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found our activity gratified by intellectual exertions, which afford scope to all our powers and affections, without exposing us to the inconveniences resulting from the bustle of the world, we are apt to contract an unnatural predilection for meditation, and to lose all interest in external occurrences. In such a situation too, the mind gradually loses that command which education, when properly conducted, gives it over the train of its ideas, till at length the most extravagant dreams of imagination acquire as powerful an influence in exciting all its passions as if they were realities. A wild and mountainous country, which presents but a limited variety of objects, and these only of such a sort as "awake to solemn thought,” has a remarkable effect in cherishing this enthusiasm.
When such disorders of the imagination have been long confirmed by habit, the evil may perhaps be beyond a remedy; but in their inferior degrees, much may be expected from our own efforts, in particular, from mingling gradually in the business and amusements of the world ; or, if we have sufficient force of mind for the exertion, from resolutely plunging into those active and interesting and hazardous scenes, which, by compelling us to attend to external circumstances, may weaken the impressions of imagination, and strengthen those produced by realities. The advice of the poet, in these cases, is equally beautiful and just :
“Go, soft enthusiast! quit the cypress groves,
Nor to the rivulet's lonely moanings tune
The disordered state of mind to which these observations refer is the more interesting, that it is chiefly incident to men of uncommon sensibility and genius. It has been often remarked, that there is a connexion between genius and melancholy; and there is one sense of the word melancholy, in which the remark is undoubtedly true,--a sense which it may be difficult to define, but in which it implies nothing either gloomy or malevolent.' This, I think, is not only confirmed by facts, but may be inferred from some principles which were formerly stated on the subject of invention; for as the disposition now alluded to has a tendency to retard the current of thought, and to collect the attention of the mind, it is peculiarly favourable to the discovery of those profound conclusions which result from an accurate examination of the less obvious relations among our ideas. From the same principles too, may be traced some of the effects which situation and early education produce on the intellectual character. Among the natives of wild and solitary countries we may expect to meet with sublime exertions of poetical imagination and of philosophical research, while those men whose attention has been dissipated from infancy amidst the bustle of the world, and whose current of thought has been trained to yield and accommodate itself, every moment, to the rapid succession of trifles, which diversify fashionable life, acquire, without any effort on their part, the intellectual habits which are favourable to gaiety, vivacity, and wit.
When a man, under the habitual influence of a warm imagination, is obliged to mingle occasionally in the scenes of real business, he is perpetually in danger of being misled by his own enthusiasm. What we call good sense in the conduct of life, consists chiefly in that temper of mind which enables its possessor to view, at all times, with perfect coolness and
1 Διά τι πάντες όσοι περιττοί γεγόνασιν άνδρες, ή κατά φιλοσοφίαν, ή πολιτικήν, ή ποίησιν, ή τέχνας, φαίνονται μελαγχολικοί ÖYT65.--Aristot. Problem. sect. xxx. 1.[Such is the philosophic melancholy which Thomson has so pathetically de
scribed as exerting a peculiar influence at that period of the year,
" when the dark winds of autumn return, and when the falling leaves and the naked fields fill the heart at once with mournful presages and with tender recollections."]
accuracy, all the various circumstances of his situation, so that each of them may produce its due impression on him, without any exaggeration arising from his own peculiar habits. But to a man of an ill-regulated imagination, external circumstances only serve as hints to excite his own thoughts, and the conduct he pursues has, in general, far less reference to his real situation, than to some imaginary one, in which he conceives himself to be placed; in consequence of which, while he appears to himself to be acting with the most perfect wisdom and consistency, he may frequently exhibit to others all the appearances of folly. Such, pretty nearly, seems to be the idea which the author of the Reflections on the Character and Writings of Rousseau, has formed of that extraordinary man. "His faculties,” we are told,“ were slow in their operation, but his heart was ardent: it was in consequence of his own meditations that he became impassioned: he discovered no sudden emotions, but all his feelings grew upon reflection. It has, perhaps, happened to him to fall in love gradually with a woman, by dwelling on the idea of her during her absence. Sometimes he would part with you with all his former affection; but if an expression had escaped you, which might bear an unfavourable construction, he would recollect it, examine it, exaggerate it, perhaps dwell upon it for a month, and conclude by a total breach with you. Hence it was, that there was scarce a possibility of undeceiving him; for the light which broke in upon him at once was not sufficient to efface the wrong impressions which had taken place so gradually in his mind. It was extremely difficult, too, to continue long on an intimate footing with him. A word, a gesture, furnished him with matter of profound meditation : he connected the most trifling circumstances like so many mathematical propositions, and conceived his conclusions to be supported by the evidence of demonstration. I believe,” continues this ingenious writer,
that imagination was the strongest of his faculties, and that it had almost absorbed all the rest. He dreamed rather than existed, and the events of his life might be said, more properly,
Madame de Staël Holstein.
