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Dionysius




Reading Books

... Genius, it is said, is born and does not come of teaching, and the only art for producing it is nature. Works of natural genius, so people think, are spoiled and utterly demeaned by being reduced to the dry bones of rule and precept. For my part I hold that the opposite may be proved, if we consider that, while in lofty emotion Nature for the most part knows no law, yet it is not the way of Nature to work at random and wholly without system. In all production Nature is the prime cause, the great exemplar; but as to all questions of degree, of the happy moment in each case, and again of the safest rules of practice and use, such prescriptions are the proper contribution of an art or system. We must remember also that mere grandeur runs the greater risk, if left to itself without the stay and ballast of scientific method, and abandoned to the impetus of uninstructed enterprise. For genius needs the curb as often as the spur. Speaking of the common life of men, Demosthenes declares that the greatest of all blessings is good fortune, and that next comes good judgment, which is indeed quite as important, since the lack of it often completely cancels the advantage of the former.

We may apply this to literature and say that Nature fills the place of good fortune, Art that of good judgment. And above all we must remember this: the very fact that in literature some effects come of natural genius alone can only be learnth from art.

There are, one may say, some five genuine sources of the sublime in literature, the common groundwork, as it were, of all five being a natural faculty of expression, without which nothing can be done. The first and most powerful is the command of full-blooded ideas r I have defined this in my book on Xenophon and the second is the inspiration of vehement emotion. These two constituents of the sublime are for the most part congenital. But the other three come partly of art, namely the proper construction of figures these being probably of two kinds, figures of thought and figures of speech and, over and above these, nobility of phrase, which again may be resolved into choice of words and the use of metaphor and poetic ornament. The fifth cause of grandeur, which embraces all those already mentioned, is the general effect of dignity and elevation.

Weight, grandeur, and energy in writing are very largely produced, dear pupil, by the use of `images.' (That at least is what some people call the actual mental pictures.) For the term imagination is applied in general to an idea which enters the mind from any source and engenders speech, but the word has now come to be used of passages where, inspired by strong emotion, you seem to see what you describe and bring it vividly before the eyes of your audience. That imagination means one thing in oratory and another in poetry you will yourself detect, and also that the object of poetry is to enthral, of prose writing to present ideas clearly, though both indeed aim at this latter and at excited feeling.



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