BURKE, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful. With an introductory discourse concerning taste, and several other additions. By Edmund Burke, Esq. A New Edition.
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London: Printed for G. and W. B. Whittaker, Ogle & Co., Baynes & Son, T. & J. Allman; Munday & Slatter, Oxford; and R. Newby, Cambridge 1821. Octavo. pp. , 318. Near contemporary full polished green calf, covers framed by triple gilt fillets and a wide gilt floral roll; spine divided into five panels by four thick gilt raised bands, title in gilt on brown morocco letterpiece; board edges and turn-ins gilt; comb marbled endpapers; red and gold endbands; green silk marker. Occasional mild foxing. All edges gilt. Fine copy. Todd 5cc.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797), statesman, political essayist and brilliant orator was born in Dublin, the son of a Protestant father, and Catholic mother, Mary Nagle, direct descendant of Sir Richard Nagle, Attorney General for Ireland, tempore James II. Edmund’s paternal ancestors originated in Co. Galway, thence to Limerick, where being dispossessed after the Rebellion of 1641, they eventually settled near Castletownroche, Co. Cork. Edmund was educated at Abraham Shackleton’s Quaker School at Ballitore in Co. Kildare who said of Burke: “Edmund was a lad of the most promising genius, of an inquisitive and speculative turn of mind, who read much. His memory was extensive, his judgement early ripe. He was affable, free and accumulative, as ready to teach as to learn”. Most scholars point to this work as the landmark treatise on the sublime. Burke defines the sublime as “whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger ... Whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror”. He believed that the sublime was something that could provoke terror in the audience, for terror and pain were the strongest of emotions. However, he also believed there was an inherent “pleasure” in this emotion. Anything that is great, infinite or obscure could be an object of terror and the sublime, for there was an element of the unknown about them. Burke spends a great deal of time referencing the elements of terror and the sublime in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which the figures of Death and Satan are considered sublime. The first known analysis of what we know as the literary sublime is often attributed to the Greek writer Longinus in his work Peri Hyposous (trans. On the Sublime). Longinus defines the literary sublime as “excellence in language”, the “expression of a great spirit” and the power to provoke “ecstasy” in one’s readers. He holds that the sublime may be found in every work, since the goal of a writer should always be to produce a form of ecstasy.
The Philosophical Enquiry was Burke’s first truly successful work, winning praise in many quarters: Dr Johnson, “an example of true criticism”; Hume, “a very pretty treatise”; Reynolds, “the admirable treatise”; and Kant describing Burke as “the foremost author” in “the empirical exposition of aesthetic judgments” (Writings and Speeches, 1.187-8). “His enduring achievement was to have tackled a difficult subject in a fashion accessible to any educated reader” (ODNB). The book was fundamental to subsequent discourse about the sublime in Romantic literature and art.
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