« PreviousContinue »
"what is extemporary speaking, but a vigorous exertion of me" mory * For when we are speaking of one thing, we are premedi"tating another that we are about to speak. This premeditation " is carried forwards to other objects, and whatever discoveries it "makes, it deposits them in the memory; and thus the invention having placed it there, the memory becomes a kind of interme"diate instrument that hands it to the elocution." ("Quid ? ex"temporalis oratio non alio mihi videtur mentis vigore constare. "Nam dum alia dicimus, quæ dicturi sumus, intuenda sunt: ita "cum semper cogitatio ultra id quod est, longius quærit, quicquid "interim reperit, quodammodo apud memoriam deponit, quod illa "quasi media quædam manus acceptum ab inventione tradit elocu"tioni.")-Quinctilian, Lib. xi. Cap. ii.
A much more comprehensive view, however, of this astonishingly complicated exertion of the mind is given by Dr. Reid.
"From what cause does it happen, that a good speaker no soon"er conceives what he would express, than the letters, syllables "and words arrange themselves according to innumerable rules "of speech, while he never thinks of these rules? He means to ex6 press certain sentiments; in order to do this properly, a selec"tion must be made of the materials out of many thousands. He "makes this selection without any expense of time or thought. "The materials selected must be arranged in a particular order, "according to innumerable rules of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, "and accompanied with a particular tone and emphasis. He does "all this as it were by inspiration, without thinking of any of those "rules, and without breaking one of them."
"This art, if it were not so common, would appear more won. "derful, than that a man should dance blind-fold amidst a thou"sand burning plough-shares, without being burnt. Yet all this may be done by habit. "-(Essays on the Active Powers of Man, "4to Edit. p. 119.)
It must be owned, that it is difficult to conceive that, in such case as this, there is a separate act of the will accompanying all the intellectual operations here described; and therefore it is not surprising that some philosophers should have attempted to keep the difficulty out of sight, by the use of one of these convenient phrases to which it is not possible to annex a clear or a precise idea. This, at least, I must confess, is the case with me, with respect to the words mechanical, automatical, and organical, as employed on this occasion.
I have been led into these observations by a paper which I have lately met with of M. Fred. Cuvier's in the Mémoires du Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle, Tome X. 1823. It is entitled Examen de quelques Observations de M. Dugald Stewart qui tendent à détruire l'analogie des phenomènes de l'Instinct avec ceux de l'Habitude. From my great respect for the talents and learning of the author, I was induced to give my reasonings in this chapter, (against * And of attention, he should have added.
which all his strictures are pointed,) as thorough, and, I think, as impartial a re-examination as I was able to bestow upon them; without, however discovering any flaw in them that seemed to me to require correction. Some of M. Cuvier's objections I foresaw at the time I published the first Edition, and accordingly I observed in page 117, that," after all I have said, it is possible that "some may be disposed rather to dispute the common theory of "vision than admit the conclusions I have endeavoured to estab"lish." I cannot help suspecting that M. Cuvier is one of this number, and that a secret scepticism in his mind with respect to Berkeley's Theory is at the bottom of the difficulty he finds in admitting those doctrines of mine which he has attempted to overthrow. He has not, indeed, directly avowed this scepticism, but I leave the reader to judge whether he has not given some ground for my suspicions by the conclusion of the following sentence: "Il paroit bien certain que c'est le toucher qui nous apprend à "connoître les distances où nous sommes des objets; lorsque l'aveugle de Cheselden eut recouvré la vue, tous les objets lui paroissoient être dans ses yeux, du moins on l'assure." (Mémoires du Muséum, &c. Tome X. p. 257. Paris 1823.) I cannot enter here into a detailed examination of his strictures; but I must beg M. Cuvier's particular attention to the case of the extempore speaker mentioned in the beginning of this note. Admitting that the words automatic, mechanical, or organic convey some idea when applied to a harpsichord-player executing a piece of music that he has often played before, have they any meaning when applied to what passed through the mind of Mr. Sheridan during the speech which Mr. Gibbon heard him pronounce ?
