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RETROSPECTIVE EMOTIONS, HAVING DIRECT REFERENCE TO
OURSELVES.-—I. SIMPLE REGRET AND GLADNESS, ARISING
In my last Lecture, Gentlemen, I considered our emotions of anger and gratitude, those retrospective emotions which have direct reference to others. The affections of this order, which are next to be considered by us, are those which relate more directly to ourselves; and, in the first place, those emotions of simple regret or gladness with which we look back on past events, as mere events of advantage or disadvantage to us, without including any notion of our own moral propriety or impropriety of conduct.
I have already, in treating of melancholy and cheerfulness, considered emotions, very nearly akin to these ; the great distinction being in the feeling of a particular object of emotion, which is essential to the complex vivid feeling in one case ; and which does not exist, in the other case. We are melancholy, often without knowing why we are melancholy ;-cheerful, without knowing why we are more cheersul at one particular time than at another. But, when we feel regret, we know what it is which we regret;—when we feel a joyful satisfaction, we know what it is which gladdens us; and our emotions, as felt by us, have a direct reference to their causes, the conception of which coexists with them in one complex state of mind. Melancholy, indeed, is often the result of regret, as cheerfulness is of any extraordinary joy ; that is to say, we are grieved at some event, and our mind afterwards, of itself, continues in a state of sadness, without any
thought of its cause ;-we are gladdened by some particular event, and our mind afterwards, of itself, without the remembrance of the cause of joy, continues in a state, in which happiness seems to be a part of its very essence; as if not to be happy, and not to exist, were nearly the same. The immediate and the retrospective emotions, however, which are distinguished by the peculiar names of melancholy and cheerfulness, in the one case, regret and gladness in the other case,-are sufficiently distinguished by that reference to the past,the retrospective feeling which does, or does not, attend them.
As a mere vivid feeling, indeed, the regret which affects us on any unfortunate occurrence, may, on a minute analysis, be found to be the same, or at least nearly the same, as the general melancholy, or sadness, which we feel, without thinking of its cause,the regret differing from the melancholy, not as a mere vivid feeling of emotion, but merely as a complex state of the mind, of which sadness is a part, differs from the simpler state, in which sadness is all that constitutes the momentary feeling. If this analysis be accurate, as I conceive it to be, the terms may be truly convertible ;—so that regret may be said to be only melancholy combined with the conception of a cause of the melancholy; and melancholy itself to be only regre:, abstracted from the conception of its cause. A similar minute analysis, by separating, in every complex emotion, that part which may be considered as peculiarly constituting the vivid feeling which is marked by that name, from the conception of the object, which may or may not accompany it, and which may be various, when the emotion itself, as a mere emotion, is the same,--might be made in other cases, so as to reduce, with sufficient philosophic precision, the vocabulary of our feelings of this class, as elementary feelings, to the very few which I enumerated, in entering on the consideration of our emotions. I have preferred, however, for the reasons repeatedly stated by me, the consideration of our emotions, in that complex form, in which they usually present themselves, since the consideration of them in this state of complexity in which they usually exist, has many advantages, and does not preclude the analysis which may be necessary for pointing out to you, in each complex emotion, the elementary feelings that seem to compose it. There are clear and definite lines of distinction, which the emotions, in their
complex form, present, that are themselves too striking to be neglected, as principles of arrangement;--and there are bearings on practical ethics, which it seemed to me still more important to point out to you,-relations which the systematic review of our emotions, together with the various objects of our emotions, that give them their common distinctive names, and that, if they do not alter the very nature of the vivid feelings themselves, at least diversify them in many important aspects, affords an easy opportunity of developing,—but which would be lost in the more general consideration of them, if arranged as mere elementary feelings, without regard to their objects.
Though the regret, then, which we feel, in thinking of any unfortunate event, and the gladness, which we feel, in thinking of any event that has been, or promises to be beneficial, may, as mere vivid feelings of emotion, be the same, or nearly the same, as the more permanent feelings of joy or sadness, which we term cheerfulness or melancholy,--that continue, without any reference of the mind, to the past events which may have given occasion to them,--still the retrospective 'reference is so important a part of the complex whole, that the emotion, which involves this reference, may admit with advantage, of separate consideration.
