Images de page

such a person, the discovery of a letter, a book, a drawing, or any other trifling and unexpected memorial, is sufficient to fill the eyes and the heart with instant and overwhelming emotion. It is probable, that Captain King had often thought, for a longer time together, of Britain, and had thus gathered in his imagination more circumstances connected with his home,-than at the moment, when he began to be powerfully affected by the sight of the spoon. Beside the mere permanence, therefore, of objects of perception, there must be some other circumstance of influence, which precedes the effect of the permanence, and probably continues to augment it.

This additional circumstance appears to me to be the following: When any object of perception is so interesting as to lead us to pause in considering it, the associate feelings which it suggests, are not consecutive merely to the perception; but, as the perception is continued for a length of time, they coexist, and are mingled with it, so as to form with it one complex feeling. With the perception, however, is, of course, combined, the belief of the actual external reality of its object; and this feeling of reality being a part of that complex whole, of which the coexisting associate ideas are also constituent parts, mingles with them all, so as, when the imaginary part readily harmonizes with the real, to diffuse over the whole, which is felt as if one scene or group, a sort of faint temporary impression of reality. In such a process, the illusive impression of reality, which the perception communicates to the coexisting associate ideas, must of course be greater. in proportion as the perception is itself more lively; and in proportion, too, as by the interest which it excites, it leads the mind to dwell on it longer, so as to produce that heightened effect of emotion, so justly ascribed by Mr Stewart to the groups of kindred ideas and feelings. Yet, independently of the influence of these groups, as a number of conceptions, the mere illusion produced by the mingling reality of the perception, with which they blend and harmonize, may, of itself, in very interesting cases, be sufficient to account for that sudden burst of overpowering emotion, which, otherwise, it would be so difficult to explain.

It is not to be supposed, indeed, that the illusion remains very long. On the contrary, there is reason to believe, that, almost every moment, the conviction of the absolute unreality of what is

[blocks in formation]

merely conceived, recurs, and the whole which seemed to exist before us vanishes again, and is lost; but, almost every moment, likewise, the illusion itself recurs, by the mere coexistence of the perception of the real object with the unreal, but harmonizing conceptions. That the illusion is frequently broken, however, and the feeling of the presence of a number of beloved objects renewed and lost in rapid succession, is far from unfavourable to the violence of the emotion which it produces; since innumerable facts shew, that the mind is never so readily moved to extreme emotion, as when it fluctuates between two opposite feelings. In the sudden alternations of joy and grief, hope and fear, confiding love and jealousy, the agitation of each seems not to lessen the violence of the other, but to communicate to it, in addition, no small portion of its own violence. Hence it happens, that eyes, which can retain their tears, with firm and inflexible patience, under the pressure of any lasting affliction, dissolve instantly into the very softness of sorrow, not on any increase of misery, but on the sudden impulse of some unexpected joy. The agitation of an interesting allusion, therefore, rapidly conceived, and rapidly dispelled, is the very state which, from our knowledge of the analogous phenomena of mind, might be supposed the most likely to produce an overflow of any tender emotion.

I have already stated the general mode in which I conceive perception to give peculiar vividness to the associate feelings which it suggests.

The general doctrine, however, will perhaps be best illustrated by the analysis of what takes place in a particular instance. When the Swiss is at a distance from his country, some accidental image, in a train of thought, may lead him in fancy to his native mountains; but, in this case, the ideas of his imagination are not attached to any thing external and permanent, and are, therefore, comparatively faint. When, however, he actually hears, in all the vividness of external sense, the song of his home,-the conception of his home is immediately excited, and continues to coexist with the impression produced by the well-known air. That air, however, is not a faint imagination, but a reality. It is not the remembrance of a perception, but is, in truth, the very same perception, which once formed a part of his complicated sensations, when the song was warbled along his valley, and the

valley and the song were together present to his eye and ear. That actual song, and, not the perception indeed, but the conception of the valley, are now again present to his mind: and it is not wonderful, therefore, that the reality of the song, as actually coexisting and blending with the conception of the scene, in the same manner as they had often been mingled when both were real, should communicate to it, in the momentary illusion, a portion of its own vividness.

