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Burke on the Sublime and the Beautiful

BURKE, EDMUND. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.

London: Dodsley, 1757.

Contemporary calf, red morocco label. Some stains and wear to boards, upper joint tender but secure, some spotting. Neat 1857 gift inscription. A very good copy.

First edition. Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into Sublime and Beautiful is a central text of 18th-century aesthetics and a key work in the transition from Neoclassicism to Romanticism.

Burke asserted that the beautiful is that which is well-formed and aesthetically pleasing, while the sublime is that which has the power to astonish, terrify, and even destroy us. Sublime experience or art “excites the ideas of pain and danger,” producing “the strongest emotion that the mind is capable of feeling.” For Burke the beautiful is linked with relative smallness, bright color, and smoothness, while the sublime is connected with infinity, darkness, and roughness. The beautiful and the sublime are opposed just as pleasure and pain are in opposition. He wrote, “The ideas of the sublime and the beautiful stand on foundations so different, that it is hard, I had almost said impossible, to think of reconciling them in the same subject, without considerably lessening the effect of the one or the other upon the passions.”

Todd, Bibliography of Edmund Burke 5a. Todd notes that two pages exist in two states: page 179 (SECT. IV, then corrected to SECT. VI) and page 180 (SECT. VI, then corrected to SECT. VII). In this copy p. 179 is in the corrected state, while page 180 in the first state. Todd observes that no copies are known with both points in the uncorrected state.

$3,000