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Imagination represents all particulars relating to the beautiful, &c., in the universal.
Sphere of the Imagination not confined to Poetry. Most of the examples introduced into this Chapter are poetical. From this I would not have it supposed, that, in my judgment, the Imagination is confined to this species of composition. We meet with its finest creations, on the other hand, in painting, in statuary, in prose, and in every kind of discourse in which the elements of thought can be blended in harmony with pure ideas. It adunits, at least, of a doubt, whether the Imagination of Milton ranged with a more discursive energy in his highest prose compositions, or in his Paradise Lost.
Law of Taste relative to the Action of the Imagination. It is, as we have seen, the peculiar province of the Imagination to dissolve, recombine, and blend the elements of thought. Its procedure in all these respects, however, is not arbitrary. Every thought cannot be blended with every other, without violating the laws of good taste. Here, then, an important question presents itself, to wit: What is the law which guides the Imagination, in blending the elements of thought ? I will present my own ideas on this subject, by an example taken from the book of Job :
“ Hast thou given the horse his strength ?
Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder ?” The propriety of blending of the two conceptions, that of the mane of the war-horse and of thunder, has been questioned by some, on account of the total dissimilarity of the objects of those conceptions. It is readily admitted, that no two objects are in themselves more dissimilar. Yet it is confidently maintained, that there never was a figure of speech more appropriate. The reason is obvious, and every one feels it, though he may not have an analytical consciousness of it. When two objects are, as objects of sense, totally dissimilar, the conception of each may excite precisely similar feelings. Hence the propriety and force of the figure employed by the sacred writer, in blending the two conceptions into one. This I conceive to be the universal law of good taste, relative to the action of the plastic power of the Imagination. Whenever two conceptions sustain a similar relation to any one
common feeling or sentiment, they may be blended into one. The more diverse the objects of those conceptions, the more striking the figure, under such circumstances. I will give one other example : .
“ The twilight hours like birds flew by,
As lightly and as free;
Ten thousand in the sea;
That leaped upon the air,
And held it trembling there."
Who is insensible to the exquisite beauty of the thought here? Yet the wave of the sea or lake, reflecting the stars of night, no more, as an object of sense, resembles the dimpled cheek of beauty, or the mother catching up her babe and holding it in her embrace, than the mane of the war-horse resembles thunder. Why, then, are we struck with such delight at the blending of conceptions, the objects of which are, in themselves, so unlike? The answer is, These conceptions are mutually correlated to the same or similar feelings. When such conceptions are thus blended into a beautiful emotion common to both, there is shadowed forth the perfection of beauty. For this reason our hearts leap up, when we meet with such thoughts as the following, taken from the same effusion as that above cited:
“I have heard the laughing wind behind,
When playing with my hair-
IMAGINATION THE ORGAN OF IDEALS.
Another important function of the Imagination now claims our attention, its functions as the organ of Ideals. In illustrating this function, the first thing to be accomplished is to distinguish between Ideals and Ideas..
Idea defined An Idea, properly defined, is a conception of Reason. As such it has the characteristics of universality and necessity, and is consequently, incapable of change, or modification. Thus when certain conditions are fulfilled, Reason evolves the idea of time, space, substance and cause, which we have already considered, together with such as the beautiful, the right, the true, and the good, &c., hereafter to be considered.
Ideal defined. An Ideal is a form of thought intermediate between an idea, and the conceptions or notions which the Intelligence generates of particular objects, and presents archetypes in conformity to which the elements of such conceptions may be blended in harmony with ideas. In the mind of Milton, for example, the ideas of the beautiful, the grand, and the sublime, &c., existed, as pure conceptions of Reason. When the varied conceptions, the elements of which are blended together in Paradise Lost, lay under the eye of his Consciousness, his Intelligence, brooding over those elements, at last blended them together into that grand conception, of which the poem itself is the external embodiment. This conception was the Ideal after which the poem was formed, to realize his ideas of the grand, the beautiful, and the sublime.
