What Inspires Awe?

From Joseph Addison’s “On the Sublime.”

I want to consider what is great, uncommon, or beautiful––frightening, too; how some phenomena have a rude kind of magnificence which flings us so urgently into astonishment that the sensibilities are temporarily and utterly stilled. The mind naturally hates what looks like a denial of this capacity of expansion, hence our revulsion at tight, cramped spaces. The eye, like the mind, is fond of losing itself in space. What is new can refresh, sharpening the appetite which grows dull in satiety with the familiar. A meadow is one thing, but the river, the fountain, and the falls are something else because the perpetual motion affords no place to rest except by absorbing the motion itself, denying the viewer a habitual vantage of setting. What is ever in motion is ever sliding away from the eye of the beholder.


As idea which strongly motivated the English poet, dramatist, and essayist Joseph Addison (1672-1719), was (as described in Norton’s) to bring philosophy out of the closet of libraries and into coffeehouses and taverns.  To this end, Addison wrote numerous essays for The Tatler and The Spectator. The above is inspired by one from The Spectator, No. 412 [On the Sublime]. It includes phrases from Addison’s essay.

Related PostName it Anyway, a sampling of Loginus’ first-century treatise “On Sublimity.”