Images de page

absolutely impossible. When we sit down to study a particular subject, we must have a certain conception, though a dim and shadowy one, of the subject itself. To study it, however, is not to have that conception alone, but to have successively various other conceptions, its relations to which we endeavour to trace. The conception of our particular subject, therefore, must, in the very first stage of our progress, suggest some other conception. But this second conception, if it alone were present, having various relations of its own, as well as its relation to the subject which suggested it, would probably excite a third conception, which had no reference to the original subject, and this third, a fourth, and thus a whole series, all equally unrelated to the subject which we wished to study. It would hence seem impossible, to think of the same subject, even for a single minute. Yet we know that the fact is very different, and that we often occupy whole hours in this manner, without any remarkable deviation from our original design. Innumerable conceptions, indeed, arise during this time, but all are more or less intimately related to the subject, by the continued conception of which they have every ap pearance of being suggested; and, if it be allowed, that the conception of a particular subject both suggests trains of conceptions, and continues to exist together with the conception which it has suggested, every thing for which I contend, in the present case, is implied in the admission.

What would be that selection of images, of which poets speak, if their fancy suggested only a fleeting series of consecutive images? To select, implies not the succession, but the coexistence of objects of choice; and there can be no discrimination and preference of parts of a train of thought, if each separate part have wholly ceased to exist, when another has arisen. The concep

tion of beauty calls up some immediate image to the poetic mind, and kindred images after images arise,-not fading, however, at each suggestion, but spreading out all their mingled loveliness, to that eye, which is to choose and reject. With what exquisite truth and beauty is this process described, by one, to whom the process was familiar, and who knew well to draw from it the happiest results!

"Thus at length

Endow'd with all that nature can bestow,

The child of Fancy oft in silence bends

O'er these mix'd treasures of his pregnant breast,
With conscious pride. From them he oft resolves
To frame he knows not what excelling things,
And win he knows not what sublime reward

Of praise and wonder. By degrees the mind
Feels her young nerves dilate ;—the plastic powers
Labour for action ;-blind emotions heave
His bosom ;—and with loveliest frenzy caught,
From earth to heaven he rolls his daring eye,
From heaven to earth. Anon ten thousand shapes,
Like spectres trooping to the wizard's call,

Flit swift before him. From the womb of earth,
From ocean's bed they come; the eternal heavens
Disclose their splendours, and the dark abyss
Pours out her births unknown. With fixed gaze
He marks the rising phantoms :-now compares
Their different forms, now blends them, now divides,
Enlarges and extenuates by turns,
Opposes, ranges in fantastic bands,
And infinitely varies. Hither now,

Now thither, fluctuates his inconstant aim

With endless choice perplex'd. At length his plan
Begins to open. Lucid order dawns;
And as from Chaos old the jarring seeds
Of nature, at the voice divine repair'd
Each to its place, till rosy earth unveil'd
Her fragrant bosom, and the joyful sun
Sprung up the blue serene; by swift degrees
Thus disentangled, his entire design
Emerges. Colours mingle, features join,
And lines converge ;-the fainter parts retire,
The fairer, eminent in light, advance,

And every image on its neighbour smiles."

There is, then, it appears, a continued coexistence of some of our associate feelings, with the feelings which they suggest. And it is well for us, that nature has made this arrangement. I do not speak at present of its importance to our intellectual powers, as essential to all continuity of design, and to every wide comparison of the relations of things, for this I have already endeavoured to demonstrate to you. I speak of the infinite accession which it af


* Pleasures of Imagination, Book III. v. 373–408.


fords to our happiness and affections. By this, indeed, we acquire the power of fixing, in a great degree, our too fugitive enjoyments, and concentrating them in the objects which we love. When the mother caresses her infant, the delight which she feels is not lost in the moment, in which it appears to fade. It still lives in the innocent and smiling form that inspired it, and is suggested again, when the idea of that smile passes across her mind. An infinity of other pleasures are, in the progress of life, associated in like manner; and with these additional associations, the feeling which her child excites, becomes proportionately more complex. It is not the same unvarying image, exciting the remembrance, first of one pleasure, and then of another, for, in that case, the whole delight would not, at any one moment, be greater than if the two feelings alone coexisted; but a thousand past feelings are present together, and continuing with the new images which themselves awake, produce one mingled result of tenderness, which it would be impossible distinctly to analyze. Why is it, that the idea of our home, and of our country, has such powerful dominion over us,-that the native of the most barren soil, when placed amid fields of plenty, and beneath a sunshine of eternal spring, should still sigh for the rocks, and the wastes, and storms which he had left?

