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OF THE PLEASURES OF THE SOUL. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws 
The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 4.
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OF THE PLEASURES OF THE SOUL.
THE soul, independently of those pleasures it derives from the senses, has some which it would have without them, and are proper to itself. Such are those it derives from curiosity, the ideas of its own grandeur and perfections, the idea of its existence, opposed to the thought of annihilation, the pleasure of embracing the whole of a general idea, that of viewing a multiplicity of objects at once, and that of comparing, joining, and separating ideas. These pleasures are, from the nature of the soul, independent of the senses, because they belong to every being that thinks: and it is of small consequence to examine here, whether the soul has these pleasures, as a substance united to the body, or as separated from it, because it always has them, and they are the objects of taste: on which account we shall not distinguish here the pleasures that flow from the nature of the soul, from those that result from its union with the body; these we shall call natural pleasures, and distinguish them from those which the soul creates to itself, by certain associations with these natural pleasures; and in the same manner, and for same reason, we shall distinguish natural and acquired taste.
It is proper we should know the sources of those pleasures of which taste is the judge. The knowledge of natural and acquired pleasures may serve to rectify our natural and acquired taste. We must begin with considering the nature of our being, and know what its pleasures are, to be able at last to measure those pleasures, and even sometimes to feel them.
If the soul had not been united to the body, it would have had clear intelligence, and it is probable that it would have loved what it fully understood: at present we scarcely love any thing that we are thoroughly acquainted with.
Our manner of existing is entirely arbitrary; we might have been made as we are, or otherwise: but if we had been made otherwise, we should have had different feelings; one organ, more or less, in our machine, would have given rise to another kind of eloquence, another kind of poetry; a different contexture of the same organs would have still produced another sort of poetry; for example, if the constitution of our organs had rendered us capable of a longer attention, all the rules about proportioning the disposition of a subject to the measure of our attention, would have been at an end; if we had been made capable of more penetration, all the rules founded upon the degree of our penetration, would have fallen to the ground. In a word, all the laws formed from the contexture of our machine would be different if our machine was not formed in that manner.
If our sight had been weaker, and more confused, fewer mouldings, and greater uniformity, would have been necessary in the parts of architecture; if it had been more distinct, and the mind capable of embracing more things at once, more ornaments would have been proper in architecture: if our ears had been made as those of certain animals, our musical instruments must have been much altered. I am very sensible, that the relations which things have among themselves would have subsisted; but the relation which they have with us being changed, things which at present have a certain effect upon us, would have it no more: and as the perfection of art consists in presenting things to us in such a way as to give us the greatest pleasure possible, there must have been a change made in the arts, because there must have been one made in the manner most proper to give us pleasure.
We are at first ready to believe that the knowledge of the different sources of our pleasure is sufficient to constitute taste; and that when we know what philosophy has told us on the subject, we have taste, and may boldly judge of works. But natural taste is not a theoretical knowledge; it is a quick and exquisite application of rules which we do not even know. It is not necessary to know, that the pleasure we receive from any thing we think beautiful, arises from surprise; it is enough that it does surprise us, and that it surprises as much as it ought, and that neither more nor less.
Thus what may here be said, and all the precepts that might be given to form the taste, can only relate immediately and directly to that which is acquired; though it may have an indirect relation to natural taste: for the acquired taste affects, changes, augments, and diminishes the natural taste; as the natural taste affects, changes, augments, and diminishes that which is acquired.
The most general definition of taste, without considering whether it be good or bad, just or not, is that arising from sensation; but this does not prevent its being applied to things that are intellectual, the knowledge of which gives such pleasure to the soul, that by some philosophers it was considered as the only felicity. The soul understands by its ideas, and by its sensations; it receives pleasure by those ideas and those sensations: for though we oppose idea to sensation, yet while it sees a thing, it feels it; and there are no objects so intellectual, that it does not see, or believs it sees, and consequently that are not felt.
