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nearer, I saw him pale and feverish ; in thirty years the western
1 breeze had not once fanned his blood; he had seen no sun, no moon, in all that time, nor had the voice of friend or kinsnian breathed through his lattice.—His children-but here my heart began to bleed, and I was forced to go on with another part of the portrait.
"He was sitting upon the ground, in the farthest corner of his dungeon, on a little straw, which was alternately his chair and bed; a little calendar of small sticks was laid at the head, notched all over with the dismal days and nights he had passed there; he had one of these little sticks in his hand, and with
; a rusty nail he was etching another day of misery to add to the heap. As I darkened the little light he had, he lifted up a hopeless eye towards the door, then cast it down—shook his head, and went on with his work of affliction."
The foregoing observations may account, in part, for the effect which exhibitions of fictitious distress produce on some persons who do not discover much sensibility to the distresses of real life. In a novel, or a tragedy, the picture is completely finished in all its parts; and we are made acquainted not only with every circumstance on which the distress turns, but with the sentiments and feelings of every character with respect to his situation. In real life we see, in general, only detached scenes of the tragedy, and the impression is slight, unless imagination finishes the characters, and supplies the incidents that are wanting
It is not only to scenes of distress that imagination increases our sensibility. It gives us a double share in the prosperity of others, and enables us to partake, with a more lively interest, in every fortunate incident that occurs either to individuals or to communities. Even from the productions of the earth, and the vicissitudes of the year, it carries forward our thoughts to the enjoyments they bring to the sensitive creation, and by interesting our benevolent affections in the scenes we behold, lends a new charm to the beauties of nature.
I have often been inclined to think, that the apparent coldness and selfishness of mankind may be traced, in a great measure, to a want of attention and a want of imagination. In the case of misfortunes which happen to ourselves, or to our near connexions, neither of these powers is necessary to make us acquainted with our situation; so that we feel, of necessity, the correspondent emotions. But without an uncommon degree of both, it is impossible for any man to comprehend completely the situation of his neighbour, or to have an idea of a great part of the distress which exists in the world. If we feel therefore more for ourselves than for others, the difference is to be ascribed, at least partly, to this; that in the former case, the facts which are the foundation of our feelings, are more fully before us than they possibly can be in the latter.
In order to prevent misapprehensions of my meaning, it is necessary for me to add, that I do not mean to deny that it is a law of our nature, in cases in which there is an interference betwen our own interest and that of other men, to give a certain degree of preference to ourselves; even supposing our neighbour's situation to be as completely known to us as our own. I only affirm, that where this preference becomes blameable and unjust, the effect is to be accounted for partly in the way I mentioned.1 One striking proof of this, is the powerful emotions which may be occasionally excited in the minds of the most callous, when the attention has been once fixed, and the imagination awakened, by eloquent and circumstantial and pathetic description.
A very amiable and profound moralist, in the account which he has given of the origin of our sense of justice, has, I think, drawn a less pleasing picture of the natural constitution of the human mind than is agreeable to truth. “To disturb," says he,
the happiness of our neighbour, merely because it stands in the way of our own; to take from him what is of real use to him, merely because it may be of equal or of more use to us; or to indulge in this manner, at the expense of other people, the natural preference which every man has for his own happiness above that of other people, is what no impartial spectator can go along
say partly; for habits of inatten. doubtedly presuppose some defect in the tion to the situation of other men, un- social affections.
with. Every man is, no doubt, first and principally recommended to his own care; and as he is fitter to take care of himself than of any other person, it is fit and right that it should
, be so. Every man, therefore, is much more deeply interested in whatever immediately concerns himself, than in what concerns any other man; and to hear, perhaps, of the death of another person with whom we have no particular connexion, will give us less concern, will spoil our stomach or break our rest much less than a very insignificant disaster which has befallen ourselves. But though the ruin of our neighbour may affect us much less than a very small misfortune of our own, we must not ruin him to prevent that small misfortune, nor even to prevent our own ruin. We must here, as in all other cases, view ourselves not so much according to that light in which we may naturally appear to ourselves, as according to that in which we naturally appear to others. Though every man may, according to the proverb, be the whole world to himself, to the rest of mankind he is a most insignificant part of it, Though his own happiness may be of more importance to him than that of all the world besides, to every other person it is of no more consequence than that of any other man. Though it may be true, therefore, that every individual, in his own breast, naturally prefers himself to all mankind, yet he dares not look mankind in the face, and avow that he acts according to this principle. He feels that in this preference they can never go along with him, and that, how natural soever it may be to him, it must always appear excessive and extravagant to them. When he views himself in the light in which he is conscious that others will view him, he sees that to them he is but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it. If he would act so as that the impartial spectator may enter into the principles of his conduct, which is what of all things he has the greatest desire to do, he must upon this, as upon all other occasions, humble the arrogance of his self-love, and bring it down to something which other men can go along with.”
