Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

The following image is no less ludicrous, nor less improperly placed

Mentre fan questi i bellici stromenu
Perchè debbiano tosto in uso porse,
Il gran nemico de l'humane genti
Contra i Christiani i lividi occhi torse
E lor veggendo à le bell'opre intenti,
Ambo le labra per furor si morse :
E qual tauro ferito, il suo dolore

Verso mugghiando e sospirando fuore. Gerusal. Cant. IV. st. 1.
While thus their work went on with luckie speed,
And reared rammes their horrid fronts advance,
The ancient foe to man, and mortal seed,
His wannish eies upon them bent askance;
And when he saw their labours well succeed,
He wept for rage, and threat'ned dire mischance,
He chokt his curses, to himselfe he spake,

Such noise wild buls, that softly bellow, make. Fairfax. It would, however, be too austere to banish altogether ludicrous images from an epic poem. This poem does not always soar above the clouds: it admits great variety; and upon occasion can descend even to the ground without sinking. In its more familiar tones, a ludicrous scene may be introduced without impropriety. This is done by Virgil® in a foot-race; the circumstances of which, not excepting the ludicrous part, are copied from Homer.f After a fit of merriment, we are, it is true, the less disposed to the serious and sublime: but then, a ludicrous scene, by unbending the mind from severe application to more interesting subjects, may prevent fatigue, and preserve our relish entire.

CHAPTER IX

UNIFORMITY AND VARIETY. Succession of perceptions examined with respect to order and connection, and with

respect to uniformity and variety-The succession by artificial methods can be rendered uniform and various—The train left to its natural course, not regularThe causes by which the rates of succession are varied- The effect of a peculiar constitution of mind, in accelerating or retarding it-The motion of the train depends on the perceptions which compose it-- The effect of occupation, The effect of temper and constitution—The effect of the will, over different objectsOur power over our train strengthened by discipline and business—The mind most at ease when the perceptions fow in their natural course-Pain excited by accelerating or retarding the natural course of our perceptions--Number without variety, not agreeable-Excess in variety, disagreeable To alter the variety which nature requires, as painful as to alter the velocity-Final cause why nature has affixed pleasure to a moderate train- A rapid train is painful, to prevent injuring the mind by loo great activity-Another, to prevent rashness- A quick tráin made agreeabie by habit --Variety corresponding with our perceptions, agreeable in works of art-Color and sound often repeated, become unpleasant; varied, they are agreeable--In works of art, exposed to view, variety to be studied--In á landscape, among the same objects, contrast should prevail—In writing for amusement, variety should prevail.

In attempting to explain uniformity and variety, in order to show how we are affected by these circumstances, a doubt occurs, what * Æn. lib. 5.

Miad, book 23. I. 879.

method ought to be followed. In adhering closely to the subject, 1 foresee difficulties; and yet by indulging such a circuit as may be necessary for a satisfactory view, I probably shall incur the censure of wandering.–Yet the dread of censure ought not to prevail over what is proper: beside that the intended circuit will lead to some collateral matters, that ·a

·are not only curious, but of considerable importance in the science of human nature.

The necessary succession of perceptions may be examined in two different views; one with respect to order and connection, and one with respect to uniformity and variety. In the first view it is handled above :* and I now proceed to the second. The world we inhabit is replete with things no less remarkable for their variety than for their number: these, unfolded by the wonderful mechanism of external sense, furnish the mind with many perceptions; which, joined with ideas of memory, of imagination, and of reflection, form a complete train that has not a gap or interval. This train of perceptions and ideas depends very little on will. The mind, as has been observed, † is so constituted, “ that it can by no effort break off the succession of its ideas, nor keep its attention long fixed upon the same object :” we can arrest a perception in its course; we can shorten its natural duration, to make room for another; we can vary the succession, by change of place or of amusement; and we can, in some measure, prevent variety, by frequently recalling the same object after short intervals : but still there must be a succession, and a change from one perception to another. By artificial means, the succession may be retarded or accelerated, may be rendered more various or more uniform, but in one shape or another is unavoidable.