OF THE MENTAL FACULTIES* .
Among the faculties of the mind are genius, good sense, discernment, justness, capacity, and taste.
The existence of these faculties consists in having the organs well constituted relatively to the things to which these faculties are applied. If this disposition of mind is very particular, it is named a talent or capacity for any thing; if it has an intimate connection with certain delicate pleasures, it is called taste; if it is a disposition or turn peculiar to a people, it is called their spirit; as the art of war and agriculture among the Romans, hunting among the savages, &c.
The soul is made to think, that is, to perceive; now such a being must have curiosity; for as all things are in a chain, where every idea precedes one, and is followed by another, we cannot like to see one thing, without desiring to see another; and if we had no desire for this, we could have no pleasure in that. Thus, when a part of a picture is shewed us, we wish to see the part that is concealed from us, in proportion to the pleasure which that part we have seen has given us.
It is then the pleasure which one object gives us that incites us to follow another; it is on this account that the soul is always in pursuit of novelty, and is never at rest.
Thus, we shall always be certain of pleasing the mind, by making it see a great many things, or more than it had hoped to see.
By this we may explain the reason why we behold with pleasure a very regular garden, and at the same time are pleased when we view a rural uncultivated scene: it is the same cause which produces these effects.
As we love to see a great many objects, we wish to extend our view, to be in different places and to enlarge our prospects; in short, the mind stretches beyond all bounds, and wishes, if I may use the expression, to extend the sphere of its presence: hence arises the pleasure of viewing distant objects. But how is this to be done? in cities our prospect is confined by houses; and in the country, by a thousand obstacles; scarce can we see a few trees. But here art comes to our assistance, and discovers nature who seeks to be concealed; hence we are in love with art, and admire her more than nature, that is, than nature concealed from our sight: but when we find beautiful situations, when the eye, left at liberty, can range far over the meadows, the rivulets, the hills, and those dispositions of nature, which are in a manner created on purpose to captivate the eye, we are quite otherwise enchanted than when we view the gardens of Le Notre; because nature is always an original, and art only copies her. Thus in painting we are better pleased with a rural landskip, than with the most beautiful garden upon earth; because painting chuses nature only where she is most beautiful, where the eye can extend its view as far as it can reach, and where she may be seen with most pleasure.
That which commonly constitutes a great idea, is, when something is said, that makes us perceive a great many others, and discovers to us all at once what we could not have expected but after a great deal of reading.
Florus, in a few words, represents to us all Hanibal’s faults; “When he might, says he, have made use of his victory, he chose rather to enjoy it:” Cum victoria posset uti, frui maluit.
He gives us an idea of the whole Macedonian war, when he says, “To have entered into it was victory:” Introisse victoria fuit.
He gives us a view of the whole life of Scipio, when, speaking of his youth, he says, “This will be that Scipio, who grows up for the destruction of Africa:” Hic erit Scipio qui in exitium Africæ crescit. You think you see a child who increases and grows up like a giant.
In a word, he makes us see the great character of Hanibal, the state of the world, and all the grandeur of the Roman people, when he says, “Hanibal, a fugitive from Africa, sought over all the world an enemy to the Roman people.” Qui profugus ex Africa, hostem populo Romano quærebat.
OF THE PLEASURES OF ORDER.
It is not enough to present a great many objects to the soul; they must be presented with order: for then we remember what we have seen, and we begin to imagine what we shall see; our mind congratulates itself on its own extent and penetration: but in a work where there is no order, the mind, every moment, finds that order, into which it wishes to put things, quite embroiled. The series which the author has formed, and that which we make to ourselves, clash together; the mind retains nothing, foresees nothing: it is mortified by the confusion of its ideas, by the ignorance in which it remains; it is in vain fatigued, and can enjoy no pleasure: on which account, when the design is not to express or shew confusion, they always put a sort of order in confusion itself: thus painters make a group of their figures; thus those who paint battles, place, upon the most conspicuous place of the picture, those objects which the eye ought to distinguish, and what is disordered and confused in the most remote and least obvious place.
