« PreviousContinue »
AN is distinguished from the
brute creation, not more remarkably by the superiority of
his rational faculties, than by the greater delicacy of his perceptions and feelings. With respect to the gross pleasures of sense, man probably has little superiority over other animals. Some obscure perception of beauty may also fall to their share. But they are probably not acquainted with the more delicate conceptions of regularity, order, uniformity, or congruity.
Such refined conceptions, being connected with morality and religion, are reserved to dignify the chief of the terrestrial creation. Upon this account, no difcipline is more suitable to man, or more congruous to the dignity of his nature, than that by which his taste is refined, to distinguish in every fubject, what is regular, what is orderly, what is suitable, and what is fit and pro
No discerning person can be at a loss about the meaning of the terms congruity and propriety, when applied to dress, behaviour, or language; that a decent garb, for example, is proper for a judge, i modeft behaviour for a young woman, and a lofty
* Nec vero illa parva vis naturæ est rationisque, quod unum hoc animal sentit quid fit ordo, quid fit quod deceat in fa
tis dictisque, qui modus. Itaque corum ipforum, quæ afpeeu fentiuntur, nullum aliud animal, pulchritudinem, venuftatem, convenientiam partium, fentit. Quam fimilitudinem natura ratioque ab oculis ad animụm transferens, multo etiam magis pulchritudinem, constantiam, ordinem, in confiliis fa&isque conservandum putat, cavetque ne quid indecorè effeminatève faciat; tum in omnibus et opinionibus et factis ne quid libidinosè aut faciat aut cogitet. Quibus ex rebus conflatur et efficitur id, quod quærimus, honeftum. Cicero de officiis, l. 1.
style for an epic poem. In the following examples every one is sensible of an unfuit, ableness or incongruity: a little woman sunk in an overgrown farthingale, a coat richly embroidered covering coarse and dirty lihen, a mean subject in an elevated style, or an elevated subject in a mean style, a first minister darning his wife's stocking, or a reverend prelate in lawn lleeves dancing a hornpipe.
But it is not sufficient that these terms be understood in practice; the critical art requires, that their meaning be traced to its foundation in human nature. The relations that connect objects together, have been examined in more than one view. Their influence in directing the train of our perceptions, is handled in the first chapter ; and in the second, their influence in generating passion. Here they must be handled in a new view.; for they are clearly the occasion of congruity and propriety. We are fo framed by nature, as to require a certain fuitableness or correspondence among things connected by any relation. This suitableness or correspondence is termed congruity
or propriety; and the want of it, incongruity or impropriety. Among the many principles that compose the nature of man, a fense of congruity or propriety is one. Deftitute of this sense, we could have no notion of congruity. or propriety: the terms to us would be unintelligible *.
As this sense is displayed upon relations, it is reasonable beforehand to expect, that
* From many things that pass current in the world without being generally condemned, one at first view would imagine, that the sense of congruity or propriety hath scarce any foundation in nature; and that it is rather an artificial refines ment of those who affect to distinguish themselves by a certain delicacy of taste and behaviour. The fulsome panegyrics bestowed upon the great and opulent, in epiftles dedicatory and other such compositions, lead naturally to that thought. Did there prevail in the world, it will be said, or did nature suggest, a taste of what is suitable, decent, or proper, would any gond writer deal in such compositions, or any man of sense receive them without disgust? Can it be supposed, that Lewis XIV. of France was endued by nature with any
sense of propriety, when, in a dramatic performance purposely composed for his entertainment, he suffered himself, publicly and in his presence, to be styled the greatest king ever the earth produced ? These it is true are strong facts; but luckily they do not prove the sense of propriety to be artificial. They only prove, that the sense of propriety is at times overpowered by pride and vanity; which is no fingular case, for this fometimes is the fate even of the sense of justice.