant's tongue,
To win her coy regard: adieu, for him,
The dull ingagements of the bustling world!
Adieu the sick impertinence of praise!175
And hope, and action! for with her alone,
By streams and shades, to steal these sighing hours,
Is all he asks, and all that fate can give!
Thee too, facetious Momion, wandering here,
Thee, dreaded censor! oft have I beheld180
Bewilder'd unawares: alas! too long
Flush'd with thy comic triumphs and the spoils
Of sly derision! till on every side
Hurling thy random bolts, offended truth
Assign'd thee here thy station with the slaves185
Of folly. Thy once formidable name
Shall grace her humble records, and be heard
In scoffs and mockery bandied from the lips
Of all the vengeful brotherhood around,
So oft the patient victims of thy scorn.190

But now, ye gay![6] to whom indulgent fate,
Of all the muse's empire hath assign'd
The fields of folly, hither each advance
Your sickles; here the teeming soil affords
Its richest growth. A fav'rite brood appears;195
In whom the dæmon, with a mother's joy,
Views all her charms reflected, all her cares
At full repay'd. Ye most illustrious band!
Who, scorning reason's tame, pedantic rules
And order's vulgar bondage, never meant200
For souls sublime as yours, with generous zeal
Pay vice the rev'rence virtue long usurp'd,
And yield deformity the fond applause
Which beauty wont to claim; forgive my song
That for the blushing diffidence of youth,205
It shuns the unequal province of your praise.

Thus far triumphant[7] in the pleasing guile
Of bland imagination, folly's train
Have dar'd our search: but now a dastard-kind
Advance reluctant, and with fault'ring feet210
Shrink from the gazer's eye: infeebled hearts,

Whom fancy chills with visionary fears,
Or bends to servile tameness with conceits
Of shame, of evil, or of base defect,
Fantastic and delusive. Here the slave215
Who droops abash'd when sullen pomp surveys
His humbler habit: here the trembling wretch
Unnerv'd and frose with terror's icy bolts,
Spent in weak wailings, drown'd in shameful tears,
At every dream of danger: here subdued220
By frontless laughter and the hardy scorn
Of old, unfeeling vice, the abject soul
Who blushing half resigns the candid praise
Of temperance and honour; half disowns
A freeman's hatred of tyrannic pride;225
And hears with sickly smiles the venal mouth
With foulest licence mock the patriot's name.

Last of the motley bands[8] on whom the pow'r
Of gay derision bends her hostile aim,
Is that where shameful ignorance presides.230
Beneath her sordid banners, lo! they march,
Like blind and lame. Whate'er their doubtful hands
Attempt, confusion straight appears behind,
And troubles all the work. Thro' many a maze,
Perplex'd they struggle, changing every path,235
O'erturning every purpose; then at last

Sit down dismay'd, and leave the entangled scene
For scorn to sport with. Such then is th' abode
Of folly in the mind; and such the shapes
In which she governs her obsequious train.240
Thro' every scene of ridicule in things
To lead the tenour of my devious lay;
Thro' every swift occasion, which the hand
Of laughter points at, when the mirthful sting
Distends her sallying nerves and choaks her tongue;245
What were it but to count each crystal drop
Which morning's dewy fingers on the blooms
Of May distill? Suffice it to have said,[9]
Where'er the pow'r of ridicule displays

Her quaint-ey'd visage, some incongruous form,250
Some stubborn dissonance of things combin'd,
Strikes on the quick observer: whether pomp,

Or praise, or beauty mix their partial claim
Where sordid fashions, where ignoble deeds,
Where foul deformity are wont to dwell,255
Or whether these with violation loath'd,
Invade resplendent pomp's imperious mien,
The charms of beauty, or the boast of praise.

