Page images

Such refined conceptions, being connected with morality and religion, are reserved to dignify the chief of the terreftrial creation. Upon this account, no discipline is more fuitable to man, or more congruous to the dignity of his nature, than that by which his tafte is refined, to diftinguifh in every fubject, what is regular, what is orderly, what is fuitable, and what is fit and pro

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

No difcerning perfon 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, modeft behaviour for a young woman, and a lofty

[ocr errors]

Nec vero illa parva vis naturæ eft rationifque, quod unum hoc animal fentit quid fit ordo, quid fit quod deceat in fa&tis dictifque, qui modus. Itaque eorum ipforumi, quæ afpe&tu fentiuntur, nullum aliud animal, pulchritudinem, venustatem, convenientiam partium, fentit. Quam fimilitudinem natura ratioque ab oculis ad animum transferens, multo etiam magis pulchritudinem, conftantiam, ordinem, in confiliis faAtifque confervandum putat, cavetque ne quid indecorè efferninatève 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, I. x.



ftyle for an epic poem. In the following examples every one is fenfible of an unfuitablenefs or incongruity: a little woman funk in an overgrown farthingale, a coat richly embroidered covering coarfe and dirty linen, a mean fubject in an elevated style, or an elevated subject in a mean style, a first minifter darning his wife's ftocking, or a reverend prelate in lawn fleeves dancing a hornpipe.

But it is not fufficient 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 paffion. Here they must be handled in a new view; for they are clearly the occafion of congruity and propriety. We are fo framed by nature, as to require a certain fuitableness or correfpondence among things connected by any relation. This fuitablenefs or correfpondence is termed congruity


or propriety; and the want of it, incongruity or impropriety. Among the many principles that compofe the nature of man, a fenfe of congruity or propriety is one. Deftitute of this fenfe, we could have no notion of congruity or propriety: the terms to us would be unintelligible *.

As this fenfe is difplayed upon relations, it is reasonable beforehand to expect, that

* From many things that pass current in the world without being generally condemned, one at firft view would ima gine, that the fenfe of congruity or propriety hath scarce any foundation in nature; and that it is rather an artificial refine ment of those who affect to distinguish themselves by a certain delicacy of taste and behaviour. The fulfome panegyrics beftowed upon the great and opulent, in epiftles dedicatory and other fuch compofitions, lead naturally to that thought. Did there prevail in the world, it will be faid, or did nature fuggeft, a taste of what is fuitable, decent, or proper, would any good writer deal in fuch compofitions, or any man of sense receive them without difguft? Can it be fuppofed, 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 fuffered himself, publicly and in his prefence, to be ftyled the greatest king ever the earth produced? Thefe it is true are strong facts; but luckily they do not prove the fenfe of propriety to be artificial. They only prove, that the fenfe of propriety is at times overpowered by pride and vanity; which is no fingular cafe, for this fometimes is the fate even of the sense of justice.


we fhould be fo formed, as to require among connected objects a degree of congruity proportioned to the degree of the relation. And upon examination we find this to hold in fact. Where the relation is ftrong and intimate as betwixt a cause and its effect, a body and its members, we require that the things be fuited to each other in the ftrictest manner. On the other hand, where the relation is flight, or accidental, as among things jumbled together in the fame place, we demand little or no congruity. The ftricteft propriety is required in behaviour and manner of living; because a man is connected with these by the relation of cause and effect. The fituation of a great house ought to be lofty; for the relation betwixt an edifice and the ground it ftands upon, is of the most intimate kind.

Its relation to

neighbouring hills, rivers, plains, being that of propinquity only, demands but a small share of congruity. Among members of the fame club, the congruity ought to be confiderable, as well as among things placed for fhow in the fame niche. Among paffengers in a stage-coach, we require ve



little congruity; and lefs ftill at a public fpectacle.

Congruity is fo nearly allied to beauty, as commonly to be held a species of it. And yet they differ fo effentially, as never to coincide. Beauty, like colour, is placed upon a single subject; congruity upon a plurality. Further, a thing beautiful in itself, may, with relation to other things, produce the strongest sense of incongruity.

Congruity and propriety are commonly reckoned fynonymous terms; and hitherto in opening the fubject they are used indifferently. But they are distinguishable; and the precise meaning of each must be afcertained. Congruity is the genus, of which propriety is a species. For we call nothing propriety, but that congruity or fuitableness which ought to fubfift betwixt fenfible beings and their thoughts, words, and actions.

In order to give a full view of this fubject, I fhall trace it through fome of the moft confiderable relations. The relation of a part to the whole, being extremely intimate, demands the utmost degree of congruity. For that reason, the flightest devia

« PreviousContinue »