"But where to find that happiest spot below,
Who can direct, when all pretend to know?
The shuddering tenant of the frigid zone
Boldly proclaims that happiest spot his own;
Extols the treasures of his stormy seas,
And his long night of revelry and ease,
The naked negro, panting at the Line,
Boasts of his golden sands, and palmy wine,
Basks in the glare, or stems the tepid wave,

And thanks his gods for all the good they gave." 11#

In vain may we labour to think, with Varro, as a consolation in banishment, that, "wherever we go, we must still have the same system of nature around us,"—or, with Marcus Brutus, that, whatever else may be torn from the exile, "he is still permitted at least to carry with him his own virtues." In vain may we peruse the arguments, with which Seneca quaintly attempts to shew,

* Goldsmith's Poems.-Traveller,-v. 63-72.

that there can be no such thing as banishment, since the country of a wise man is, wherever there is good,-and the existence of what is good for him, depends, not on the accident of place, but on his own will. Exulabis. Non patria mihi interdicitur, sed locus. In quamcunque terram venio, in meam venio. Nulla terra exilium est. Altera patria est. Patria est, ubicunque bene est; illud autem, per quod bene est, in homine, non in loco est. In ipsius potestate est, quæ sit illi fortuna. Si sapiens est, peregrinatur; si stultus, exulat." All this reminds us of the Stoic, who, tortured with bodily pain, and expressing the common signs of agony, still maintained, at intervals, with systematic obstinacy, that this was no affliction :

"Pain's not an ill, he utters-with a groan."

And if it was truly during the period of his dismal residence in Corsica, that the philosopher made this vain attempt to prove the impossibility of his banishment, it is probable, that, while he was thus laboriously endeavouring to demonstrate that his country was still with him, on the barren rocks to which he was condemned, his own Corduba or Rome was rising on his memory, with painful tenderness; and that the very arguments, with which he strove to comfort himself, would be read by him, not with a groan, perhaps. but at least with an inward sigh. His poetry was, unquestionably, far more true to nature than his philosophy,—if he was indeed the author of those pathetic poems on his exile, in some verses of which, he speaks of the banished, as of those on whom the rites of burial, that separate them from the world, had been already performed, and prays the earth of Corsica to lie light on the ashes of the living

"Parce relegatis, hoc est jam parce sepultis.*

Vivorum cineri sit tua terra levis." +

In the instance of Seneca, indeed, whose relegation was not the effect of crime on his part, but of the artifices of an adulterous empress, the remembrances attached to the land from which he was separated, may be supposed to have been more powerful, because they were not accompanied with feelings of remorse and

• Al. solutis.

+ Senecæ Epig. ad Corsicam, v. 7, 8.

shame, that might have rendered the very thought of return painful to the criminal. But in the bosom of the criminal himself, there is still some lingering affection, which these dreadful feelings are not able wholly to subdue; and he returns, at the risk of life itself, to the very land which had thrown him from her bosom, and marked him with infamy. There is, perhaps, no human being, however torpid in vice, and lost to social regard, who can return, after a long absence, to the spot of his birth, and look on it with indifference, and to whom the name of his country presents no other image, than that of the place in which he dwells.

What, then, is this irresistible power which the mere sound of home can exercise over our mind? It surely does not arise from the suggestion of a number of conceptions, or other feelings, in separate succession; for no single part of this succession could of itself be sufficiently powerful. It is because home does not suggest merely a multitude of feelings, but has itself become the name of an actual multitude; and though, in proportion as we dwell on it longer, it suggests more and more additional images, still these are only added to the group which formerly existed, and increase the general effect; which could not be the case, if the suggestion of a single new idea extinguished all those which had preceded it. It is probable even, that there is no one interesting object, which has been of frequent occurrence, that is precisely the same as it arises to our mind at different times, but that it is always more or less complex, being combined with conceptions or other feelings that coexisted with it when present to the mind on former occasions. The very circumstance of its being interesting, and therefore lively, will render it less fugitive whenever it occurs in a train of thought, and will thus give it an opportunity of combining itself with more ideas of the train, which, though accidentally mingled with it at the time, may still, from the laws of suggestion, form with it, afterwards, one complex and inseparable whole.

What extensive applications may be made of this doctrine of the continuance of the suggesting feeling, in coexistence with the feelings which it suggests, will be seen, when we proceed to the consideration of various intellectual phenomena, and still more, of our emotions in general, particularly of those which regard our taste and our moral affections. It is this condensation of thoughts and feelings, indeed, on which, in a great measure, depends that

« PrécédentContinuer »