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But it is with the moral efficacy of Imitation and Imagination that we are chiefly concerned in this chapter; and, in this respect, some of the facts which were mentioned as analogous to the effects ascribed to animal magnetism, open a wide field to those who delight in the investigation of uses and advantages ; or what is commonly, but less properly, called final causes. The extraordinary facility with which numerous assemblies yield to the authority of superior eloquence, and the dangers to which they are thereby exposed from the ambition or the enthusiasm of demagogues, have been already remarked. That this disposition, however, in human nature, notwithstanding its occasional inconveniences, is, on the whole, favourable to social order and happiness, can scarcely be disputed ; as its obvious tendency is, to give to the intellectual endowments of man an ascendant over the physical force of a congregated multitude. Were it not for this, the deliberations of a numerous assembly, absurd and extravagant as they often are, would be incomparably more fatal in their consequences; and could scarcely, in any supposable case, terminate in a decision which united so many suffrages as to bestow on it an adequate degree of executive energy. In the earlier periods of society, the utility of this constitution of things may, in many cases, have been incalculably great ; animating the mass of an ignorant and savage tribe with the soul of a Minos or Lycurgus, and realizing in its effects, what ancient Mythology has fabled of the harps of Orpheus and Amphion.
Intimately connected with these facts, are the phenomena of religious enthusiasm, exemplified in the meetings of the Camisards, and of the Quakers. Do these phenomena (such, for example, as Barclay has so well described in his Apology) suggest no practical lessons on the subject of public and popular instruction ? If they prove the possibility of leading, with an irresistible force, the hearts and the understandings of men, in opposition to the calm dictates of reason and experience, why should we doubt the efficacy of the same causes, were reason and experience, instead of being combated by imagination and imitation, to be strengthened by the aid of such powerful ausiliaries, disciplined to the task by taste and philosophy.
4 ed otherwise than by general experience; but, though it has not been traced in “ positive experiments, it should seem not to admit of a reasonable doubt. It is “ a known adage, that in physic, as well as religion, men are saved by faith; this « faith is the produce of the imagination. In these cases the imagination acts by “ gentle means. It is by diffusing tranquillity over the senses, by restoring the “ harmony of the functions, by recalling into play every principle of the frame, “ under the genial influence of Hope. Hope is an essential constituent of human “ life; the man that yields us one, contributes to restore to us the other. But “ when the imagination produces convulsions, the means it employs are violent; " and such means are almost always destructive. There are, indeed, a few rare
cases in which they may be useful; there are desperate diseases, in which it is
necessary to overturn every thing for the introduction of an order totally new. “ These critical shocks are to be employed in the medical art in the same man“ ner as poisons. It is requisite that necessity should demand, and economy em
ploy them. The need of them is momentary; the shock ought to be single. “ Very far from repeating it, the intelligent physician exerts bimself to invent the “ means of repairing the indispensible evil which has thus been duced ; but, “ in the public process of the magnetism, the crises are repeated every day, they "s are long and violent. Now, since the state introduced by these crises is perni“ cious, the habit cannot be other than fatal.”
That this idea is not altogether chimerical, may be farther inferred from the electrical rapidity with which the enthusiasm of moral sentiment and emotion may be excited and propagated in a crowd. In proof of this, it is unnecessary to appeal to congregations met together for the purpose of religious instruction and social worship ; and to the almost miraculous impressions produced by those preachers, who, in their appeals to the passions, know how to touch the strings of the human frame. The very same thing is exemplified, wherever numbers of men are collected into one place, and harmonized by the pursuits of one common object;-even although that object should be mere amusement or relaxation from serious thought. humani nihil a me alienum puto ,—the effect which these words, uttered by an old man in a play, produced on a Roman audience, is well known; and although the anecdote has been quoted by way of contrast to the moral insensibility of English assemblies, * I am perfectly persuaded, that the effect would not have been less in any British or French theatre. Lord Shaftesbury remarks, that the play of Shakespeare, which ap
pears to have most affected English hearts, and has, perhaps, « been oftenest acted of any which have come upon our stage.' (I presume he means the Tragedy of Hamlet.t) "is almost one 6 continued moral.” The same author observes, that “it is ne
cessary for the poet to borrow so much from the philosopher, as to be master of the common topics of morality. He must
* By Sir Richard Steele in the Spectator, No. 502.
I am confirmed in this conjecture by the following passage in the Dramatic Miscellanies of Mr. Davies, published in 1785.
“ The first play of Shakespeare, acted after the restoration, at the Duke of " York's theatre, if we may depend on the narrative of Downs, was Hamlet ; " the principal character was acted by Betterton, who often exhibited himself in " this part, at the opening of the theatre, as an infallible lure to draw company.
Wilks, at Drury Lane, and Ryan at Lincolns-Inn-Fields, frequently chose this “ favourite part to open the Winter Season at these rival play-houses. From the “ first representation of Hamlet, to the present day, we may reasonably conclude, " that no dramatic piece whatever has laid hold of the publie affection so strong
ly, and been acted so frequently."-Vol. III. p. 4.