OF THE PLEASURES OF VARIETY.
But if order in objects is necessary, variety is so also: without this the soul grows languid; for objects, which resemble each other, appear to it to be the same; and if one part of a picture, which is shewn us, should resemble another which we have seen, this object would be new without appearing to be so, and would afford us no pleasure. And, as the beauties of the works of art consist in the pleasures which they afford us, they ought to be made as fit as possible to vary those pleasures; the mind ought to be shewn objects which it has not seen; the sentiment it is inspired with ought to be different from that which it had before.
It is thus that histories please us by the variety of relations; romances, by the variety of prodigies; theatrical pieces, by the variety of passions; and that they, who know properly how instruct us, vary, as much as they can, the uniform strain of instruction.
A long uniformity renders any thing insupportable; the same order of periods a great while continued, quite fatigues us in an oration; the same numbers, and the same cadences, make a long poem extremely tiresome. If it be true that they have finished the famous road from Moscow to Petersburg, the traveller must be tired to death, shut up between the two rows of that alley; and one, who should travel a long time upon the Alps, would come down from them disgusted with situations most agreeable, and points of view the most charming.
The soul loves variety; but it does not love it, as we have said, but because it is formed to know and to see: it must then be possible for it to see, and the variety must permit it to do so; that is to say, an object must be simple enough to be perceived, and varied enough to be perceived with pleasure.
There are some things which appear varied, and are not so; and others which appear uniform, and are much varied.
The Gothic architecture appears extremely varied, but the confusion of its ornaments fatigues us by their smallness; which makes it impossible for us to distinguish them from each other, and their number prevents the eye from fixing upon any one of them; so that it disgusts us by those very parts which were intended to render it agreeable.
A building of the Gothic order is a kind of riddle to the eye which beholds it; and the mind is embarassed in the same way as when an obscure poem is presented to it.
The Grecian architecture, on the contrary, appears uniform, but as it has as many divisions as it ought, and as are proper to make the Mind see precisely as much as it can without being fatigued, and at the same time enough to give it employment, has that Variety which makes it be beheld with pleasure.
Great objects ought to have great parts; large men have large arms, great trees have great branches, huge mountains are divided into other mountains bigger and less in proportion; ’tis the nature of things which does this.
The Grecian architecture, which has few divisions and grand ones, imitates the nature of things; the Soul is struck with a certain majesty, which every where abounds in it.
’Tis thus that painting divides, into groupes of three or four figures, what it represents in a picture; it imitates Nature; a numerous troop is always divided into platoons; ’tis thus too that the painter makes grand divisions of his light and shade.
OF THE PLEASURES OF SYMMETRY.
I have said that the mind loves variety: however, in most things, it loves to see a certain symmetry. This seems to imply a sort of contradiction: I thus explain it.
One of the principal causes of the pleasure of our Soul, when it perceives objects, is the facility with which it perceives them; and the reason that makes proportion please the Mind, is, that it saves it trouble, that it gives it ease, and that, so to speak, it cuts the work into halves.
From this a general rule is derived; every where that symmetry is useful to the soul, and can assist its functions, it is agreeable to it; but wherever it is useless to it, it is insipid because it takes away variety. Now those things which we see in succession ought to have variety, for our mind has no difficulty to perceive them; those, on the contrary, which we perceive all at once, ought to have symmetry. Thus, as we perceive with one glance of our eye the front of a building, a parterre, a temple, they are with propriety proportioned; which pleases the Mind by that facility which it gives it of embracing all at once the whole object.
As it is necessary that an object, which we ought to see all at once, should be simple, it is necessary too that it be one, and that all its parts have a relation to the principal object: it is for this reason also that we love symmetry, it makes an united whole.