Ideals, Particular and General. Ideals, like notions, are particular and general. Thus, in the mind of Milton, there existed a general ideal of what a poem should be, in order to realize, in greater or less perfection, the pure ideas of Reason. At the same time, there existed a particular Ideal of the manner in which the elements entering into that poem should be blended, in order in that particular production, to realize those ideas. Ideals not confined to Ideas of the Beautiful, the Grand, and
the Sublime. Ideals are not confined to any one class of ideas. Every individual, in all departments of human action, has an Ideal of the form to which the objects of his action should be brought into conformity, and in the light of which he judges of all productions which meet his eye. Ideas of fitness, of the true, the perfect, and the good, are archetypes of Ideals, as well as that of the beautiful.
Ideals not fixed and changeless like Ideas. Ideals, as compared with ideas, may be perfect or imperfect. They are consequently capable of continued modifications. We often hear it said of individuals, that their Ideals are imperfect or wrong. As intermediate archetypes between conceptions of particular objects, and pure ideas of Reason, Ideals may, in the future progress of the Intelligence, undergo endless modifications, always advancing towards the perfect and absolute, without reaching it.
Ideals the Foundotion of Mental Progress. As intermediate archetypes between particular conceptions, and universal and necessary ideas, Ideals constitute the foundation of endless progression in the development of the mental powers. Every new elevation which the Intelligence gains, presents new conceptions of particular objects, and consequently new elements of thought. Every new element of thought involves a new Ideal, more nearly approaching the perfect and the absolute, and thus lays the foundation for fresh activity, and further progress in the march of mind. Sometimes also Ideals degenerate, and thus the foundation is laid for the backward movements of society.
It is hardly necessary to add that the Imagination is the exclusive organ of Ideals. To forin such conceptions is not a function of Reason, nor of the Understanding or Judgment. It remains, then, as the exclusive function of the Imagination.
Ideals in the Divine and Human Intelligence. In the Divine mind, the action of the Imagination is always in perfect and absolute correspondence to the Reason. As a consequence, there is a similar correspondence between the Divine Ideal and idea. All of God's is works, therefore, are perfect.” Not so with the finite. Man may eternally progress towards the infinite and perfect, but can never reach it.
ACTION OF THE JUDGMENT RELATIVE TO THAT OF THE
Taste defined. T'aste is that function of the Judgment by which the characteristics of productions, especially in belles-lettres and the fine arts, are determined in the light of Ideals and ideas of beauty, order, congruity, proportion, symmetry, fitness, and whatever constitutes excellence in such productions. The Judgment may be exercised upon Ideals relatively to ideas, and upon particular productions relatively to both. Thus Milton, when he apprehended the conception realized in Paradise Lost, might, and doubtless did, often compare that conception with his own idea, to determine the fact whether the former made a near approach to the latter. In filling out the conception, he would continually compare the external embodiment with the internal Ideal. In all such operations, he was exercising those functions of the faculty of Judgment denominated Taste. The existence of good taste depends upon the existence in the Intelligence of correct Ideals, together with a well balanced, and well exercised Judgment pertaining to the ideas of beauty, fitness, &c. If a man's Ideal is false, his Taste is of course vitiated. If his Ideal were ever so correct, and he was not possessed of a well balanced, and well exercised Judgment, pertaining to such productions, he would also lack the characteristics of good Taste. Productions of the Imagination when not regulated by correct
Judgment or good Taste. In some individuals in whom the Imagination exists and operates with a high degree of energy, its action is not guided and chastened hy good Taste, or a well regulated Judgment. In such cases we find the most perfect forms of beauty and sublimity shadowed forth in connection with the grossest deformities. The subject also will, in most instances, be wholly unable to distinguish the one from the other. In listening to such men, we, at one moment, are perfectly electrified with the forms of beauty, grandeur, and sublimity which are shadowed forth to our ecstatic vision; but the next, perhaps, we are equally shocked and disgusted with images worse than grotesque, and forms of speech in strange violation of all the laws of good Taste. Under such circumstances we have special need of two things, Patience and good Judgment. The former will enable us to endure the evil for the sake of the good : the latter to separate the one from the other, that we do not receive the good and the bad, as is too often the case, as alike good, nor reject both as alike bad.
The most perfect of all human productions are the results of genius associated with good Judgment. Of these the productions of Milton may be referred to as striking examples.