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If external nature abounds with poetry, how much more forcibly does it pervade the faculties and sentiments of the human mind. Consider only three-love, hope, and memory. What power even in the visions of the alchemist was ever able to transform like the passion of love? Investing what is real with all that we desire, converting deformity into loveliness, exchanging discord for harmony, giving to the eye the exquisite faculty of beautifying whatever it beholds, and to the ear a secret charm that turns every sound to music. And hope would be hope no longer if it did not paint the future in the colours we most admire. Its very existence depends upon the power it possesses to sweeten to the latest dregs, the otherwise bitter cup of life. Yet love and hope may be degraded by the false estimate we sometimes form of what is worthy of our admiration. Passion too often asserts her mastery over both, compelling her blind and willing slaves to call evil good, and good evil; while memory, if not always faithful to her trust, is at least disposed to hold it charitably, and thus preserves in their genuine distinctness, the fairest passages of life, but kindly obscures those which are most revolting in remembrance. In looking back upon the past, how little that is sordid, mean, or selfish, appears conspicuous now. Past hours of simple, every-day enjoyment, are invested with a charm they knew not at the time. A veil is thrown over the petty cares of bygone years passion is disarmed of its earth-born violence, and sorrow looks so lovely in the distance, that we almost persuade ourselves it was better to weep such tears as we wept then, than to smile as we smile now.
be able to expatiate in the realms of nature with the most perfect fruition of delight.
THE difference of taste not unfrequently found in persons whose station and habits of life are similar may be attributed both to individual conformation, and to those instances of early bias received from local circumstances which none can remember, and which, consequently, no pen can record. That variety of taste is chiefly owing to the influence of association, is shown by those minor preferences or antipathies which certain individuals evince for things possessing no quality inherent in themselves to justify such peculiar choice or rejection, and which have no corresponding value in the opinion of mankind in general.
Without returning to the days of infancy, when the first impressions were made upon our senses, when our eyes were first able to see, and our ears to hear, it would be impossible to trace to their origin all our peculiarities of taste and feeling, or to assign the precise reason why we are subject to sensations of pleasure or disgust from causes which do not influence the rest of mankind in a similar manner-sensations which, from their singularity, and, to others, apparent absurdity, necessarily fall under the stigma of caprice.
Who can say how far his peculiar ideas of beauty and melody may have been derived from the countenance of the kind nurse who first smiled upon him in his cradle, and the sweet voice that first sung him to sleep; or of deformity and discord from the harsh brow whose frowns he first learned to dread, and the voice whose threatening tones were followed by punishment and pain.
But why pursue this theme? It is evident that neither sounds, objects, nor subjects of contemplation are poetical in themselves, but in their associations; and that they are so just in proportion as these associa- If the taste of one individual is gratified tions are intellectual and refined. Nature is by a picture upon which a strong and vivid full of poetry, from the high mountain to the light is thrown, and another prefers that sheltered valley, from the bleak promontory which exhibits the cool tints of a cloudy atto the myrtle grove, from the star-lit hea- mosphere, it is attributed to some peculiarity vens to the slumbering earth; and the mind in their several organs of sight; but is it not that can most divest itself of ideas and sen- equally possible to be in some measure owsations belonging exclusively to matter, willing to one having been too much confined to
darkness in his infancy, and the other painfully exposed to the glare of too much light? These may appear but idle speculations, since we are, and ever must remain in want of that master key to the human understanding the knowledge of the state of the infant mind, its degree of susceptibility, and the manner in which it first receives impressions through the organs of sense. So far as we can recollect, however, it is clear to all who will take the trouble to examine the subject, that strong partialities and prejudices are imbibed in very early life, before we are capable of reasoning, and that these sometimes remain with us to the last.
There are seldom two persons who agree exactly in their admiration of the proper names of individuals. One approves what the other rejects, and scarcely one instance in twenty occurs in which their feelings are the same: nor is it merely the harmony or discord of the sound which occasions their preference or dislike. Each attaches to the name in question a distinct character, most probably owing to some association of ideas between that name and a certain individual known in early life; and though they may have both known and lived amongst the same individuals, it is hardly probable that two minds should have regarded them precisely in the same manner. Hence from different associations arises a difference of taste.
