Page images
PDF
EPUB

gedians have introduce some extraordinary personages for this purpose: not only the shades of the dead, but the furies, and other fabulous inhabitants of the infenal regions. Collins, in his most poetical ode to Fear, has finely enforced-this idea.

Tho' gentle Pity claims her mingled part,

Yet all the thunders of the scene are thine.

The old Gothic romance and the Eartern tale, with their genii, giants, enchantments, and transformations, however a refined critic may censure them as absurd and extravagant, will ever retain a most powerful influence on the mind, and interest the reader independently of all peculiarity of taste. Thus the great Milton, who had a strong biass to these wildnesses of the imagination, has with striking effect made the stories « of forests and enchantments drear,” a favourite subject

with his Penferoso; and had undoubtedly their awakening images strong upon his mind when he breaks out,

Call
up

him that left half-told
The story of Cambuscan bold; &c.

How are we then to account for the pleasure derived from such objects ? I have often been led to imagine that there is a deception in these cases; and that the avidity with which we attend is not a proof of our receiving real pleasure. The pain of suspense, and the irresistible desire of satisfying curiosity, when once raised, will account for our eagerness to go quite through an adventure, though we suffer actual pain during the whole course of it. We rather chuse to suffer the smart pang of a violent emotion than the uneasy craving of an unsatisfied desire. That this principle, in many instances, may in

vol

[ocr errors]

voluntarily carry us through what we diflike, I am convinced from experience. This is the impulse which renders the poorest and most insipid narrative interesting when once we get fairly into it; and I have frequently felt it with regard to our modern novels, which, if lying on my table, and taken up in an idle hour, , have led me through the most tedious and disgusting pages, while, like Pistol eating his leek, I have swallowed and execrated to the end. And it will not only force us through dullness, but through actual torture--through the relation of a Damien's execution, or an inquisitor's act of faith. When children, therefore, listen with pale and mute attention to the frightful stories of apparitions, we are not, perhaps, to imagine that they are in a state of enjoyment, any more than the

bird which is dropping into the mouth of the rattlesnake--they are chained by the ears, and

poor

fascinated by curiosity. Thus solution, however, does not fatisfy me with respect to the well-wrought scenes of artificial terror which are formed by a sublime and vigorous imagination. Here, though we know before-hand what to expect, we enter into them with eagerness, in quest of a pleasure already experienced. This is the pleasure constantly attached to the excitement of surprise from new and wonderful objects. A strange and unexpected event awakens the mind, and keeps it on the stretch; and where the

of invisible beings is introduced, of “ forms unseen, and mightier far than we,” our imagination, darting forth, explores with rapture the new world which is laid open to its view, and rejoices in the expansion of its powers. Passion and fancy co-operating elevate the soul to its highest pitch; and the pain of terror is loft in amaze. Hence the more wild, fanciful, and extraordinary are the circumstances of a scene of horror, the more pleasure we receive from it; and where they are too near common nature, though violently borne by curiosity through the adventure, we cannot repeat it or reflect on it, without an over-balance of pain./ In the Arabian nights are many most striking examples of the terrible joined with the marvellous: the story of Aladdin, and the travels of Sinbad, are particularly excellent. The Castle of Otranto is a very spirited modern attempt upon the same plan of mixed terror, adapted to the model of Gothic romance. The best conceived, and most strongly worked-up scene of mere natural horror that I recollect, is in Smollett's Ferdinand count Fathom; where the hero, entertained in a lone house in a forest, finds a corpse just Naughtered in the room where he is sent to seep, and

agency

ment,

Hence

the

« PreviousContinue »