Obrázky na stránke


Some of the finest poetical allusions are founded on this principle; and accordingly, if the reader is not possessed of sensibility congenial to that of the poet, he will be apt to overlook their meaning, or to censure them as absurd. To such a critic it would not be easy to vindicate the beauty of the following stanza, in an Ode addressed to a lady by the author of the Seasons :

"Oh thou, whose tender, serious eye

Expressive speaks the soul I love;
The gentle azure of the sky,

The pensive shadows of the grove."

I have already said that the view of the subject which I propose to take, does not require a complete enumeration of our principles of association. There is, however, an important distinction among them, to which I shall have occasion frequently to refer, and which, as far as I know, has not hitherto attracted the notice of philosophers. The relations upon which some of them are founded, are perfectly obvious to the mind; those which are the foundation of others, are discovered only in consequence of particular efforts of attention. Of the former kind are the relations of Resemblance and Analogy, of Contrariety, of Vicinity in time and place, and those which arise from accidental coincidences in the sound of different words. These, in general, connect our thoughts together, when they are suffered to take their natural course, and when we are conscious of little or no active exertion. Of the latter kind, are the relations of Cause and Effect, of Means and End, of Premises and Conclusion; and those others which regulate the train of thought in

the mind of the philosopher when he is engaged in a particular _ investigation.

It is owing to this distinction that transitions, which would be highly offensive in philosophical writing, are the most pleasing of any in poetry. In the former species of composition, we expect to see an author lay down a distinct plan or method, and observe it rigorously; without allowing himself to ramble into digressions suggested by the accidental ideas or espressions which may occur to him in his progress. In that state of mind in which Poetry is read, such digressions are not only agreeable, but necessary to the effect; and an arrangement founded on the spontaneous and seemingly casual order of our thoughts, pleases more than one suggested by an accurate analysis of the subject.

How absurd would the long digression in praise of Industry, in Thomson's Autumn, appear, if it occurred in a prose essay !

! - a digression, however, which, in that beautiful poem, arises naturally and insensibly from the view of luxuriant harvest, and which as naturally leads the poet back to the point where his excursion began :

“All is the gift of Industry; whate'er
Exalts, embellishes, and renders life
Delightful, Pensive Winter, cheer'd by him,
Sits at the social fire, and happy hears
Th’excluded tempest idly rave along ;
His harden'd fingers deck the gaudy Spring;
Without him Summer were an arid waste,
Nor to th’ Autumnal months could thus transmit
Those full, mature, immeasurable stores,

That waving round, recall my wand'ring song." In Goldsmith's Traveller, the transitions are managed with consummate skill, and yet, how different from that logical method which would be suited to a philosophical discourse on the state of society in the different parts of Europe ! Some of the finest are suggested by the associating principle of Contrast. Thus, after describing the effeminate and delased Romans, the poet proceeds to the Swiss :

“My soul, turn from them—turn wo to survey

Where rougher climes a nobler race display." And, after painting some defects in the manners of this gallant but unrefined people, his thoughts are led to those of the French:

“To kinder skies, where gentler manners reign,

I turn—and France displays her bright domain." The transition which occurs in the following lines, seems to be suggested by the accidental mention of a word, and is certainly one of the happiest in our language:

"Heavens! how unlike their Belgic Sires of old !

Rough, poor, content, ungovernably bold;
War in each breast, and freedom on each brow,
How much unlike the sons of Britain now!-
Fired at the sound, my Genius spreads her wing,
And flies, where Britain courts the western spring.”