It is according to Nature, that a whole be compleat, and the Mind, which sees this whole, wishes that it may have no part imperfect. It is on this account also that we love symmetry; there must be a sort of poising or balancing; and a building with one wing, or one wing shorter than another, is as unfinished, as a body with one arm, or one arm too short.
The soul loves symmetry, it also loves contrasts; this requires to be a good deal explained. For example; if Nature requires of painters and sculptors to proportion the parts of their figures, it requires also that they contrast their different attitudes. One foot placed like another, one member extended like another, are insupportable; the reason of it is, because this symmetry makes the attitudes be almost always the same; which we may observe in Gothic figures, which by this almost always resemble each other; thus there is no more variety in the works of Art. Besides, Nature has not made us thus, and, as she has given us motion, she has not formed us in our actions and manners like pagods; and if men thus stiff and constrained are intolerable, what must it be in the productions of art.
The attitudes must then be contrasted, especially in works of sculpture, which, naturally languid, cannot be animated but by the force of contrast and situation.
But, as we said that the variety which they have endeavoured to give the Gothic, has made it quite uniform; it has often happened, that that variety, which they have endeavoured to give us by the means of contrasts, has become a vicious symmetry and uniformity.
This is not perceived in certain works of painting and sculpture only, but also in the style of some writers, who, in every phrase, contrast the beginning with the end by perpetual antitheses; such as St. Augustine and other authors of the low Latin, and some of our moderns, as St. Evremont. The turn of the phrase always the same, and always uniform, displeases extremely; this perpetual contrast becomes Symmetry, and this opposition always studiously sought for becomes uniformity.
The mind finds so little variety in it, that when you have seen one part of the phrase, you guess at the other: you see words opposed to each other, but opposed always in the same manner: you see a turn of phrase, but it is always the same.
Many painters have fallen into this fault, of putting contrasts every where, and without art: so that when one sees one figure the disposition of those next it can easily be divined: this continual diversity becomes something of a resemblance. Besides, Nature, which places every thing in disorder, never discovers an affectation of a perpetual contrast; without adding further, that she does not put all bodies in motion, and in a forced motion; she is more various than to do this; she places some in rest, and gives to others different kinds of movement.
If the intelligent part of the soul loves variety, the sensitive part of it is no less fond of it; for the soul cannot long bear the same situation, because it is joined to a body, which cannot endure it. That our soul may be excited, the spirits must flow in the nerves: but there are in this two things, a lassitude in the nerves, and an intermission of spirits which flow no more, or are dissipated from those places where they run.
Thus at length every thing fatigues us, especially great pleasures: we quit them always with as much pleasure as we began them; for the fibres, which were the organs of them, have need of rest; we must make use of others more proper to be of service to us, and, so to speak, make a proper division of our toil.
Our Soul grows tired with enjoyment; not to perceive any pleasure at all is to fall into a state of lifeless insensibility, which quite oppresses it. We find a remedy for all this by varying its modifications: it feels, and it does not grow tired.
OF THE PLEASURES OF SURPRIZE.
This disposition of the Soul, which carries it always to different objects, makes it relish all the Pleasures which flow from Surprize; a sentiment which pleases the Soul by the object which it beholds, and by the suddeness of the action; for it perceives or feels something which it does not expect, or in a manner which it did not expect.
A thing may surprize us as wonderful, and, at the same time, as new, and also as unexpected; and, in these last cases, the principal sentiment is united to this accessory one, that the thing is new or unexpected.
It is by this that games of hazard interest us; they present us with a continued series of unexpected events: ’tis by this that social games please us; they too are a set of unforeseen events, brought about by address joined to chance.
It is by this also that we are pleased with theatrical pieces; they are unravelled by degrees, the events are concealed till they happen, new subjects of surprize are always prepared for us, and they often afford us a sensible pleasure, by shewing the events to be such as we ought to have foreseen they would be. In a word, works of genius, are commonly read for no other reason but because they procure an agreeable surprize, and make amends for the insipidity of conversations that have not this effect.