Ask we for what fair end, the almighty sire

In mortal bosoms wakes this gay contempt,260
These grateful flings of laughter, from disgust
Educing pleasure; wherefore, but to aid

The tardy steps of reason, and at once
By this prompt impulse urge us to depress
The giddy aims of foily: Tho' the light 265
Of truth slow-dawning on th' inquiring mind
At length unfolds, thro' many a subtile tie,
How these uncouth disorders end at last
In public evil; yet benignant heav'n

Conscious how dim the dawn of truth appears270
To thousands; conscious what a scanty pause
From labours and from care, the wider lot
Of humble life affords for studious thought
To scan the maze of nature; therefore stampt
The glaring scenes with characters of scorn,275
As broad, as obvious, to the passing clown,
As to the letter'd sage's curious eye.

Such are the various aspects of the mind———
Some heav'nly genius, whose unclouded thoughts
Attain that secret harmony which blends280
Th' æthereal spirit with its mold of clay;
O! teach me to reveal the grateful charm
That searchless nature o'er the sense of man
Diffuses, to behold, in lifeless things,
The inexpressive semblance[10] of himself,285
Of thought and passion. Mark the sable woods
That shade sublime yon mountain's nodding brow;
With what religious awe the solemn scene
Commands your steps! as if the reverend form
Of Minos or of Numa should forsake290
Th' Elysian seats, and down the imbow'ring glade
Move to your pausing eye! behold th' expanse
Of yon gay landscape, where the silver clouds
Flit o'er the heav'ns before the sprightly breeze:

Now their grey cincture skirts the doubtful sun;295
Now streams of splendor, thro' their opening veil
Effulgent, sweep from off the gilded lawn
Th' aerial shadows; on the curling brook,
And on the shady margin's quiv'ring leaves
With quickest lustre glancing; while you view300
The prospect, say, within your chearful breast
Plays not the lively sense of winning mirth
With clouds and sunshine chequer'd, while the round
Of social converse, to th' inspiring tongue
Of some gay nymph amid her subject-train,305
Moves all obsequious? Whence is this effect,
This kindred pow'r of such discordant things?
Or flows their semblance from that mystic tone
To which the new-born mind's harmonious pow'rs
At first were strung? Or rather from the links310
Which artful custom twines around her frame?

For when the diff'rent images of things
By chance combin'd, have struck the attentive soul
With deeper impulse, or connected long,
Have drawn her frequent eye; howe'er distinct315
Th' external scenes, yet oft th' ideas gain
From that conjunction an eternal tie,
And sympathy unbroken. Let the mind
Recal one partner of the various league,
Immediate, lo! the firm confed'rates rise,320
And each his former station strait resumes:

One movement governs the consenting throng,
And all at once with rosy pleasure shine,
Or all are sadden'd with the glooms of care.
'Twas thus, if ancient fame the truth unfold,325
Two faithful needles,[11] from th' informing touch
Of the same parent-stone, together drew
Its mystic virtue, and at first conspir'd
With fatal impulse quivering to the pole;
Then, tho' disjoin'd by kingdoms, tho' the main330
Rowl'd its broad surge betwixt, and diff'rent stars
Beheld their wakeful motions, yet preserv'd
The former friendship, and remember'd still
The alliance of their birth: whate'er the line
Which one possess'd, nor pause, nor quiet knew335
The sure associate, ere with trembling speed
He found its path and fix'd unerring there.
Such is the secret union, when we feel
A song, a flow'r, a name, at once restore
Those long-connected scenes where first they mov'd340
Th' attention; backward thro' her mazy walks
Guiding the wanton fancy to her scope,
To temples, courts or fields; with all the band
Of painted forms, of passions and designs
Attendant: whence, if pleasing in itself,345

The prospect from that sweet accession gains
Redoubled influence o'er the list'ning mind.

