Images de page

must have been produced in like manner, originally, by the first vibrations of the other, when external force was applied to it alone ; and, if the two series of vibratory particles be of such a kind as not to harmonize, a thousand accidental coexistences or successions of their vibrations, cannot make them harmonize more than at first. Association, therefore, or habit, on such an hypothesis, would not be necessary to account for phenomena which must bave taken place equally by the mere laws of harmonics, without association. If the sight of a pictured rose recal to me its fragrance, or the fragrance of a rose in the dark, recal to me its form and colour, it is a proof that the sensorial chords, of which the vibrations give rise to these conceptions, are of such a length as to harmonize, and to admit, therefore, of joint vibration from a single impulse. But, in this case, it is surely unnecessary that both the sight and smell should ever have existed before. Though I had never seen a rosc, the mere sinell of one in the dark should have brought before me instantly the form and colour which I never had beheld, because it should instantly have produced this particular corresponding vibration in the harmonizing strings; and, though I had never enjoyed its delightful fragrance, the mere picture of the flower, on paper or canvass, should have given me, in the very instant, by a similar correspondence of vibration, the knowledge of its odour.

All this, it may perhaps be said, would be very true, if the vibrations, of which metaphysical physiologists speak, were meant in their common physical sense. But, if they are not used in their common physical sense, what is it that they are intended to denote? and why is not the precise difference pointed out? Nothing can be simpler than the meaning of the term vrbration-an alternate approach and retrocession of a series of particles ; and if this particular species of motion be not meant, it is certainly most absurd to employ the term, when another term could have been adopted or invented without risk of error; or at least to employ it without stating what is distinctly meant by it, as different from the other vibrations of which we are accustomed to speak. If it be not understood in its usual meaning, and if no other meaning be assigned to the term, the hypothesis, which expresses nothing that can be understood, has not even the scanty glory of being an hypothesis. The same phenomena might, with as much philosophic accuracy, be ascrib


ed to any other fanciful term—to the Entelecheia of Aristotle, or to the Abracadabra of the Cabalists. Indeed, they might be asbribed to either of these magnificent words with greater accuracy, because, though the words might leave us as ignorant as before, they, at least, would not communicate to us any notion positively false. There is certainly very little resemblance of memory to an effervescence, yet we might theorize as justly in ascribing memory to an effervescence as to a vibration, if we be allowed to understand both terms in a sense totally different from the common use, without even expressing what that different sense is; and if the followers of Hartley, in preferring vibratiuncles to little effervescences, profess to understand the term vibration as it is commonly understood, and to apply to the phenomena of association the common laws of vibrating chords, they must previously undertake to shew, that the phenomena of musical chords, on which they found their hypothesis, are the reverse of what they are known to be,-that strings of such a length and tension as to harmonize, are not originally capable of receiving vibrations from the motions of each other, but communicate their vibrations mutually only after they have repeatedly been touched together,—and that musical chords, of such a length and tension as to be absolutely discordant, acquire notwithstanding, when frequently touched with a bow or the finger, a tendency to harmonize, and at length vibrate together at the mere touch of one of them. Then, indeed, when the tendencies to vibratory motion are shewn to be precisely the reverse of what they are, the phenomena of suggestion might find some analogy in the phenomena of vibration; but, knowing what . we know of musical chords, it is impossible to bring their phenomena to bear, in the slightest degree, on the phenomena of associ ation,-unless, indeed, by convincing us, that, little as we know positively of the mysterious principle of suggestion, we may at least negatively have perfect knowledge, that it is not a vibration or a vibratiuncle.





GENTLEMEN, having now endeavoured to lay before you, and explain, as far as the limited nature of these Lectures allows, the general phenomena which flow from the principle of Simple Suggestion, I shall conclude this part of my Course, with some remarks on the Influence of Particular Associations, on the Intellectual and Moral Character. The speculation, if we had leisure to enter upon it fully, would be one of the most extensive and interesting, in the whole field of philosophic inquiry. But so many other subjects demand our attention, that a few slight notices are all which my limits at present permit.

