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"conceptions or vigorous resolves; and a vast and alarming "fermentation must pervade and agitate the whole mass of "society, to inform it with that kindly warmth by which "alone the seeds of genius and improvement can be expand"ed. The fact, at all events, is abundantly certain, and may "be accounted for, we conceive, without mystery and with"out metaphors.
"A popular revolution in government or religion, or any "thing else that gives rise to general and long-continued con"tention, naturally produces a prevailing disdain of authority "and boldness of thinking in the leaders of the fray, together "with a kindling of the imagination and developement of in"tellect in a great multitude of persons, who, in ordinary "times, would have vegetated stupidly on the places where "fortune had fixed them. Power and distinction, and all the "higher prizes in the lottery of life, are brought within the "reach of a far larger proportion of the community; and that "vivifying spirit of ambition, which is the true source of all "improvement, instead of burning at a few detached points on
the summit of society, now pervades every portion of its "frame. Much extravagance, and, in all probability, much "guilt and much misery result, in the first instance, from this "sudden extrication of talent and enterprise, in places where "they can have no legitimate issue or points of application. "But the contending elements at last find their spheres and "their balance. The disorder ceases, but the activity remains. "The multitudes that had been raised into intellectual exist"ence by dangerous passions and crazy illusions, do not all re"lapse into their original torpor when their passions are allay"ed and their illusions dispelled. There is a great permanent "addition to the power and the enterprise of the community; " and the talent and the activity which at first convulsed the "state by their unmeasured and misdirected exertions, ulti"mately bless and adorn it, under a more enlightened and less "intemperate guidance. If we may estimate the amount of "this ultimate good by that of the disorder which preceded it, "we cannot be too sanguine in our calculations of the happi"ness that awaits the rising generation. The fermentation, it "will readily be admitted, has been long and violent enough "to extract all the virtue of all the ingredients that have been "submitted to its action; and enough of scum has boiled over, "and enough of pestilent vapour been exhaled, to afford a rea"sonable assurance that the residuumwill be both ample and pure."*
* Edinburgh Review, No. XLV. pp. 2, 3.
Mr. Locke's aversion to similies is well known, and was undoubtedly carried to an extreme. Yet there is much truth and good sense in the following reflections: "They who in their discourse strike the fancy, and take the hearers' conceptions "along with them as fast as their words flow, are the applauded "talkers, and go for the only men of clear thoughts. Nothing "contributes so much to this as similies, whereby men think "they themselves understand better, because they are the bet"ter understood. But it is one thing to think right, and ano"ther thing to know the right way to lay our thoughts before "others with advantge and clearness, be they right or wrong. "Well chosen similies, metaphors, and allegories, with method "and order, do this the best of any thing, because, being taken "from objects already known, and familiar to the understand❝ing, they are conceived as fast as spoken; and the correspon"dence being concluded, the thing they are brought to explain "and elucidate is thought to be understood too. Thus fancy "passes for knowledge, and what is prettily said is mistaken "for solid."*
Under the same head, it may not be improper to take notice of what I conceive to be a vulgar error with respect to the supposed incompatibility of a lively imagination and a retentive memory. In point of fact, I apprehend it will be found, that of all the various auxiliaries to memory, imagination is the most powerful; and this, for the same reason that renders objects of sight so efficacious in recalling to us all the ideas or occurrences with which they have been accidentally associated. It is the power of imagination or of conception (for, in our present argument, these words may be used as synonymous,) which enables us to place before the mind's eye the great outlines of any interesting scene which we have witnessed, and thereby furnishes to our powers of recollection a natural adminicle, precisely analogous to the topical memory of the ancient rhetoricians. I do not, at the same time, deny that there is some foundation for the remark so happily expressed in Pope's noted distich,
"Where beams of warm imagination play,
Conduct of the Understanding, § 32.
† Dr. Warburton's comment on these lines is well worth transcribing. "observation is collected from an intimate knowledge of Human Nature. "As to the decay of Memory by the vigorous exercise of Fancy, the poet himself "seems to have intimated the cause of it in the epithet he has given to Imagina❝tion. For if, according to the Atomic Philosophy, the memory of things be preserved in a chain of ideas, produced by the animal spirits moving in continu"ed trains, the force and the rapidity of the Imagination, perpetually breaking
The fact I apprehend to be this, that the colourings and finishing of Imagination are apt to blend themselves with the recollection of realities; and often impose on the observer himself, as well as on those to whom he communicates his information.* This, unquestionably, is unfavourable to correctness of memory; and accordingly it is in the accuracy of their minute details, that men of warm Imaginations are chiefly to be distrusted. In point of comprehensiveness or grasp of memory, they may be expected to excel; and, as far as I can judge from my own observations, they generally do so in a remarkable degree. Nor is this sort of memory, with all its defects, of inconsiderable value to a man of letters; inasmuch as the outline he possesses (general and imperfect as it may be) puts it always in his power, where his knowledge has been derived from books, to revive and correct the fading impressions by recurring to the original authorities. Among my own acquaintance, those whose writings display the most extensive and various knowledge, have been not more remarkable for capaciousness of memory, than for liveliness and warmth of Imagination.
Bayle observes of Plutarch, that he seems to have trusted to his memory too much; and that his memory was rather comprehensive than faithful. How far this criticism is just, I do not pretend to say, but the distinction between these two kinds of memory does honour to Bayle, as an observer of the varieties of intellectual character.
