Burke on Sublime

Edmund Burke’s Concept of the Sublime  

  The concept of the sublime was introduced into the criticism of literature and art by a Greek treatise Peri hupsous ("On the sublime"), attributed in the manuscript to Longinus and probably written in the first century A.D.


    Burke describes the sublime as being the cause of the strongest emotions which the individual is capable of feeling. The sublime may therefore produce pain, fear, or terror. The sublime in its lesser degree may cause admiration, reverence, or respect. The sublime in its highest degree may cause total astonishment.
  If the sublime is regarded as an obscure source of danger, it may cause a greater degree of fear than if it is regarded as a clear source of danger. This is because a source of danger may seem to be more fearful if it is obscure. Fear and terror can also be caused by a sense of sublime power, or by a dread of something indefinite or unknown which threatens the individual with pain, injury, or annihilation.
  M.H. Abrams says, Edmund Burke's highly influential Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, published 1757, attributes the source of the sublime to whatever things are "in any sort terrible"—that is, to whatever is "fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger"—provided that the observer is in a situation of safety from danger, and so is able to experience what would otherwise be a painful terror as a "delightful horror."

Sources of Sublime

    Edmund Burke says terror is the ruling principle of sublime. Thus whatever is terrible induces in us a sense of sublime.
    To make anything very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary. When we know the full extent of any danger, when we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes.
Giving an example of the night Burke says how greatly night adds to our dread and increases our sense of...