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want of a better term, I have called impression.
We have already seen how poetry derives its existence from the association of ideas, as well as how such associations must arise out of impressions, and it follows as a natural consequence, that if this be necessary to enable a man to feel poetry, it is still more so to qualify him for writing it. Impressions are, in fact, the secret fund from whence the poet derives his most brilliant thoughts—the material with which he works, the colouring in which he dips his pencil when he paints—the inexhaustible fountain to which he applies for the simplicity of nature, and the force of truth.
We have before observed, that it is impossible to trace a great proportion of our associations to their original source, because we cannot recall the impressions made upon our mind in infancy; but we know that in that early stage of life, when we were most alive to sensation, all the impressions which we did receive, must have been connected with pain or pleasure, and that hence arise preference and antipathy, hope and fear, love and hatred. We have the authority of Dr. Johnson, as well
as that of our own observation for asserting, that children are not naturally grateful, and from the history of man in a barbarous state, we learn that he is not naturally honest. The reason is, that both the infant, and the savage, have received pleasure from self-indulgence, but not from the exercise of any moral duty; and therefore it is evident that greater maturity of mind is necessary for the formation of those ideas which arise out of impressions made by the social intercourse of mankind. Yet in a very early stage of existence we are capable of deriving more simple ideas from impressions whose strength and durability constitute the riches of the poet.
Perhaps the first of this description is, the idea of power, naturally arising in the mind of a child, from the bodily force by which its most violent attempts at resistance are easily overcome. But in order to be deeply impressed with this idea, it is necessary that we should have witnessed some manifestation of power beyond the reach of man's utmost capabilities, and this we behold in the tremendous violence of the winds, the rage of the ocean, the cataract, or the volcano.
The idea of number multiplied to infinity
comes next, and this it is reasonable to suppose may originate in the contemplation of the stars. We may not be able to recall to our remembrance the time when our own minds were first awakened to a conception of the splendour of the heavens ; but we have an opportunity of observing in others the rapt and astonished gaze with which they first regard the stars in reference to their number, and how the opening mind expands as one after another of these nightly suns rises, and dawns upon it—first seen in separate points of light—then in groups—then multitudes—then fields spangled all over with shining glory—then wider fields —and so on, until at last the idea of number loses all limitation, and the child conceives for the first time, that of infinity.
From the contemplation of a widely extended view, we have unquestionably derived our notion of space. Why this idea, arising out of an incalculable number of objects, in themselves ordinary and familiar, should obtain the character of sublime, it is not easy to determine, unless it be that the same expansion of mind is as necessary to receive these two impressions, as to contemplate the nature of unlimited power, which is universally accompanied with sensations of awe, and sometimes of terror.
Duration is generally the last which the mind receives of these impressions, and when extended to eternity, it is the most important. This idea does not arise like that of infinity, from objects of calculation, nor like power, from any connection with impulse or sensation; but steals quietly upon the mind from deep and earnest meditation, sometimes upon objects which have existed from time immemorial, sometimes upon those which will exist for ages yet to come. We
gaze upon the ivied walls of the ruined edifice, whose very structure bears evidence of the different manners, customs and occupations of those who once surrounded the now deserted hearth. We walk into the spacious banqueting-room whose walls once echoed to the songs of festivity or triumph, and there the bat holds nightly converse with the owl. We listen to the rush of the evening breeze amongst the deep dark foliage of the firmly-rooted trees, which have arisen out of seeds scattered by the wandering winds amongst the desolation of fallen magnificence. Even then the pile must have been a ruin, and we see by the broken pillar whose base is
buried in the earth, what an accumulation of matter time must have strewn around it, to raise the level of the surrounding earth, from its foundation to its centre. We look through the wide yawning aperture that seems to have been a richly-ornamented window, and there, where the gallant knight once laid his conquering sword at the feet of smiling beauty, where the minstrel tuned his lyre, and sung the praise of heroes now forgotten, where the snow white hand of the courtly dame was wont to rest as she looked forth
the sloping lawn, marking the long shadows of the stately trees, of which neither root nor branch remain ; now the rude nettle rears his head, the loose bramble waves in the wind that whistles through the broken arch, birds of dark omen, inhabitants of desolation, pass to and fro on dusky wing, and the loathsome toad, and poisonous adder
amongst the shattered fragments of sculptured stone and mouldering marble, to find themselves a hiding place and a home. As we contemplate all this, the mind is naturally carried back to the time when these emblems of decay had their beginning. We think that there were ruins then; that ages still more remote had theirs ; and thus as