There is a very pleasing example of the influence which we are at present considering, related by the late Dr Rush of Philadelphia, in the volume which he published of his Introductory Lectures. "During the time I passed at a country-school, in Cecil County, in Maryland,” says this ingenious and amiable medical philosopher, "I often went on a holiday, with my schoolmates, to see an eagle's nest, upon the summit of a dead tree in the neighbourhood of the school, during the time of the incubation of that bird. The daughter of the farmer, in whose field this tree stood, and with whom I became acquainted, married, and settled in this city about forty years ago. In our occasional interviews, we now and then spoke of the innocent haunts and rural pleasures of our youth, and, among other things, of the eagle's nest in her father's field. A few years ago, I was called to visit this woman when she was in the lowest stage of a typhus fever. Upon entering her room, I caught her eye, and, with a cheerful tone of voice, said only, The eagle's nest. She seized my hand, without being able to speak, and discovered strong emotions of pleasure in her countenance, probably from a sudden association of all her early domestic connexions and enjoyments with the words I had uttered. From that time she began to recover. She is now living, and seldom fails, when we meet, to salute me with the echo of the 'eagle's nest.'"*

In this very striking case, according to the theory which I have stated to you, it was not, I conceive, the mere remembrance of the nest, and of her early enjoyments, that produced the excitement of lively feeling so delightful at the moment, and so salutary in its seeming consequences. This mere remembrance might have been produced by the same words, uttered in any

* Lect. XI. On the Utility of a Knowledge of the Faculties of the Mind to a Physician, p. 269.

tone, by any speaker. But, if the suggestion had arisen from the voice of a stranger, how very different, we have every reason to suppose, would the effect have been, to the mind in which the images were awakened! It was the presence of him, who had been her companion, in the years, and scenes, and pleasures recalled, that made the remembrance, for the time, something more than mere imagination,-his felt reality as a part of the former whole all present to her mind,-a reality, the illusive effects of which were probably aided in a high degree by the cheerful tone that harmonized with the images excited, when a sudden or more serious tone would perhaps have dissolved or lessened the illusion. The friend of her youth was present, while some of the most interesting events of her youth, of which his presence and cheerful voice formed a part, were suddenly brought before her; and it is not wonderful, therefore, that, in the sudden happiness of the remembrance, the whole, for the moment, should have seemed present with him.

"A house, a farm, a fruit-tree, and a classical book," says the same writer," have often carried the mind back to the innocent and delightful scenes of a country school. A peculiar colour in dress, a tune, and a line of poetry, have often revived the raptures of courtship; while the fife and the drum have renewed, in a veteran soldier, the transports of his youthful victories and glory. An old native African obtained permission from his master, some years ago, to go from home, in order to see a lion that was conducted as a shew through the State of New Jersey. The moment he saw him, in spite of the torpid habits of mind and body contracted by fifty years' slavery, he was transported with joy, which he vented by jumping, dancing, and loud acclamations. He had been familiar with that animal, when a boy, in his native country; and the sight of him suddenly poured upon his mind the recollection of all his enjoyments, from liberty and domestic endearments, in his own country, in the early part of his life."*

In these cases, in like manner, I conceive the chief influence of the perception to have consisted in the diffusion of its own felt reality, over the associate feelings with which it continued to coexist and blend. It is not the mere remembrance, therefore, of

Lect. ult. On the Pleasures of the Mind, p. 448-9.

the military music, to which he marched, in days of long past fatigue, or peril and glory, that produces in the veteran the vivid emotion. It must be the very sound itself. The drum, or the trumpet, must be heard by him, so as to restore to him the past, as if present again with all the lively feelings of other years;-while every other moment, breaking the charm, and convincing him of the unreality of the scenes and persons that are only imagined, gives a melancholy tenderness to the pleasure, as if the objects of it were alternately recovered and lost. The tumultuous emotions of the old Negro did, indeed, arise, as Dr Rush says, from the sudden pouring on his mind of early and delightful remembrances, but not, as he supposes, from this alone; since these very remembrances had probably recurred innumerable times when the emotion was far weaker. It was because the lion with the sight of which the African had been familiar in his youth, and which af ter so long and so sad an interval, brought before him again by suggestion, the woods or the waters of his native land,- -was a living thing truly existing before him,-a part of that complex group of images which formed the conception of the land of his birth, of his parental home, of his early friendships, of his freedom; and, as itself real, shedding, in some measure, a part of its own reality on the other images that coexisted with it. It seems probable, even that the strong emotion of terror, or of adventurous daring, which, in his own land, had been excited by the presence of that mighty animal, and which the mere sight of the formidable object could scarcely fail to awaken again, in some slight degree, by the influence of mere association,-would tend very powerfully to increase the influence of the mere reality, by the additional liveliness which it would give to the harmonizing parts of the remembered scene.

It may perhaps be thought, that, in supposing this diffusion of the feeling of external reality,-from an object perceived, to the suggested conceptions that coexist with it, I assume more, in the present case, than any analogous phenomena justify. To those, however, who are acquainted with the theory of vision,-as explained to you in former Lectures, it must on the contrary appear, that the explanation takes for granted nothing more, than the possibility of that which must be allowed to take place, during almost every moment of our waking hours, in by far the most important

« PrécédentContinuer »