I am ready to acknowledge that there is much truth in this passage; and that a prudential regard to the opinion of others Inight teach a man of good sense, without the aid of more amiable motives, to conceal his unreasonable partialities in favour of himself, and to act agreeably to what he conceives to be the sentiments of impartial spectators. But I cannot help thinking, that the fact is much too strongly stated with respect to the natural partiality of self-love, supposing the situation of our neighbours to be as completely presented to our view as our own must of necessity be. When the orator wishes to combat the selfish passions of his audience, and to rouse them to a sense of what they owe to mankind, what mode of persuasion does nature dictate to him ? Is it to remind them of the importance of the good opinion of the world, and of the necessity, in order to obtain it, of accommodating their conduct to the sentiments of others, rather than to their own feelings ? Such considerations undoubtedly might, with some men, produce a certain effect, and might lead them to assume the appearance of virtue; but they would never excite a sentiment of indignation at the thought of injustice, or a sudden and involuntary burst of disinterested affection. If the orator can only succeed in fixing their attention to facts, and in bringing these facts home to their imagination by the power of his eloquence, he has completely attained his object. No sooner are the facts apprehended, than the benevolent principles of our nature display themselves in all their beauty. The most cautious and timid lose, for a moment, all thought of themselves, and, despising every consideration of prudence or of safety, become wholly engrossed with the fortunes of others.
Many other facts, which are commonly alleged as proofs of the original selfishness of mankind, may be explained, in part, in a similar way; and may be traced to habits of inattention, or to
want of imagination, arising, probably, from some fault in early education.
What has now been remarked with respect to the social principles, may be applied to all our other passions, excepting those which take their rise from the body. They are commonly strong in proportion to the warmth and vigour of the imagination.
It is, however, extremely curious, that when an imagination
which is naturally phlegmatic, or which, like those of the vulgar, has little activity from a want of culture, is fairly roused by the descriptions of the orator or of the poet, it is more apt to produce the violence of enthusiasm, than in minds of a superior order. By giving this faculty occasional exercise, we acquire a great degree of command over it. As we can withdraw the attention at pleasure from objects of sense, and transport ourselves into a world of our own, so, when we wish to moderate our enthusiasm, we can dismiss the objects of imagination, and return to our ordinary perceptions and occupations. But in a mind to which these intellectual visions are not familiar, and which borrows them completely from the genius of another, imagination, when once excited, becomes perfectly ungovernable, and produces something like a temporary insanity. Hence the wonderful effects of popular eloquence on the lower orders; effects which are much more remarkable than what it ever produces on men of education.
SECT, V. —CONTINUATION OF THE SAME SUBJECT.
INCONVENIENCES RESULTING FROM AN ILL-REGULATED IMAGINATION.
It was undoubtedly the intention of nature that the objects of perception should produce much stronger impressions on the mind than its own operations. And, accordingly, they always do so, when proper care has been taken in early life to exercise
, the different principles of our constitution. But it is possible, by long habits of solitary reflection, to reverse this order of things, and to weaken the attention to sensible objects to so great a degree, as to leave the conduct almost wholly under the influence of imagination. Removed to a distance from society, and from the pursuits of life, when we have been long accustomed to converse with our own thoughts, and have
1 [ The province of eloquence is to heighten them with images and colours reign over minds of slow perception and unknown to them ; and to raise and enlittle imagination; to set things in lights gage their rude passions to the point to they never saw them in; to engage which the speaker wishes to bring them." their attention by details and circum- -Gray's Letters, p. 394.) stances gradually unfolded; to adorn and