Numberless illustrations of the same remark might be collected from the ancient poets, more particularly from the Georgics of Virgil, where the singular felicity of the transitions has attracted the notice even of those who have been the least disposed to indulge themselves in philosophical refinements concerning the principles of Criticism. A celebrated instance of this kind occurs in the end of the first book; the consideration of the weather and of its common prognostics leading the fancy, in the first place, to those more extraordinary phenomena which, according to the superstitious belief of the vulgar, are the forerunners of political revolutions, and afterwards, to the death of Cæsar and the battles of Pharsalia and Philippi. The manner in which the poet returns to his original subject, displays that exquisite art which is to be derived only from the diligent and enlightened study of nature:

"Scilicet et tempus veniet, cum finibus illis
Agricola, incurvo terram molitus aratro,
Exesa inveniet scabrâ rubigine pila ;
Aut gravibus rastris galeas pulsabit inanes,

Granžliaqne effossis mirabitur ossa sepulchris." The facility with which ideas are associated in the mind, is very different in different individuals, a circunstance which, as I shall afterwards shew, lays the foundation of remarkable varieties among men, both in respect of genius and of character. I am inclined, too, to think, that in the other sex (probably in consequence of early education) ideas are more easily associated together than in the minds of men. Hence the liveliness of their fancy, and the superiority they possess in epistolary writing, and in those kinds of poetry, in which the principal recommendations are case of thought and expression. Hence, too, the facility with which they contract or lose habits, and accommodate their minds to new situations, and, I may

I add, the disposition they have to that species of superstition which is founded on accidental combinations of circumstances. The influence which this facility of association has on the power of Taste, shall be afterwards considered.



By means of the Association of Ideas, a constant current of thoughts, if I may use the expression, is made to pass through the mind while we are awake. Sometimes the current is interrupted, and the thoughts diverted into a new channel, in consequence of the ideas suggested by other men, or of the objects of perception with which we are surrounded. So completely, however, is the inind in this particular subjected to physical laws, that it has been justly observed, we cannot by an effort of our will call up any one thought, and that the train of our ideas depends on causes which operate in a manner inexplicable by us.

This observation, although it has been censured as paradoxical, is almost self-evident; for, to call up a particular thought supposes it to be already in the mind, As I shall have frequent occasion, however, to refer to the observation afterwards, I shall endeavour to obviate the only objection which I think can reasonably be urged against it, and which is founded on that operation of the mind which is commonly called recollection or intentional memory.

It is evident, that before we attempt to recollect the particular circumstances of any event, that event in general must have been an object of our attention. We remember the outlines of the story, but cannot at first give a complete account of it. If we wish to recall these circumstances, there are only two ways in which we can proceed. We must either form different suppositions, and then consider which of these tallies best with the other circumstances of the event; or, by revolving in our mind the circumstances we remember, we must endeavour to excite

1 By Lord Kames, and others.

the recollection of the other circumstances associated with them. The first of these processes is, properly speaking, an inference of reason, and plainly furnishes no exception to the doctrine already delivered. We have an instance of the other mode of recollection, when we are at a loss for the beginning of a sentence in reciting a composition that we do not perfectly remember, in which case we naturally repeat over, two or three times, the concluding words of the preceding sentence, in order to call up the other words which used to be connected with them in the memory. In this instance, it is evident that the circumstances we desire to remember, are not recalled to the mind in immediate consequence of an exertion of volition, but are suggested by some other circumstances with which they are connected, independently of our will, by the laws of our constitution.

Notwithstanding, however, the immediate dependence of the • train of our thoughts on the laws of association, it must not be

imagined that the will possesses no influence over it. This influence, indeed, is not exercised directly and immediately as we are apt to suppose on a superficial view of the subject; but it is, nevertheless, very extensive in its effects, and the different degrees in which it is possessed by different individuals, constitute some of the most striking inequalities among men, in point of intellectual capacity.

Of the powers which the mind possesses over the train of its thoughts, the most obvious is its power of singling out any one of them at pleasure, of detaining it, and of making it a particular object of attention. By doing so, we not only stop the succession that would otherwise take place, but in consequence of our bringing to view the less obvious relations among our ideas, we frequently divert the current of our thoughts into a new channel. If, for example, when I am indolent and inactive, the name of Sir Isaac Newton accidentally occur to me, it will perhaps suggest one after another the names of some other eminent mathematicians and astronomers, or of some of his illustrious contemporaries and friends, and a number of them may pass in review before me, without en

« PredošláPokračovať »