The emotions, which we are now considering, may be regarded, in their almost infinite relations, as the great diversifiers of the happiness of our days, very nearly as light and shade, that flow over every thing around us, are the diversifiers of that physical scene of things, on which we are placed. How few events can happen, that have any direct relation to ourselves, which may not be productive of some greater or less degree of gladness or regret; and, far from being thus confined to events, which primarily relate to us, our emotions of this kind do not merely extend to everything that can happen within the wide circle of our friendship or acquaintance, but seem to diffuse themselves over the most distant ages and climes, as if we had a direct and primary interest in the happiness or misery of the whole human race. If every thing at which we rejoice or grieve, in the course of a single day, could be imaged to us at once,-as we gather into one wide landscape, the lake, and the vales, and the rocky summits, which we have slowly traversed, it would be one of the most striking pictures that could be presented, of the social and sympathetic nature of man.
Even of the events, by which our personal interest is more immediately affected, and in which our regret or gladness, therefore, might seem exclusively personal, how few are there, which have not some relation to others; or rather, how few are there, of which others are not the immediate authors ! What we term chance or fortune, in all those events of our life, which we characterize as fortunate or unfortunate, is only a shorter term for expressing the actions of others, in their unintended relation to us ; and in the friendships and thousand rivalries of life, how much of intentional good or evil is to be added to what is casual! There is, perhaps, scarcely a single success, of which we give the praise to our own prudent conduct, that, if others had acted differently, might not have been adverse to us, rather than prosperous.
Regret and gladness, as thus arising from events which are, in most instances, absolutely independent of our conduct, may seem at first to be themselves, in these instances, equally independent of any conduct on our part. But this is very far from being the case. Though the events may be independent, the feelings which they awake in us may depend, in a great measure, on our own former feelings. The same power of habit, which influences the particular suggestions of our trains of thought, influences also the particular emotions, which arise in different individuals, from the consideration of the same events, because the train of thought itself cannot be different, without a corresponding diversity of the emotions that vary with the varying images. How few events are productive only of advantage or disadvantage! By far the greater number are productive of both -of advantage, which, if it existed alone, would excite gladness, of disadvantage, which, if it existed alone, would excite regret, and of which, as existing together, the resulting emotion is different, according to the preponderance of the opposing causes of regret or gladness,—that is to say, according as more or fewer images of regret or gladness spontaneously arise to our mind, or according as we examine and analyse, more or less fully, the one or the other of these sources of mingled joy and sorrow. There are many advantages of what is apparently evil, that cannot be known to us, unless we reflect on consequences which are not immediately apparent; many evils of what is apparently profitable, that may be discovered, in like manner, but discovered only after reflection. We cannot change
events, indeed, in many instances; but in all of these, the aspect of events, at least, may be changed as our attention is more or less turned to the consequences that may result from them. wish, is, in this case, almost to produce what we wish. Our very desire of tracing the consequences that are favourable to our happiness, will be followed by the suggestion of these, rather than of others, in the same manner as our other desires are always followed by the suggestion of images accordant with them. Our mere intention of describing a beautiful landscape, for example, which is but a desire like any other of our desires, is followed by the images of rural beauty, that rise, in succession to our choice, when, if our intention had been to describe the horrors of some scene of ruggedness and desolation, that principle of spontaneous suggestion, to which, in such a case of picturing, we give a peculiar name, as if it were a distinct power, and term it fancy, would have presented to us, indeed, as many images as in the gayer landscape, but images of a very different kind. With what varied conceptions was the mind of Milton filled, when, after describing Pandemonium and its guilty inhabitants, he seemed to breathe, as it were, a purer atmosphere of freshness and delight, in describing the groves of Paradise, and that almost celestial pair, whose majestic innocence seemed of itself to indicate the recent presence of the God from whom they came, and without whom, to enjoy at once, and to animate it, even Paradise itself would have been a desert! In this sudden change of conceptions that crowded on his imagination, the mind of Milton was still itself the same. The images in all their variety, arose still according to the same simple laws of suggestion. They arose variously, only because a single wish of his mind was varied. He had resolved to describe the magnificent horrors of an infernal palace; he resolved afterwards to describe the delightful magnificence of nature, as it might seem to have shone in original beauty, when it still reflected that smile of its Creator which pronounced it to be good; and all which would have been necessary to reverse the whole store of imagery,—to convert Paradise, in his mind, into the burning lake, and Pandemoniam itself into the bowers of Eden, would have been the change of that single wish which seemed almost to have been creative. If our desire is thus capable of modifying the