The train, even when left to its ordinary course, is not always uniform in its motion; there are natural causes that accelerate or retard it considerably. The first I shall mention, is a peculiar constitution of mind. One man is distinguished from another," by no circumstance more remarkably, than his train of perceptions. To a cold languid temper belongs a slow course of perceptions, which occasions dulness of apprehension and sluggishness in action: to a warm temper, on the contrary, belongs a quick course of perceptions, which occasions quickness of apprehension and activity in business. The Asiatic nations, the Chinese especially, are observed to be more cool and deliberate than the Europeans; may not the reason be, that heat enervates by exhausting the spirits ? and that a certain degree of cold, as in the middle regions of Europe, bracing the fibres, rouses the mind, and produces a brisk circulation of thought, accompanied with vigor in action? In youth is observable a quicker succession of perceptions than in old age: and hence, in youth, a remarkable avidity for variety of amusements, which in riper years give place to more uniform and more sedate occupation. This qualifies men of middle age for business, where activity is required, but with a greater proportion of uniformity than variety. In old age, a slow and languid succession makes variety unnecessary; and for that reason, the aged, in all their motions, are generally governed by an • Chap. 1.

† Locke, book 2. chap. 14.

habitual uniformity. Whatever be the cause, we may venture to pronounce, that heat in the imagination and temper, is always connected with a brisk flow of perceptions.

The natural rate of succession, depends also, in some degree, upon the parricular perceptions that compose the train. An agreeable object

, taking a strong hold of the mind, occasions a slower succession than when the objects are indifferent: grandeur and novelty fix the attention for a considerable time, excluding all other ideas; and the mind thus occupied is sensible of no vacuity. Some emotions, by hurry. ing the mind from object to object, accelerate the succession. Where the train is composed of connected perceptions or ideas, the succession is quick; for it is so ordered by nature, that the mind goes easily and sweetly along connected objects. On the other hand, the succession must be slow, where the train is composed of unconnected perceptions or ideas, which find not ready access to the mind; and that an unconnected object is not admitted without a struggle, appears from the unsetiled state of the mind for some moments after such an object is presented, wavering between it and the former train: during that short period, one or other of the former objects will intrude, perhaps oftener than once, till the attention be fixed entirely upon the new object. The same observations are applicable to ideas suggested by language: the mind can bear a quick succession of related ideas; but an unrelated idea, for which the mind is not prepared, takes time to make an impression; and therefore a train composed of such ideas, ought to proceed with a slow pace. Hence an epic poem, a play, or any story connected in all its parts, may be perused in a shorter time, than a book of maxims or apothegms, of which a quick succession creates both confusion and fatigue.

Such latitude has nature indulged in the rate of succession: what latitude it indulges with respect to uniformity, we proceed to exainine. The uniformity or variety of a train, so far as composed of perceptions, depends on the particular objects that surround the percipient at the time. The present occupation must also have an influence; for one is sometimes engaged in a multiplicity of affairs, sometimes altogether vacant.

A natural train of ideas of memory is more circumscribed, each object being, by some connection, linked to what precedes and to what follows it: these connections, which are many, and of different kinds, afford scope for a sufficient degree of variety; and at the same time prevent that degree which is unpleasant by excess. Temper and constitution also have an influence here, as well as upon the rate of succession : a man of a calm and sedate temper, admits not willingly any idea but what is regularly introduced by a proper connection: one of a roving disposition embraces with avidity every new idea, however slender its relation be to those that preceded it. Neither must we overlook the nature of the perceptions that compose the train; for their influence is no less with respect to uniformity and variety, than with respect to the rate of succession. The mind engrossed by any passion, love or hatred, hope or fear, broods over its object, and can bear no interruption; and

* See Chap. 1.

in such a state, the train of perceptions must not only be slow, but extremely uniform. Anger newly inflamed eagerly grasps its object, and leaves not a cranny in the mind for another thought but of revenge.

In the characier of Hotspur, that state of mind is repre. sented to the life; a picture remarkable for likeness as well as for high coloring

Worcester. Peace, cousin, say no more :
And now I will unclasp a secret book,
And to your quick conceiving discontents
I'll read you matter, deep and dangerous;
As full of peril and advent'rous spirit
As to o'erwalk a current roaring loud,
On the unsteadfast footing of a spear.