“6 at least be speciously honest, and, in all appearance, a friend “ to virtue throughout the piece. The good and wise will abate “ him nothing in this kind ; and the people, though corrupt,
are, in the main, best satisfied with such a conduct.” Nothing, indeed, can possibly place this in so strong a light as the extreme popularity which some dramatic performances have derived from this single circumstance, under every disadvantage of fable and of style, which could offend the laste or the judgment.
Interdum speciosa locis, morataque recte
If I live to publish my papers on the Active Powers of Man, I shall avail myself of the same class of facts, in opposing some of the prevailing theories of the present age, concerning the moral constitution of Human Nature. In the meantime it is sufficient to remark in passing, as a consequence of what has been already advanced, that the effect of the crowd is, by no means to create the emotion which is exhibited, or even to alter its character: It only enables us to perceive its operation on a greater scale. In such cases we have surely no time for reflection ; and, indeed, the emotions of which we are conscious, are such as no speculations about our own interest could possibly excite. It is in situations of this kind, that we most completely forget ourselves as individuals and feel the most sensibly the existence of those moral ties, by which Heaven has been pleased to bind mankind together.
66 Tout le monde est méchant! oui, ces cours haissables,
Tout les ceurs sont remplis d'une volupté pure,
On such an occasion as that which the poet has here so fine
Le Méchant, Comedie de Gresset.
ly and forcibly described ;-when the contagious enthusiasm of the multitude has broken down the restraints of reserve ; and, opening a free passage to the native feelings of generosity, pity, or virtuous indignation, has extorted, in one and the same moment, from the whole audience, an involuntary burst of emotion, avowing and proclaiming the moral law engraved on their hearts ;-on such an occasion, how is it possible to avoid indulging a secret exclamation,-What materials are here for the lawgiver and the statesman! and what a scene might human society become, if these seeds of goodness, so liberally sown by the hand of Heaven, were fostered by the care of more skil. ful cultivators!
But not to anticipate here, what I may perhaps, on some future occasion, be led to offer, with respect to the connexion between Public Morals and enlightened systems of Political Economy, I shall content myself with remarking the watchful attention which is due by the legislator, in his arrangements both for the instruction and for the amusement of the people, to the obvious conclu. sions suggested by the phenomena which have been now under review. If I do not deceive myself, many new and important applications of the same principles might be made to the education of youth, notwithstanding the dogmatical assertion of Dr. Johnson, 6 that education is now as well understood, and "has long been as well understood, as it ever can possibly be." Something, I must once more acknowledge, appears to myself to be still practicable, beyond what was executed or attempted by our forefathers, during the dark ages of Popish superstition. By availing ourselves cautiously of the growing lights of science, to correct the errors, and to supply the omission's of our predecessors, would not additional usefulness and additional stability be at once imparted to their venerable institutions ? But on this argument I forbear to enlarge. The period of reformation is, to all appearance, much too distant, to give to the prosecution of it the smallest degree of practical interest.
_" Alas! how faint,
APPENDIX. See Page 126.
NUMBERLESS facts might be adduced, to show how very much the effects of all the imitative arts are aided by the imagination
of the spectator or of the hearer. But I shall confine myself in this Appendix to an example which, as far as I know, has not hitherto attracted the notice of philosophers ;-I mean the art of the Ventriloquist,—an art which, if I am not mistaken, will be found, on examination, to bear a closer analogy to the nobler art of the painter, than we should, at first sight, be disposed to apprehend.
In what follows, I take for granted that my readers are acquainted with the distinction, so finely illustrated by Bishop Berkeley, between the original and the acquired perceptions of our different senses ; more particularly, between the original and the acquired perceptions of the eye and of the ear. It is on the former of these senses that Berkeley bas chiefly enlarged ; and this he has done with such a fulness and clearness of illustration, that succeeding writers have in general done nothing more than to repeat over his reasonings, with very little, either of alteration or of addition. The metaphysical problems relating to the sense of hearing have been hitherto overlooked by almost all our physiologists, although they present various subjects of inquiry, not less curious and difficult than those connected with the theory of vision.
The senses of hearing and of seeing agree in this, that they both convey to us intimations concerning the distances, and also concerning the directions of their respective objects. The intimations, indeed, which we receive by the former, are by no means so precise as those of the latter. They are, however, such as to be of essential use to us in the common concerns of life. That one sound comes from the immediate neighbourhood,-another from a distance ; one sound from above,-another from below; one from before,--another from behind ; one from the right hand,—another from the left, are judgments which we have every moment occasion to form, and which we form with the most perfect confidence.
With respect to the signs which enable us to form our estimates of distance by the ear, there is little or no difficulty ; as they seem to consist merely of the different gradations of which sounds are susceptible in point of loudness and of distinctness. In what manner our estimates of direction are formed, has not, I think, been as yet satisfactorily explained ; nor, indeed, do I know of any writer whatever, excepting Mr. Gough of Kendal, who has even attempted the solution of the problem. The difficulty attending it arises, probably, in some measure, from the imperfection of our knowledge concerning the theory of sound ; a subject which, after all the researches of Sir Isaac Newton, continues to be involved in considerable obscurity.