Philosophers were beginning, reluctantly, to take the imagination seriously. David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature (1739—40) does not regard the illusions of imagination in the positive light that poets do, speaking commonly of the mind's "fictions" or "feigning." Nonetheless he finds that imagination occupies a central role in consciousness, supplying in a way that the senses and reason cannot do a concept of continuity and stability in what would otherwise be a mere chaos of impressions. Hume was unhappy about relying on "a principle so inconstant and fallacious," though it is possible to trace a line from him through Kant and into Romantic conceptions of the imagination (Hume 1739—40: vol. 1, 461). David Hartley's Observations on Man (1749) — a major influence on some of the Romantics, notably Coleridge — has a section identifying the "Pleasures of the Imagination" as the first category of intellectual pleasures; but Hartley associated such pleasures with youthful understanding of the world, to be replaced by soberer efforts at sympathy with God.

In literary theory the deification of "genius" was proceeding rapidly, but there was still caution. In Alexander Gerard's An Essay on Genius (1774), imagination begins to assume the power previously assigned to judgment.

However capricious and unaccountable this faculty may be often reckoned, yet it is subject to established laws; and is capable, not only of such extent as qualifies it for collecting ideas from all the parts of nature, but also of such regularity and correctness as is in a great measure sufficient for avoiding all improper ideas, for selecting such as are subordinate to the design, and for disposing them into a consistent plan, or a distinct method. (Gerard 1774: 70)

The "first and most essential constituent" of genius is "boundless fertility . . . inexhaustible copiousness of invention," whether in Homer or in Newton (p. 44). These two also exhibit "regularity" of imagination, which is not here the restraint of reason so much as the organicism of design: "such a turn of imagination as enables the associating principles, not only to introduce proper ideas, but also to connect the design of the whole with every idea that is introduced" (p. 46). But the work must cohere: "If regularity be absent, an exuberant invention will lose itself in a wilderness of its own creation. There is a false fertility, which arises from a disordered and irregular fancy" (p. 49). The Faerie Queene "discovers inexhaustible richness of invention" but is chaotic and irregular in this respect (p. 52).

The poet James Beattie, in Dissertations Moral and Critical (1783), included one "on memory and imagination" that ends with a whole chapter offering "Directions for the Regulations" of imagination. This amounts mainly to the avoidance of what we would call bipolar disorder, to which "this capricious faculty" is especially prone (Beattie 1783: 194). A "dangerous levity of imagination" can be retrained by application to geometry and history (p. 196). A "gloomy Imagination, when it grows unmanageable, is a dreadful calamity indeed," Beattie writes, citing the example of Swift; here the suggested therapy is exercise, sociable amusements, and lightweight practical study, such as agriculture (p. 198). Imlac would have approved.

However, by the late eighteenth century the "proper study of mankind" had clearly taken an interior turn, with imagination as the dominant principle of mental unity. The consequences for aesthetics were deep. Scarcely a radical figure, Sir Joshua Reynolds, in Discourse 13 of his lectures at the Royal Academy (1786), places imagination over reason in the judgment of art, because aesthetics must ground its analytic views on the mental effects that art actually produces. "For though it may appear bold to say it, the imagination here is the residence of truth" (Reynolds 1787: 3). Reynolds also cautions against "an unfounded distrust of the imagination and feeling, in favour of narrow, partial, confined, argumentative Theories" (p. 5). Art is not an imitation of external nature. "The very existence of Poetry depends on the licence it assumes of deviating from actual nature, in order to gratify natural propensities by other means" (p. 11). Architecture "applies itself, like Music (and I believe we may add Poetry) directly to the imagination, without the intervention of any kind of imitation" (p. 24). The "great end" of all arts is not to replicate nature, not even to instill virtue, but "to make an impression on the imagination and the feeling" (p. 23). Art can "gratify the mind by realising and embodying what never existed but in the imagination" (p. 29).

