« PreviousContinue »
PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN MIND.
CONTINUATION OF PART SECOND.*
HAVING treated at some length of the chief Faculties and Powers which constitute what is commonly called the Human Understanding, I now proceed to the examination of some auxiliary faculties and principles essential to our intellectual improvement, or intimately connected with it.
The form and posture of the human body, and its various. organs of perception, have an obvious reference to man's rational nature, and are beautifully fitted to encourage and facilitate the culture of his Mind. A similar remark may be extended to many other parts of our constitution, both external and internal; but there are two which more particularly claim our attention the power of expressing our thoughts by Language, and the principle of Imitation.
The connexion of language with the subjects which have been under our review in the former volumes of this work is sufficiently obvious. It is to the use of artificial signs, (as was formerly shown,t) that we are indebted for all our general conclusions; and without it our knowledge would have been entirely limited to individuals. It is also to the use of artificial signs, that we are indebted for all that part of our information
*See Preface to Second Volume.
† See Vol. I. Chap. iv. of Abstraction; also Vol. II. Sect. ii. of General Reasoning.
which is not the immediate result of our own personal experience; and for that transmission of intellectual acquisitions from one race to another, which lays the foundation of the progressive improvement of the species.
In treating of Language, I shall begin with a few remarks on Natural Language, without which (as Dr. Reid has well observed) the formation of an artificial language would have been impossible.* The justness of this remark appears manifest from the following considerations: that the establishment of artificial signs must have been the effect of convention; and that, without signs of one kind or another to serve as a medium of communication, no convention could have taken place. It may be laid down, therefore, as a first principle, that the formation of an artificial language presupposes the use of natural signs. These consist in certain Expressions of the Countenance, certain Gestures of the Body, and certain Tones of the Voice. Each of these classes of natural signs well deserves a separate consideration; but I must confine myself here to a few very general and miscellaneous hints.
THE language of the face consists in the play of the muscles of which it is composed, particularly of the muscles connected with the eyes and the mouth, and in the change of colour arising from the motion of the blood. The expression of the countenance, therefore, depends partly on colour, and partly on movement ;-of which two circumstances it may be remarked, by the way, that the former is far less subject to the restraints of the will than the latter, a change of colour often betraying an emotion when the features are perfectly quiescent.
It has been frequently observed by writers on Physiognomy, and also by those who have treated of the principles of painting, that every emotion, and every operation of the mind, has a corresponding expression of the countenance; and hence it is, that the passions which we habitually indulge, and also the intellectual pursuits which most frequently occupy our thoughts, by strengthening particular sets of muscles, leave traces of their workings behind them, which may be perceived by an attentive observer. Hence, too, it is that a person's countenance becomes more expressive and characteristic as he advances in life; and that the appearance of a young man or woman, though more beautiful, is not so interesting, nor, in general, so good a subject for a painter, as that of a person whose character has been longer confirmed by habit.
This expression of the human countenance fixes our atten tion in most cases, and occupies our thoughts a great deal more than the mere material forms which it presents to our senses. I am inclined to think, that what we call familylikeness, consists rather in a similarity of expression than of
features; and that it is owing to this circumstance, that a likeness sometimes strikes one person, which does not strike another. Nobody fancies a resemblance between two merely material objects which is not acknowledged by all the world; but it is possible that, in consequence of different habits of observation, or of various other causes, a particular feature may be expressive to one man, which presents to the eye of another nothing but the material form. It is by copying expression, too, much more than by copying the forms of the different parts of a face, that mimics are able to recall to us so strong and lively an idea of the persons whose appearance they assume. The features of the original, and of the copy, will often be found very strongly contrasted when the imitation is the most perfect, and the likeness the most striking imaginable. Indeed, it is upon this contrast that the ludicrous effect of mimicry in a great measure depends.
There seems to be in man a power of interpreting instinctively certain expressions of the countenance, certain gestures of the body, and certain tones of the voice.
This has, indeed, been much disputed by Priestly and other writers, who have attempted to resolve the whole into experience and observation; but I think there is a variety of considerations which (under proper limitations) go far to justify the common opinion on the subject. It is sufficient for my present purpose to mention one or two of these. I shall have occasion to resume the same argument, at greater length, in treating of Imitation.
1. A child is able at a very early period to understand the meaning of smiles and frowns, of a soothing or threatening tone of voice; long, at least, before it can be supposed capable of so much observation as to remark the connexion between a passion and its external effect. If the interpretation of natural signs be the result of experience, whence is it that children understand their meaning at a much earlier period than they do that of arbitrary signs? If it were merely the effect of observation, the fact would be reversed, inasmuch as it is obviously more easy to remember the sound of a word than the most simple modification of the human countenance. Nor is there any thing more wonderful in this instinctive interpretation of certain natural signs than in many other phe
Hence the beauty of the word incipe in that exquisitely tender line of Virgil's Pollio, in which the Poet, addressing himself to the unborn child, calls on him to begin his intercourse with the world he was about to enter by learning to know his mother by her smile,