In the present state of society there are few persons who have not, in the course of their reading, become familiarized with Scripture names earlier than with any other; and this, one would suppose, should lead to their being generally preferred and adopted. Yet so far from this being the case, they are many of them regarded with a degree of ridicule and disgust, which can only be ac counted for by our first becoming acquainted with them before we have been inspired with love, gratitude, or reverence for the Record in which they are found. Nor is it easy to account for the perversion of the fine, full-sounding Roman names, in their usual application to our dogs, and other animals; and next to them to those miserable outcasts from human fellowship, which a professedly Christian world has deemed unworthy of a Christian nomenclature-the
negro slaves; unless that schoolboys have generally enjoyed the honour of naming their fathers' dogs, when they were more familiar with Cæsar's Commentaries, than with the character of the illustrious Roman. Why are we not able for many years after our emancipation, to perceive and relish the beauties of those selections from the ablest poets, which we were compelled to learn by heart, as punishments at school? It is because our first acquaintance with them was formed under sensations of pain and compulsion, which time is long in wearing out.
If, by the mere sound of a name, such different sensations are excited in different minds, how much more extensive must be the variety of those called up by words of more comprehensive signification! Let us suppose four individuals-a newly elected member of parliament, a tradesman, a pauper, and a poet-each at liberty to pursue his own reflections, when the word winter is suddenly introduced to his mind. The statesman immediately thinks of the next convocation of the representatives of the people, when he shall stand forth to make his maiden speech; of the important subjects that will, probably, be laid before the consideration of the house, of the part he shall feel himself called upon to take in the discussion of these, and how he may be able to act so as to satisfy the claims of his constituents, and his conscience, without offending either. The tradesman thinks of his bills, and his bad debts; of the price of coals, and the winter fashions. The pauper thinks-and shivers while he thinks of the cold blasts of that inclement season, of the various signs and prophecies that fortell a hard winter, and of how much, or rather how little the parish overseers will be likely to allow to his necessities for clothing, food, and fire. By a slight, and almost instantaneous transition of thought, one of these thinkers has already arrived at the idea of conscience, another at that of fashion, and a third at that of fire. But the poet (provided he be not identified with the pauper) passing over subjects of merely local interest, knows no bounds to his associations. His lively and unshackled fancy first carries him northward, to those frozen regions which man has visited but in thought. Here he
floats through the thin and piercing air, then glides upon a sea of ice, or looks down from hills of everlasting snow; until wearied with the voiceless solitude, he seeks the abodes of man, and follows the fur-clad Laplander with his faithful reindeer over trackless and uncultivated wastes. But the poet, though a wanderer by profession, yet still faithful to home and early attachments, returns after every wayward excursion to drink of his native well, and to enjoy the peace of his paternal hearth. Here, in the clime he loves best, he beholds a scene of picturesque and familiar beauty-a still and cloudless morning, when the hoar frost is glittering upon every spray, and the trees, laden with a fleecy burden, cast their deep shadows here and there upon the silvery and unsullied bosom of the sheeted earth. He sees the solitary robin perched upon the leafless thorn, and hears its winter song of melancholy sweetness-that plaintive touching strain to which every human bosom echoes with a sad response. But quickly comes the roaring blast, like a torrent rushing down from the hills. The light snow is tossed like foam upon the waves of the wind; and the mountain pine, shaking off the frosty spangles from his boughs, for one moment quails before the fury of the thundering tempest, and then stands erect again upon the craggy steep, where his forefathers have stood for ages. Night gathers in with darkness and dismay, and while the moaning of the venerable oak resounds through the forest like the voice of a mighty and unseen spirit, and the bellowing of the blast seems mingled with the wilder shrieks of bewildered travellers, or seamen perishing on the deep, the poet beholds in the distance the glimmering lights of some hospitable mansion, and in an instant he is transported to a scene of happiness, glowing with social comforts, festivity, and glee; where the affrighted wanderer finds safety, the weary are welcomed to repose, and the wretched exchange their tears for joy.