This pronouncement came from a pillar of the critical establishment - and, of course, a hugely successful commercial artist. The Romantics would take one more step by trying to remove the imagination from the social and economic circuit altogether, making it not merely an adjunct to religion but a kind of religion in itself - "the divine body in every man," as Blake (a not very successful commercial artist) put it. The peril of being consumed by the imagination has almost become the pleasure to be aimed at, and the greatest danger associated with your allotted "shaping spirit of imagination" (as Coleridge laments in the "Dejection" Ode, l. 86) was not that it might possess you, but that you might lose it.

See also chs. 5, "Poetic Enthusiasm"; 11, "Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock and 'Eloisa to Abelard' "; 17, "Mark Akenside, The Pleasures of Imagination"; 34, "Augustanism and P re-Romanticism"; 35, "Recovering the Past: Shakespeare, Spenser, and British Poetic Tradition"; 37, "The Sublime."

References and Further Reading

Addison, Joseph, and Steele, Richard (1965). The Spectator, 5 vols., ed. Donald F. Bond. Oxford: Clarendon.

Akenside, Mark (1772). The Poems of Mark Aken-side. London: W. Bowyer & J. Nichols.

Bacon, Francis (1926). The Advancement of Learning, 5 th edn., ed. William Aldis Wright. Oxford: Clarendon.

Beattie, James (1783). Dissertations Moral and Critical. London: W. Strahan & T. Cadell; Edinburgh: W. Creech.

Brewer, J. (1997). The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century. London: HarperCollins.

Burke, Edmund (1759). A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 2nd edn. London: R. & J. Dodsley.

Burton, Robert (1989). The Anatomy of Melancholy, 6 vols., ed. Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicolas K. Kiessling, and Rhonda L. Blair. Oxford: Clarendon.

Engell, J. (1981). The Creative Imagination: Enlightenment to Romanticism. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press.

Fairer, D. (1984). Pope's Imagination. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Gerard, Alexander (1774). An Essay on Genius. London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell.

Goldsmith, Oliver (1966). Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith, 5 vols., ed. Arthur Friedman. Oxford: Clarendon.

Hume, David (1739—40). A Treatise of Human Nature, 3 vols. London: John Noon.

Johnson, Samuel (1905). Lives of the English Poets, 3 vols., ed. G. Birkbeck Hill. Oxford: Clarendon.

Johnson, Samuel (1958-1990). The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, ed. Herman W. Liebert et al., 16 vols. (and continuing). New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Piozzi, Hester Lynch (1986). Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, ll.d., during the Last Twenty Years of His Life. London: T. Cadell.

Pope, Alexander (1939-69). The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, 11 vols., gen. ed. John Butt. London: Methuen.

Pope, Alexander (1986). The Prose Works of Alexander Pope, vol. 2: The Major Works, 1725-44, ed. Rosemary Cowler. Oxford: Shakespeare Head Press.

Reynolds, Sir Joshua (1787). A Discourse delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy on the distribution of Prizes, December 11 1786, by the President. London: T. Cadell.

Shakespeare, William (1979). A Midsummer Night's Dream, ed. Harold F. Brooks. London: Methuen.

Smart, Christopher (1987). The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart, vol. 4: Miscellaneous Poems English and Latin, ed. Karina Williamson. Oxford: Clarendon.

Spence, Joseph (1966). Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters of Books and Men Collected from Conversation, 2 vols., ed. James M. Osborn. Oxford: Clarendon.

Spenser, Edmund (1715). The Works of Mr Edmund Spenser, 6 vols., ed. John Hughes. London: Jacob Tonson.

Thomson, James (1981). The Seasons, ed. James Sambrook. Oxford: Clarendon.

Thomson, James (1986). Liberty, The Castle of Indolence, and Other Poems, ed. James Sambrook. Oxford: Clarendon.

Tuveson, E. L. (1960). The Imagination as a Means of Grace: Locke and the Aesthetics of Romanticism. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Warnock, M. (1976). Imagination. London: Faber.

Warnock, M. (1994). Imagination and Time. Oxford: Blackwell.

Warton, Joseph (1746). Odes on Various Subjects. London: R. Dodsley.

Warton, Joseph (1782). An Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, 4th edn., 2 vols. London: J. Dodsley.

Young, Edward (1759). Conjectures on Original Composition. London: A. Millar and R. & J. Dodsley.

Young, Edward (1989). Night Thoughts, ed. Stephen Crawford. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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