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Of the truth of this I am so fully convinced, that I have little doubt, when Foote was employed in composing his very lively and graphical dramas, that he assumed successively, in the solitude of the closet, the looks, voices, and manner (perhaps sometimes the ordinary dress) of the different persons whom he meant to exhibit on the stage. The lightness, and, at the same time, truth and spirit of many of the touches, bear, I think, evident marks of this sort of inspiration.
Still, however, it appears to me, that the effect is, in part, owing to the physical connexion established between the mind, and the external expression of its operations. While we copy the looks and gestures of any public speaker, or of any prominent character in private society ;-imitating, at the same time, the peculiarities of his elocution; the hesitation, or the fluency; the conciseness, or the redundancy of his diction; the looseness and carelessness of his phraseology, or the artificial rythm of his periods; the state of our own faculties and feelings may be expected to be, in some measure, assimilated to his : And it is chiefly to the general influence of this cause upon an inventive fancy, that I am inclined to ascribe whatever similarity may appear in the intellectual processes. —But on this point I would be understood to speak with the greatest diffidence.
One conclusion may, I think, be considered as sufficiently established by acknowledged facts, (whatever opinion may be adopted concerning the connexion between the bodily organization, and the powers of the understanding,) that the state of a man's temper, when under the influence of any passion or emotion, might be judged of by a mimic who was able to assume exactly his appearance, and who was capable, at the same time, of attending accurately to his own feelings, while he was under this transformation. If this be granted with respect to the mimic, is it not probable, that something of the same kind happens to every man, more or less, when he sees any passion strongly marked in the countenance of another; the irresistible tendency to imitation, which all men have in their earlier years, being still sufficiently powerful to excite some correspondent feeling in his mind, although it may not appear to the spectator to occasion any visible alteration in his countenance? Is it not farther probable, that it is by some process of this kind, that the more simple and essential ele
“ ne frappent et saississent nos regards, qu'autant qu'une sorte de sympathie les a “ dictés.”Cabanis, Rapport du Physique et du Morale de l'Homme, Tome, II. p. 431.
ments of the language of nature become so soon intelligible to infants ;-the propensity to sympathetic imitation being, in their case, so strong, and the power of imitation so perfect, as to render their bodies incomparably fitter media for carrying on the intercourse of different minds, (so far as that intercourse is necessary for the child's preservation,) than they can be supposed to be afterwards, when that pliableness and mobility of system, by which the principle of imitation operates, have given place to those artificial habits which insensibly mould the physical, as well as the moral frame of man, into one fixed and unchangeable form?
In what manner this intercourse is kept up, I do not pretend to be able to ascertain ; but that the principle of Sympathetic Imitation forms one very important link in the mysterious chain, may, I apprehend, be safely inferred from the facts and observations which have been now stated. If it be true that the particular modifications of features connected with a smile and a frown, are accompanied, the one with an agreeable, the other with a disagreeable, bodily sensation ; and also, that the bare imitation of these external expressions has some tendency to produce the emotions of which they are respectively significant, it will follow, that when a child catches, by imitation and sympathy, the smile or the frown of its mother, the cor. responding emotions will necessarily arise, in some degree, in its own breast; and will give a pathetic effect to these natural and visible signs of her tenderness or displeasure, for which the theories of Hartley and Priestly do not even attempt to account. Incipe, parve puer, RISU cognoscere matrem. *
* It seems strange to me, that commentators should, from the earliest times, have been so much divided in opinion about the meaning of this passage ; as, in point of poetical beauty, there can be no comparison between the two interpretations. It is still more strange, that Dryden should have given the preference to that which one would have thought his good taste would at once have rejected. But he had high authorities in his favour ; and with all his transcendant merits as a poet, he seems to have bad little relish for the tender and pathetic. His version is as follows:
Begin, auspicious boy, to cast about
The sequel of the passage, (which he has also mistranslated,) might have convinced him of his mistake.
Incipe parve puer : cui non risere parentes,
Which Dryden renders thus :
That this suggestion goes at once to the bottom of the difficulty, I am far from apprehending ; but I am inclined to believe, that it will not be altogether useless to those who may undertake the task of subjecting this very curious and hitherto unesamined part of the human frame to an accurate analysis.