By these mysterious ties[12] the busy pow'r
Of mem'ry her ideal train preserves
Intire; or when they would elude her watch,350
Reclaims their fleeting footsteps from the waste
Of dark oblivion; thus collecting all
The various forms of being to present,
Before the curious aim of mimic art,
Their largest choice: like spring's unfolded blooms355
Exhaling sweetness, that the skilful bee
May taste at will, from their selected spoils
To work her dulcet food. For not th' expanse
Of living lakes in summer's noontide calm,
Reflects the bord'ring shade and sun-bright heav'ns360
With fairer semblance; not the sculptur'd gold
More faithful keeps the graver's lively trace,
Than he whose birth the sister-pow'rs of art
Propitious view'd, and from his genial star
Shed influence to the seeds of fancy kind;365
Than his attemper'd bosom must preserve
The seal of nature. There alone unchang'd,
Her form remains. The balmy walks of May
There breathe perennial sweets: the trembling chord

Resounds for ever in th' abstracted ear,370
Melodious; and the virgin's radiant eye,
Superior to disease, to grief, and time,
Shines with unbating lustre. Thus at length
Indow'd with all that nature can bestow,
The child of fancy oft in silence bends375
O'er these mix'd treasures of his pregnant breast,
With conscious pride. From them he oft resolves
To frame he knows not what excelling things;
And win he knows not what sublime reward
Of praise and wonder. By degrees the mind380
Feels her young nerves dilate: the plastic pow'rs
Labour for action: blind emotions heave
His bosom; and with loveliest frenzy caught,
From earth to heav'n he rolls his daring eye,
From heav'n to earth. Anon ten thousand shapes,385
Like spectres trooping to the wizard's call,
Fleet swift before him. From the womb of earth,
From ocean's bed they come: th' eternal heav'ns
Disclose their splendors, and the dark abyss
Pours out her births unknown. With fixed gaze390
He marks the rising phantoms. Now compares
Their diff'rent forms; now blends them, now divides;
Inlarges and extenuates by turns;
Opposes, ranges in fantastic bands,
And infinitely varies. Hither now,395
Now thither fluctuates his inconstant aim,

With endless choice perplex'd. At length his plan
Begins to open. Lucid order dawns;
And as from Chaos old the jarring seeds
Of nature at the voice divine repair'd400
Each to its place, till rosy earth unveil'd
Her fragrant bosom, and the joyful sun
Sprung up the blue serene; by swift degrees
Thus disentangled, his entire design
Emerges. Colours mingle, features join,405
And lines converge: the fainter parts retire;
The fairer eminent in light advance;
And every image on its neighbour smiles.
A while he stands, and with a father's joy
Contemplates. Then with Promethéan art,410
Into its proper vehicle[13] he breathes
The fair conception; which imbodied thus,
And permanent, becomes to eyes or ears
An object ascertain'd: while thus inform'd,
The various organs of his mimic skill,415
The consonance of sounds, the featur'd rock,
The shadowy picture and impassion'd verse,
Beyond their proper pow'rs attract the soul
By that expressive semblance, while in sight

Of nature's great original we scan420
The lively child of art; while line by line,
And feature after feature we refer
To that sublime exemplar whence it stole
Those animating charms. Thus beauty's palm
Betwixt 'em wav'ring hangs: applauding love425
Doubts where to chuse; and mortal man aspires
To tempt creative praise. As when a cloud
Of gath'ring hail with limpid crusts of ice
Inclos'd and obvious to the beaming sun,
Collects his large effulgence; strait the heav'ns430
With equal flames present on either hand
The radiant visage: Persia stands at gaze,
Appall'd; and on the brink of Ganges waits
The snowy-vested seer, in Mithra's name,
To which the fragrance of the south shall burn,435
To which his warbled orisons ascend.

Such various bliss the well-tun'd heart enjoys,
Favour'd of heav'n! while plung'd in sordid cares
The unfeeling vulgar mocks the boon divine:
And harsh austerity, from whose rebuke440
Young love and smiling wonder shrink away,
Abash'd and chill of heart, with sager frowns
Condemns the fair inchantment. On, my strain,
Perhaps ev'n now, some cold, fastidious judge
Casts a disdainful eye; and calls my toil,445
And calls the love and beauty which I sing,