Impressions made upon our minds by local circumstances, are frequently of so deep and durable a nature, as to outlive all the accidents of chance and change which occure to us in after life. Should the poet, or the painter in his study, endeavour to place
before his mind's eye the picture of a brilliant sunset, he insensibly recalls that scenery in the midst of which his youthful imagination was first warmed into poetic life by the "golden day's decline." He sees, bright and gorgeous with sunbeams, the distant hill, which his boyish fancy taught him to believe it would be the height of happiness to climb;-the sombre woods that skirt the horizon-the valley, misty and indistinct below-the wandering river, whose glancing waters are here and there touched as they gleam out, with the radiance of the resplendent west-and while memory paints again the long deep shadows of the trees that grew around his father's dwelling, he feels the calm of that peaceful hour mingling with the thousand associations that combine to form his most vivid and poetical idea of sunset.
In this manner we not unfrequently single out from the works of art some favorite object, upon which we bestow an interest so deep, a regard so earnest, that they wear the character of admiration which no perceptible quality in the object itself can justify, and which other beholders are unable to understand. In a collection of paintings we look around for those which are most worthy of general notice, when suddenly our attention is struck with one little unpretending picture, almost concealed in an obscure corner, and totally unobserved by any one beside. It is the representation of a village church-the very church where we first learned to feel, and, in part, to understand the solemnity of the Sabbath. Beside its venerable walls are the last habitations of our kiudred; and beneath that dark and mournful yew is the ancient pastor's grave. Here is the winding path so familiar to our steps, when we trod the earth more lightly than we do now-the stile on which the little orphan girl used to sit, while her brothers were at play-and the low bench beside the cottage-door, where the ancient dame used to pore over her Bible in the bright sunshine. Perhaps the wheels of Time have rolled over us with no gentle pressure since we last beheld that scene;-perhaps the darkness of our present lot makes the brightness of the past more bright. Whatever the cause may be, our gaze is fixed and fascinated, and we turn away from the more
wonderful productions of art, to muse upon that little picture again, and again, when all but ourselves have passed it by without a thought.
It is not, however, the earliest impressions made upon the mind which are always the most lasting or vivid. We are all subject to the influence of strong and overpowering associations with circumstances which occur in after life, and of which we retain a clear recollection. We are apt to be deeply, yet differently affected by certain kinds of music. In the same apartment, and while the same air is sung or played by a minstrel unconscious of its secret power, and some of the audience will be thrown into raptures of delight, applauding and calling forth the strain again with unabated enjoyment; while one, in whose sad heart the springs of memory are opened, will turn away unnoticed in that happy crowd, to hide the tears which the thoughts of home and early days, when that strain was first heard, have called forth from the eyes of a stranger in a strange land. "If I might always listen to that tune," claims one, "I should never know unhappiness again!" Spare me that song of mirth," is the secret prayer of the stranger; it belongs to my own country. It tells me of the beauty and gladness of my native land. Spare me that song of mirth; for my heart is sorrowful, and I am alone."
Innumerable are the instances of daily, and almost hourly occurrence, in which we perceive that some particular tone of feeling is excited, but know not whence it takes its rise; as we listen to the wild music of the Eolian harp, that varies perpetually from one melody to another. We see the thrilling chords, we hear the sweet and plaintive sound, but we know not with all our wisdom what particular note the unseen minstrel will next produce, nor can we calculate the vibrations caused by his powerful but invisible hand.
When we hear the tender and affectionate expression, "I love this book because it was my mother's," we know at once why a book approved by a mother's judgment should be valued by a child; but when we hear any one say, "I prefer this room, this table, or this chair, to all others, because they belonged to my mother," the expression
though quite as common, and equally natural, is not so generally understood. The room may be the least commodious in the house, the table the least convenient, the chair the least easy, yet they are valued not the less, because they are associated with the image of one who was more dear, perhaps more dear than any one will ever be again.
I have known the first wild rose of summer gathered with such faithful recollections, such deep and earnest love, such yearnings of the heart for by-gone pleasures, that for a moment its beauty was obscured by falling tears. The tolling of a bell after it has been heard for a departed friend, has a tone of peculiar and painful solemnity. The face of one whom we have met with comparative indifference in a season of happiness, is afterwards hailed with delight when it is all that remains to us of the past. The pebble that was gathered on a distant shore, becomes valuable as a gem when we know that we shall visit that land no more. There is no sound, however simple or sweet, that may not be converted into discord when it calls up jarring sensations in the mind; nor is there any melody in nature comparable to the tones of the voice that has once spoken to the heart.
