The Pleasures of Imagination: The General Argument (A Poem)

Mark Akenside

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THE GENERAL ARGUMENT. The pleasures of the imagination proceed either from natural objects, as from a flourishing grove, a clear and murmuring fountain, a calm sea by moon-light; or from works of art, such as a noble edifice, a musical tune, a statue, a picture, a poem. In treating of these pleasures, we must begin with the former class; they being original to the other; and nothing more being necessary, in order to explain them, than a view of our natural inclination toward greatness and beauty, and of those appearances, in the world around us, to which that inclination is adapted. This is the subject of the first book of the following poem. But the pleasures which we receive from the elegant arts, from music, sculpture, painting, and poetry, are much more various and complicated. In them (besides greatness and beauty, or forms proper to the imagination) we find interwoven frequent representations of truth, of virtue and vice, of circumstances proper to move us with laughter, or to excite in us pity, fear, and the other passions. These moral and intellectual objects are described in the second book; to which the third properly belongs as an episode, though too large to have been included in it.

With the above-mentioned causes of pleasure, which are universal in the course of human life and appertain to our higher faculties, many others do generally concur, more limited in their operation, or of an inferior origin: such are the novelty of objects, the association of ideas, affections of the bodily senses, influences of education, national habits, and the like. To illustrate these, and from the whole to determine the character of a perfect taste, is the argument of the fourth book. Hitherto the pleasures of the imagination belong to the human species in general. But there are certain particular men whose imagination is indowed with powers, and susceptible of pleasures, which the generality of mankind never participate. these are the men of genius, destined by nature to excell in one or other of the arts already mentioned. It is proposed therefore, in the last place, to delineate that genius which in some degree appears common to them all; yet with a more peculiar consideration of poetry: inasmuch as poetry is the most extensive of those arts, the most philosophical, and the most useful.

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