The dream of folly. Thou, grave censor! say,
Is beauty then a dream because the glooms
Of dullness hang too heavy on thy sense
To let her shine upon thee? So the man450
Whose eye ne'er open'd on the light of heav'n,
Might smile with scorn while raptur'd vision tells
Of the gay, colour'd radiance flushing bright
O'er all creation. From the wise be far
Such gross unhallow'd pride; nor needs my song455
Descend so low; but rather now unfold,
If human thought could reach, or words unfold,
By what mysterious fabric of the mind,
The deep-felt joys and harmony of sound
Result from airy motion; and from shape460
The lovely phantoms of sublime and fair.
By what fine ties hath God connected things
When present in the mind; which in themselves
Have no connection? Sure the rising sun,
O'er the cærulean convex of the sea,465
With equal brightness and with equal warmth
Might rowl his fiery orb; nor yet the soul
Thus feel her frame expanded, and her pow'rs
Exulting in the splendor she beholds;
Like a young conqu'ror moving thro' the pomp470
Of some triumphal day. When join'd at eve,
Soft-murmuring streams and gales of gentlest breath
Melodious Philomela's wakeful strain
Attemper, could not man's discerning ear

Thro' all its tones the sympathy pursue;475
Nor yet this breath divine of nameless joy
Steal thro' his veins and fan th' awaken'd heart,
Mild as the breeze, yet rapturous as the song?

But were not nature still indow'd at large
With all which life requires, tho' unadorn'd480
With such inchantment? Wherefore then her form
So exquisitely fair? her breath perfum'd
With such æthereal sweetness? whence her voice
Inform'd at will to raise or to depress
Th' impassion'd soul? and whence the robes of light485
Which thus invest her with more lovely pomp
Than fancy can describe? Whence but from thee,
O source divine of ever-flowing love,
And thy unmeasur'd goodness? Not content
With every food of life to nourish man,490
By kind illusions of the wond'ring sense
Thou mak'st all nature beauty to his eye,
Or music to his ear: well-pleas'd he scans
The goodly prospect; and with inward smiles
Treads the gay verdure of the painted plain;495
Beholds the azure canopy of heav'n,
And living lamps that over-arch his head
With more than regal splendor; bends his ears
To the full choir of water, air, and earth;
Nor heeds the pleasing error of his thought,500
Nor doubts the painted green or azure arch,

Nor questions more the music's mingling sounds
Than space, or motion, or eternal time:
So sweet he feels their influence to attract
The fixed soul; to brighten the dull glooms505
Of care, and make the destin'd road of life
Delightful to his feet. So fables tell,
Th' adventurous heroe, bound on hard exploits,
Beholds with glad surprize, by secret spells
Of some kind sage, the patron of his toils,510
A visionary paradise disclos'd
Amid the dubious wild: with streams, and shades,
And airy songs, th' enchanted landskip smiles,
Cheers his long labours and renews his frame.

What then is taste, but these internal pow'rs515
Active, and strong, and feelingly alive
To each fine impulse? a discerning sense
Of decent and sublime, with quick disgust
From things deform'd, or disarrang'd, or gross
In species? This, nor gems, nor stores of gold,520
Nor purple state, nor culture can bestow;
But God alone, when first his active hand
Imprints the secret byass of the soul.
He, mighty parent! wise and just in all,
Free as the vital breeze or light of heav'n,525
Reveals the charms of nature. Ask the swain
Who journeys homeward from a summer day's
Long labour, why, forgetful of his toils

And due repose, he loiters to behold
The sunshine gleaming as thro' amber clouds,530
O'er all the western sky; full soon, I ween,
His rude expression and untutor'd airs,
Beyond the pow'r of language, will unfold
The form of beauty smiling at his heart,
How lovely! how commanding! But tho' heav'n535
In every breast hath sown these early seeds
Of love and admiration, yet in vain,
Without fair culture's kind parental aid,
Without inlivening suns, and genial show'rs,
And shelter from the blast, in vain we hope540
The tender plant should rear its blooming head
Or yield the harvest promis'd in its spring.
Nor yet will every soil with equal stores
Repay the tiller's labour; or attend
His will, obsequious, whether to produce545
The olive, or the laurel. Diff'rent minds
Incline to different objects: one pursues,
The vast alone,[14] the wonderful, the wild;
Another sighs for harmony, and grace,
And gentlest beauty. Hence when lightening fires550
The arch of heav'n, and thunders rock the ground;
When furious whirlwinds rend the howling air,
And ocean, groaning from his lowest bed,
Heaves his tempestuous billows to the sky;