Hotspur. If he fall in, good night. Or sink or swim
Send danger from the east into the west,
So honor cross it from the north to south;
And let them grapple. Oh! the blood more stirs
To rouse a lion than to start a hare.

Worcester. Those same noble Scots,
That are your prisoners-

Hotspur. I'll keep them all;
By Heav'n, he shall not have a Scot of them:
No; if a Scot would save his soul, he shall not;
I'll keep them, by this hand.

Worcester. You start away,
And lend no ear unto my purposes :
Those pris'ners you shall keep.

Hotspur. I will, that's flat :
He said he would not ransom Mortimer;
Forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer:
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I'll holla Mortimer!
Nay, I will have a starling taught to speak
Nothing but Mortimer, and give it him,
To keep his anger still in motion.

Worcester. lear you, cousin, a word.
Hotspur. All studies here I solemnly defy,
Save how to gall and pinch this Bolingbroke
And that same sword-and-buckler Prince of Wales,
(But that I think his father loves him not,
And would be glad he met with some mischance),
I'd have him poison'd with a pot of ale.

Worcester. Farewell, my kinsman, I will talk to you
When you are better temper'd to attend.

First Part, Henry IV. Ac I. Sc. 3. Having viewed a train of perceptions as directed by nature, and the variations of which it is susceptible from different necessary causes, we proceed to examine how far it is subjected to will; for that this faculty has some influence, is observed above. And first, the rate of succession may be retarded by insisting upon one object, and propelled by dismissing another before iis time. But such volun. tary mutations in the natural course of succession, have limiis ihat cannot be extended by the most painful efforts: which will appear from considering, that the mind, circumscribed in its capacity, can. not, at the same instant, admit many perceptions; and when replete, that it has not place for new perceptions, till others are removed ; consequently, that a voluntary change of perceptions cannot be instan

taneous, as the time it requires sets bounds to the velocity of succes. sion. On the other hand, the power we have to arrest a flying perception, is equally limited; and the reason is, that the longer we detain any perception, the more difficulty we find in the operation; till, the difficulty becoming unsurmountable, we are forced to quit our hold, and to permit the train to take its usual course.

The power we have over this train as to uniformity and variety, is in some cases very great, in others very little. A train composed of perceptions of external objects, depends entirely on the place we occupy, and adınits not more nor less variety but by change of place. A train composed of ideas of memory, is still less under our power; because we cannot at will, call up any idea that is not connected with the train. But a train of ideas suggested by reading, may be varied at will, provided we have books at hand.

The power that nature has given us over our train of perceptions, may be greatly strengthened by proper discipline, and by an early application to business; witness some mathematicians, who go far beyond common nature in slowness and uniformity; and still more persons devoted to religious exercises, who pass whole days in contemplation, and impose upon themselves long and severe penances. With respect to celerity and variety, it is not easily conceived what length a habit of activity in affairs will carry some men.

Let a stranger, or let any person to whom the sight is not familiar, attend the Chancellor of Great Britain through the labors but of one day, during a session of Parliament: how great will be his astonishment! what multiplicity of law-business, what deep thinking, and what elaborate application to matters of government! The train of perceptions must in that great man be accelerated far beyond the ordinary course of nature: yet no confusion or hurry; but in every article the greatest order and accuracy. Such is the force of habit. How happy is man, to have the command of a principle of action that can elevate him so far above the ordinary condition of humanity!

We are now prepared for considering a train of perceptions, with respect to pleasure and pain: and to that speculation peculiar attention must be given, because it serves to explain the effects that uniformity and variety have upon the mind. A man, when his perceptions flow in their natural course, feels himself free, light, and easy, especially after any forcible acceleration or retardation. On the other hand, accelerating or retarding the natural course, excites a pain, which, though scarcely felt in small removes, becomes considerable toward the extremes. Aversion to fix on a single object for a long time, or to take in a multiplicity of objects in a short time, is remarkable in children; and equally so in men unaccustomed to business: a man languishes when the succession is very slow; and, if he grows not impatient, is apt to fall asleep: during a rapid succession, he has a feeling as if his head were turning round; he is fatigued, and his pain resembles that of weariness after bodily labor. But a moderate course will not satisfy the mind, unless the per• See Chap. 1. + This chapter was composed in the year

1753.

« ÎnapoiContinuați »