The Pleasures of the Imagination (Joseph Addison)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Pleasures of the Imagination[1] [2] is a series of essays by Joseph Addison on the imagination in the The Spectator.

Contents

Incipit

Pleasures Of Imagination. Spectator. No. 411, June 21, 1712.
Avia Pieridum peragro loca, nullius ante Trita solo;
juvat integros accedere fontes; Atque haurire: . . . Lucr.
(I travel unpathed haunts of the Pierides [muses],
Trodden by step of none before. I joy
To come on undefiled fountains there,
To drain them deep.
Lucretius, De rerum natura, I. 926-28)

OUR sight is the most perfect and most delightful of all our senses. It fills the mind with the largest variety of ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues the longest in action without being tired or satiated with its proper enjoyments. The sense of feeling can indeed give us a notion of extension, shape, and all other ideas that enter at the eye, except colours; but at the same time it is very much straitened and confined in its operations, to the number, bulk, and distance of its particular objects. Our sight seems designed to supply all these defects, and may be considered as a more delicate and diffusive kind of touch, that spreads itself over an infinite multitude of bodies, comprehends the largest figures, and brings into our reach some of the most remote parts of the universe.

Incipit from last essay[3]

Joseph Addison

The Spectator No 421. Thursday, July 3, 1712

Ignotis errare locis, ignota videre
Fumina gaudebat; studio minuente laborem. OV.

[Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4. 294-95:

He loved to roam through unimagined places,
by the banks of undiscovered rivers;
and the joy of finding wonders made his labour light.
(Golding translation])

The pleasures of the imagination are not wholly confined to such particular authors as are conversant in material objects, but are often to be met with among the polite masters of morality, criticism, and other speculations abstracted from matter, who, though they do not directly treat of the visible parts of Nature, often draw from them their similitudes, metaphors, and allegories. By these allusions a truth in the understanding is as it were reflected by the imagination; we are able to see something like colour and shape in a notion, and to discover a scheme of thoughts traced out upon matter. And here the mind receives a great deal of satisfaction, and has two of its faculties gratified at the same time, while the fancy is busy in copying after the understanding, and transcribing ideas out of the intellectual world into the material.

'The fancy is overrun with wild dismal ideas' passage[4]

We have now discovered the several originals of those pleasures that gratify the fancy; and here, perhaps, it would not be very difficult to cast under their proper heads those contrary objects, which are apt to fill it with distaste and terror; for the imagination is as liable to pain as pleasure. When the brain is hurt by any accident, or the mind disordered by dreams or sickness, the fancy is overrun with wild dismal ideas, and terrified with a thousand hideous monsters of its own framing.

Eumenidum veluti demens videt agmina Pentheus,
Et solem geminum, & duplices se ostendere Thebas.
Aut Agamemnonius scenis agitatus Orestes,
Armatam facibus matrem & serpentibus atris
Quum videt, ultricesque sedent in limine Dirae. Vir.
Like Pentheus, when, distracted with his fear,
He saw two suns, and double Thebes, appear;
Or mad Orestes, when his mother's ghost
Full in his face infernal torches toss'd,
And shook her snaky locks: he shuns the sight,
Flies o'er the stage, surpris'd with mortal fright;
The Furies guard the door and intercept his flight.
[trans. Dryden] [Virgil, Aeneid, 4. 469-73]

See also




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