Rosseau wept on beholding the little common flower that we call periwinkle. He wept because he was alone, and it reminded him of the beloved friend at whose feet it had been gathered. I remember being affected by this circumstance at a very early age, and the association has become so powerful, that, in looking at this flower, I always feel a sensation of melancholy, and persuade myself that the pale blue star, half concealed beneath the dark green leaves, is like a soft blue eye that scarcely ventures to look up from beneath the gloom of sorrow.
The crowing of the cock is generally considered a lively and cheering sound; yet I knew one, who for many years could not hear a cock crow at midnight without sensations of anguish and horror, because it had once been painfully forced upon her notice while she was watching the dead.
A gentleman of my acquaintance, in speaking to me of his mother's death, which was sudden and unexpected, described the day
on which this event took place, as one of those periods in our existence when the mind seems incapable of feeling what it knows to be a painful truth. He had retired to rest, with an indistinct idea of what had occurred, but remained unable to realize the extent of his calamity. It had been his mother's custom to take away his candle every night—perhaps to breathe a prayer at his bed side. As he laid his head upon the pillow, he saw the light standing as usual, but no gentle form approached, and in an instant he felt the full force of his bereavement. He was setting off in life with brighter hopes than fall to the lot of many; but that first and purest of earth's blessings -a mother's love, was lost to him for ever.
Associations of this kind, however, are not such as constitute the fittest subjects for the poet; because, from their local or particular nature, they excite no general interest. They may be powerful in the mind of the writer, but will fail to awaken in other minds a proportionate degree of feeling; except when the sensible object, or particular fact described, is introduced merely as a medium for subjects of a nature to be generally felt and understood, such as memory, hope, or love. Thus, the Poet may properly address an object of which he alone perceives the beauty, or describe a circumstance of which he alone feels the pathos, provided he does not dwell too long upon the object or circumstance, merely as such, but carries the mind onward, by some ingenious association, to recollections which they naturally recall, hopes which were then cherished, or love, whose illimitable nature may be connected with all things lovely. By dwelling exclusively upon one subject of merely local interest, and neglecting such relative ideas as are common to all, the most egregious blunders, in matters of taste, are every day committed. Witticisms are uttered, which, however entertaining to those who know to what circumstances they owe their value, excite no corresponding risibility in the wondering or insensible hearers. Anecdotes are related, which, from being out of place or illtimed, seem to fall from the lips of the speaker as a wearisome and empty sound. Subjects of conversation are introduced in mixed society, perhaps, intensely interesting
to one or two, but from which all others are shut out. Books are selected, and read aloud to those who will not listen. Pictures are exhibited to those who cannot see their beauty. Pleasures are proposed, which from their want of adaptation, are converted into pain. Kind intentions are frustrated; and the best endeavours to be agreeable, rewarded with disappointment and ingratitude. In short, for want of that discriminating, versatile, and most valuable quality which mankind have agreed to call tact, and which might be fancifully described as the nerve of human society, many opportunities of enjoyment are wasted, many good people are neglected, and many good things are irrevocably lost.
It would be hard indeed if we might not indulge our individual fancies, by each mounting the hobby we like best. The absurdity consists in compelling others to ride with us, in forcing our favourites upon their regard, and expecting from them the same tribute of admiration which we ourselves bestow. There is no moral law to prevent our being delighted with what is repulsive to others; but it is an essential part of good manners, to keep back from the notice of society such particular preferences—a great proof of good taste, so to discipline our feelings, that we derive the most enjoyment from what is generally pleasing.
In turning our attention to the subject of general associations, we enter upon a field so wide and fertile, that to select suitable materials for examination appears the only difficulty. All our most powerful and sub
lime ideas are common to mankind in a civilized state, and arise in the minds of countless multitudes from the same causes. By the stupendous phenomena of nature, as well as by the magnificent productions of art, we are all affected according to our various degrees of capability in precisely the same manner. We all agree in the impressions we receive from extreme cases, whether they belong to the majestic or the minute;