Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

DISSERTATION

ON THE

POEM OF THE PLEASURES OF IMAGINATION.

It was unquestionably the essay of Addison in the Spectator, on the Pleasures of the Imagination, which drew the attention of Akenside to this subject. Yet it is an error too generally adopted, to suppose that the poet was indebted to the essayist, not only for the general design of his work, but for the greater portion of its materials. Writing on the same subject, he eould not, with propriety, avoid introducing many of the same topics. The essayist traces the Pleasures of the Imagination, as induced by the impression of visible objects on the memory, to their true sources, greatness, wonderfulness, and beauty, The poet would have been false to nature, had he, from the puerile desire of unnecessary originality, traced those pleasures to any other than the same sources. All that could be required of him on this part of his subject, was that the manner of tracing them should be his own. Architects, in erecting different structures, may use the same materials without becoming copyists of each other. The marble, the mortar, the wood, and the iron may be identical in quality, nay, even in quantity, yet if the one structure be a church and the other a palace, who will deny to either builder the credit due to the originality displayed in the particular formation and embellishInent of his edifice ?

Akenside, in fact, with the exception of deriving the enjoyments of the imagination from the three sources before mentioned, differs so widely from Addison, in his manner of viewing and handling their common subject, as to leave scarcely any resemblance between them. Addison's topics and allusions are all, or nearly all, of a material and worldly character, palpable and comprehensible to the most common understanding Akenside's, on the contrary, are so intellectually abstract, and so ethereally elevated, as to require for their comprehension, a mind closely attentive to the subject, and disposed to follow the poet in his flights into the regions of metaphysics, or amidst the creations of sublimated fancy.

There are, as Addison has stated, two kinds of pleasures produced by the imagination; those which flow from the operations of mind alone, and those which are derived through the medium of the senses. Το the latter, Addison avowedly limits his speculations. But Akenside confines his muse within no such limits. On the contrary, although he does not exclude from his song the pleasures derived through the senses, yet the greater portion of the imaginative enjoyments

In an

which he celebrates, are purely intellectual. His muse delights to lose herself in luxuriant abstractions. She soars amidst the radiance of ethereal magnificence, and contemplates visions conceivable only by the soul far purer and grander than the corporeal sight could ever have furnished,

Speaking of corporeal vision, Addison says, “ It is this sense which furnishes the imagination with its ideas; so that by the pleasures of the imagination or • fancy,' (which I shall use promiscuously,) I here mean such as arise from visible objects, either when we have them actually in our view, or when we call them up into our minds by paintings,” &c. other place of the same paper, referring to the reader, he says, “I must desire him to remember that by the pleasures of the imagination,' I mean only such pleasures as arise originally from the sight.”

Such is Addison's avowal of his theme. But Akenside sings, in preference, of the moral joys of the imagination, such as spring from the contemplation of truth and wisdom and virtue. He exclaims,

« For what are all
The forms which brute unconscious matter wears,
Greatness of bulk and symmetry of parts ?
Not reaching to the heart, soon feeble grows
The superficial impulse; dull their charms
And satiate soon, and pall the languid eye.
Not so the moral species, nor the powers
Of genius and design; th' ambitious mind
There sees herself: by these congenial forms
Touch'd and awakend, with intenser act

She bends each nerve, and meditates well pleased
Her features in the mirror. For of all
The inhabitants of earth, to man alone
Creative Wisdom gave to lift his eye
To Truth's eternal measures; thence to frame
The sacred laws of action and of will,
Discerning justice from unequal deeds,

And temperance from folly.” Thus, the great object of Akenside is to trace the moral enjoyments yielded by the imagination, in preférence to those of mere material origin, arising from "greatness of bulk and symmetry of parts," and to show how “Creative Wisdom” gave man to look up to “Truth's eternal measures," and thence to frame laws of action, and to discern justice from injustice, and temperance from folly.

But even had our poet more closely followed in the path of Addison, with his bold and fertile fancy, and his sonorous and flowing verse, he could not have failed to produce a pleasing poem. The subject was well suited to set in motion all the powers of a mind such as his was at the time he adopted it. Young, ardent, and newly stored with the most brilliant images of both ancient and modern poetry, as well as strongly impressed with admiration for the sublimities, wonders, and beauties of nature, he was well calculated to descant on the topics they suggested, and to elucidate them in numbers, by a glowing arrangement of the exhaustless imagery they supplied, All the scrutinizers of Akenside's genius have acknowledged the special fitness of a subject 80 rich in the ingre

dients of striking and brilliant poetry, for a writer such as he was, fresh from the halls of academical study, and teeming with classical erudition, and not yet cooled in his youthful enthusiasm for the charms of nature, and for all that is bright in the character and faculties of man, by the disappointment of hopes too sanguine, or the mortifications of a spirit too proud to bear with equanimity the deceptions of worldly promises, or the irritating annoyances of professional rivalry, and the innumerable other vexations of a bustling and dependent life.

The imagination may be considered simply, the sight of the mind. It is the faculty by which we not only recall to contemplation, objects that we have once seen, but by which we are enabled to discover them arranged in new combinations, presenting figures created by the faculty of invention. The whole extent of creation, and all its regions, and their productions, spiritual as well as material, come within its range, and are subject to its supervision. It thus furnishes inexhaustible stores for poetry, whether in the form of direct thought, or of imagery for elucidation and embellishment. When its enjoyments are, as in the case before us, made the subject of a poem, it is obvious that, if the poet knows how to avail himself of the advantages of so fertile a theme, he can never be at a loss for pleasing topics, and appropriate metaphors at once illustrative and ornamental. All the works of nature are at his command for the purposes of song. Her countless charms and fascinations are

« ZurückWeiter »