As to the tendency of my observations to destroy the analogy between the phenomena of Instinct and of Habit, I must acknowledge I cannot perceive how it should be thought to afford any explanation of the phenomena of the former, to compare them with those of the latter, when we consider that habit not only implies experience, but an experience so constant and so long continued as to become a second nature. Can any thing, be imagined more opposite in its origine to Instinct? M. Cuvier conceives himself to be adopting in this instance the Theory of Reid. "Parmi les "explications qui ont été suggerées pour ces actions instinctives, "la seule qui nous paroisse fondée sur des vraisemblances suffi"santès, et qui soit admissible, est celle de Reid," &c. In proof of this he quotes the following words from the French translation of that author: "L'Habitude diffère de l'Instinct, non par sa na"ture, mais par son origine. Ces deux principes opèrent sans "volonté ou intention, sans pensée, et peuvent en consequence "être appelés principes mécaniques." In the former of these sentences Dr. Reid's opinion agrees, not with that of M. Cuvier, but with mine. In the latter, he has asserted a proposition which it is one main object of this chapter to refute, and in the refutation of which I must own I think I have been successful.
"The dexterity of jugglers, (which, by the way, merits a "greater degree of attention from philosophers, than it has "yet attracted,) affords many curious illustrations of the same "doctrine."*
(Foot Note)" Rursus, inter ingenia et manus hominis non 66 prorsus contemnenda sunt præstigiæ et jocularia. Nonnulla "enim ex istis, licet sint usu levia et ludicra, tamen informatione "valida esse possunt."-Nov. Org. Lib. ii. Aph. xxxi.
Foot Note at the end of Chapter Second, p. 131, 1st Edit., p. 132, 6th Edit.
I have been accused of overlooking, in the preceding Chapter, a very important distinction between Voluntary and Involuntary attention, In some cases (it is said) attention attaches itself spontaneously to its object. In others it requires a painful effort to keep it steady,-nay, when we will to fix it on one subject, we find it perpetually wandering to another. The fact on which the criticism is founded must unquestionably be admitted, but the conclusion drawn from it is nevertheless erroneous. It proceeds on a vague use of the words voluntary and involuntary. These words, as well as the substantive will, are often but very inaccurately employed to express a general purpose or intention, as well as that state of mind which is the immediate antecedent of action. Thus, if I resolve to keep my eyes steadily open, I may according to common modes of speech, be said to will to keep them open, and if in consequence of some sudden alarm, I should depart from my purpose, the winking of my eye-lids may be said to be involuntary. And yet in strict philosophical propriety the winking of my eye-lids is an act purely voluntary; an operation which I will to perform, in consequence of the effect which my alarm has to banish my general purpose or resolution from my mind. The case is perfectly parallel with respect to attention. When I am anxious to attend to a particular subject, I am apt to say that I will to attend to it, and when I forget my purpose, that my inattention is involuntary; whereas the fact is, that the unintended distraction, like the unintended winking of the eye-lids, was the effect of a particular volition of the mind, exerted in consequence of a momentary forgetfulness of my general purpose. Indeed, to those who are at all accustomed to precision in the use of language, the phrase involuntary attention must appear a manifest contradiction in terms.
Page 142, 1st Edit., p. 143, 6th Edit.
"No separate and independant existence"*
(Foot Note.) It was with some satisfaction I observed, twenty years after the first publication of this volume, the following sentences in one of the numbers of an excellent literary journal, not commonly over-partial to my opinions. "Strong conception is, perhaps in every case, attended with a temporary belief of the 66 reality of its objects. The feeling, we believe, is often 66 very momentary; and it is this which has misled those who "have doubted of its existence." (See the Edinburgh Review of Baron Grimm's Literary Correspondence, in the number for July 1813.)