Amid the mighty uproar, while below
The nations tremble, Shakespear looks abroad555
From some high cliff, superior, and enjoys
The elemental war. But Waller longs,[15]
All on the margin of some flow'ry stream
To spread his careless limbs amid the cool560
Of plantane shades, and to the list'ning deer
The tale of slighted vows and love's disdain
Resound soft-warbling all the live-long day:
Consenting Zephyr sighs; the weeping rill
Joins in his plaint, melodious; mute the groves;565
And hill and dale with all their echoes mourn.
Such and so various are the tastes of men.

Oh! blest of heav'n, whom not the languid songs
Of luxury, the Siren! not the bribes
Of sordid wealth, nor all the gaudy spoils570
Of pageant honour can seduce to leave
Those ever blooming sweets, which from the store
Of nature fair imagination culls
To charm th' inliven'd soul! What tho' not all

Of mortal offspring can attain the heights575
Of envied life; tho' only few possess
Patrician treasures or imperial state;
Yet nature's care, to all her children just,
With richer treasures and an ampler state
Indows at large whatever happy man580
Will deign to use them. His the city's pomp,
The rural honours his. Whate'er adorns
The princely dome, the column and the arch,
The breathing marbles and the sculptur'd gold,
Beyond the proud possessor's narrow claim,585
His tuneful breast injoys. For him the spring
Distills her dews, and from the silken gem
Its lucid leaves unfolds: for him, the hand
Of autumn tinges every fertile branch
With blooming gold and blushes like the morn.590
Each passing hour sheds tribute from her wings;
And still new beauties meet his lonely walk;
And loves unfelt attract him. Not a breeze[16]

Flies o'er the meadow, not a cloud imbibes
The setting sun's effulgence, not a strain595
From all the tenants of the warbling shade
Ascends, but whence his bosom can partake
Fresh pleasure, unreprov'd. Nor thence partakes
Fresh pleasure only: for th' attentive mind,
By this harmonious action on her pow'rs600
Becomes herself harmonious: wont so long
In outward things to meditate the charm
Of sacred order, soon she seeks at home
To find a kindred order, to exert
Within herself this elegance of love,605
This fair-inspir'd delight: her temper'd pow'rs
Refine at length, and every passion wears
A chaster, milder, more attractive mien.
But if to ampler prospects, if to gaze
On nature's form, where negligent of all610
These lesser graces, she assumes the port
Of that eternal majesty that weigh'd
The world's foundations, if to these the mind

Exalt her daring eye; then mightier far
Will be the change, and nobler. Would the forms 615
Of servile custom cramp her generous pow'rs:
Would sordid policies, the barb'rous growth
Of ignorance and rapine, bow her down
To tame pursuits, to indolence and fear:
Lo! she appeals to nature, to the winds620
And rowling waves, the sun's unwearied course,
The elements and seasons: all declare
For what th' eternal maker has ordain'd
The pow'rs of man: we feel within ourselves
His energy divine: he tells the heart,625
He meant, he made us to behold and love
What he beholds and loves, the general orb
Of life and being; to be great like him,
Beneficent and active. Thus the men
Whom nature's works can charm, with God himself630
Hold converse; grow familiar, day by day,
With his conceptions; act upon his plan;
And form to his, the relish of their souls.