Of certain Phenomena which seem to be resolvable, in part, into the foregoing
The contagious nature of convulsions, of hysteric disorders, of panics, and of all the different kinds of enthusiasm, is
“ Then smile ; the frowning infant's doom is read,
“ No god shall crown the board, nor goddess bless the bed." On this subject see Heyne's Virgil.
* In a general view which I have elsewhere given (see Dissertation prefixed to the Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Part. I. p. 50,) of Lord Bacon's contributions to the Philosophy of the Human Mind, I have taken notice of the attention he had bestowed on that particular class of phenomena to which this Section relates The reader will forgive me for transcribing the following paragraphs, as proofs of the prophetic sagacity with which he had anticipated the future course of philosophical inquiry in metaphysical as well as in physical science. ;
"In considering Imagination as connected with the nervous system, more par“ ticularly as connected with that species of sympathy to which medical writers “ have given the name of Imitation, Lord Bacon has suggested some very im“portant hints, which none of his successors have hitherto prosecuted ; and has, “ at the same time, left an example of cautious inquiry, worthy to be studied by " all who may attempt to investigate the laws regulating the union between mind - and body
“ To this branch of the Philosophy of Mind, Bacon gives the title of Doctrina de fædere, sive de communi vinculo animæ et corporis, (De Aug. Scient. Lib. “ iv. cap. 1.) Under this article, he mentions, among other desiderata, an in“ quiry (which he recommends to physicians) concerning the influence of imagi"nation over the body. His own words are very remarkable; more particularly, - the clause in which he remarks the effect of fixing and concentrating the atten. “ tion, in giving to ideal objects the power of realities over the belief. " aliud quippiam, quod huc pertinet, parce admodum, nec pro rei subtilitate, vel " utilitate, inquisitum est ; quatenus scilicet ipsa imaginatio animæ vel cogitatio “ perquam fixa, et veluti in fidem quandam exaltata, valeat, ad immutandum
corpus imaginantis.' (Ibid.) He suggests also, as a curious problem, to ascer“ tain how far it is possible to fortify and exalt the imagination, and by what
means this may most effectually be done. The class of facts here alluded to, " are manifestly of the same description with those to which the attention of “ philosophers has been lately called by the pretensions of Mesmer and of Per
Atque huic conjuncta est disquisitio, quomodo, imaginatio intendi et “ fortificari possit? Quippe, si imaginatio fortis tantarum sit virium, operæ preti“ um fuerit nosse, quibus modis eam exaltari, et se ipsa majorem fieri detur ? “ Atque hic oblique, nec minus periculose se insinuat palliatio quædam et defen“ sio maximæ partis Magiæ Ceremonialis,'” See what Lord Bacon has farther remarked concerning Magia Ceremonialis.-- De Aug, Scient. Lib. iv. cap. 3.
commonly referred by medical writers to the principle of Imitation; and it seems, indeed, to have a very intimate connexion with that part of our constitution. Among these various phenomena, however, there are some which depend also on a combination of very powerful causes of another description ;-on the influence, for example, of Imagination, and of those passions which are apt to be kindled wherever men are assembled in a crowd : And therefore, to refer them all to imitation alone, implies either an error in point of theory or an unwarrantable latitude in the meaning annexed to that word. To draw the line, indeed, accurately, between the causes which, in these instances, conspire in producing the same effect, is not an easy task, nor do I mean, on the present occasion, to attempt such an analysis. It is sufficient for me to remark, in general, that although, in this chapter, I have adopted the common arrangement of physiologists, by introducing the following discussions under the title of Imitation, I would not be understood to overlook those other circumstances which 'may have their respective shares in producing the phenomena we are about to consider. For thus stopping short at facts, without a more diligent investigation and separation of general laws, the only apology I shall offer is the practical applications of which the facts themselves are susceptible, abstracted from all considera
" It is a
Various striking passages, with respect both to Imagination and Imitation, occur in Bacon's Sylva Sylvarum. One of his remarks upon the latter subject coincides $0 exactly with what I have observed in p. 160, that, if it had not escaped me at the time, I would not have failed to have quoted it there, at the end of the note. I shall, therefore, though somewhat out of place, transcribe it here: Nor shall I suppress the wild hypothesis to which this great man plainly had a leaning, which would resolve the phenomena of Imitation into a transmission of spirits from one person to another. The very extravagance of this theory renders it highly worthy of notice, as it proves, indirectly indeed, but with the force of demonstration, that Bacon was fully aware of (what no succeeding inquirer seems to me to have per. ceived) the great; or rather the insurmountable difficulty of the problem which he was anxious to resolve. Nothing else could have led him to avail himself, on such an occasion, of a magical transmission of spirits from body to body.
thing strange in nature, when it is attentively considered, how children and
some birds learn to imitate speech. They take no mark at all of the motion of " the mouth of him that speaketh ; for birds are as well taught in the dark as by
light. The sounds of speech are very curious and exquisite ; so one would " think it were a lesson hard to learn. It is true that it is done with time, and by “ little and little, and with many essays and proffers; but all this dischargeth “ not the wonder. It would make a man think (though this which we shall say
may seem exceeding strange,) that there is some transmission of spirits; and " that the spirits of the teacher put in motion, should work with the spirits of the " learner a predisposition to offer to imitate, and so to perfect the imitation by de
grees. But touching operations by transmissions of spirits, (which is one of the highest secrets in nature,) we shall speak in due place ; chiefly when we come to inquire of Imagination."
tion of the laws to which they ought ultimately to be referred ; and my anxiety, on a subject of such peculiar importance, rather to add a little to the history of the Human Mind, than to indulge myself in speculations and conjectures of more questionable utility.*
To that class of facts of which I am now to treat, a valuable addition was made, in the course of the philosophical inquiries which took their rise at Paris, in consequence of the cures pretended to be effected by means of Animal Magnetism. The following quotation from the Report of the Commissioners employed by Louis Sixteenth to examine the pretensions of Mesmer and his disciples, contains some of the most interesting conclusions from these inquiries ; and, although it involves too many theoretical expressions, it will convey a sufficiently distinct idea of the nature of the subject, to the illustration of which this section is allotted. †
* Dr. Gregory, in his philosophical and elegant work entitled “ Conspectus Medicine Theoreticæ," while he adopts the common language of physiologists concerning Imitation, hints very explicitly, with his usual sagacity and caution, that the various classes of phenomena referred to this principle, have only a certain degree of affinity. The whole passage well deserves to be quoted.
* Porro, sola Imitatione multa facimus, multa diseinus. Imitatur nondum con“ scius infans quicquid vel videt vel audit : et vir adultus, et sua spontis, inscius “ vel forte invitus, tantum adhuc imitatur, ut hominum quibuscum versatur mores “ et sermonis prolationem, quamvis sæpe nolens, acquirat. Omnem sermonem “ infans imitando discit, aliter, ut quibusdam persuasum est philosophis, mutum et
turpe pecus futurus. “ Huic quodammodo affinis est, altera illa, subita, et vehementior Imitatio, quæ, dementiæ instar, non singulos tantum homines, sed totos populos, nonnun-'
quam rapuit. Hac tanquam contagione, varii animi affectus, tristes, læti, ridi“ culi, ab unius vultu per omnium pectora dimanant. Ardor pugnæ, et plus quam
spes victoriæ, ab alacri ducis cui confidunt milites vultu, totam aciem dicto “ citius pervadit, et multa millia pectorum pariter accendit : iidem vero milites, “ victoria jam parta, unius vel ignoti hominis terrore perculsi, turpiter terga de“6 derunt, nulla auctoritate, nulla vi coërcendi.
“ Quin et fanaticorum quorundam furor, simili modo aliquando diffusus est: ho• minesque se sanos credentes, qui talem insaniam tempsissent et irrisissent, solo “ visu et auditu furentium, ipsi dementiæ facti sunt participes.
“ Par ratio est affectionum quarundam vervosi generis; oscitationis, hysterie epilepsiæ, quæ solo visu mirum in modum sæpe propagantur."
Consp. Med. Theoret. Sects. 345, 346, 347, 348, Edin. 1782. In Sir Gilbert Blane's medical writings, he has repeatedly touched upon the subject of Imitation. See in particular his Dissertation on Muscular Motion. (Select Dissertations on Several Subjects of Medical Science, pp. 268, 269, 270.) See also his Elements of Medical Logic, 2d. Ed. p. 260.
Of the professional merits of these works I am not a competent judge ; but without being accused of an undue partiality to one of my oldest and most valued friends, I may be allowed to say, that I know of no medical publications where the practical discussions of the healing art are more agreeably and instructively blended with the lights of sound philosophy.
+ This Report is known to have been drawn up by the illustrious and unfortunate Bailly; and, notwithstanding its great merits, is somewhat infected with that