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conversation, whether my cue be to take a part in the reciprocation of alternate facts and remarks in society, or merely to sit an attentive listener to the facts and remarks of others.
This state of the human mind may emphatically be called the state of activity and attention. So long as I am engaged in any
here enumerated, or in any other equally stirring mental occupations which are not here set down, my mind is in a frame of activity.
But there is another state in which men pass their minutes and hours, that is strongly contrasted with this. It depends in some men upon constitution, and in others upon accident, how their time shall be divided, how much shall be given to the state of activity, and how much to the state of indolence.
In an Essay I published many years ago there is
“ The chief point of difference between the man of talent and the man without, consists in the different ways in which their minds are employed during the same interval. They are obliged, let us suppose, to walk from Temple-Bar to Hyde-ParkCorner. The dull man goes straight forward; he has so many furlongs to traverse. He observes if he meets any of his acquaintance; he enquires respecting their health and their family. He glances perhaps the shops as he passes; he admires the fashion of a buckle, and the metal of a tea-urn. If he experiences any flights of fancy, they are of a short extent; of the same nature as the flights of a forest-bird, clipped of his wings, and condemned to pass the rest of his life in a farm-yard. On the other hand the man of talent gives full scope to his imagination. He laughs and cries. Unindebted to the suggestions of surrounding objects, his whole soul is employed. He enters into nice calculations; he digests sagacious reasonings. In imagination he declaims or describes, impressed with the deepest sympathy, or elevated to the loftiest rapture. He makes a thousand new and admirable combinations. He passes through a thousand imaginary scenes, tries his courage, tasks his ingenuity, and thus becomes gradually prepared to meet almost
of the many-coloured events of human life. He consults by the aid of memory the books he has read, and projects others for the future instruction and delight of mankind. If he observe the
If he observe the passengers, he reads their countenances, conjectures their past history, and forms a superficial notion of their wisdom or folly, their virtue or vice, their satisfaction or misery. If he observe the scenes that occur, it is with the eye of a connoisseur or an artist. Every object is capable of suggesting to him a volume of reflections. The time of these two persons in one respect resembles ; it has brought them both to Hyde-Park-Corner. In almost every other respect it is dissimilara."
This passage undoubtedly contains a true description of what may happen, and has happened.
But there lurks in this statement a considerable
It has appeared in the second Essay of this volume, that there is not that broad and strong line of distinction between the wise man and the dull that has often been supposed. We are all of us by turns both the one and the other. Or, at least, the wisest man that ever existed spends a portion of his time in vacancy and dulness; and the man, whose faculties are seemingly the most obtuse, might, under proper management from the hour of his birth, barring those rare exceptions from the ordinary standard of mind which do not deserve to be taken into the account, have proved apt, adroit, intelligent and acute, in the walk for which his
organisation especially fitted him b.
Many men without question, in a walk of the same duration as that above described between Temple-Bar and Hyde-Park-Corner, have passed their time in as much activity, and amidst as strong and various excitements, as those enumerated in the passage above quoted.
But the lives of all men, the wise, and those whom by way of contrast we are accustomed to call the dull, are divided between animation and comparative vacancy; and many a man, who by the bursts of his genius has astonished the world,
See above, p. 25.
and commanded the veneration of successive ages, has spent a period of time equal to that occupied by a walk from Temple-Bar to Hyde-Park-Corner, in a state of mind as idle, and as little affording materials for recollection, as the dullest man that ever breathed the vital air.
The two states of man which are here attempted to be distinguished, are, first, that in which reason is said to fill her throne, in which will prevails, and directs the powers of mind or of bodily action in one channel or another; and, secondly, that in which these faculties, tired of for ever exercising their prerogatives, or, being awakened as it were from sleep, and having not yet assumed them, abandon the helm, even as a mariner might be supposed to do, in a wide sea, and in a time when no disaster could be apprehended, and leave the vessel of the mind to drift, exactly as chance might direct.
To describe this last state of inind I know not a better term that can be chosen, than that of reverie. It is of the nature of what I have seen denominated brown study", a species of dozing and drowsiness, in which all men spend a portion of the waking part of every day of their lives. Every inan must be conscious of passing minutes, perhaps hours of the day, particularly when engaged in exercise in the open air, in this species of neutrality and eviration. It is often not unpleasant at the time, and leaves no sinking of the spirits behind. It is pro• Norris, apud Johnson, Dictionary of the English Language.
bably of a salutary nature, and may
be means, in a certain degree beneficial like sleep, by which the machine is restored, and the man comes forth from its discipline reinvigorated, and afresh capable of his active duties.
This condition of our nature has considerably less vitality in it, than we experience in a complete and perfect dream. In dreaming we are often conscious of lively impressions, of a busy scene, and of objects and feelings succeeding each other with rapidity. We sometimes imagine ourselves earnestly speaking: and the topics we treat, and the words we employ, are supplied to us with extraordinary fluency. But the sort of vacancy and inoccupation of which I here treat, has a greater resemblance to the state of mind, without distinct and clearly unfolded ideas, which we experience before we sink into sleep. The mind is in reality in a condition, more properly accessible to feeling and capable of thought, than actually in the exercise of either the one or the other. We are conscious of existence and of little
We move our legs, and continue in a peripatetic state; for the man who has gone out of his house with a purpose to walk, exercises the power of volition when he sets out, but proceeds in his motion by a semi-voluntary act, by a sort of vis inertiæ, which will not cease to operate without an express reason for doing so, and advances a thousand steps without distinctly willing any but the first. When it is necessary to turn to the right or