The Pleasures of Imagination - Akenside (1744) endpiece 2.jpg

  1. ————————Where the pow'rs
    Of fancy
    , &c.] The influence of the imagination on the conduct of life is one of the most important points in moral philosophy. It were easy by an induction of facts to prove that the imagination directs almost all the passions, and mixes with almost every circumstance of action or pleasure. Let any man, even of the coldest head and soberest industry, analyse the idea of what he calls his interest; he will find that it consists chiefly of certain images of decency, beauty and order, variously combined into one system, the idol which he seeks to enjoy by labour, hazard, and self-denial. It is on this account of the last consequence to regulate these images by the standard of nature and the general good; otherwise the imagination, by heightening some objects beyond their real excellence and beauty, or by representing others in a more odious or terrible shape than they deserve, may of course engage us in pursuits utterly inconsistent with the laws of the moral order.
    If it be objected, that this account of things supposes the passions to be merely accidental, whereas there appears in some a natural and hereditary disposition to certain passions prior to all circumstances of education or fortune; it may be answered, that tho' no man is born ambitious or a miser, yet he may inherit from his parents a peculiar temper or complexion of mind, which shall render his imagination more liable to be struck with some particular objects, consequently dispose him to form opinions of good and ill, and entertain passions of a particular turn. Some men, for instance, by the original frame of their minds, are more delighted with the vast and magnificent, others on the contrary with the elegant and gentle aspects of nature. And it is very remarkable, that the disposition of the moral powers is always similar to this of the imagination; that those who are most inclined to admire prodigious and sublime objects in the physical world, are also most inclined to applaud examples of fortitude and heroic virtue in the moral. While those who are charm'd rather with the delicacy and sweetness of colours, and forms, and sounds, never fail in like manner to yield the preference to the softer scenes of virtue, and the sympathies of a domestic life. And this is sufficient to account for the objection.
    Among the ancient philosophers, tho' we have several hints concerning this influence of the imagination upon morals among the remains of the Socratic school, yet the Stoics were the first who paid it a due attention. Zeno, their founder, thought it impossible to preserve any tolerable regularity in life, without frequently inspecting those pictures or appearances of things which the imagination offers to the mind. [Diog. Laert. l. vii.) The meditations of M. Aurelius, and the discourses of Epictetus, are full of the same sentiments; insomuch that this latter makes the Χρῆσις οια δεῖ, φαντασιῶν, or right management of the fancies, the only thing for which we are accountable to providence, and without which a man is no other than stupid or frantic. Arrian. l. i. c. 12. & l. ii. c. 22. See also the Characteristics, vol. I. from p. 313, to p. 321. where this Stoical doctrine is embellished with all the eloquence of the graces of Plato.
  2. ——————how folly's aukward arts, &c.] Notwithstanding the general influence of ridicule on private and civil life, as well as on learning and the sciences, it has been almost constantly neglected or misrepresented, by divines especially. The manner of treating these subjects in the science of human nature should be precisely the same as in natural philosopy; from particular facts to investigate the stated order in which they appear, and then apply the general law, thus discovered, to the explication of other appearances and the improvement of useful arts.
  3. Behold the foremost band, &c.] The first and most general source of ridicule in the characters of men, is vanity or self-applause for some desirable quality or possession which evidently does not belong to those who assume it.
  4. Then comes the second order, &c.] Ridicule from the same vanity, where tho' the possession be real, yet no merit can arise from it, because of some particular circumstances, which, tho' obvious to the spectator, are yet over look'd by the ridiculous character.
  5. Another tribe succeeds, &c.] Ridicule from a notion of excellence in particular objects disproportion'd to their intrinsic value, and inconsistent with the order of nature.
  6. But now ye gay, &c.] Ridicule from a notion of excellence, where the object is absolutely odious or contemptible. This is the highest degree of the ridiculous; as in the affectation of diseases or vices.
  7. Thus far triumphant, &c.] Ridicule from false shame or groundless fear.
  8. Last of the, &c.] Ridicule from the ignorance of such things as our circumstances require us to know.