Continuation of the Foot Note at the end of Chapter Third, p. 150, 1st Edit., p. 151, 6th Edit.
From the principles which I have endeavoured to establish in this chapter, may be derived a simple, and, I think a satisfactory explanation of the manner in which superstition, considered in contradistinction to genuine religion, operates on the mind. The gloomy phantoms which she presents to her victims in their early infancy; and which consist chiefly of images or representations of spectres and demons, and of invisible scenes of horror, produce their effect, not through the medium of reasoning and judgment, but of the powers of conception and imagination. No argument is alleged to prove their existence; but strong and lively notions of them are conveyed; and, in proportion as this is done, the belief of them becomes steady and habitual. It is even sufficient, in many cases, to resist all the force of argument to the contrary, or, if it yields to it during the bustle of business and the light of day, its influence returns in the hours of solitude and darkness. When the mind, too, is weakened by disease, or the infirmities of age, and when the attention ceases to be occupied with external objects, the thoughts are apt to revert to their first channel, and to dwell on the conceptions to which they were accustomed in the nursery. "Let custom," (says Locke,) "from the very child"hood, have joined figure and shape to the idea of God, and what "absurdities will that mind be liable to about Deity!" (Vol. II. p. 144.) A person of a lively but somewhat gloomy imagination once acknowledged to me, that he could trace some of his superstitious impressions with respect to the Deity, to the stern aspect of a judge whom he had seen, when a school-boy, pronounce sentence of death upon a criminal. Hence it would appear, that he who has the power of modelling the habitual conceptions of an infant mind, is, in a great measure, the arbiter of its future happiness or misery. By guarding against the spectres conjured up by superstitious weakness, and presenting to it only images of
what is good, lovely, and happy, he may secure through life a perpetual sunshine to the soul, and may perhaps make some provision against the physical evils to which humanity is exposed. Even in those awful diseases which disturb the exercise of reason, I am apt to think, that the complexion of madness, in point of gaiety or of despondency, depends much on the nature of our first conceptions and it would surely be no inconsiderable addition to the comfort of any individual to know, that some provision had been made by the tender care of his first instructors, to lighten the pressure of this greatest of all earthly calamities, if it ever should be his lot to bear it. In truth, the only effectual antidote against superstitious weaknesses, is to inspire the mind with just and elevated notions of the administration of the universe: for we may rest assured, that religion, in one form or another, is the natural and spontaneous growth of man's intellectual and moral constitution; and the only question in the case of individuals is, whether, under the regulation of an enlightened understanding, it is to prove the best solace of life and the surest support of virtue; or to be converted by the influence of prejudices and a diseased imagination, into a source of imbecility, inconsistency, and suffering.
"How happy" (says Dr. Reid) "is that mind, in which the "belief and reverence of a perfect all-governing mind casts out "all fear but the fear of acting wrong: In which serenity and "cheerfulness, innocence, humanity, and candour, guard the imagination against the entrance of every unhallowed intruder, and "invite more amiable and worthier guests to dwell!
"There shall the muses, the graces, and the virtues, fix their "abode; for every thing that is great and worthy in human con"duct must have been conceived in the imagination before it was "brought into act. And many great and good designs have been "formed there, which, for want of power and opportunity, have "proved abortive.
"The man whose imagination is occupied by these guests must "be wise; he must be good; and he must be happy."--(Essays on the intellectual Powers of Man, p. 430. Quarto Edition.)
Page 154, 1st. Edit., page 155, 6th Edit.
"In consequence of the variety of birds, it appears that they "had a generic name comprehending all of them, to which "it was not unnatural for them to refer any new animal they "met with."*
*(Foot Note.) The author of an article in the Quarterly Review, (July 1815) speaking of the interview between the English inhabitants of Pitcairn's Island, and the crew of the Briton, commanded by Sir Thomas Staines, has favoured us with the following curious information with respect to the former: