Nonfiction > Harvard Classics > Edmund Burke > On the Sublime and Beautiful
Edmund Burke (1729–1797).  On the Sublime and Beautiful.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Introductory Note
BURKE’S eminence in the field of æsthetic theory is not comparable to the distinction he achieved as a statesman, orator, and political thinker; yet it is probable that, in England especially, his political writings have unduly overshadowed his contributions to the theory of the beautiful.  1
  His “Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful: with an Introductory Discourse concerning Taste” was published in its first form in 1756, and in its enlarged form in 1757; but it is understood that it was composed some years earlier. “It was a vigorous enlargement of the principle,” says Morley, “which Addison had not long before timidly illustrated, that critics of art seek its principles in the wrong place, so long as they limit their search to poems, pictures, engravings, statues, and buildings, instead of first arranging the sentiments and faculties in man to which art makes its appeal. Addison’s treatment was slight and merely literary; Burke dealt boldly with his subject on the basis of the most scientific psychology that was then within his reach. To approach it on the psychological side at all, was to make a distinct and remarkable advance in the method of the inquiry which he had taken in hand.”  2
  The influence of the treatise outside of England was considerable and important. Lessing undertook to translate it, and many instances have been pointed out in which his “Laocoön” is indebted to Burke; so that Burke ranks among the sources of that fertilising contribution to the mind of the great German thinker which he was always eager to acknowledge.  3


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