  9. ————————Suffice it to have said, &c.] By comparing these general sources of ridicule with each other, and examining the ridiculous in other objects, we may obtain a general definition of it equally applicable to every species. The most important circumstance of this definition is laid down in the lines referred to; but others more minute we shall subjoin here. Aristotle's account of the matter seems both imperfect and false; τὸ γὰρ γελοῑον, says he, ἐστὶν αμαρτημα τι και αισχος, ανωδαυνον και ου φθαρτικον: the ridiculous is some certain fault or turpitude without pain, and not destructive to its subject. (Poetic. c. v.) For allowing it to be true, as it is not, that the ridiculous is never accompany'd with pain, yet we might produce many instances of such a fault or turpitude, which cannot with any tolerable propriety be called ridiculous. So that the definition does not distinguish the thing defined. Nay farther, even when we perceive the tupitude tending to the destruction of its subject, we may still be sensible of a ridiculous appearance, till the ruin become imminent, and the keener sensations of pity or terror banish the ludicrous apprehension from our minds. For the sensation of ridicule is not a bare perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas; but a passion or emotion of the mind consequential to that perception. So that the mind may perceive the agreement or disagreement, and yet not feel the ridiculous, because it is engrossed by a more violent emotion. Thus it happens that some men think those objects ridiculous, to which others cannot endure to apply the name; because in them they excite a much intenser and more important feeling. And this difference, among other causes, has brought a good deal of confusion into this question.
    That which makes objects ridiculous is some ground of admiration or esteem connected with other more general circumstances, comparatively worthless or deformed; or it is some circumstance of turpitude or deformity connected with what is in general excellent or beautiful: the inconsistent properties existing either in the objects themselves, or in the apprehension of the person to whom they relate; belonging always to the same order or class of being, implying sentiment or design; and exciting no acute or vehement emotion of the heart.
    To prove the several parts of this definition: The appearance of excellence or beauty connected with a general condition comparatively sordid or deformed, is ridiculous; for instance, pompous pretensions to wisdom joined with ignorance and folly in the Socrates of Aristophanes; and the applause of military glory with cowardice and stupidity in the Thraso of Terence.
    The appearance of deformity or turpitude, in conjunction with what is in general excellent or venerable, is also ridiculous: for instance, the personal weaknesses of a magistrate appearing in the solemn and public functions of his station.
    The incongruous properties may either exist in the objects themselves, or in the apprehension of the person to whom they relate: in the last-mention'd instances they both exist in the objects; in the instance from Aristophanes and Terence, one of them is objective and real, the other only founded in the apprehension of the ridiculous character.
    The inconsistent properties must belong to the same order or class of being. A Coxcomb in fine cloaths, bedaubed by accident in foul weather, is a ridiculous object; because his general apprehension of excellence and esteem is refer red to the splendour and expence of his dress. A man of sense and merit in the same circumstances, is not counted ridiculous; because the general ground of excellence and esteem in him, is, both in fact and in his own apprehension, of a very different species.
    Every ridiculous object implies sentiment or design. A column placed by an architect without a capital or base, is laugh'd at: the same column in a ruin, causes a very different sensation.
    And lastly, the occurrence must excite no acute or vehement emotion of the heart, such as terror, pity, or indignation; for in that case, as was observed above, the mind is not at leisure to contemplate the ridiculous.
    Whether any appearance not ridiculous be involved in this description; and whether it comprehend every species and form of the ridiculous, must be determined by repeated applications of it to particular instances.
    Ask we for what fair end, &c.] Since it is beyond all contradiction evident that we have a natural sense or feeling of the ridiculous, and since so good a reason may be assign'd to justify the supreme being for bestowing it; one cannot without astonishment reflect on the conduct of those men who imagine it is for the service of true religion to vilify and blacken it without distinction, and endeavour to persuade us that it is never applied but in a bad cause. Ridicule is not concerned with meer speculative truth or falshood. It is not in abstract propositions or theorems, but in actions and passions, good and evil, beauty and deformity, that we find materials for it; and all these terms are relative, implying approbation or blame. To ask then whether ridicule be a test of truth, is, in other words, to ask whether that which is ridiculous can be morally true, can be just and becoming; or whether that which is just and becoming, can be ridiculous. A question that does not deserve a serious answer. For it is most evident, that as in a metaphysical proposition offer'd to the understanding for its assent, the faculty of reason examines the terms of the proposition, and finding one idea which was supposed equal to another, to be in fact unequal, of consequence rejects the proposition as a falshood: so in objects offer'd to the mind for its esteem or applause, the faculty of ridicule feeling an incongruity in the claim, urges the mind to reject it with laughter and contempt. When therefore we observe such a claim, obtruded upon mankind, and the inconsistent circumstances carefully concealed from the eye of the public, it is our business, if the matter be of importance to society, to drag out those latent circumstances, and by setting them full in view, convince the world how ridiculous the claim is; and thus a double advantage is gained; for we both detect the moral falshood sooner than in the way of speculative inquiry, and impress the minds of men with a stronger sense of the vanity and error of its authors. And this and no more is meant by the application of ridicule.
    But it is said, the practice is dangerous, and may be inconsistent with the regard we owe to objects of real dignity and excellence. I answer, the practice fairly managed can never be dangerous; men may be dishonest in obtruding circumstances foreign to the object, and we may be inadvertent in allowing those circumstances to impose upon us; but the sense of ridicule always judges right: the Socrates of Aristophanes is as truly ridiculous a character as ever was drawn.—True; but it is not the character of Socrates, the divine moralist and father of ancient wisdom. What then? did the ridicule of the poet hinder the philosopher from detecting and disclaiming those foreign circumstances which he had falsely introduced into his character, and thus rendering the satyrist doubly ridiculous in his turn? No; but it nevertheless had an ill influence on the minds of the people. And so has the reasoning of Spinosa made many Atheists; he has founded it indeed on suppositions utterly false, but allow him these, and his conclusions are unavoidably true. And if we must reject the use of ridicule, because by the imposition of false circumstances, things may be made to seem ridiculous, which are not so in themselves; why we ought not in the same manner to reject the use of reason, because by proceeding on false principles, conclusions will appear true which are impossible in nature, let the vehement and obstinate declaimers against ridicule determine.
  10. The inexpressive semblance, &c.] This similitude is the foundation of almost all the ornaments of poetic diction.
  11. Two faithful needles, &c.] See the elegant poem recited by Cardinal Bembo in the character of Lucretius; Strada Prolus. vi. Academ. 2. c. 5.
  12. By these mysterious ties, &c.] The act of remembring seems almost wholly to depend on the association of ideas.
  13. Into its proper vehicle, &c.] This relates to the different sorts of corporeal mediums, by which the ideas of the artist are rendered palpable to the senses; as by sounds, in music; by lines and shadows, in painting; by diction, in poetry, &c.
  14. ————————one pursues
    The vast alone
    , &c.] See the note to v. 18. of this book.
  15. Waller longs, &c.]
    O! how I long my careless limbs to lay
    Under the plantane shade; and all the day
    With am'rous airs my fancy entertain
    , &c.
    Waller, Battle of the Summer-Islands. Canto I,
    And again,
    While in the park I sing, the list'ning deer
    Attend my passion, and forget to fear
    , &c.
    At Pens-hurst.
  16. ————————Not a breeze, &c.] That this account may not appear rather poetically extravagant than just in philosophy, it may be proper to produce the sentiment of one of the greatest, wisest, and best of men on this article; one so little to be suspected of partiality in the case, that he reckons it among those favours for which he was especially thankful to the gods, that they had not suffered him to make any great proficiency in the arts of eloquence and poetry, lest by that means he should have been diverted from pursuits of more importance to his high station. Speaking of the beauty of universal nature, he observes that there is a pleasing and graceful aspect in every object we perceive, when once we consider its connection with that general order. He instances in many things which at first sight would be thought rather deformities, and then adds, that a man who enjoys a sensibility of temper, with a just comprehension of the universal order————will discern many amiable things, not credible to every mind, but to those alone who have entered into an honourable familiarity with nature and her works. M. Antonin. iii. 2.