Surprize may be produced either by the object, or by the manner of producing it: for we see an object greater or less than it is in fact, or different from what it is; or we see the same object, but with an additional idea which surprises us. Such, in any thing, is the accessory idea of the difficulty of making it, or the person who made it, or the time when it was made, or the manner how it was made, or some other circumstance connected with it.
Suetonius describes the crimes of Nero with a coolness of blood which surprises us, by making us almost believe that he does not feel sufficient horror for what he describes; but he suddenly changes his style, and says, “The universe having suffered such a monster fourteen years, at last abandoned him:” Tale monstrum per quatuordecim annus perpessus terarum orbis tandem destituit. This produces in the mind different kinds of surprize: we are surprised at the author’s change of style; at the discovery of his different manner of thinking; at his method of relating in so few words one of the greatest revolutions that ever happened: thus the soul finds a vast number of different sensations that concur to move it, and to inspire it with Pleasure.
OF DIFFERENT CAUSES THAT PRODUCE SENSATION.
We ought carefully to observe, that one Sensation has commonly more than one cause in the mind. It is, if I dare venture to make use of the term, a certain dose produced by Force and Variety. Genius consists in knowing how to strike several organs at once; and if we examine different writers, we shall perhaps perceive, that the best of them, and those who have pleased most, are those who have excited in our Mind most Sensations at one time.
Pray observe the multiplicity of Causes. We like to view a garden finely laid out, better than a confusion of trees. 1. Because our prospect, which would be confined, is not so. 2. Every walk is one, and forms one grand object; whereas, amidst confusion, every tree is one object, and a little one. 3. We see an arrangement which we were not accustomed to see. 4. We are pleased with the pains which have been taken. 5. We admire the care they take perpetually to resist Nature, which by spontaneous productions would put every thing in confusion. This is so true, that a garden quite neglected is intolerable. Sometimes the difficulty of a work, sometimes the easiness of it, pleases us; and, as in a magnificent garden we admire the grandeur and expence of its owner, we observe sometimes with delight, that they have had the art to please us with small expence and labour.
Gaming pleases us, because it satisfies our avarice, that is, our hope of possessing more: it flatters our vanity by an idea of that preference which fortune gives us, and the notice which others take of our luck: it satisfies our curiosity by presenting a sort of show to us. In a word, it gives us all the different pleasures of surprize.
Dancing pleases us by its nimble activity; by a certain grace; by the beauty and variety of attitudes; by its harmony with the music; the person who dances being, as it were, an instrument which accompanies it: but, above all, it pleases us by a particular disposition of our brain, by which it is so constituted that it refers and associates the idea of all the motions to certain other motions, and the greatest part of the attitudes, to other attitudes.
Things almost always please and displease us in different respects. For example, Italian eunuchs ought to give us little pleasure. 1. Because it is not surprising that,* trimmed as they are, they should sing well; they are like an instrument from which the workman has cut off wood, to make it produce sounds. 2. Because the passions which they act are too much suspected of being false. 3. Because they are neither of the sex we love, nor of that which we esteem. On the other hand, they may please us, because they preserve a long time the air of youth; and also because they have a voice extremely flexible, and which is peculiar to themselves. Thus every thing gives us a feeling which is composed of a great many others, which sometimes weaken and counteract each other.
The soul often forms reasons to itself of its pleasure: and it succeeds in this principally by those associations of ideas which it connects with certain objects. Thus, any thing which has pleased us, pleases us still for that very reason that it has pleased us, because we join the new to the old idea: thus, an actress who has pleased us on the stage, pleases us too in a private room; her voice, her action, the remembrance of having seen her admired, what do I say? — the idea of the princess joined to that of herself; all this makes a sort of composition, which forms and produces a pleasure. We are all full of accessory ideas: a lady who should happen to have a great character, and a trifling defect, might make this be regarded as a beauty, and bring it into fashion. The greatest part of those ladies whom we love, have nothing for them but the prepossession of their birth or their fortune, the honours or esteem of certain people.
People of delicacy are those who, to every idea or to every taste, join a great many accessory Ideas and tastes. Indelicate people have only one idea; their mind can neither compound nor diminish; they neither add nor take away from what Nature has given: while people of delicacy when in love form to themselves the greatest part of the pleasures of love.
Polyxena and Apicius brought to table a great many sensations unknown to us vulgar eaters; and those who judge with taste of the works of wit have, and have formed to themselves an infinite number of sensations which other men have not.
OF THE JE NE SCAIS QUOI.
There is sometimes in persons and things a certain invisible charm, a natural grace, which cannot be defined, and which we have been obliged to call the I don’t know what. It appears to me, that it is an effect principally derived from surprize. We are struck with this, that a person pleases us more, than it appeared to us at first that she ought to have done, and we are agreeably surprised that she has known how to overcome those defects which our eyes pointed out to us, and which the heart no more believes she had: you see the reason why ordinary women have very often graces, and the handsome ones seldom have them; for a beautiful person commonly produces the contrary effect from that which we expected of her; she becomes less lovely in our eyes, after having surprised us with what is fine, she surprises us with what is not so; but the impression of what is good is old, that of what is bad is new; thus handsome people rarely produce strong passions, which are almost constantly reserved for those who have graces, that is to say, charms which we did not expect, and which we had no reason to expect. Rich dresses are seldom graceful, those of shepherdesses often are so. We admire the majesty of the draperies of Paul Veronese; but we are touched with the simplicity of Raphael, and the purity of Corregio. Paul Veronese promises us a great deal, and pays what he promised: Raphael and Corregio promise little, and pay a great deal; and this pleases us more.
Graces are more commonly found in the mind, than the countenance: for a beautiful face appears immediately, and conceals nothing; but the mind does not shew itself but by little and little, when it chuses it, and as much as it chuses; it can conceal itself to appear again, and produce that sort of surprize which constitutes grace.
Grace is seldomer found in the face than in the manner; for our manner is produced every moment, and can create surprise: in a word, a woman can be beautiful but one way, she can be graceful a thousand.
The law of the two sexes has established, among civilized and savage nations, that men should ask, and women only grant: hence it happens, that Grace is more peculiarly attached to the women. As they have all to defend, they have all to conceal; the least word, the least gesture, every thing which, without shocking the first of duties, shews itself in them, every thing which appears at liberty becomes a grace; and such is the Wisdom of Nature, that that which would be nothing without the law of modesty, becomes of infinite value after that happy law which constitutes the felicity of society.
As constraint and affectation cannot surprise us, grace is neither found in constrained nor affected manners, but in a certain freedom or ease which is between the two extremes, and the mind is agreeably surprised to perceive, that they have kept clear of two rocks.
It would seem that our natural manners ought to be the most easy, they are the least so of any: for education, which constrains us, makes us always lose our natural manner; we are then charmed to see it return.
Nothing pleases us so much in dress, as when it appears in that negligence, or even in that disorder, which conceals from us those pains which neatness does not require, and which vanity alone could have made us take; and one’s wit is never graceful, but when what is said appears to be hit off, and not studied.
When you say things which have cost you pains, you may indeed shew that you have wit, but not a graceful wit. To make this appear, you must not seem to perceive it yourself; that others, who from something naturally unaffected and simple in you, did not expect it of you, may be agreeably surprised by perceiving it.
Thus Graces are not acquired; to have them, one must be simple and unaffected; but how can one study to be so?