to have passed in his mind, than without him: a mode of being, one should have thought, that ought to have secured him from distrust, as it prevented him from observation ; but
; the truth was, it did not hinder him from attempting to observe, it only rendered his observations erroneous. That his soul was tender, no one can doubt, after having read his works; but his imagination sometimes interposed between his reason and his affections, and destroyed their influence: he appeared sometimes void of sensibility ; but it was because he did not perceive objects such as they were. Had he seen them with our eyes, his heart would have been more affected than ours.”
In this very striking description we see the melancholy picture of sensibility and genius approaching to insanity. It is a case, probably, that but rarely occurs in the extent here described; but, I believe, there is no man who has lived much in the world, who will not trace many resembling features to it, in the circle of his own acquaintances; perhaps there are few who have not been occasionally conscious of some resemblance to it in themselves.
To these observations we may add, that by an excessive indulgence in the pleasures of imagination, the taste may acquire a fastidious refinement unsuitable to the present situation of human nature; and those intellectual and moral habits, which ought to be formed by actual experience of the world, may be gradually so accommodated to the dreams of poetry and romance, as to disqualify us for the scene in which we are destined to act. Such a distempered state of the mind is an endless source of error, more particularly when we are placed in those critical situations in which our conduct determines our future happiness or misery, and which, on account of this extensive influence on human life, form the principal ground-work of fictitious composition. The effect of novels, in misleading the passions of youth, with respect to the most interesting and important of all relations, is one of the many instances of the inconveniences resulting from an ill-regulated imagination.
The passion of love has been, in every age, the favourite subject of the poets, and has given birth to the finest productions of human genius. These are the natural delight of the young and susceptible, long before the influence of the passions is felt; and from these a romantic mind forms to itself an ideal model of beauty and perfection, and becomes enamoured with its own creation. On a heart which has been long accustomed to be thus warmed by the imagination, the excellences of real characters make but a slight impression; and, accordingly, it will be found, that men of a romantic turn, unless when under the influence of violent passions, are seldom attached to a particular object. Where, indeed, such a turn is united with a warmth of temperament, the effects are different, but they are equally fatal to happiness. As the distinctions which exist among real characters are confounded by false and exaggerated conceptions of ideal perfection, the choice is directed to some object by caprice and accident; a slight resemblance is mistaken for an exact coincidence, and the descriptions of the poet and novelist are applied literally to an individual, who perhaps falls short of the common standard of excellence. “I am certain,” says the author last quoted, in her account of the character of Rousseau, “ that he never formed an attachment which was not founded on caprice. It was illusions alone that could captivate his passions; and it was necessary for him always to accomplish his mistress from his own fancy. I am certain also," she adds, “ that the woman whom he loved the most, and perhaps the only woman whom he loved constantly, was his own Julie.”
In the case of this particular passion, the effects of a romantic imagination are obvious to the most careless observer; and they have often led moralists to regret, that a temper of mind so dangerous to happiness should have received so much encouragement from some writers of our own age, who might have employed their genius to better purposes. These, however, are not the only effects which such habits of study have on the character. Some others, which are not so apparent at first view, have a tendency, not only to mislead us where our own happiness is at stake, but to defeat the operation of those