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O. F



Congruity and Propriety.


AN is diftinguished from the brute creation, not more remarkably by the fuperiority of his rational faculties, than by the greater delicacy of his perceptions and feelings. With refpect to the gross pleafures of fenfe, man probably has little fuperiority over other animals. Some obfcure perception of beauty may alfo fall to their fhare. But they are probably not acquainted with the more delicate conceptions of regularity, order, uniformity, or congruity. Such

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

No difcerning perfon can be at a loss about the meaning of the terms congruity and propriety, when applied to drefs, behaviour, or language; that a decent garb, for example, is proper for a judge, modeft behaviour for a young woman, and a lofty

Nec vero illa parva vis naturæ eft rationisque, quod unum hoc animal fentit quid fit ordo, quid fit quod deceat in fa&tis dictifque, qui modus. Itaque eorum ipforum, quæ afpeAu fentiuntur, nullum aliud animal, pulchritudinem, venuftatem, convenientiam partium, fentit. Quam fimilitudinem natura ratioque ab oculis ad animum transferens, multo etiam magis pulchritudinem, conftantiam, ordinem, in confiliis fatifque confervandum putat, cavetque ne quid indecorè effeminatève 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 officis, I. 1.


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ftyle for an epic poem. In the following examples every one is fenfible of an unfuitableness or incongruity: a little woman funk in an overgrown farthingale, a coat richly embroidered covering coarse and dirty lihen, a mean fubject in an elevated style, or an elevated fubject 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 fecond, 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

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* From many things that pafs current in the world without being generally condemned, one at firft view would ima gine, that the sense of congruity or propriety hath scarce any foundation in nature; and that it is rather an artificial refinement of those who affect to distinguish themselves by a certain delicacy of tafte 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 fenfe receive them without difguft? Can it be fuppofed, that Lewis XIV. of France was endued by nature with any fenfe of propriety, when, in a dramatic performance purposely compofed for his entertainment, he fuffered himfelf, publicly and in his prefence, to be ftyled the greatest king ever the earth produced? Thefe it is true are ftrong 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 fenfe of justice.


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