ILLUSTRATIONS ON SUBLIMITY (1783)
JAMES BEATTIE (17341803)
The Scottish poet and philosopher James Beattie occupied the chair of moral philosophy and logic at Marischal College, Aberdeen (and later taught in Edinburgh). He was a friend of many Scottish worthies, and in the 1770s became a good friend of John Gray, Dr Johnson, Garrick, Mrs Montagu and her circle of Bluestockings. He wrote a famous Essay on Truth (1770) attacking the rational scepticism of Hume and Voltaire, and later added essays on Poetry and Music, Laughter and Ludicrous Composition, and related subjects. Beattie would sit up all night under the open sky admiring the romantic scenery. His poem The Minstrel (see under Poetry) uses the Spenserian stanza and develops the theme of the romantic enthusiast.
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. . . the Sublime, in order to give pleasing astonishment, must be either imaginary, or not immediately pernicious.
to throng into the memory,Forests in every age must have had attractive horrors: otherwise so many nations would not have resorted thither, to celebrate the rites of superstition. And the inventors of what is called the Gothick, but perhaps should rather be called the Saracen, architecture, must have been enraptured with the same imagery, when, in forming and arranging the pillars and ai[s]les of their churches, they were so careful to imitate the rows of lofty trees in a deep grove.
Observe a few children assembled about a fire, and listening to tales of apparitions and witchcraft. You may see them grow pale, and croud [sic] closer through fear: while he who is snug in the chimney corner, and at the greatest distance from the door, considers himself as peculiarly fortunate; because he thinks that, if the ghost should enter, he has a better chance to escape, than if he were in a more exposed situation. And yet, notwithstanding their present, and their apprehension of future, fears, you could not perhaps propose any amusement that would at this time be more acceptable. The same love of such horrors as are not attended with sensible inconvenience continues with us through life: and Aristotle has affirmed, that the end of tragedy is to purify the soul by the operations of pity and terror.
[SOURCE: James Beattie, Dissertations Moral and Critical (London: S. Strahan; T. Cadell; Edinburgh: W. Creech, 1783), pp. 61516]
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