A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful

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A treatise by E. Burke, published anonymously 1757, with an ‘Introduction on Taste’ added 1759.

Burke discusses the distinctions between the Sublime, and the beautiful, which consists in relative smallness, smoothness, and brightness of colour. There are interesting sections on pleasure gained from distress (as in tragedy, or in the sight of a conflagration), and his descriptions of ‘a sort of delightful horror, a sort of tranquillity tinged with terror’ had much influence on the aesthetic theory of the later 18th cent. and in particular on G. E. Lessing. Aphorisms like ‘A clear idea is another name for a little idea’ mark the transition from the lucidity admired by Pope to the sublimity of writers like T. Gray.

Subjects: Literature.

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