In these remarks, I use the familiar term associations, for its convenient brevity, as expressive of the suggestions that arise from former coexistence or successions of feelings, with perfect confidence, that you can no longer be in any danger of attaching to it erroneous notions, as if it implied some mysterious process of union of the feelings suggesting and suggested, or any other influ-, ence, than that, which, at the moment of suggestion, certain feelings have, as relative, (our proximate feelings among the rest) to suggest other correlative feelings.

In this tendency to mutual suggestion, which arises from the relation of former proximity, there is not a single perception, or thought, or emotion of man, and consequently not an object around him, that is capable of acting on his senses, which may not have influence on the whole future character of his mind, by modifying, for ever after, in some greater or less degree, those complex feelings of good and evil, by which his passions are excited or animated, and those complex opinions of another sort, which his un

derstanding may rashly form from partial views of the moment, or adopt as rashly from others, without examination. The influence is a most powerful one, in all its varieties, and is unquestionably not the less powerful, when it operates, for being in most cases altogether unsuspected. It has been attempted to reduce to classes the sources of our various prejudices, those idols of the tribe, and of the cave, and of the forum, and of the theatre, as Lord Bacon bas quaintly characterized them. But, since every event that befalls us may add, to the circumstances which accidentally accompany it, some permanent impression of pleasure or pain, of satisfaction or disgust, it must never be forgotten that the enumeration of the prejudices, even of a single individual, must, if it be accurate, comprehend the whole history of his life, and that the enumeration of the sources of prejudice in mankind, must be, like the celebrated work of an ancient naturalist, as various as nature herself, “tam varium quam natura ipsa.” It is not on their truth alone, that even the justest opinions have depended for their support; for even truth itself may, relatively to the individual, and is, relatively to all, in infancy, and to the greater number of mankind for life,--a prejudice into which they are seduced by affection or example, precisely in the same way, as, on so many other occasions, they are seduced into error. Could we look back

upon the history of our mind, it would be necessary, in estimating the influence of an opinion, to consider as often the lips from which it fell, as the certainty of opinion itself, or perhaps even to take into account some accidental circumstance of pleasure or good fortune, which dispelle) for a moment our usual obstinacy. We may have reasoned justly on a particular subject for life, because at some happy moment,


Perhaps Prosperity becalm'd our* breast ;

Perhaps the wind just shisted from the East.t I have already alluded to the influence of professional habits, in modifying the train of thought; and the observation of the still greater influence, which they exercise, in attaching undue importance to particular sets of opinions, is probably as ancient, as the division of professions. The sciences may, in like manner, be.

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]


considered as speculative professions; and the exclusive student of any one of these, is liable to a similar undue preference, of that particular department of philosophy, which afforded the truths, that astonished and delighted him in his entrance on the study, or raised him afterwards to distinction by discoveries of his own. We know our own internal enjoyments ; but we have no mode of discovering the internal enjoyments of others; and a study, therefore, on which we have never entered, unless its ultimate utility be very apparent, presents to our imagination only the difficulties that are to oppose us, which are always more immediately obvious to our thought, than the pleasure to which these very difficulties give rise. But the remembrance of our own past studies, is the remembrance of many hours of delight; and even the difficulties which it brings before us, are difficulties over

The mere determination of the mind, therefore, in early youth, to a particular profession or speculative science,-though it may have arisen from accidental circumstances, or parental per. suasion only, and not in the slightest degree from any preference or impulse of genius at the time, is thus sufficient, by the elements which it cannot fail to mingle in all our complex conceptions and desires, to impress for ever after the intellectual character, and to bend it, perhaps, from that opposite direction, into which it would naturally have turned. It has been said, that Heaven, which gave great qualities only to a small number of its favourites, gave vanity to all, as a full compensation; and the proud and exclusive preference, which attends any science or profession, hurtful as it certainly is, in preventing just views, and impeding general acquirements, has at least the advantage of serving, in some measure, like this universal vanity, to comfort for the loss of that wider knowledge, which, in far the greater number of cases, must be altogether beyond attainment. The geometer, who, on returning a tragedy of Racine, which he had been requested to read, and which he had perused accordingly with the most faithful labour, asked, with astonishment, what it was intended to demonstrate ? and the arithmetician, who, during the performance of Garrick, in one of his most pathetic characters, employed himself in counting the words and syllables which that great actor ttered, only did, in small matters, what we are, every hour, in the habit of doing, in affairs of much more serious importance.

« PrécédentContinuer »