One of the most beautiful fictions of Homer is that of the girdle, which gave Venus the power of pleasing. Nothing is more proper to make us conceive that magic and power of the Graces, which seem to be given to a person by an invisible power, and are distinguished from beauty itself. Now this girdle could not be given but to Venus; it could not agree with the majestic beauty of Juno; for majesty requires a certain gravity, that is, a constraint opposite to the simplicity of the Graces: it could not agree with the proud beauty of Pallas; for pride is contrary to the sweetness of the Graces, and may often be suspected of affectation.
THE PROGRESSION OF SURPRIZE.
That which constitutes great beauties, is, when a thing is such, that the surprize at first is inconsiderable, that it supports itself, increases, and at last leads us to admiration. The works of Raphael strike little at first sight; he imitates Nature so well, that one is no more at first surprized than when one sees the object itself, which would cause no surprize at all: but an uncommon expression, the strong colouring or odd attitudes of an inferior painter strike us at first, because we have not been accustomed to see them elsewhere. We may compare Raphael to Virgil; and the Venetian painters, with their constrained attitudes, to Lucan. Virgil, more natural, strikes us at first less, to strike us more afterwards: Lucan strikes immediately, to strike us afterwards less.
The exact proportion of the famous church of St. Peter makes it appear at first not so great as it is; for we do not know immediately where to begin to judge of its greatness. If it had been narrower, we would have been struck with its length; if it had not been so long, we would have been struck with its breadth. But, in proportion as we examine it, the eye perceives it grow larger, our astonishment increases. We may compare it to the Pyrenees, where the eye, which at first thought it could measure them, discovers mountains beyond mountains, and always loses itself more and more.
It often happens that our mind feels a pleasure from a sentiment which it cannot quite explain; and when a thing appears to it to be absolutely different from what it knows it to be, this gives it a sentiment of surprize out of which it cannot extricate itself. For example: the dome of St. Peter’s is immense; ’tis known, that Michael Angelo, viewing the Pantheon, which was the largest temple of Rome, said, that he would make one like it, but that he would situate it in the air. He made then after this model the dome of St. Peter’s; but he made the pillars so strong, that this dome, which is like a mountain over our heads, appears light to the eye which observes it. The mind remains uncertain between what it sees, and what it knows to be the case, and is astonished to see a mass so enormous, and so light at the same time.
OF BEAUTIES WHICH RESULT FROM AN EMBARRASSMENT OF THE SOUL.
The mind is often surprised, because it cannot reconcile what it sees with what it has seen. There is in Italy a great lake which they call the Greater Lake; it is a little sea, the banks of which shew nothing but what is wild. Fifteen miles in the lake there are two islands, a quarter of a mile in circumference, which they call the Borromees, which is, in my opinion, the most enchanting abode in the world. The mind is astonished at the romantic contrast, and recalls with pleasure the wonders of romance, where, after having passed over rocks and barren countries, you find yourself in fairy land.
All contrasts strike us, because the opposite objects heighten each other. Thus, when a little man is near a tall one, the little one makes the other appear taller, and the great one makes the other seem less.
These kinds of surprizes constitute the pleasure which we find in all beauties of opposition, in antitheses, and such figures. When Florus says, “Sora and Algidum, who would believe it! were formidable to us; Satricum and Corniculum were provinces; we undervalue the Boritians, the Verulians, yet we gloried in triumphing over them; Præneste, where our pleasure-houses now are, was the subject of vows which we went to make at the capitol:” this author, I say, points out to us, at the same time, the grandeur of the Romans and the smallness of their beginnings, and our astonishment is raised by both these.
We may remark here how great a difference there is between antitheses of ideas and antitheses of expression. The antithesis of expression is not concealed; that of ideas is so: the one always assumes the same appearance; the other changes it as it pleases; the one is varied; the other not.
The same Florus, speaking of the Samnites, says, “That their cities were destroyed in such a way that it was difficult to find out at present what could have been the subject of so many triumphs;” Ut non facile appareat materia quatuor & viginti triumphorum: and by the same words which point out to us the destruction of this people, he makes us perceive the greatness and obstinacy of their courage.
When we want to hinder ourselves from laughing, our laughter increases, on account of that Contrast which is between the situation in which we find ourselves, and that in which we ought to be: in the same way as when we perceive in a face a very great fault, as, for example, a very large nose, we laugh because we see a contrast with the other features of the face, which ought not to be. Thus contrasts are the cause of faults, as well as beauties. When we perceive that they are without any reason, that they heighten or discover another fault, they are the great causes of ugliness, which, when it strikes us suddenly, can excite a certain joy in our soul, and make us laugh. If our mind views it as a misfortune in the person who possesses it, it can excite pity: if it views it with the idea of what may hurt us, and with an idea of comparison with what used to move us and excite our desires, it views it with a sentiment of aversion.
In the same way, our thoughts, when they contain an opposition contrary to good sense, when this opposition is common and easily found out, do not please us, and are faults, because they occasion no surprise; and if, on the contrary, they are too much studied, they do not please us neither. In a work, we ought to be struck with them because they are there, and not because the writer has laboured to shew them; for then we are only surprised at the folly of the author.
One of the things which pleases us most is the simple; but it is also the most difficult style to acquire; the reason of which is, because it is precisely betwixt the noble and the low, and it is very difficult to be always going by it without falling into it.
Musicians have acknowledged, that the music, which is easiest sung, is most difficult to compose; a certain proof that our pleasures, and that art which supplies us with them, have certain limits.
To read the pompous verses of Corneille, and the easy natural ones of Racine, who would imagine that Corneille composed with ease, and Racine with a great deal of trouble.
What is low, is the sublime of the vulgar, who are pleased to see a thing made for them, and adapted to their capacity.
The ideas which occur to those who are well educated, and have great minds, are either simple, or noble, or sublime.
When a thing is pointed out to us with circumstances which add to its grandeur, this appears noble to us: this is especially perceived in comparisons, where the mind ought always to gain, and never to lose: for they ought always to add somewhat to make the thing appear greater, or, if grandeur be not the object, finer and more delicate; but particular care must be taken not to point out any connection it may have with what is low; for the mind would have concealed this if it had discovered it.
As the aim is to represent things in a delicate way, the mind likes better to compare a manner to a manner, an action to an action, than a thing to a thing, as a hero to a lion, a woman to a star, a swift man to a stag.
Michael Angelo is the greatest master for giving a nobleness to all his subjects. In his famous Bacchus he does not do like the Flemish painters, who represents to us a figure almost falling, and, so to speak, in the air. This would be unworthy of the majesty of a God. He paints him firm upon his legs, but he so happily gives him the gay air of one who is drunk, and such a pleasure in viewing the liquor, which he pours into his cup, that there is nothing so admirable.
In that picture of the Passion which is in the gallery of Florence, he has painted the Virgin standing, who beholds her crucified son, without grief, without pity, without regret, without tears. He supposes her instructed in this great mystery, and by that makes her bear with grandeur the view of his death.
There are none of Michael Angelo’s works in which he has not put something noble. We find even the Great in his sketches, as in those verses which Virgil has not finished.
Julio Romano, in the chamber of Giants at Mantua, where he has represented Jupiter thundring, makes all the Gods appear terrified; but Juno is near Jupiter, she points out to him, with an undaunted air, a giant at whom he should dart his thunder: by this he gives her an air of grandeur which the other deities have not: the nearer they are to Jove, the bolder they are, and this is very natural; for in a battle, fear ceases near him who has the advantage * * * * * * * *
THE TEMPLE OF GNIDUS.
—Non murmura vestra, columbæ,
Brachia non bederæ, non vincant oscula conchæ.
Fragment of an Epithalamium of the EmperorGallienus.
[* ]The title of this article is, De l’Esprit, a word which includes not only the mind, but almost all its faculties. Indeed the difference of the two languages renders it perhaps impossible to do justice to our author in translating this essay.