“and dissipating the links of this chain, by forming new associations, must neces"sarily weaken and disorder the recollective faculty."
The Philosophy of the Human Mind must surely have made some progress since Warburton's time, for no commentator on Pope, possessed of Warburton's parts and learning, would now attempt to insult the easy faith of the public with a reflection so completely nonsensical and absurd.
"I have often experienced" (Mr. Boswell gravely remarks in his Tour with Dr. Johnson through the Hebrides)" that scenes through which a man has passed, "improve by lying in the memory; they grow mellow."
To account for this curious mental phenomenon, which he plainly considered as somewhat analogous to the effect of time in improving the quality of wine, he has offered various theories, without, however, once touching upon the real cause, -the imperceptible influence of imagination in supplying the decaying impressions of memory. The fact, as he has stated it, was certainly most remarkably exemplified in his own case; for his stories, which I have often listened to with delight, seldom failed to improve wonderfully in such keeping as his memory afforded. They were much more amusing than even his printed anecdotes; not only from the picturesque style of his conversational, or rather his convivial diction, but perhaps still more from the humorous and somewhat whimsical seriousness of his face and manner. As for those anecdotes which he destined for the public, they were deprived of any chance of this sort of improvement, by the scrupulous fidelity with which (probably from a secret distrust of the accuracy of his recollection) he was accustomed to record every conversation which he thought interesting, a few hours after it took place.
I have observed, in the First Volume of this Work, that "the perfection of philosophical language, considered either as an "instrument of thought, or as a medium of communication "with others, consists in the use of expressions, which, from "their generality, have no tendency to awaken the powers of "conception and imagination; or, in other words, it consists "in its approaching, as nearly as possible, in its nature, to the "language of Algebra."* "How different from this," (I have said upon another occasion)" is the aim of poetry! Sometimes "to subdue reason herself by her syren song; and in all her higher efforts, to revert to the first impressions, and to the "first language of Nature; clothing every idea with a sensible "image, and keeping the fancy for ever on the wing."t
If there be any truth in these observations, the habits of thinking of the poet must be peculiarly adverse to metaphysical pursuits: And yet some remarkable examples, (it may be objected,) may be quoted in direct opposition to the universality of this conclusion. To speak only of our own times, an appeal may be made to the names of Darwin, of Beattie, and, above all, to that of my late amiable, and most ingenious and accomplished friend, Dr. Brown. To this objection, it must suffice at present to reply, that there is no rule so general as to admit of no exceptions; and that, in my opinion, even Dr. Brown would have been a still better metaphysician if he had not been a poet; and a still better poet, if he had not been a metaphysician. ‡
Of Dr. Darwin's metaphysical merits, I have, on other occasions, spoken at sufficient length. And of those of Dr. Beattie (whom I would no more think of comparing with Dr. Brown as a metaphysician, than I would presume to compare Dr. Brown as a poet, with the author of the Minstrel,) I have said enough, in the Third Section of my Second Volume, to convey an idea of the estimate which I have formed. In one particular alone, Dr. Beattie may justly claim the advantage ;-that he was never misled in adopting his opinions by the love of singularity; and that, upon all the abstruser and more important questions of metaphysics, he wisely suffered himself to be guided by the opinions of his friends Reid and Campbell; neither of whom he probably considered as possessing talents equal to his own, but to whose judgment he thought a certain degree of deference due, from the greater deliberation with which they had revolv
* Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, Vol. I. p. 180. Sixth Edition. + Philosophical Essays, p. 248. Third Edition. ‡ Note (C.)
ed in their minds the subjects of their common study. His metaphysical speculations, however, cannot fairly be regarded (and far less those of Dr. Darwin) as invalidating the force of the preceding observations.
Considered in its moral effects on the mind, one of the most unfortunate consequences to be apprehended from the cultivation of a poetical talent, is its tendency, by cherishing a puerile and irritable vanity, to weaken the force and to impair the independence of the character. Whoever limits his exertions to the gratification of others, whether by personal exhibition, as in the case of the actor and of the mimic, or by those kinds of literary composition which are calculated for no end but to please or to entertain, renders himself, in some measure, dependent on their caprices and humours. The diversity among men, in their judgments concerning the objects of taste, is incomparatively greater than in their speculative conclusions; and accordingly, a mathematician will publish to the world a geometrical demonstration, or a philosopher, a process of abstract reasoning, with a confidence very different from what a poet would feel, in communicating one of his productions even to an intimate friend. In all the other departments of literature, besides, to please is only a secondary object. It is the primary one of poetry. Hence, that timidity of temper, that restless and unmanly desire of praise, and that dependence on the capricious applause of the multitude, which so often detract from the personal dignity of those whose productions do honour to human genius.
In the contrast which I have just hinted at between the opposite effects of mathematical and poetical pursuits, I have the satisfaction of being able to support my own opinion by the authority of D'Alembert, a writer eminently conversant with the objects of taste as well as of science.
The whole train of his reflections on this subject appears to me to be so refined as well as just, that I shall quote the passage at length in a faithful translation.
The case is the same with the merits of a writer and with "those of his works. No other person can judge better of "either than himself; for none have had access to a closer or "more deliberate examination of them. It is for this reason, "that, in proportion as the value of a work is intrinsic, and in"dependent of opinion, the less eagerness will the author feel "to conciliate the suffrages of the public. Hence that inward "satisfaction, so pure and so complete, which the study of geo"metry yields. The progress which an individual makes in "this science, the degree of eminence which he attains in it;